Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Owen Jones Meets Critic of Neoliberal Economics, Ha-Joon Chang

August 16, 2016

Ha-Joon Chang Pic

In his series of videos on YouTube, Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, goes to meet with various public figures. These include Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Hitchens and so on. In this video he talks to Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean economics professor at Cambridge University. Chang’s interesting as he’s a critic of Neoliberalism, the free market economics that has been this country’s political dogma since the Margaret Thatcher. I put up a post a little while ago on Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The conversation begins by Chang attacking the government’s decision to cut public spending in order to shrink the debt. He says that public debt represents public demand, and if you shrink it, the economy will also shrink, and you’ll still be left with a massive debt. This is what has happened to Greece. It’s far better actually to put more money into the economy. When Jones asked him if Osborne was stupid for pursuing this policy, Chang states very clearly that Osborne did it for other reasons – to undermine and destroy the welfare state, and make the country more like America.

The two then discuss whether it really is a case of capitalism for the poor, and Socialism for the rich. The welfare net for the poor is being destroyed, but there are massive subsidies for the rich. Chang makes the point that big business demands these subsidies, but when the issue of taxation is raised, that’s an entirely voluntary matter, and they’ll start an offshore bank account to avoid paying it. He also discounts the Libertarian attitude that ‘taxation is theft’. He makes the point that wealth is socially created. The attitude that taxation is theft may have made sense in the 16th century, when most people were independent farmers, but it doesn’t apply today, when you need a whole ranges of services to create wealth. They also remark on the double standards about the issue of inequality and greed. Libertarians and neoliberals like greed, because it supposedly stimulates the economy. But as soon the poor start resenting the excessive wealth of the rich, then they denounce them for being envious. Chang states that you can’t have inequality, as it means the poor and rich aren’t living in the same world. They might inhabit the same geographical area, but it’s like one was living in the 22nd Century and the other in the 18th and 19th.

Jones makes the point that whenever anybody discusses nationalisation, they automatically go back to the 1970s and the inefficiency of the services then. Chang states that nationalisation isn’t necessarily the answer, as if something is properly regulated you can have the benefits of nationalisation without it. However, there are examples where private enterprise, or at least unregulated private enterprise doesn’t work. He compares the British and Japanese rail networks. The British rail network now consumes massive subsidies, and is the most expensive in Europe. It doesn’t work, because you can’t have a competitive system on the same piece of railway.

Jones also tackles him about the welfare state. Isn’t it true that it’s bloated, and encourages people to be lazy and feckless. Chang states that there is one aspect to that question that he does agree with. He believes the welfare state does need some reform, as it was created in the 1940s-50s. Now people are living longer, nearly 30 years after their retirement. But he says there’s little evidence that it makes people lazy, and criticises the way people have stopped talking about it as an important form of social security. He makes the point that in countries with a strong welfare state, people are much more willing to accept corporate restructuring. Such as in Sweden, for example. This is not to say they prefer it, but they are willing to accept it. In countries like America where there is little in the way of a welfare state, workers, even if not unionised, are much more resistant to change because they can lose everything.

Chang also talks about the difference between classical liberalism, democracy and neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a return to the economic doctrines of the 18th and 19th century, when the only form of liberty that mattered was the liberty to own and use property how you wanted. Initially, liberals weren’t democrats, because they feared that democracy would limit the freedom of the property-owners to do as they wished. Neoliberalism is a return to this system, with a bit of democracy. However, the political situation is altered so that democracy does not interfere with the liberties of the propertied classes. For example, they’re in favour of an independent central banks, as then it doesn’t have to be accountable to government over interest rates and the effect that may have on society. They’re also in favour of independent regulatory authorities, as that won’t allow government to interfere with private industry either.

Lastly, Jones asks him if he believes that the system will ever change. Chang makes the point that the past several decades have seen changes that people did not believe would happen. He talks about how Maggie Thatcher 25 years ago said that there would never been Black majority rule in South Africa. If you go back fifty years, then the leaders of the African independence movements were all hunted men in British prisons. It may not happen for decades, but eventually change will come. He quotes a proverb, which says that you must be a pessimist in your head, and an optimist in your heart. Above all, you have to keep fighting, as they won’t give you anything.

Here’s the video:

Chris Sterry on the Democratic Need to Prosecute Blair for War Crimes

July 9, 2016

I’m sorry if this seems a bit incestuous, and rather narcissistic, but I thought Chris Sterry’s comment on his reblog of my post from this morning also deserved to be posted over here. Chris Sterry is one of the many great commenters on my blog. This morning I put up a piece about three videos by the American left-wing comedian Jimmy Dore, in which he gives a line-by-line commentary on Blair’s speech responding to the Chilcot report. This has damned him for waging an unprovoked war, launching hostilities before the available peaceful solutions had been explored. The British people were lied to about Saddam Hussein’s military ambitions and capabilities. There was no proper consideration of how order and peace were to be restored after the conflict was won. And Blair, his minions and allies, were warned that the result of the invasion would be ethnic and religious violence and trouble from Iran.

And Blair remains completely unrepentant. He acknowledges, casually, that ‘mistakes were made’ – in the passive voice, note, as if they just happened with no-one being responsible for them. He then claimed that all the carnage that followed could only be known with hindsight, despite having been told at the time. Michelle, another of the great commenters on my blog, remarked on how sickening this was.

I’m flattered that Chris decided to reblog the piece, commenting:

I thank Chilcot and Jimmy Dore for their condemnation of Tony Blair. It as all been said, no one can be unaware that Tony Blair is the biggest liar in the world and he created the current situation in the Middle East and was the creator of modern radicalisation. This does not mean that George W Bush is an innocent, for he is as guilty as Blair, but that is for the people of America to comment on.

For Blair what should the next step be, there needs to be a process started to bring him to court for being a ‘War Criminal’ for if there is not, we are all complicit in being war criminals.

So be warned Presidents and Prime Ministers in waiting you are accountable for your action both now and in the future. Any atrocities created by these actions are on your shoulders and your shoulders alone for which you will suffer the consecquences.

See: https://61chrissterry.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/the-videos-by-jimmy-dore-on-tony-blair-and-the-chilcot-report/

Chris is right. Democracy means that our leaders are ultimately accountable to us. They govern us through our consent, which we can withdraw at elections by voting for another party or candidate. Democracy means the rule of law, from which our leaders are not exempt. In normal society, criminality is prosecuted and punished. Murderers are tried and sent to jail. Tony Blair lied to the people of one nation, and committed mass murder to the people of another. The Iraqis, and the surrounding Middle Eastern peoples were direct victims of his aggression. But we have also paid the price. The British taxpayer has been forced to fund a war for which there was no legal or moral justification. Morally, our country has been sullied through the atrocities and violence committed through the invasion. And our forces and people have also suffered. Blair sent courageous and capable men and women to die, or return home mutilated and mentally scarred. Their families have lost husbands, wives, sons and daughters. British Muslims have also lost family members, radicalised through the violence they have seen against their co-religionists in Iraq. Some of them have gone on to destroy themselves and others in acts of the most appalling violence.

Blair has said that he takes ‘full responsibility’. In the videos, Dore remarks that it won’t re-animate all the dead killed through his war. The only way he can take full responsibility is by going to jail. Absolutely. Full responsibility means just that. It means more than words, and must entail due punishment for crimes committed. For democracy to mean anything, leaders and governments have to be tried when they commit offences. The great thinkers of the Enlightenment, like Voltaire and Kant, were against cruelty, mass murder and arbitrary government. Kant reformulated the Golden Rule ‘Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you’, in the words of Christ, though the maxim was known long before Him in the Middle East, as ‘If you legislate for one, you legislate for all’. Laws have to apply to everyone, rulers as well as ruled. The execution of Charles I by the Roundheads after the English Civil War shocked England and Europe. He was executed for crimes against the British people. This was a dangerously radical idea, as until that point it was universally accepted, and continued to be so for centuries after, that the king was above the law as the ultimate lawgiver. But no more. Our leaders have to be subject to the same laws as their citizens. This means us, as well as the tyrants we have tried for war crimes, like Ratko Mladic, Slobodan Milosevic, and the other butchers from the former Yugoslavia. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg and Richard Nixon after Watergate. And now Blair should be taken to the dock to face justice for all the horror and violence he has unleashed.

And after him, who knows – Maggie? It would, naturally, be posthumous. Something like Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech finally attacking Stalin’s ‘Cult of Personality’, and the true vileness of her policies and minions listed and enumerated. As for the charge, well, to quote Marlon Brando in The Wild One, or is it James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause: ‘What’cha got?’

Tom Lehrer and the Tories’ Political Use of Smut

June 18, 2016

Also in the news this week was a report in the I that about half of all children in Britain had seen porn on the internet. There was justifiable outrage that pornography should be so available to minors, and deep concern about the skewed ideas about sex, relationships and misogynistic attitudes towards women that could result. All this is entirely right, and I do share these concerns. What also concerns me is the cynical political use the Conservatives have made of decent people’s perfectly natural fears. Remember a few years ago when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition pushed through an act, which basically defined offensive materials in such a broad way, that it gave them carte blanche to ban and censor just about anything they didn’t like, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with sex or porn. Pagans and occultists got worried because it criminalised ‘the esoteric’, which for those, who put the law together probably just meant anything weird and bizarre that they couldn’t think of at the moment, but which was probably out there somewhere. However, ‘esotericism’ is also another term for the magic and the occult, and so a community that was already fixated on persecution and the witch hunts of the medieval and early modern period once again found themselves apparently facing renewed persecution.

This legislation could also extend to political discussion. Tom Pride found access to his site blocked, after one post was deemed too ‘adult’ for general viewing. Much of the material at Pride’s Purge is adult, in the sense that it deals with adult issues, by which is meant, issues that confront adults, such as politics, poverty, unemployment, economics, privatisation and social welfare, rather than porn.

I found this piece by the great satirist and musician, Tom Lehrer. It’s called ‘Smut’, and just about describes the way I feel about the hysteria about on-line porn. There are serious issues there, but they need very careful handling rather than handing the Tories another moral panic which they can exploit.

The National Union of Journalists’ Code of Professional Conduct

June 4, 2016

This is the NUJ’s code of professional conduct, as laid out in Mark Hollingsworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship (London: Pluto 1986).

1. A journalist has a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards.
2. A journalist shall at all times defend the principle of the freedom of the Press and other media in relation to the collection of information and the expression of comment and criticism. He/she shall strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship.
3. A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate, avoid the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation.
4. A journalist shall rectify promptly any harmful inaccuracies, ensure that correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticized when the issue is of sufficient importance.
5. A journalist shall obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by straightforward means. The use of other means can be justified only by over-riding considerations of the public interest. The journalist is entitled to exercise a personal conscientious objection to the use of such means.
6. Subjection to justification by over-riding considerations of the public interest, a journalist shall do nothing which entails intrusion into private grief and distress.
7. A journalist shall protect confidential sources of information.
8. A journalist shall not accept bribes nor shall he/she allow other inducements to influence the performance of his/her professional duties.
9. A journalist shall not lend himself/herself to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations.
10. A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation.
11. A journalist shall not take private advantage of information gained in the course of his/her duties, before the information is public knowledge.
12. A journalist shall not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of his/her own work or of the medium by which he/she is employed.

So now you know all the ethical rules which the press, particularly Murdoch, the BBC and Laura Kuenssberg regularly and spectacularly break.

Norman Finkelstein on the Media Lies of the Israel Lobby

May 31, 2016

I would like to drop blogging about Israel and the Palestinians for a bit, having posted a number of articles about them over the past few days. However, just as I think I’ve said enough about the subject for now, something else crops up.

Porky Scratchings Zionist Trolling

On Monday Mike posted up a piece about how somebody calling themselves ‘Porky Scratchings’ and declaring themselves to be a Zionist, had slandered him on a Twitter as an anti-Semite. This was simply because Mike has published many pieces disputing and refuting the charges of anti-Semitism made against members of the Labour Party. These charges are obviously wrong and should be deeply shameful for the people who made them. Those accused, like Ken Livingstone, Naz Shah and Jackie Walter, are not certainly not Jew-haters, but principled people who have criticised Israeli’s barbarism towards the Palestinians. In addition to his slander, Porky Scratchings tried to lure Mike into writing something anti-Semitic. When Mike disappointed him, Mike’s Twitter account went down. Somebody had tried to hack it. Twitter had frozen it, and advised Mike to change the passwords. I blogged yesterday about how Mike is certainly not either racist or anti-Semitic, and further pulled apart Porky Scratchings utter lack of logic. Commenting on the incident over at Mike’s blog, Florence said that she believed that Porky Scratching was not some isolated troll. Instead, he looked like a paid interrogator. This sounds likely and it fits with the cyber-attack. The accusation of anti-Semitism brought against Jackie Walker ultimately came from a Zionist cybergroup, who based it on remarks she made on her Facebook page comparing the enslavement of Black Africans to the Holocaust and Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians. Walker’s father is a Russian Jew, her partner is Jewish, and one of the friends she was talking to is also Jewish. Her mother was a Black civil rights activist. By any reasonable standard, the accusation is risible and should be laughed out of court, along with the fools who made it. But it seems clear from this that the Israel lobby is engaged in cyber espionage and warfare. And it seems from Mike’s experience with Porky Scratchings that if the Israel lobby can’t find any quote from you they can reasonably claim is anti-Semitic, they will hack into your account and invent one. And as this video with Norman Finkelstein shows, unfortunately the Israel lobby has long history of outrageous, unchallenged lying.

The Lies of the Israel Lobby

Finkelstein here lays into several falsehoods that are manufactured and deployed by the Israel lobby. These are that the conflict with the Palestinians are based in ancient, Biblical feuds; that the experience of the Holocaust was unique, and so normal standards do not apply to Jews in their treatment of the Palestinians; that there is a massive revival of anti-Semitism and rise in assaults on Jews, and concludes with a discussion of the sheer mendacity in Alan Dershowitz’s In Defence of Israel.

Arab Opposition Not Biblical, Based on Zionist Colonisation in 19th and 20th Centuries

The video begins with him saying that the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is not based on the ancient struggles between Israel and the surrounding Canaanite and other states in the Bible, nor in some thousand-year old antagonism between Arabs and Jews. It is simply resistance to the attempts of the Zionist settlers in Palestine to take over their land and expel the indigenous peoples. He states that this is just obvious common sense when applied to every other nation, but it literally jumped off the page at him when he read Benny Morris say it in his book in the 1980s. Morris has since become very right-wing in his attitude to the Palestinians, but that doesn’t change the value of the remark. He compares the situation to the resistance the Amerindians put up to White colonisation in America. He states very clearly that, unless you’re very PC, it’s recognised that the Amerindians were very brutal in their assault on Whites. They killed women and children. Nevertheless, they did so not because they were inherently anti-White, or motivated by some anti-Christianism, but because they were defending themselves and their homeland from subjugation and dispossession.

The Origins of the Different Moral Standards Claimed by Zionists

He states that the attitude that Jews are not subject to the same moral constraints as others first appeared in 1967, with the Jewish rediscovery of Israel. This was the time when the Holocaust industry first got going. As for the allegations that there is a rise in anti-Semitism, he states that every ten years there is a new piece on ‘the new anti-Semitism’ in the media. It ultimately goes back to a 1974 article by the joint heads of the Anti-Defamation League, with the title ‘The New Anti-Semitism’. And what was it about? The musical Jesus Christ Superstar. They claimed it was anti-Semitic because it made Pilate sympathetic to Jesus, and put the responsibility for His crucifixion on the Sanhedrin. The film was directed by Norman Jewison, who wasn’t Jewish, but was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was now, in Finkelstein’s words, the new Hitler. And then the charge that there was a new anti-Semitism appeared again in another article written by the heads of the ADL again in 1982. And its appeared regularly every ten years or so ever since. He compares the attack on Jesus Christ Superstar with the recent controversy over Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Lies about the Rise in Anti-Semitic Attacks

He then lays into recent article which claimed that there was a rise in assaults on Jews on campuses throughout the US, after a report in one of the newspapers that a Jewish student at Harvard had been assaulted by an Arab. He rang up the universities, and contacted the Hillels. These are the Jewish representatives on campus. There had been no rise in attacks on Jews. And Harvard and its Hillels stated that the attack reported in the papers had not occurred. So he phoned up the journo who wrote it, and asked her where she got it from. She got it from Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. Robertson is right-wing televangelist, who like so many of them says things that are just outrageous and sheer bonkers. Secular Talk has taken a number of pot-shots at him over the years, because of some of the terrible things he’s said. These have included advising men on when it’s Biblically permissible for them to cheat on their wives, and to hit their kids if they say they’re atheists. So not exactly a reliable or unbiased source. Furthermore, if you look at the official statistics, you find that actually there was less anti-Semitism in 2004, presumably when the video was made, than 13 years previously 1991.

Anti-Semitism Allegations Made to Attack Critics of Israel

Finkelstein states clearly that most of the allegations of anti-Semitism are directed at criticisms of Israel, and its treatment of the Palestinians. Where there are genuine anti-Semitic comments made, they’re usually a result of the above. And not surprisingly, says Finkelstein. Israel is the Jewish state, and all the Jewish organisations support it, so it isn’t surprising that Jews become the subjects of hostility for its actions. He compares this with the growth of anti-Americanism around the world, which was a response to American atrocities committed during the Vietnam War.

Dershowitz and In Defence of Israel

As for Dershowitz’s book, In Defence of Israel, Finkelstein states that it’s so bad, he doesn’t think that Dershowitz either wrote or, before he debated with him, had even read it. Whole sections of it are plagiarised. He uses uncritically the work of Joan Peters, who argued that there were no Arabs in Palestine until the Jewish settlers arrived. Finkelstein states its a lie, concocted from a very selective use of Ottoman (Turkish imperial) sources. She also alters and amends these texts to suit herself as well. And when he isn’t plagiarising, he’s simply making stuff up. For example, he talks about the case of a Palestinian who was shaken to death in Israeli custody. All the doctors and physicians, who examined the case concurred that this was the case. Dershowitz, however, states that an independent body concluded that he had died of a pre-existing condition. This is simply not true. Dershowitz, or rather his ghost writer, simply made it up. And nowhere in the book does Dershowitz cite or quote any of the recognised human rights bodies – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN. He doesn’t for a very good reason. If he did, he’d have to alter the book and change its title to The Case for Palestine.

Finkelstein states that for most cases of pseudo-scholarship, all you have to do to tell it’s wrong is to look at the author’s biography, what organisations they belong to, and who’s publishing it. But this simply isn’t the case by the stuff churned out by the Israel lobby. It’s published by very reputable publishers, its authors often hold prestigious academic places – Dershowitz himself is a professor of law, and the head of a law department at one of the US universities.
And these books and their lies are given very good reviews by the papers and literary journals. For example, he said that after he debated Dershowitz, there was a bit of back forth between him and others about the book, and one of the journos wrote something about it. And then the book received four and five star reviews from papers like the New York Times.

Israel Lobby’s Attitude to Truth that of Revolutionary Communists

So why do they do it? Finkelstein states that they’re motivated by the same attitude as some revolutionary Marxist organisations: that it’s true, if it serves the cause. Finkelstein was a Maoist in the ’60s and ’70s, and used to know a member of the Vietnamese Communist party. In the ’70s there was some debate over whether The Diary of Anne Frank had actually been written by her, or was really the work of her father. Finkelstein states that in 1978 he asked his Maoist mentor about it. He said, ‘It’s true, even if it isn’t’. In other words, if it serves the cause, then it’s true, even when it’s a lie. And these lies serve the Israeli cause.

Here’s the video.

Finkelstein’s detailed exposition here of the sheer mendacity of the Israeli lobby and the deep complicity of the mainstream media, who automatically repeat it without even bothering to do the most basic checks for factual accuracy, is astonishing. These are people, who lie without any qualms, destroying their lives and reputations of decent people, including many active, proud, observant Jews, without any conscience whatsoever. This explains how it is that one of their trolls tried to bait Mike into saying something anti-Semitic, and then tried to fabricate something when Mike didn’t.

This shows that the Israel lobby are liars, and it’s long past the time they were called out, exposed, and discredited for their lies, along with the mendacious and compromised media that repeats and supports them.

Vox Political Admits Making Outrageous (and Entirely True) Claims about Ian Duncan Smith

February 11, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has written a long piece openly admitting that he has made ‘outrageous’ claims about aIDS, and challenged the ‘Gentleman Ranker’ to prove that they’re untrue. The Tory MP currently in charge of killing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled is angry that certain people have been making the connection between his wretched welfare policies, and the mass deaths of people, who’ve been sent back to work despite being clearly unfit. His outburst whining about these critics was written in response to an inquiry by Labour’s Frank Field, asking about the numbers of deaths of people assessed as fit to work and the possible link to his policies.

This has been too much for aIDS’ delicate ego, and he written back trying to defend himself, and accusing some in the media of making ‘outrageous claims’. Mike, understandably, has taken that as a personal attack on him and his blog, as he has been one of those fighting to get the true statistics on the number of people, who’ve been killed by the Gentleman Ranker’s wretched welfare to work policy for years. And throughout those years Mike, and the others also requesting this information, have been turned down, stonewalled and frankly lied to. I’ve reblogged Mike’s pieces on it and commented on his progress here. Now Mike’s hit back at IDS’ own ‘outrageous claim’ that he’s killed no one with his policy, citing academic studies. And, as any good academic does, he also shows that he has a good understanding of the underlying scientific methodology regarding the collation and interpretation of such information. This is probably more than … Smith has. His academic credentials are entirely spurious. He claims to have received a degree from an Italian institution, which doesn’t actually issue them. And when previously challenged on his statistics, which were shown to be untrue, aIDS refused to accept the evidence. Despite it being shown otherwise, Smith stated that he ‘believed’ they were true. No proof, no evidence, just blind faith. It’s an attitude that would astonish theologians and philosophers, who have to deal with questions of proof, evidence and reason in their own disciplines. One feels that Wittgenstein and Popper, two of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, would have their work cut out trying to teach this man the basic principles of ‘epistemology’ – the theory of knowledge.

Mike’s article begins

Iain Duncan Smith can’t prove us wrong. He deliberately refuses to collect the statistics that would confirm his claims – or ours.

Instead, he has claimed that This Blog (and presumably others) has accused him of “outrageous action”, without providing a scrap of evidence against the allegation.

This Writer is delighted that the Gentleman Ranker has tried to defend himself. I am currently working on a book covering this subject and his words may provide an excellent introduction.

The man we like to call RTU (Return To Unit – a Forces description of someone who trained to be an officer but was a washout) was responding to a request for information from Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee.

Mr Field had asked what data the DWP collects on the deaths of benefit claimants, in an attempt to find out whether there is any link between the work capability assessment (WCA) – carried out on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance and the Personal Independent Payment – and suicide, self-harm and mental ill-health.

The issue had been raised in research by Oxford University and Liverpool University entitled First Do No Harm.

This Blog reported on that document’s findings here – and you would be well-advised to refresh your memory of that article before you see the Secretary-in-a-State’s comments.

You should also read Vox Political‘s follow-up article in which a response from the Department for Work and Pensions – attempting to deny the research findings – is comprehensively disproved.

And there’s more. Much more. It’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/11/yes-iain-duncan-smith-vox-political-has-accused-you-of-outrageous-action-prove-us-wrong/

As for the title of the Oxford University study, First Do No Harm – this is was part of Hippocratic Oath. You know, the oath that for centuries doctors had to swear, which prescribed correct professional medical conduct. And the first and most important of its provisions was that the physician should do no harm to his patient. It’s a principle of medical ethics that’s glaringly, painfully obvious when you think about it. But not to the aIDS or the Tories. It’s not as though this is particularly arcane academic knowledge either. It gets into Star Trek, in the Voyager series, where in one episode it’s repeated by the holographic doctor played by Robert Picardo. Somehow, I don’t think IDS watched that one. Unfortunately, he didn’t learn it anywhere else either. And certainly not at an Italian college or uni, which didn’t give him his fictional degree.

Jimmy Carter on the Corporate Corruption of Regulatory Authorities

February 4, 2016

I found this very pertinent piece from former US president, Jimmy Carter, in the collection of pieces by Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt (London: Picador 1980). It’s in Carter’s 1974 Law Day address to the students at Georgia University.

We had an ethics bill in the state legislature this year. Half of it passed – to require an accounting for contributions during a campaign – but the part that applied to people after the campaign failed. We couldn’t get through a requirement for revelation of payments or gifts to office-holders after they are in office.

The largest force against that ethics bill was the lawyers.

Some of you here tried to help get a consumer protection package passed without success.

The regulatory agencies in Washington are made up, not of people to regulate industries, but of representatives of the industries that are regulated. Is that fair and right and equitable? I don’t think so.

I’m only going to serve four years as governor, as you know. I think that’s enough. I enjoy it, but I think I’ve done all I can in the Governor’s office. I see the lobbyists in the State Capitol filling the halls on occasions. Good people, competent people, the most pleasant, personable, extroverted citizens of Georgia. those are the characteristics that are required for a lobbyist. They represent good folks. But I tell you that when a lobbyist goes to represent the Peanut Warehouseman’s Association of the Southeast, which I belong to, which I helped organise, they go there to represent the peanut warehouseman. They don’t go there to represent the customers of the peanut warehouseman.

When the State Chamber of Commerce lobbyists go there, they go there to represent the businessmen of Georgia. They don’t go there to represent the customers of the businessmen of Georgia.

When your own organisation is interested in some legislation there in the Capitol, they’re interested in the welfare or prerogatives or authority of the lawyers. They are not there to represent in any sort of exclusive way the client of the lawyers.

The American Medical Association and its Georgia equivalent – they represent the doctors, who are fine people. But they certainly don’t represent the patients of a doctor.

Obviously, there are some differences between the situation Carter and Thompson describe. I think we do have legislation in this country, which requires gifts to ministers and civil servants to be declared. And some of the most determined opposition to the Tories’ campaign to privatise the NHS has come from the ranks of the British Medical Association.

But the substance of what Carter said is as true today as it was when Carter said it. If you read Private Eye in the 1990s, you saw fortnight after fortnight yet more news of someone from one of the industries getting a job in the body that was set up to regulate it. And it’s gone on. Private Eye are still running stories about banks and the leading accountancy firms, who were most notorious at dodging tax sending senior staff to act as interns or advisors to the Inland Revenue and the financial regulatory authorities. Or else a former managing director or chairman of the board from one these industries him- or herself gets a place there.

As for the lobbyists, Mike over at Vox Political the other year ran many pieces describing the Tory act that was supposed to limit their influence. Except it didn’t. What it did instead was try to cut out the influence of smaller, grass roots activist groups campaigning against some injustice or piece of misgovernment, and try to limit the ability of trade unions to campaign against particular issues. The lobbyists themselves were left largely untouched. As you can expect from a government, whose annual conferences are paid for by the big corporations, and which is headed by a PR spin merchant: David Cameron himself.

Carter was right to attack the corruption of the regulatory bodies by the very corporations they were meant to be overseeing, and his remarks on the pernicious influence of the lobbyists is still very timely. It’s time to clean up politics, and get rid of them and the Tories.

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

Chris Hedges on the Pathology of the Super Rich

January 20, 2016

I’ve written a number of pieces about the psychology of the rich, and how they seem driven by a deep psychological desire to degrade, humiliate and harm those less fortunate than themselves. In this video below, the American Socialist journalist Chris Hedges and the programme’s host, Paul Jay, discuss that same issue, which they term the pathology of the super rich. The video comes from the TV series Reality Asserts Itself, which seems to be partly funded through donations from the public, for which Jay appeals at the end.

The programme begins by looking back to a previous programme, in which Hedges and Jay discussed the weakness of the modern Socialist and labour movement in America. They stated that part of this was its failure to articulate a viable Socialist vision of an alternative to the corporate system. They go on to suggest that one of the gravest weaknesses in this lack of vision was the inability to grasp the pathology of the rich. They talk about how American society magnifies and practically deifies the rich, and state that we need to recover the language of class warfare. We need to reject the lie, repeated by Obama, that if we work hard enough and study hard enough we can be one of them. The issue isn’t intelligence. The present economic mess was created by some of the most intelligent, best educated people in the country. It’s greed.

Hedges states that his hatred of authority and the elite comes from his own experience of winning a scholarship to an elite school. He’s middle class, but part of his family were lower working class. One of his grandfathers even at times lived in a trailer. The rich have the best education, but its aim is teaching them how to rule. He states that if you’re poor, you only get one chance to make it. The rich are presented with multiply chances. He cites George Bush, and his history of failure, and how, after he managed to get an academic career despite poor grades, he finally got a job at 40: running the country. There is a small, tight elite circle which protects itself and promotes mediocrity. We are now utterly powerless before them, because the oligarchic elite own the broadcasters and the press.

In their world, everyone is there to serve them. When Hedges was at school, he saw how his friends, themselves only 11-12 years old, spoke to adults, ordering around their servants and parents’ employees. He talks about the fabled quip of Hemingway to Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had said ‘The rich aren’t like us.’ To which Hemingway replied, ‘No, they’re richer’. But this was an instance where Hemingway was wrong, and Fitzgerald right. And Fitzgerald saw it, as he himself had made his way up from the mid-West and saw how decadent and corrupt the elite were. Hedges states that when you have their vast amounts of money, you see people as disposable, even friends and family, and now the citizens, who are required to fight in wars. They live in a bubble where only working class people they see are those, who work for them. They don’t even fly on commercial jets. They’re thus extremely out of touch, and retreat even further from everyone else into enclaves like Versailles under Louis XIV and the Forbidden City under the Chinese emperors. They will continue to extract more and more from society, because they have no idea of the harm they’re causing.

Hedges talks about the Occupy Movement, and the impoverishment caused by student debts that now can never be repaid, which students facing higher interest rates than if they’d gone to a bank. Half of America is officially on or below the poverty line. Yet the government is helping Goldman Sacks by buying junk bonds, which are so worthless they’ll eventually wreck the economy. The government’s response, on behalf of the rich, is to cut unemployment benefits and food stamps and close the Headstart programme. Some of the children of the super rich are waking up to the reality, and joining the Occupy movement, but it’s a tiny minority.

The two also discuss Gore Vidal’s comments about the amorality of the super rich. They state that he should know, both from his own life and the world he moved in. Hedges states that when he was at the boarding school, most of the fathers actually had very little contact with their sons. But they would turn up in their cars, sometimes with their mistresses, and their staff photographers to show them playing happily with their sons. He states that there’s a type of racism there, in that while they were happy to create this illusion for their own family, they treated the working class very differently. They believed that they should have to send their sons to fight foreign wars. Jay makes a comparison with the British enslavement of the Irish, and states that this shows you don’t have to be Black to be enslaved.

Apart from hating the working class, the rich also have a great disdain for the middle class, which Hedges himself found quite shocking, himself coming from a middle class background. The rich on their part have a very sophisticated PR machine, and polish their image with very well-publicised acts of philanthropy, while the reality behind the scenes is very different. Hedges talks about Karl Marx’s statement that the dominant ideology is really the idealisation of existing class and economic relationships. The free market ideology now dominant across America is just a very thin rationale for the elite’s greed. This is now taught right across the country, but is just used to justify the hoarding of immense wealth by the elite. The lie of globalisation – that it will give further prosperity to the middle class, give proper, just remuneration to the working class and lift the people’s of the Developing World out of poverty is a lie that has already been exposed multiple times. This ideology and the intellectual class serve the system. Those economists, who don’t teach the lie, don’t get jobs.

He talks about how the corporate system is ‘socialism for the ruling class’. The corporations loot the treasury, but demand to be bailed out by the taxpayer. There is a complete disconnection between language and reality, as America has been robbed of the very language and discourse to attack this process, even though the corporations are predators on the taxpayer’s money. The bonds now being bought up by the US government include mortgages for foreclosed properties. On paper these are worth perhaps as much as $600,000, but they would need a lot of work to realise that amount due to damage to their electrical systems and flooding.

Hedges and Jay also talk about how, although America now thinks of itself as a centre-right country politically, this wasn’t always the case. Before the Second World War there was a proper liberal, working class movement and debate in the country about what kind of society it would be. This was destroyed through McCarthyism and the House Committee into Un-American Activities. And it was very successful, as Hedges himself has documented in The Death of the Liberal Class. Hedges talks about how he states in one of his books that Karl Marx was right, and that the class struggle does define most of human history. And yet one cannot discuss this on any other American channel. If you did so, you’d be accused of being un-American. Hedges states that the class struggle is at the heart of American corporatism, and that if he were head of a Wall Street company, he would only employ Marxian economists as they understand that capitalism is all about exploitation.

Hedges then states that America is the most ‘illusioned’ society on the planet. The system is such that it whitewashes and humanises even idiots like Donald Trump to disguise what they’re doing to us. The corporations spend an immense amount – billions upon billions – on PR. From their publicity, you’d think BP were Greenpeace, despite the devastation they’ve cause in the Gulf of Mexico, including the poisoning of the fish and seafood, which is then sold to American consumers. No broadcaster, however, is going to make a documentary on this because the corporate elite own the broadcasters.

The only choice in Hedges’ view is go back to Aristotle, and revolt, as the mechanisms for incremental change are no longer functioning. FDR’s New Deal for a time acted as a safety valve, but his has been destroyed. Change for the working and middle classes can’t be done through the existing political parties or the courts. What is needed is to create new parties and mass movements. The elite can’t even stop the dangerous speculation that threatens their own prosperity. He states that the people, who run Wall Street know that another, worse collapse is coming, and are just intent on stealing as much as they can before they run out the door. The head of the private healthcare company, Universal Healthcare, last year (2013) made over $100 million. All the elite are interested in is amassing their tiny empires.

Hedges states that this is symptomatic of a dying civilisation. He quotes Marx on the psychology of the super rich. When asked what it was, Marx said, ‘Apres moi, le deluge’ – ‘After me, the floods’. They know society is going to be toast, and are just concerned to loot as much as they can before it goes under. Then they think they can retreat to their gated communities, and survive. Well, they might live a little longer than everyone else, but even that’s debatable to the damage to the Earth’s ecosystem and massive climate change. The ecological harm may already be too much to avert the extinction of the human race.

Hedges views are a little too extreme for me. I don’t think the opportunities for resistance within the system are already too far gone. Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn over here offer some hope of effecting radical change within the system. But apart from that, I agree with just about everything he said. The rich are rapacious and completely uncontrolled, as you can see from the behaviour of Cameron, Osborne, IDS and the rest of the Tories.

But listen to Hedges yourself, in the video below.

Tomonews: ISIS Suicide Bomber Cries before Attack on Syrian Town

December 28, 2015

This is a grim little video from TomoNews, the news channel that produced such entertaining features as a computer-generated, rampaging Gordon Brown, and ISIS recruits kicking each other in the testicles in Pakistan, and ISIS and al-Qaeda scrapping and hitting each other like the Three Stooges in a competition over which one was the hardest and most brutal. This video is a grim little report showing a prospective suicide crying, and having to be comforted by his fellow murderers. He was apparently afraid his attack would fail. They tell him to have faith in Allah. So off he tries in his crawler, and blows himself up shortly after.

I’m reblogging this for several reasons. Firstly, it dispels the myth ISIS are trying to put out about themselves, that they are utterly unstoppable killers without any human feelings whatsoever. That’s what they’re saying to scare their enemies, which is now just about everybody else in the world. As this clip shows, they still feel fear, a fear that can reduce even the most determined butcher bent on his own destruction and those of others to tears.

That demonstration of a perfectly reasonable, human emotion, albeit perverted to serve ISIS’ ends – he was crying because he was afraid his mission would fail, rather than at the brutalities and horrors he and his loathsome comrades have already committed, also show something deeper: the artificiality and squalor of the terrorists’ suicide training itself.

The American anthropologist, Scott Atran, has pointed out that religious faith alone does not provide sufficient motivation for people to become suicide bombers. Instead, murderous groups like ISIS carefully cultivate and indoctrinate their prospective suicide bombers. Part of this involves separating them from the rest of the fighters, and developing a special group bond within them. It’s fair to say that they’re brainwashed into doing so.

And I’ve mentioned before the moral squalor of the authorities that carry out such brainwashing, whether in ISIS or not. I know Muslims from the Middle East, who despised Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, not least because of the way he encouraged young boys to serve as suicide bombers in the Iran/Iraq War in the 1980s. He handed out to them mass-produced, cheap keys, telling them that they were the keys to the kingdom of heaven. ISIS does pretty much something similar.

And remember what Owen Jones said in the video I reblogged yesterday about the Paris attacks. The people drawn to ISIS aren’t paragons of virtue. They’re a bunch of sad acts and losers, thieves and criminals. Many of them have also suffered from depression, which shows that ISIS also exploits the mentally vulnerable.

The more you see ISIS, the less invincible and impressive they seem. At their core, they’re just pathetic bullies, trying to scare their world with their brutalities into believing their something greater than they are.


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