Archive for the ‘Netherlands’ Category

Trump’s Victory Welcomed by European Far-Right

November 20, 2016

This is another short piece on how Trump represents the American part of a wave of Fascism and militant xenophobia that is on the rise throughout the West. In it, Ishaan Tharoor of the New York Times describes how Trump’s victory has been welcomed and celebrated by the European extreme right, including the Golden Dawn in Greece, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine le Pen, and the Front National in France. The clip from the Golden Dawn is particularly chilling, as it hails Trump as someone fighting against globalism and for an ethnically clean state. He concludes that the mixture of militant populism and racism fronted by a strong man figure is one that has also been attractive to American voters.

I’ve put this up because I do believe that Trump is part of the more widespread movement of Fascist and racist parties across Europe and the West and that his election victory will further encourage and stimulate these groups and their activities. Wilders wants Islam banned in the Netherlands. The French Front National are Nazis, as are the Golden Dawn, whose thugs go round beating up immigrants and murdering their political opponents. Decent people in the West, whether in America, France, Britain, Germany or wherever need to stand together against Fascism, regardless of where it appears and who endorses it in our countries. This is a major threat to the hard won freedoms of liberty and tolerance Europeans have fought for since at least the 17th century, and particularly the genocidal hatred that arose in the Nazi and associated Fascist parties in the 1920s and ’30s. We have to act, before these monsters seize power in our countries, and the pogroms and murders begin again.

The Push for War with Russia: Another Reaganite Policy?

September 8, 2016

I’ve also put up several pieces recently commenting on the increasing military tensions with Russia, and how NATO seems to be preparing for some kind of war with Russia next year. A few months ago a retired NATO general published a book with the title 2017: War with Russia, which forecasts that Putin will invade Latvia next year. We will retaliate to defend our NATO ally, and by May we and the Russians will be at war. I’ve also put up a video of George Galloway talking to the Stop the War coalition, in which he describes how he was told by a NATO general (the same one?) that British mothers may soon have to prepare themselves for sending their sons and daughters to shed their blood on the alliance’s eastern frontier. He was rightly scathing about this prediction.

There have also been several pieces in Counterpunch, reporting that Obama has stepped up production of nuclear weapons. In addition, he seems to be keen to develop limited nuclear bombs. The website and magazine also reported that the Washington Post had run an article claiming that various European countries, including us and the French, were demanding that America change its current policy against being the first to strike in a nuclear war.

This is terrifying stuff. I don’t know where the Washington Post got its story about we Europeans being so mad to have America initiate nuclear conflict. It hasn’t been reported this side of the Atlantic. I don’t know whether this was put forward in secret talks, or whether it’s a fabrication by the American military-industrial complex to encourage Obama to scrap the policy. After all, if he did, it would be just him showing how eager he is to defend us Europeans… I also don’t know, who these ‘Europeans’ demanding this change in military policy are. No-one asked me nor anyone I know. I also doubt that anyone has canvassed the opinion of the average Frenchman and -woman, Spaniards, Italians, Germans or the peoples of Scandinavia, the Netherlands or Ireland, let alone those further east.

It also appears to be another case of one of Reagan’s squalid policies coming back. In issue 11 of his Anti-Empire Report, William Blum reported

In 1984, Reagan spoke to a group of American newspaper editors about possibly limiting a nuclear war to Europe, without a single one of them regarding it as newsworthy. The fuss about his remarks only came after a European reporter had read the transcript. This of course says as much about American newspaper editors as it does about Reagan.

See: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/11

I can remember watching a piece on one of the Sunday morning news programmes back then, reporting plans for a possible nuclear war in Europe using battlefield nukes, which only had a limited range, unlike the current bombs that level whole cities. This seems to be the same idea, now being considered by Obama and the Neocons, particularly Hillary Clinton, given her highly aggressive posture on Russia.

For we Europeans, this is madness. A limited nuclear war in Europe will still leave our continent a scorched, radiation-poisoned desert from the Atlantic to the Urals. If this really is being considered, it shows just how dangerous and irresponsible our political and military leaders have become.

The Teacher’s Strike and Questionable Superiority of Independent Schools

July 5, 2016

Today teachers in some schools were going on strike in protest against Thicky Nicky’s proposed academisation of the state school system. The woman with the mad, staring eyes had originally wanted to turn all of Britain’s schools into academies, run by private education companies outside the control of the Local Education Authorities. She’s been forced to go back on this, so that not all schools will be so transformed. Nevertheless, she still wishes more schools were handed over to private sector management.

It’s another massively daft idea, which Mike has debunked several times over at Vox Political. He’s reblogged statistic after statistic and diagram after diagram showing how schools managed by the LEAs perform better and recover quicker from poor performance than either free schools or academies. But this goes by the wayside, as it contradicts over three decades of Thatcherite orthodoxy, which insists that private industry, responding to the free market, automatically knows how to run institutions and concerns better than state managers or educational professionals. As shown by the fact that Howling Mad Morgan herself has never stood in front of a chalkboard trying to teach a group of youngsters, well, just about anything. Like pretty much just about the rest of the Tory party, with the exception of Rhodes Boyson, one of Maggie’s education ministers, who had actually been a teacher.

The Tories’ and New Labour’s entire approach to education is thoroughly wrong. Rather than bringing educational standards down, LEAs and similar state regulators and inspectors in the private sector have been responsible for raising them, including in independent schools. In the 19th century, these varied massively in quality, and it was only with the foundation of the LEAs circa 1902 that standards began to improve and the very worst were forced to close. In the 1960s the numbers of independent schools were expected to decline even further. They didn’t, because the supplied a niche market for ambitious parents wishing to get their children into the elite grammar schools. This is all stated very clearly in S.J. Curtis’ and M.E.A. Boultwood’s An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800, 4th Edition (Foxton: University Tutorial Press 1970). They write:

During the last century [the 19th] schools varied greatly in efficiency. the Newcastle Commission sharply criticised a large number of them. At that time there was no legal obstacle to prevent any individual from opening a school in his own house, even if he possessed no qualification nor experience in teaching. Some of the cases singled out by the Commissioners seem almost inconceivable to a modern reader. These schools were not open to inspection, unless they asked for it, and the inefficient ones were not likely to do this. The Report of the Newcastle Commission gives numerous instances of the terrible conditions which were encountered when the Commissioners visited the worst types of private school. They reported: “When other occupations fail for a time, a private school can be opened, with no capital beyond the cost of a ticket in the window. Any room, however small and close, serves for the purpose; the children sit on the floor, and bring what books they please; whilst the closeness of the room renders fuel superfluous, and even keeps the children quiet by its narcotic effects. If the fees do not pay the rent, the school is dispersed or taken by the next tenant”. The mistresses were described as “generally advanced in life, and their school is usually their kitchen, sitting and bedroom”. The room “was often so small that the children stand in a semicircle round the teacher. Indeed, I have seen the children as closely packed as birds in a nest, and tumbling over each other like puppies in a kennel”.

The mistresses and masters would not be tolerated for one moment at the present day “None are too old, too poor, too ignorant, too feeble, too sickly, too unqualified in one or every way, to regard themselves, and to be regarded by others, as unfit for school-keeping – domestic servants out of place, discharged barmaids, vendors of toys or lollipops, keepers of small eating-houses, of mangles, or of small lodging houses, needlewomen who take on plain or slop work, milliners, consumptive patients in an advanced stage, cripples almost bedridden, persons of at least doubtful temperance, outdoor paupers, men and women of seventy and even

Evan as late as 1869, one school was described as being held “in a small low room, in aback court. There were forty-four boys of ages varying from four to fourteen. In the middle sat the master, a kindly man, but a hopeless cripple, whose lower limbs appeared to be paralysed, and who was unable to stand up. The boys formed a dense mass around him, swaying irregularly backwards and forwards, while he was feebly protesting against the noise. In a corner the wife was sitting minding the six or eight youngest children”. One wonders what kind of education the pupils received…(pp. 301-2).

The Commissioners came straight to the point when they offered an explanation for the popularity of private schools. To send a child to one of these institutions was a mark of respectability: “the children were more respectable and the teachers more inclined to fall in with the wishes of the parents. The latter, in choosing such schools for their children, stand in an independent position, and are not accepting a favour from their social superiors”. In fact, the motives of the parents could be summed up in the one word “snobbery”. (p. 302)

This was when many other countries, such as the Netherlands, Prussia and Switzerland, had a good school systems and a much higher literacy rate than in England.

Nevertheless, a sequence of reforms began in which good schools began to receive state grants and qualifications were issued to those wishing to teach. Schools also began to be inspected and the worst closed. Further reforms began with the education act of 1944, which opened up independent schools to state inspection.

The Government did not contemplate the closing of efficient private schools. The Act of 1944 directed the Minister of Education to appoint a Registrar of Independent Schools who should keep a register of them. Certain schools which were already recognised as efficient secondary schools, and some preparatory and private schools which had previously been inspected, were exempt from registration. A school found to be inefficient because of inadequate buildings, or an unqualified staff, or for some other grave reason, could be removed from the register. The proprietor was given the right of appeal to an Independent Schools’ Tribunal consisting of a chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor from the legal profession and two other members appointed by the Lord President of the Council from persons who possessed teaching or administrative experience. No officials, either of the Ministry or of a L.E.A. are eligible for appointment.

This section of the Act could not be brought into operation at once because of the shortage of H.M.I.s and difficulties as regards building materials and labour and the lack of teachers, which made it unreasonable that schools should be required to remedy their deficiencies within a fixed time. By March 1949 the situation had eased, and the inspection of independent schools began and continued at the rate of about 150 a month. By 1957, the Ministry had recognised 1,450 independent schools as efficient, and it was considered that this section of the Act could be put into force completely. In July of that year, proprietors were notified that they would be required to register their schools by 31 March 1958. The registration was provisional, and its continuance depended upon the kind of report rendered by the inspectors after their visit. During 1957, 145 schools were closed, of which 138 were of recent origin and which had become known to the Ministry for the first time. This is a comment on the strictness with which earlier regulations had been enforced.

It was expected that the number of private schools would rapidly decrease after 1944, but this did not happen. The reason was that many middle-class parents were faced with a difficult problem. Their children could not obtain entry to a grammar school unless they were qualified through the grammar school selection test at eleven plus. The only other way open to them was through a public or direct grant school, and these had a long waiting list. Competition was so keen that few children who failed to pass the grammar school entrance test would be considered. The result was that a number of private schools which offered an education similar to that given by the grammar school came into existence. The necessity of registration and inspection guaranteed their efficiency. Moreover, some primary schools, run by private teachers who were qualified, opened their doors to young children whose parents were anxious for them to pass the selection test. (p. 304).

I’ve also heard from talking to friends of mine that many of the smaller public schools in the 19th and early 20th century, such as those depicted in the Billy Bunter comic of a certain vintage, were in a very precarious economic position. They depended very much on fee-paying parents, and could not offer any more than a mere handful of free places to pupils or risk bankruptcy.

And instead of raising standards for schools, successive right-wing administrations from Thatcher’s onwards have actually lowered them. You don’t need a teaching qualification to teach at a private school. And the impression I’ve had that in order to make privately operated schools economically viable, the government has allowed them to make pay and conditions actually worse for the teaching and ancillary staff.

So the evidence, historical and based on contemporary statistics and conditions, points to academies actually being less efficient, and providing our children with a worse education than schools managed by the LEAs. But what’s this when measured against Thatcherite orthodoxy, and the need to provide a lucrative income stream to fat cat donors in the academy chains.

Empire Files: The Tyranny of Big Oil

January 19, 2016

This is another excellent video from the Empire Files. In this edition, the presenter, Abby Martin, discusses the power and corruption at the heart of the industry, from the emergence of the first oil monopoly under the Rockefellers, to the effect control of the market, the economy and US and global politics by a few firms, such as Standard Oil, Chevron, Mobil and, of course, BP. These firms have reaped massive profits, and are able to act with impunity to trash the environment, and destroy lives and livelihoods by buying the loyalty of politicians in both the Republican and Democrat parties. Through their influence in the media and in academia, they suppress or distort climate science to allow the continuing massive destruction of Earth’s fragile ecosystem through oil spills, global warming and the effects of fracking.

Martin begins by describing how oil wealth is at the very heart of US imperialism. Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Qatar have all been set up as ‘oil monarchies’ founded on its power. She describes how John D. Rockefeller climbed to his position as the world’s first oil billionaire through strong arm tactics used against the other oil firms. Rockefeller was the owner and founder of Standard Oil. He made a deal with the railway companies, which he used to force the other companies in the nascent oil companies to sell up to him. When this didn’t work, he bought their pipelines, and then used his power there to force them to give in. Eventually, Standard Oil owned 90% of all US refineries, and had a workforce of about 150,000 men. Rockefeller was, unsurprisingly, bitterly anti-union, and so they had no union representation. And since him the power of the oil tycoons subverts democracy in the US and imperils the Earth.

Martin then interviews Antonia Juhasz, the author of the book, The Tyranny of Oil, written during the final years of the Bush administration about the massive political, human rights’ and economic abuses of the oil industry. She states that Obama is not as tied to the oil industry as Bush was, but nevertheless he was not confronting the industry’s power. She then moved on to discuss the rise of deep drilling in oil rigs off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The age of easy oil, where all you had to do was stick a pipe into the ground and out it would come is over. Most of the world’s oil is already claimed, and that which isn’t, is difficult to get to. As a result, oil drilling went further out into the ocean and deeper. And the results were blow-outs and spills. Such as the BP blowout in 2012. This resulted in the deaths of a million birds. To disperse the oil, 2 million gallons of a chemical were used which made it 42% more toxic. It also caused the deaths of eleven men. During the investigation it became clear that BP actually had no plans what to do in the eventuality of a spill. They simply counted on learning it ‘on the fly’. And the result was the world’s largest offshore oil spill to date. Juhasz states that she herself saw some of the resulting ecological devastation from a submarine. All the local wildlife that could get out of the area, did. The animals and plants that couldn’t, in her words, ‘were nuked’. There’s nothing down there except a tarry blanket of oil that will be there forever.

Martin also has as another of her speakers the left-wing journalist, Greg Palast. He reveals that BP had a spill 17 months previously in the Caspian Sea. This was covered up by the company itself, the Azerbaijani government – which he terms the Islamic Republic of Azerbaijan, because it’s so completely owned by BP – and also the American government’s State Department under Condoleeza Rice. Why the American government? Because the spill was partly due to BP using an American quick-drying cement. Despite this, the US Defense Department doubled their contracts with BP.

The Gulf Coast blow-out cost BP $17 billion in fines. This is a staggering amount of money, but not nearly as much as the company should have been fined. The Bush administration passed a number of extremely strict environmental laws. If these had been properly applied, then BP would have been hit with a fine of $200 billion. This would have made it difficult for the company to continue operating. As it was, the company said that the fine they eventually got was ‘manageable’.

The programme also discusses the immense political power the oil industry has through the banking lobby, and the power of the big corporations over the Senate. In the early part of last century, pressure from the Progressive Party and mass protests and agitation caused the US government to pass the anti-trust laws and break up Standard Oil, not least because they also wanted to destroy the unions. This was fragmented into 34 separate companies. These, however, are beginning to coagulate and reform back into a single giant trust as they merge and buy each other out. BP was a prime example of this. The company only got into America because it bought a US company, Arco. By the time Standard Oil had been broken up in 1911, Rockefeller was the world’s first billionaire. At that time the world’s oil industry was owned by only three dynasties – the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds and the Dutch royal family.

This dependence on oil and the power of the oil industry has shaped the structure of American cities. The oil industry has done everything it can to destroy public transport systems. In 1949 the system of streetcars in one US city was destroyed through illegal action taken jointly by General Motors and the oil industry. The legislation passed to protect the environment contains massive exemptions for the oil industry. The corruption goes deep into government. Three of every four lobbyist for dirty energy used to work for the US government. 430 + congressmen have ties to the oil industry. And the industry has already given $35 million to political candidates for 2016. Dick Cheney was part of the industry, duly drafting legislation in its favour. Condoleeza Rice sat on the board of Chevron. And under Obama America has become the world’s top producer of oil and gas.

The programme then moves on to fracking, and the disastrous effects this has had on North Dakota. This state has been overnight transformed into an oil-producing environment. It contrasts with the other areas, where the industry has been around longer and so people have had time to get used to it and organise resistance. The state’s beautiful countryside of rolling hillsides and buttes, including a Native American reservation, are now disrupted by flaring, in which natural gas is burnt off. In neighbouring Oklahoma there have been 600 earthquakes in a single year due to the dumping of the waste water produced by fracking.

As for politics and the oil industry, the programme states that the oil industry now is the American political process. It’s not as bad under Obama as it was under Bush. Then big oil was the American government. The power of the oil industry is still there, but it’s now more subtle. Palast describes how every Republican candidate in the US elections is frantically in favour of the Excel pipeline, to the point where one of them even said that ‘you have to love it.’ This is directly due to the Koch brothers. The Koch brother bought a big refinery on the coast. However, there are laws that prevent them from using Texan oil. So they have to import ‘heavy’ oil from elsewhere. This is either Venezuela, where they’ll have to try to remove opposite by ousting Chavez or Madura, or to import it from Canada. This is the Excel pipeline, from which the Koch brothers will each get an extra $1 billion a year. Just as the Republicans are connected to the oil companies, so the Democrats have their links to BP. Obama has approved drilling in the Arctic. Palast describes how he was at one of the communities that may be affect, Qoqtovik, where he was told by one of the local Inuit that if drilling started, ‘it was over for them as a people there’. And if there is a spill in the arctic, it’ll go under the ice cap all the way to Norway.

Martin and her guests also discuss why it is Americans are so ignorant about climate change. The problem is that the oil industry buys up America’s academics. Palast states that almost every biologist in America is on BP’s payroll through grants from the Lawrence Livermore laboratory, which were donated by BP. And what happened to biology has also happened to climate science. The oil industry will also exaggerate the importance and status of dissenting scientists through the press. One flagrant example of this was when NPR, which Palast calls National Petroleum Radio, stated that the oil spill in the Gulf would be eaten by ‘oil-eating’ bacteria. This piece of disinformation came courtesy of a $1/2 billion grant to Lawrence Livermore by BP. The press, however, never informed its readers that the release and the science was paid for by that company. America no longer has an investigative press. They simply state that some people say this, while other have an opposite opinion.

Another example of corporate control over academia was in the case of Von Heerden, a meteorologist at Louisiana’s Hurricane Center. One month before Hurricane Katrina hit, Von Heerden warned that New Orleans could be under water due to the oil industry’s destruction of the neighbouring mangrove swamps for 100 miles. And 30 days later, New Orleans was under water. Instead of celebrating this man for his warning and efforts to save the city, the state closed down the Hurricane Centre and replace it with a Wetlands Centre. This was due to the state receiving a massive cheque from the oil companies, who specified that they would also choose the staff to be employed in the new Centre.

And globally the environmental damage from the oil industry is devastating, to the point where the future of the planet is in grave danger. The UN in 2015 stated for the very worst effects of climate change to be avoided, three-quarters of the world’s fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Yet in the US alone there have been 20,000 oil spills a year. In the Niger Delta they have had to put up with the consequences of the devastation equivalent to an Exxon-Mobil spill every year for the past fifty years, due to untouchable oil corporations. In 2013, 1.15 million gallons of oil was spilled due to derailed trains. The preferred mode of transport for the oil industry nevertheless remains road. From 2008 to 2012 550 workers in the oil industry were killed in industrial accidents. This is a deathrate eight times higher than the other industries. And yet the world’s use of oil is completely unnecessary. Stanford University developed a plan to transfer America entirely to renewable energy, state by state, by 2050. The cost of the Iraq War alone could have financed the world’s transition to renewables. However, the power of the oil industry will only be destroyed when the power of the American Empire is also destroyed.

Forget Fracking – Space Solar Power is the Real Alternative to Middle East Oil

December 18, 2015

Solar Power Satellites

An Array of Space Solar Power Satellites from O’Neill The High Frontier.

Mike over at Vox Political has posted a number of articles about the threat fracking poses to our homes, our communities and our environment. The Greens and community groups are very concerned about environmental damage done by such shale oil extraction. In America, the dangers posed by fracking has been highlighted by the documentary, Gasland, which shows areas where the water table has been so heavily contaminated by the gases pumped in to free the oil, that there’s footage of people setting the drinking water from their taps alight. I’ve seen other claims from the right that dispute the authenticity of that footage, at least as it applies to fracked chemicals. But there is much other evidence that fracking is unsafe and poisonous. Much like the Tories and the Republicans, who are its biggest supporters.

In the West Country near where I live, the residents of Keynsham have been concerned about fracking on their doorstep. And this week Mike reblogged a report that the Tories had passed legislation permitting fracking under the National Parks, the most beautiful areas of our Sceptred Isle. One of the arguments the Repugs have trotted out in America to justify and promote fracking is that this will somehow make America independent of Middle Eastern oil. Good, patriotic Americans need never have to worry about their dollars getting into the hands of oppressive Middle Eastern regimes or Islamist terrorist groups.

In fact, there is already a scientific alternative to oil, that deserves serious consideration because of it potential to alleviate pollution and the industrial pressure on Earth’s fragile ecosystem: Space Solar Power. Gerard K. O’Neill, one of the major pioneers and advocates of space colonisation, was strongly in favour of developing power stations out in space that would turn the Sun’s rays into energy that could be safely beamed back to Earth. Such energy could then be used to power vehicles, homes and industry without the harmful environmental impact of fossil fuels. Margo R. Deckard, a member of the Space Frontier Foundation, also described its immense ecological potential in her paper ‘A Technology for A Better Future: Space Solar Power An Unlimited Energy Source’ in the third edition of O’Neill’s book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (Ontario: Space Studies Institute/Apogee Book 200). She wrote

A fundamental challenge in the next century is how to meet the world’s growing energy needs from an environmental perspective. We must meet this challenge to provide the opportunity for prosperity to all humans. Fortunately, the Sun supplies the Earth with an abundance of clean and natural energy. Space Solar Power or SSP, is a means of collecting that energy and beaming it down to the Earth wherever it is needed. SSP may be the key to meeting this challenge. SSP could be an environmentally friendly, economical energy producing technology that simultaneously promotes the human realization that the Earth is an open system while protecting the Earth’s fragile biosphere.

She is also very much aware of the power of the Green lobby and an increasing ecologically aware public, and the potential of these groups to support the development of such power systems as well as world governments.

The following chapter, ‘Space Solar Power stations for the 21st Century’ by Peter E. Glaser further outlines the advantages of this technology. He argues

The concept of SSPS has been validated by studies undertaken by the international technical community, and supported by academic institutions, industry and governments. The results of these studies are reported in the substantial literature on the associated technical, economic, ecological and societal issues.

There is a growing consensus that SSPS could deliver sufficient energy in the form of electricity for most conceivable future human needs thereby:

* Increasing the standard of living of all inhabitants on Earth,
* Stabilising population growth,
* Safeguarding the ecology of the Earth,
* Averting potential global instabilities caused by efforts to control increasingly scarcer terrestrial energy resources, and
* Enabling the development of a spacefaring civilisation.

Space Solar Power Stations have been studied for 45 years or more, since the first international meeting was convened in the Netherlands in 1970. Among the nations that have researched such power stations are the US, Ukraine, Russia, the European Union, Japan and China. Glaser also notes that all nations are legally entitled to benefit from such energy resources under the UN Treaty Principles governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies.

And the current crisis in the Middle East should show how solar power, and particularly Space Solar Power, is a reliable and viable alternative to oil. Science Fiction frequently provides a literary Gedankenexperiment for writers to explore the possibilities in science, technology and human society that could emerge in the future. Donald Kingsbury’s short story, The Moon Goddess and the Son, is about a romance between a teenage girl, who has run away from her violent father in the hope of settling on the Moon, and the son of one of Moon colony’s leading engineers, who heartily loathes the place. The story was first published in 1979. Despite their difficulties, all ends well for the star-crossed couple. The son learns to love the Moon, and settles down as one of the engineers there. He marries the girl, who makes her living running the local bar and restaurant. The story takes place against a backdrop of political instability in the Middle East. Funding for the lunar colony looks uncertain, until there is a Communist revolution in Saudi Arabia. At which point, funding suddenly increases as Congress decides they desperately need to find an alternative energy source to oil. Space Solar Power is one of these. Eventually the Communists are defeated and the Saudi royal family restored. The lesson has been learnt, and the colony continues to develop.

Okay, so there are significant differences to today. Fortunately, the Saudis haven’t been toppled, and the threat is Islamism rather than Communism. However, there is still a threat to global oil supplies, and the Islamists are hoping to use their oil wealth to finance their wretched regimes. It would seem the opportunity is right for the development of such space-based power industries.

As for the cost of setting up such stations, it would admittedly be extremely expensive. However, way back at the start of this century I went to a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society in London about the development of space tourism. One of the speakers, a specialist in construction, stated that the costs of developing a space hotel would be equivalent to building a high-rise building on Earth. As for space power, I think he argued that it would be comparable to setting up the national grid today. In other words, they’re very expensive, but no more so than conventional, terrestrial buildings and industries, whose construction is definitely not seen as excessive.

Of course, you don’t have to go into space to get power from the Sun. Hundreds of thousands across the country are probably doing it by having solar panels on the roof of their homes and businesses. And that’s clearly annoyed the Tories, as they’re cutting funding for solar power and other renewables, just as their Republican counterparts across the Pond are doing in the Land of the Free.

The real reasons for it have less to do with the supposed disadvantages of solar power, and far more to do with the massive subsidies the oil companies receive from the US taxpayer due to giving donations to finance the campaigns of their pet politicians. And I strongly suspect that the same applies over here, especially in the Tory party, which has always promoted itself as ‘the party of business’.

Don’t be fooled by Dave Cameron gazing rapt at the TV screen as Tim Peake heads off into space. He wants the elan of backing Britain in space, but he doesn’t want us to develop the High Frontier’s vast potential for clean power, or have to put government money into anything that isn’t strictly terrestrial and won’t benefit his corporate backers. And that means he is definitely not going to put his or anybody else’s money into solar power, whether in space or down here. Why develop clean, renewable energy when his paymasters will make billions trashing the environment?

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Republicans Blocking International Disabled Rights Legislation

March 30, 2015

This is another piece of news from America, which is also relevant over here. In it, the left-wing news anchor and political commentator Rachel Maddow discusses the Republicans’ refusal to ratify an international treaty promoted disabled rights and accessibility worldwide. The treaty is itself based on legislation, which George Bush SNR signed was back in 1990. Maddow describes it as making the American laws stipulating public access for disabled people the ‘gold standard’ around the world. It had large, bi-partisan support, and was being promoted by the both the leaders of the Democrats and Republicans. This included John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, who addressed the senate from his wheelchair.

It was, however, turned down and blocked by the Repugs for what Maddow describes as ‘tin-foil hat’ reasons, that she said she wouldn’t dignify by repeating. If it’s like other international legislation that has been voted against by the Republicans, then my guess is that it involved fears about loss of sovereignty. Almost a decade ago, when the American Right was loudly denouncing Islam for the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, they refused to support an international motion in the United Nations to ban it around the world. Why? The reason appears to me to be the same reason that America has never signed up to the Human Rights court to try war crimes in the Hague. There’s a deep, pernicious fear amongst Republicans of allowing foreign nations reciprocal rights over the US. It contravenes the deep feelings of American exceptionalism in the party. This demands that America should have the freedom and power to enforce its moral standards around the world, but should never have to submit to legal constraints or judgements from other countries. This piece of news shows how far this attitude seems to go, right up to the point where it actually contravenes an American initiative to promote their standards as that of the world’s on a social issue.

I also decided to put this up because of the brief background information it gives on the disability rights movement in the US. Or at least that part of it, which campaigned for mandatory access to public transport. It came from a group called ADAPT – Americans Disabled for Access to Public Transport, which was set up in Denver in 1983. They staged a series of campaigns where they tried to get on buses en masse, despite being turned away and arrested, as the video shows. Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove include a piece by the Bristolian disability activist, Liz Crowe, ‘Catching Buses’, in their anthology of radical historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. In it, Crowe describes her campaign to get disabled people access to public transport. The piece is from 1999, nine years after George Bush made it law in America.

Sixth Form Colleges to Go Part-Time Next Year due to Tory Cuts

March 12, 2015

In addition to reporting Cameron’s plans to encourage more students to become maths and physics teachers, the I also carried a report yesterday on research carried out for the Sixth Form Colleges Association by the Institute of Education and another research group, London Economics. They predict that from September next year, 2016, government cuts will mean that the country’s 93 sixth form colleges will only be able to provide 15 hours teaching a week.

The report also shows that teaching in English sixth form colleges has gone down by three hours a week or six weeks a year since 2012.

If the report is accurate and sixth form colleges are forced to go part-time, then it means that English sixth form students will only receive half as much teaching as those in the best performing colleges in Shanghai and Singapore.

This is absolutely disgraceful, and shows what premium the Tories really place on state education. I’ve blogged before about how the Tories seem to want to return this country to the early 19th century, when education was reserved largely for the rich and privileged.

This was in very sharp contrast to France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, which were rapidly developing systems of mass education. Those of Switzerland and the Netherlands were particularly impressive.

I remember one of Thatcher’s cabinet boldly announcing when I was at school that schools should do no more than teach children the ‘three ‘R’s – reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, and no more. It so shocked the headmaster of my old school that he actually took to his lectern in assembly to denounce it, all the way while being careful not to appear to be party political.

Despite Cameron’s smooth words about promoting maths and science in schools, this shows that that attitude is alive and well in the Tory party.

I also wonder if the schools are being deliberately run down, in order to prepare them for full privatisation. Private enterprise has already been brought in to run schools, according to Friedmanite dogma. Now it appears that the government wishes to do the same to schools as it did for the other nationalised industries. They are to be run down, and then sold off at an immense profit to private industry, which will then immediately start introducing charges and run them for profit.

If this is the case, then we can kiss goodbye to the free education so many people have dearly fought for.

I hope I’m wrong.

But regardless of why the government is doing this, it’s still a disgrace.

Nigel Farage Interviewed by Evan Davies on Thatcher, NHS and Gay Kissing

February 14, 2015

Farage Drawing

Yesterday I blogged on a piece by Jon Stone in the Independent reporting that Nigel Farage was in favour of introducing the American healthcare system, where it was funded by insurance into the NHS. It looks as though Stone partly based his piece on this interview Farage gave to the Beeb’s Evan Davies on Newsnight a few nights ago.

In summary, Farage talks about how he had been a follower of Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s, and agreed with her about rolling back the state and cutting down the power of the trade unions. He also states that he’s been a lot of other things besides, like a Churchillian. He states he stands for a small state, deregulation and removing taxes.

On the subject of the NHS, he denies that he’s in favour of its privatisation. In answer to careful questioning for Davies, he states that everyone in the 1990s, even Tony Blair, was in favour of finding private solutions to the problem of the NHS. These have not worked. The outsourcing only accounts for 6 per cent of NHS work, and the health service has been saddled with massive debt through the Private Finance Initiative. He wishes to abolish this. He then goes on to say that the state and private enterprise should be kept separate, as mixing them in the NHS has not worked. He does, however, also state that as the population grows to 80, 90, 100 million, we will have to find new ways of financing it, including looking at an insurance-funded system. ‘Nothing should be set in stone’, says the Fuhrer.

On the subject of gay men kissing, Farage himself denies that he personally has any problem with it. On the other hand, many people do have a problem with it, and they shouldn’t be treated with the harsh disapproval that some give them now.

Slippery Farage

This interview actually shows just how slippery and specious Farage is. Much of what he said in this interview makes him and his party look benign and reasonable. He is absolutely right about the Private Finance Initiative. It hasn’t worked. All it has done is make the shareholders of the private contractors extremely rich while saddling them with massive debt. Even George Osborne recognised this. And made exactly the same promise.

Which is why you can’t trust him on this point.

Before the 2010 election, Osborne stated very clearly that the Private Finance Initiative was a disaster and said he would get rid of it. He hasn’t, and it’s gone on regardless, as has the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice … etc.

As for Margaret Thatcher, Farage has said repeatedly that his is a Thatcherite party. Of course, he doesn’t want to say this outright and unqualified on Newsnight, as it means that some of the Labour voters, who he hopes to win over, will immediately drop UKIP like a hot rock. So it’s heavily qualified with flannel about other people he respects, like Winston Churchill, whom he hopes have universal respect.

As for introducing an insurance based system into the NHS, he states that it’s partly done in France and the Netherlands to some extent. In fact, it’s the basis for the health care systems in much of Europe. A Swiss lady I know explained that in her country, medical care was funded partly by the state and partly through insurance contributions. Most people had a mixture of state/ private insurance. Only the very rich had completely private insurance, and only the poorest had completely state care. I think there was a similar system introduced in one of the American states on the East Coast, to the sneers and derision of much of the rest of America.

Now, if Farage wishes to introduce funding through insurance contributions, as in France and the Netherlands, then he still wants to privatise the NHS by opening it up to private health insurance companies.

Despite what Farage believes, or appears to believe, this will make treatment even more expensive. One fifth of Americans cannot afford their healthcare, because of the way insurance premiums have ballooned over the past decade. Farage clearly wants to introduce that into the UK.

And while he says he doesn’t want to privatise the NHS, he also made comments to the contrary. As has his deputy, Paul ‘Eddie Hitler’ Nuttall.

So I simply don’t believe him when he says he doesn’t want to privatise the NHS. It’s exactly what the Tories have said, even when they are doing their level best to sell it off.

As for gay men kissing, while he’s right that there are many people, who would feel uncomfortable about, Farage’s party goes far beyond simple disapproval. Much of the party is bitterly anti-gay, just as the party is also vehemently racist, despite what Farage claims. UKIP’s opponents have attacked the party because, despite it’s ostensibly softer, more reasonable approach, it threatens to legitimise bigotry and intolerance against ethnic minorities. And from this interview, it would also seem gays.

In short, don’t be taken in by the weasel words Farage has made in this interview. His is still a very intolerant party, and he still stands for the privatisation of the NHS, whatever he says.

Vox Political On the Satirical Response to Fox News’ Ideas about Muslim Birmingham

January 12, 2015

As the piece I’ve reblogged from Pride’s Purge shows, Fox News has lived down to its reputation for accurate reporting. The channel of ‘fair and balanced reporting’ (copyright R. Murdoch) declared that Birmingham and many other British cities, are now ‘completely Muslim’ and ‘non-Muslims simply don’t go in’. This has produced an outcry across the social media, from the people of those cities. Apparently it’s also news to them that their cities are completely Muslim, and non-Muslims don’t live there or visit. Mike over at Vox Political has some of the highly amusing responses. The article’s ‘Fox News announces Birmingham is a ‘no-go zone’ for non-Muslims’ and it’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/11/fox-news-announces-birmingham-is-a-no-go-zone-for-non-muslims/.

And some of them are hilarious. Among some of the best is the joke that’The English City of Ba’ath is dedicated to the overthrow of the state of Israel. (Bernie Banter)’.

Across the North, people are holding up placards saying, ‘Je suis Benny’, (the much-loved character from the soap Crossroads).

Jasper Carrot is the Islamic theocratic rulers of Birmingham.

Mike also reports that there is now a petition calling on the Mayor of Birmingham and other British cities to let Non-Muslims back in. Mike comments on this “[edit: it’s a shame to have to add this bit, because it spoils the joke a bit – but for the avoidance of doubt, this is a satirical petition. I know that Birmingham is a diverse city and that everyone is welcome there as in all other cities in the UK. Fox News’ so-called ‘expert’ apparently does not.]”

There is a more sinister aspect to this. It could be suggested that, by making these claims on a major news channel, the Murdoch media is trying to stir up internecine unrest in the United Kingdom. This is, of course, illegal.

The Fox News report that so libelled Birmingham follows a series of articles by Right-wing, anti-Islamic journalists like Mark Steyn about the Islamification of European cities. Steyn on his blog has repeatedly commented on the majority Muslim state of Feyenoord in the Netherlands. According to him, the Muslim dominated town council issued an invitation to its non-Muslim inhabitants to convert to Islam. Steyn also believes and promotes the idea of ‘Eurabia’, the prediction that Muslim immigration and higher birth rates will soon result in a Muslim majority Europe.

There’s a geo-political aspect to this, as it looks to me less like an objective prediction of the future for Europe, and more like a piece of Israeli psy-ops designed to promote solidarity between Europe and Israel, and their programme of gradual isolation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, as well as a more generally hostile attitude to the Islamic world. The Arab Israeli birth rate is slightly higher than the Israeli, and there are parts of Israel where already the Arab population is estimated to be the majority, such as the Negev. Moreover, Arabs dominate certain sectors of the economy, such as fruit-picking, where the wages are too low and conditions too poor to be attractive to Israeli workers. There was also a shock when 75 per cent of young Israelis responded ‘Yes’ in a questionnaire to the question, ‘Would you rather live in America, with Christian neighbours who like us, rather than Israel with Muslim neighbours who hate us?’ There is also political tension between the Israeli religious right, who wish to expand the Israeli state so that its borders match those when it was at its greatest extent at the time of the Bible. Other, more pragmatic politicians fear that this would overstretch the population and its resources, and that incorporating these new territories would have to be accompanied with the loss of areas, such as the Negev, with an Arab majority. On these problems facing Israel, see the chapter in the book edited by Albert Hourani on the history and contemporary situation in the Middle East.

It looks to me that the predictions of a coming Muslim-dominated Europe are based very much on the real demographic predicament of Israel. I also believe that the recent statements by various rabbis and Jewish authorities, that Jews are no longer safe in Europe and should move to Israel, are a part of this strategy to exploit the current victimisation of the Jewish population in Europe in order to solve some of Israel’s demographic problems through immigration. I am certainly not complacent about the severe threats to European Jews from the stormtroopers of the Right and militant Islam, especially after the murders of Jews in France and elsewhere. I think, however, that the real threat to their safety is being exaggerated by the militant Zionist Right.

Thus Fox News presents the idea that Muslims have completely dominated several British cities as objective fact, in order to promote the ideas of American exceptionalism. In their view, America and Israel both stand alone against the tide of Muslims threatening to overwhelm the West.

Coming Soon to TV this Christmas: IDS – A Real Video Nasty?

December 13, 2014

Ever since Charles Dickens invented the ‘traditional’, Victorian Christmas with A Christmas Carol, ghost and horror stories have been a part of the season’s entertainment. In the 1970s and ’80s the BBC broadcast a series of ghost stories, including a version of Dickens’ The Railwayman, and the chilling tales of the master of the British ghost story, M.R. James. The latter were told by Robert Powell, taking the part of James himself, who every Christmas settled down in his room at Oxford to tell a story of the ghastly and supernatural to his students. Last year Mark Gatiss of the League of Gentlemen and now Dr Who, presented a documentary on James’ life and career. Gatiss and the other members of the League were horror fans, and arguably much of the new Dr Who has its roots less in Science Fiction than Dark Fantasy and Horror. He therefore was a good choice as the programme’s presenter.

Other spooky delights on offer on TV in the past were Hammer’s gory and grisly tales, such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and The Wolfman, featuring Oliver Reed as a werewolf, a part, which it could be said, he continued playing in many of his subsequent dramatic performances on chat shows around the world for much of his life. Some of his still remember his finest hour when he was thrown off the final programme of the discussion programme, After Dark.

Now watching the trailers last night for the forthcoming seasonal delights on the Beeb, I came across something that was genuinely unpleasant, far more so than anything dreamed up by Terence Fisher and the other fevered minds at Bray Studios in the 1960s. It was for a celebrity edition of University Challenge, and one of the faces looked like that of IDS.

This is genuinely grotesque. Christmas is traditionally a time of peace and goodwill to all, and yet there’s precious little of that on display with IDS and his actions. This is the politician, who has cut benefits and imposed sanctions to the point where claimants have actually died of cold and starvation on Britain’s streets, in their homes, or taken their lives through desperation. This is the politicians, who has lied and lied again about the effects of his policies to parliament. Not only that, but he is also personally treacherous and utterly without honour. When one lady, a Dutchwoman who had grown up here, worked all her life and paid her tax came to him as her MP about immigration problems, not only did … Smith refuse to help, he tried to have her deported.

Good King Wenceslaus, the song goes, took pity on a poor man ‘gathering winter fuel’, and so took him home to share his food and hearth out of charity. The real King Wenceslaus was the early medieval king of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, who converted the country to Christianity. I’ve got the feeling that the Czech version of his name is Vaclav, which is obviously still a popular name in the Republic. It’s the first name, for example, of the dissident poet and first democratic Czech president after the fall of Communism, Vaclav Havel. I don’t know whether the real King Wenceslas ever did what the carol describes, but it’s not impossible. Medieval religion strongly emphasised charity and the ‘works of mercy’ as part of the co-operative grace granted to humanity through which they could gain salvation partly through their good works. It formed what modern scholars have termed an ‘economy of salvation’ in which wealthy merchants and rich noblemen were careful to work out exactly how much money they should spend on charity for the poor in order gain time off in Purgatory. Looking after the material needs of the poor was particularly important, as it was believed that they far dearer to the Lord than the rich, and so their blessings and prayers were particularly important in securing God’s pardon.

For all IDS’ rhetoric about ‘social justice’, I’ve seen precious little evidence that IDS has anything but hatred and contempt for the poor. Far from helping the poor man collect his firewood, and show due concern for the page following in his footsteps against treacherous, icy footing, IDS strikes me as far more likely to have taken away the pauper’s firewood as above the level allowed by feudal law, and given him a strong lecture on his improvidence and lack of self-sufficiency in not having rationed his firewood properly in the Christmas season. And the page would have to have made his own way to keep up with the king, as this would have been the only way to give him the proper training to compete in the go-ahead, globalised economy of the 11th century.

It also struck me as the beginning of a charm offensive by the Tory party in preparation for next year’s election. The Tories are keenly aware that they have an image as ‘the nasty party’. IDS himself is surely aware that he is one of the most hated men in Britain. It’s why he opened a jobs fair in his constituency, Chingford, early and left before the masses arrived. It’s also why he has been forced to sneak out the back when appearing at a job centre in Bath, as well as hide in laundry baskets to escape protesters. He’s also such a physical coward that when he appeared before a select committee in parliament to give evidence, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed cops, pointing their guns at the public, including a number of disabled people and their carers in the public gallery.

His appearance on a festive edition of University Challenge looks like an attempt to present him as genial and family-friendly, a jolly type quite prepared to make a fool of himself on a quiz show at this time of year, rather than the vindictive, mean-spirited curmudgeon his really is.

It also seems to bear out a comment by Mark Kermode about the personal character of the makers of Horror and Family movies. Kermode’s the film critic on Radio 5 Live. He’s a long term Horror fan, having written books on Horror cinema and spoken before the British Boards of Film Certification about the censorship of particular video nasties. You remember them. They were films like Driller Killer, I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left, that were so disgusting that when they appeared in the 1970s and ’80s they were banned. Kermode has said in his reviews that the makers of Horror movies all invariably tend to be really nice people. Wes Craven, who made Last House on the Left and then the Nightmare on Elm Street series, was actually a genuinely nice, highly educated, intelligent man. Craven has said in interviews that the extreme and genuinely disgusting violence and brutality in Last House on the Left was partly inspired by the images that were coming out of Vietnam in 1973. He saw the film as a polemic against violence, and showing how violence simply begets even more violence. To that point, he once walked out of one of Quentin Tarentino’s flicks. When one of the horror great Horror directors asked him how he could walk out of Tarentino’s movie, after he had directed something as revolting as Last House on the Left, Craven replied, ‘Well at least my movie’s about something!’

M.R. James seems to be another case in point. Rather than being a pale, sour misanthrope, Gatiss’ programme described James as quite a jovial, very sociable figure in real life, who enjoyed physically romping with his fellow students. Gatiss talked to the son of one of James’ students, who said that his father believed him to have been a non-practicing gay. Regardless of the speculation about James’ sexuality, what was clear was that James was a genuinely friendly man, who enjoyed his friends’ company and affection.

By contrast, according to Kermode, you can bet that the people who make family films are personally nasty. Well, this seems pretty much the case with IDS, which is no doubt why he wants to appear on TV in a positive light. Forget Hammer, Frankenstein, Dracula and Freddie Kruger, this is one Horror story I’ll be glad to miss.