Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Secular Talk on UN Condemnation of Illegal Israeli Settlements

January 4, 2017

Last week, the UN voted 14 to none against the construction of further illegal settlements by the Israelis in occupied Palestine, with America abstaining. As you can expect, this sent Benjamin Netanyahu into the petulant rage he and the Zionist authorities in Israel adopt whenever the international community dares to criticise them. Netanyahu attacked President Obama for apparently betraying Israel to its enemies, and told the UN ambassador for New Zealand that his country had virtually ‘declared war’ on Israel. Which is an utterly preposterous statement. I’m very much aware of the poverty and marginalisation experienced by New Zealand’s Maoris, the racism against them and other indigenous Pacific peoples, that have immigrated to the country. But in many ways, New Zealand is also a profoundly liberal society. I can recall reading in one of the old encyclopedias we used to have at school that a certain number of seats in the New Zealand legislature were reserved for the Maoris. I also think that Kiwi women had the vote in the late 19th century, decades before women in Britain had it. I can also remember looking through the prospectus of one of the universities in New Zealand when I was doing voluntary work for one of the museums here in Bristol. Many of the courses were very ‘right on’, explicitly tackling racism and the brutalisation of Black people. It seems to me that, despite its problem, NZ is very far from being any kind of racist, Fascist state.

Secular Talk have put up a couple of videos about this, pointing out the glaring, risible and grotesque faults in Netanyahu’s entire position and response. Kyle Kulinski, the host, makes the point that the UN has not attacked Israel as a country or denied its right to exist. It has merely demanded that Israel should abide by international law. He notes that whenever Israel is condemned for its human rights abuses, they make a great play of demanding that Israeli should only be condemned the same way other nations are condemned. Which is Kulinski’s position exactly. Kulinski also goes further, and makes the point that by ignoring the UN’s resolution on this, which he recognises is toothless, Israel will be breaking international law, and, by definition, be a ‘rogue state’.

He also criticises Barack Obama for taking a far too indulgent line towards Israel on this matter. Obama has not condemned Israel. He merely abstained from voting, which is hardly any kind of strong criticism. Despite Netanyahu’s ranting, America has always strongly supported Israel. Obama has given billions of dollars in aid to the country, and supplied the Iron Dome missile defence system. At one point, Kulinski says that what is needed is for Obama to cut off all aid the next time the Israelis accuse America of not doing enough for them. He also makes the point that the UN condemnation of illegal Israeli settlements would actually make the country safer, as it would remove one of the major objects of Palestinian resentment.

They also put up another video commenting on an interview on American TV with the Israeli minister of education, Naftali Bennett. Bennett was asked about the illegal settlements, and responded by flatly denying there were any. He also claimed that the Israelis weren’t violating international law by taking over the Palestinian part of the city and making it their capital, because it had been Israel’s capital for 3,000 years.

This is wrong, and a grotesque rewriting of history. Yes, Jerusalem was the capital of ancient Israel after it was conquered from the Jebusites by King David. Before then, it was a Canaanite city state under Egyptian suzerainty. Diplomatic letters from its mayor, requesting Egyptian aid against the other city states, have been preserved along with other documents in the Amarna archive from that time.

But for most of the past 2,000 Israel simply didn’t exist, and Jerusalem was not the capital of a Jewish state. After the Bar Kochba rebellion of the 2nd century, the Jews were expelled from their capital, and it was refounded as a pagan city. The seat of Jewish government moved to Galilee. After the Fall of Rome, it was part of the Arab Islamic caliphate. For a brief period in the Middle Ages it was conquered by the Crusaders, and became a Christian kingdom amongst the other Crusader states of Outremer. It was then reconquered by the Muslims, and up until the British mandate was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Bennett’s statement shows the Israelis’ determination to erase Palestinian history and that of the last 2,000 years. Last year, 2016, Counterpunch carried an article about the Israelis’ attempts to destroy every trace of the Palestinians’ own connection to their land through attacks on their education system. The article pointed out the high number of schools that have been attacked by Israeli forces, and the constraints placed on the Palestinians and the teaching of their culture in Israeli schools. It is illegal, for example, to teach anything about the Palestinians’ connection to their homeland, such as poems celebrating this aspect of Palestinian life.

In his desire to remove an entire people from history as well as dispossess them of their own land, Bennett shows precisely the same attitudes towards history and conquest as the Nazis and Communists under Stalin. He and Netanyahu are utterly disgraceful and should be thrown out of office. And the construction of further illegal settlements on the West Bank should stop immediately.

Vox Political on the Failings of Trident

July 19, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a long piece on the many faults of the Trident nuclear submarines that the Conservatives, the Americans and Owen Smith would like to see adopted by this country as part of its ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent. His piece is quite a long one, containing a couple of memes laying out just how expensive Trident is, what else could be done with the money, and indeed the very many problems with Trident and Britain’s nuclear deterrent as a whole.

In short, the main problems are that it’s extremely expensive, to the tune of about £205 billion. The number of jobs it will create in the UK is minimal: about 520 in Faslane maintaining the subs. All the others are going to be in America. And oh yes, it runs on an obsolete version of Windows. We live in a world of built-in obsolescence, where products are designed to become obsolete within a couple a years so the manufacturer can get you to buy more, but this is taking the concept way too far.

And one of the more general problems with Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is that it isn’t. We effectively gave control over our nuclear weapons decades ago. We’re basically paying for the privilege of having an American weapons system on our island. This may not do anything for us, but it will help defend America. I’m not being cynical. I can remember hearing about several simulations of a nuclear war with Russia, which ended up with us and the rest of Europe a radioactive cinder, but America effectively protected by its long distance and by having many of its nuclear missiles located outside the homeland, in the more vulnerable locations in Europe.

Mike’s article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/18/trident-debate-reveals-faults-of-uks-independent-nuclear-deterrent/

Trident is supported in the Labour party by Owen Smith, one of the challengers for the leadership of the Labour party against Jeremy Corbyn. Smith said on the Andrew Marr show that he was for disarmament through multilateralism. When pressed on whether he would push the button, Smith announced that he was indeed prepared to ‘annihilate millions of people’.

Mike comments: ‘What a nice guy!’

In this respect, Smith is actually worse, much worse than Ted Heath. Every Prime Minister when they take office has to write out the orders to be given to the commanders of the nuclear subs in the case of a nuclear attack. Blair when it was his turn understandably went white. Major insisted on making the decision over the weekend, as he felt he could only make it back in his constituency. And Ted Heath, so I’m told, wrote out a message that basically consisted of ‘Goodbye, chaps, and good luck. Don’t bother retaliating, as there’s nothing left to defend. It’s all been destroyed. Go and sail down to New Zealand or which other country has survived, and have a nice life.’

A civilised, philosophic response from someone who realised that nuclear war made all this futile.

The possession of nuclear weapons hasn’t made the world safer. Indeed, it’s made it even more dangerous, as increasing numbers of countries now have, or are developing nuclear weapons. And far from standing for peace, Barack Obama has actually increased America’s military spending and its nuclear arsenal. Of his possible successors, Donald Trump is a maniac, who looks all too unstable enough to start a nuclear war, while Shrillary is the ‘Queen of Chaos’, a hawk every bit as bloodthirsty and indifferent to the suffering of the weaker countries America and the West have ground under their jackboot as George W. Bush and his cabinet of horrors.

I’ve mentioned several times before that I and the rest of my generation have lived through one Cold War and the threat of nuclear Armageddon. I remember all the right-wing shouting when I was at school about how we needed nuclear weapons to defend ourselves. Part of this was just superpower posturing. Way back in the 1960s there was debate about Britain being a ‘third-rate power’ after the loss of the colonies. The possession of nuclear weapons seems to me to be a kind of psychological compensation. We’ve lost our place as a superpower, and other countries have overtaken us in terms of economy and manufacturing. But hey look! We can still turn somewhere into radioactive slag!

Unfortunately, all this military posturing and sabre-rattling is seen by most of the population as being self-evidently true and correct. So true that it hardly needs to be defended. We need nuclear weapons, just like we need the armed forces. Except that we don’t. They’re expensive, they’re not keeping us safe, and as I said, for much of the time it all looks like a scam by the arms industry to boost their profits. But it’ll be defended with all the establishment’s might and main, because Britain depends on it, the special relationship with America depends on it, and Jeremy Corbyn is against it.

Daphne du Maurier Book on a Britain Dominated by America after Brexit

June 8, 2016

Yesterday, the I newspaper published a letter by a Michael Steed, discussing one of the lesser known works of the great Cornish writer, Daphne du Maurier. It was one that casts a very peculiar, and fascinating perspective over the Brexit campaign. It was about a Britain which had broken away from Europe, and formed a union with America, a political arrangement which was merely the constitutional disguise for an American occupation of these islands. Mr Steed wrote

Almost 50 years ago Daphne du Maurier wrote a novel, Rule Britannia, in which the UK elected a coalition government, and in a referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU the people voted to leave. The result was economic meltdown and the country forged a merger with the US to create a new country called USUK, with the President and Queen as joint heads of state, and created military, political and economic links with English-speaking nations to encircle Russia and its allies.

The new regime was enforced by what was, in effect, a military occupation of the UK by American forces, with rationing, roadblocks and martial law resulting in a civil war in the UK.

Now how much of that is going to happen, I wonder? (p. 14).

Du Maurier’s book is clearly a fantasy, but the Conservatives have, from time to time, urged Britain to form a union with the US. The last time they did so was in the 1920s. More recently, in the ’80s or ’90s there was a graphic novel about a Britain that had also forged a union with the US to become America’s 51st state. I think it was written by that indefatigable comics stalwart and champion of radical literature, Alan Moore. I’ve got a feeling that the story concerned industrial and political dissent in this future Britain during a presidential election.

And the Euro-sceptics and Brexiteers are keen for Britain to form closer links with the English-speaking world. One of the most vocal about this has been the Dorset Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, who has often appeared in posts over at Guy Debord’s Cat, where his appalling right-wing views and sheer lies have been dissected and refuted at length. Hannan hates the EU and the National Health Service, and has urged us to leave the European Union. He also has written at length about how we should also forge greater links with what he calls ‘the Anglosphere’ – the wider English-speaking world, like America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Part of his reason for doing so, one could guess, was not just nationalism and patriotism, but also a desire to contain and combat socialism and the Labour party through closer connections with the US.

Du Maurier’s book is clearly an exaggeration of possible trends written in the 1960s, but nevertheless it does have some basis in political fact, and the extreme attitudes of anti-Europeans like Hannan and Farage.

The British Intelligence Service’s Plans for a Coup and the Internment of Radicals in the 1970s

February 17, 2016

Earlier this evening I reblogged a piece from Vox Political, where Mike discussed a piece in the Canary about Cameron’s plans to isolate Islamist radicals in a special prison, rather like Guantanamo Bay. Mike raised the obvious and chilling question of whether this would be a concentration camp, especially with the government’s secret courts providing the legal basis for the Nazi-style Nacht und Nebel round-up and imprisonment of radicals.

I believe Mike’s fears are entirely justified. In the mid-1970s there were sections of the establishment that openly advocated a coup against the-then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. They’re discussed by the journalist and frequent guest on the News Quiz, Francis Wheen in his book, Strange Days Indeed: Paranoia in the 1970s. They’re also discussed, along with other intrigues and campaigns by MI5 and MI6 against the Labour left in ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone’s book, Livingstone’s Labour: A Manifesto for the Nineties. He writes

As the economy disintegrated under Wilson’s mismanagement, there began to be talk of the need for a change of government or even a coalition of the great and the good drawn from the British establishment. In the summer of 1967, the CIA, the FBI, MI5, MI6, and the Australian and New Zealand security services met in secret in Melbourne, Australia. They were addressed by Golitsin about his Wilson allegations and Wright presented information which he claimed raised the question of the loyalty of Willi Brandt. This meeting was followed by a visit to MI5 by Angleton who claimed to have confirmation from another source, whom he claimed could not be named, that Wilson was indeed a Soviet agent.

Matters began to hot up when the press baron Cecil King, a long-standing MI5 agent, began to discuss the need for a coup against Wilson. He informed Peter Wright that the Mirror would publish any damaging anti-Wilson leaks that MI5 wanted aired, and at a meeting with Lord Mountbatten and the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Solly Zuckerman, King urged Mountbatten to become the leader of a government of National Salvation. Zukerman pointed out that this was treason and left the meeting which came to nothing due to Mountbatten’s reluctance to act. (P. 53).

He also states that one army intelligence officer states that the security services had also convened meetings to determine the location of a possible internment camp for radicals in the Shetland Islands. One of those involved in this process was George Young, who had been the deputy head of MI6. ‘Red’ Ken quotes this passage from Young’s Subversion and the British Riposte, published in 1984:

(A) security counter-action need cover no more than 5,000 persons, including some 40 MPs, not all of them Labour; several hundred journalists and media employees, plus their supporting academics and clerics; the full-time members and main activists of the Communist party and the Socialist Workers Party; and the directing elements of the 30 or 40 bodies affecting concern and compassion for youth, age, civil liberties, social research and minority grievances. The total internment could easily be accommodated in a lesser ‘Gaelic Archipelago’ off the West Highlands.

Livingstone goes on to state that in the end the talks of coups amounted to nothing through a variety of factors. King lost his place at Mirror newspapers because of his increasingly erratic behaviour, which got worse. In 1974 he gave a speech to a group of officers at Sandhurst, urging them to overthrow Wilson in coup. ‘They thought he was made’, says the Bane of Thatcher. (p.54)

He also states that MI5 was also behind smears that Ted Heath was gay. Apparently the Tory MP Captain Henry Kerby was used to spread the rumour that the Tory Prime Minister was gay and had had an affair with a Swedish diplomat. Says Ken ‘I suspect that for some in MI5 being a Swedish diplomat and homosexuality were virtually synonymous anyway.’

Livingstone says that this sound like something from one of Frederick Forsythe’s grotty novels, but it’s all true and deadly serious. I’m sure he’s right. And the same kind of rumour mongering started again in the 1990s about the late former Labour leader, Michael Foot. It was Golitsin again. According to the defector, Foot was a KGB spy codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’. Really. And the conduit for the smear, which cost Murdoch a liberal actions, was the Times under its editor David Leppard.

You’d like to think that MI5 and MI6 had changed since the days of Thatcher. David Cameron, however, is despite all his verbiage about ‘One Nation’ Toryism, a Far Right authoritarian. I simply don’t think you can discount the idea that he would start rounding people up as subversives, not just Muslim radicals, but anyone, anyone at all, if he could get away with it. And his decision to start setting up special jails of Islamists seems to confirm it.

Cameron’s is a government of ‘filofascisti’. It’s the terms the Italians used to describe the ’80s generation of Yuppie Fascists. Rather than appear in Blackshirts and jackboots, they all adopted sharp business suits, and posed for the cameras like the models in GQ adverts for suits. The desire to imprison, beat, and attack immigrants, trade unionists, Socialists, Communists and others remained. Just as it is with Cameron and his pack of thugs.

Secular Talk: Economic Policy Group Shows ‘Welfare Queens’ Have Little Factual Basis

February 7, 2016

This is another excellent political snippet from Secular Talk. In this video, Kyle Kulinski discusses the findings of the Economic Policy Institute, as reported in the International Business Times, that ‘welfare queens’ don’t really exist. ‘Welfare queens’ was the term given by Reagan to lazy, unemployed women, who didn’t want to work and just scrounged off welfare. The Institute’s study shows that most of the people on welfare are the working poor, people in work whose wages don’t cover their basic needs. The report states that

* 2/3 of all people on needs-based public assistance are either working, or have a family member who’s working.

* About half of all recipients of public assistance are working full time.

The report states outright that indolence and laziness aren’t pushing up the welfare bills. Low pay is. And the reports goes on to say that massive bonuses and pay is awarded to corporate executives, it’s appropriate to ask whether corporations are passing their societal responsibilities to tax payers.

* Nearly half of all workers in the forestry, fishing and hunting sectors receive help of some kind.

* This is also true of a 1/3 of those in retail, recreation, entertainment, accommodation and food sector.

Kulinski makes the point that the solution is to the raise the minimum wage. He states that many Republicans actually do want the minimum wage to be raised. He attacks the Republicans, who want to close down welfare programmes, arguing that this would make America Somalia, and force people to starve. He also makes it very clear that he has no time for hypocritical Republicans, who say they love Jesus, but don’t want to put Christ’s concern for the poor and excluded into effect. If America were to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, $45 billion in taxes would be saved. Kulinski points out that this is because workers, when they can’t make enough to live on, turn to the state safety net, which is provided by the taxpayer. Thus, if you pay people a living wage, the Republicans could cut the welfare bill, including Medicaid. All you have to do is make Walmart pay their workers more. He argues that Walmart would be able to afford the extra $2 an hour paid to people, and that the cost passed on to the public would at most be 8c more. This would not stop people going to Walmart.

Kulinski concludes that the system now works by making a miniscule percentage extremely rich, who then give crumbs to everyone else. They have to go on welfare to make ends meet, but the corporations have bought congress, so it looks in the other direction. Kulinski states in very forthright terms that this must go.

The show also has some of the cartoons showing the hypocritical attitude towards poor women. When they’re pregnant, the Republicans are desperate not to let them abort the child. When they have the child, the Republicans are hurling abuse and stating they should never have got pregnant in the first place. And there’s a cartoon of a fat cat businessman on a mountain of money accusing a starving worker of being greedy.

This study really should surprise no one. It’s been that way for about twenty years. At the end of the 1990s the Financial Times, then a Liberal newspaper, stated that the vast majority of the poor across the Developed World were working. This is the case for America, Australasia and Europe. They reviewed a programme on the radio about poverty in New Zealand, which showed the problems working people in the land of the Kiwi and the All Blacks had keeping body and soul together. Same as hard-workin’ folks in the Appalachians. And there has been report after report, study after study, showing it in Britain.

And it’s fairly clear that, despite the vilification of people on welfare as benefit frauds and scroungers, aIDS, Cameron and Osbo are very aware of this. No, ‘aIDS’ isn’t a spelling mistake. I’ve decided to call the ‘Gentleman Ranker’ aIDS, because like that foul disease he’s determined to kill people, and spread his vile poison throughout society. But back to the main point. IDS and the others have passed regulations stipulating that if you’re receiving benefit for low pay, you get a phone from your ‘Job Coach’ encouraging you to get a better paid job. In order to cut the welfare bill, of course. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that they know the majority of the poor in this country are working, and aren’t being paid a proper, living wage. But they really don’t want to admit that, as the free market is supposed to make sure that everyone gets what they deserve, in a rising tide that lifts all boats due to trickle down economics. This was rubbish when Reagan and Thatcher spouted it. Hunter S. Thompson had a go at it in Generation of Swine. But they’re still going on as if it were all true, thirty years later.

There’s only one sure way to tackle in work poverty, and that is to demand the minimum wage be raised. And to vote out the people, who are blocking this. Like AIDS Ian Duncan Smith.

The Young Turks on the Dildo-Tossing Protestor of New Zealand

February 6, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political ran this story about a woman in New Zealand, who was so incensed at the violation of her country’s sovereignty by the Trans-Pacific trade deal, similar to the TTP, that she lobbed a sex toy at one of the politicos responsible: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/05/the-serious-message-that-prompted-a-woman-to-hit-a-politician-in-the-face-with-a-sex-toy/.

In this video, the Young Turks’ anchors Jimmy Dore, Mark Thompson and Ana Kasparian also discuss the incident, and quote the young woman in full. They discuss her concerns about national sovereignty, including the possibility that she might have been motivated by fears that multinationals will use the deal to trash the environment. They state that they’ve been critical of the threat the TTP poses to American businesses, jobs and sovereignty when it kicks in. They raise the point that foreign companies will then be able to come in, and prospect and exploit natural resources in America, without respect for Americans’ right to control the natural wealth of their country. And Jimmy Dore makes the excellent point about the danger this will also pose to local legislation to reduce the risk of oil spills. Chicago has passed laws stating that only double-hulled oil tankers can stop at its port facilities, in order to reduce the risks of an environmental disaster. But, says Dore, many nations are still using only single-hulled tankers. There’s a real danger, therefore, that if the TTP comes in, the oil companies and shipping lines using such vessels were go to an international court, and force countries and cities like Chicago to accept those ships.

They also note the duplicity of the political class on this issue. They note that the Republicans have always been accusing Obama of betraying America, and giving away American sovereignty. Most of the time it’s just propaganda, but this time they’re right. Not that this makes them any better. They state that Obama is basically a moderate, corporatist Democrat, and allege that half the time he is so moderate that he does pretty much what they want. And this is very, very much the case now. Obama is giving away American sovereignty on the TTP trade deal, but it is not being condemned by the Republicans because they also are four-square behind it. America is being betrayed for the benefit of the big corporations that run it. It shows the depth of the corruption in modern American politics.

On a lighter note, as you can imagine there’s a lot of joking about dildos as missiles to be thrown at politicians. They make it clear that the act was an assault, and they don’t approve of it. Ana Kasparian, however, believes that dildos are too useful to be thrown away, while Thompson makes the point that if the protest had happened in America, they would have shot the politician. They also talk about how some municipalities in America have banned such sex toys, and the way it is more acceptable to ban these items, than guns.

The arguments against the TTP are all excellent, and shows the concerns that some Americans at least have about the way this deal threatens their national sovereignty and economy as well as the other participating nations. On the subject of multinational corporate control of national resources, they don’t realise that this does exist elsewhere in the world, where it’s been pursued to America’s advantage. Like the oil companies in the Middle East, which effectively control those countries’ oil supplies, in return for an extremely tiny percentage of the profits. This is the case from Iraq to Saudi Arabia. The exception is Iran, where the oil industry was nationalised in 1979, and where foreigners are excluded by law from owning Iranian industries. I suspect that most Americans don’t know about these arrangements. They probably believe, as many in Britain and elsewhere undoubtedly do, that these arrangement are probably on some kind of perfectly equitable basis. Hence if the same kind of thing happens in America, it will come as a bitter shock. And it will be particularly resented because of the belief that it is only happening to America. I also don’t doubt that those few, who are aware that hitherto such arrangement have been pursued on a unilateral basis to benefit America will be offended, because of the idea that America is so perfect, that it must be exempt from the regulations and strictures it imposes on others. Like the international court of human rights. America is perfectly happy to support it for other nations, but will not be a signatory itself.

I’ve reblogged other pieces that show that everyone around the world will suffer if the TTP goes ahead, including those nations that are not party to it. The only people, who will benefit, will be the heads of the big multinationals. Everyone else stands to lose their national sovereignty, their jobs, and businesses.

Thatcher Wanted to Block Anti-AIDS Adverts to Stop People Knowing about Anal Sex

December 31, 2015

Sorry about the sexual explicitness of this article, but it shows how bizarre and prudish Thatcher’s attitude to sexual awareness was.

Amongst the documents released under the thirty year rule yesterday were a number that revealed the battle between Norman Fowler and Maggie over how much the general public should be told about the transmission of HIV. There was a serious fear in Britain and the rest of the world that unless action was taken, AIDS would become a massive epidemic that would carry off millions of lives. It has, it is true, done so, and continues to do so, especially in Africa. The fear in Britain and other parts of the western world was that the contagion would be far more severe, perhaps even comparable with the Black Death which destroyed between a third and a half of the European population in the late 14th century.

Governments in Britain, America, New Zealand and Australia rushed out public information films to inform people of the dangers of this terrifying new disease. The one shown in Australia/NZ was particularly horrifying, as it showed Death knocking down people like bowling pins. In America, the approach was rather more subtle. All governments were urging their peoples to use condoms during sex to prevent the spread of the infection. American prudishness and sensitivity meant that in their films, contraception couldn’t be explicitly mentioned. The film therefore showed someone putting on a sock to protect his feet, while giving a little speech urging people to put similar items on if they wanted to protect themselves while having sex. A number of comedians made jokes about how ridiculous and spectacularly uninformative this was at the time.

But Maggie Thatcher seems to have shared some of those prudish attitudes. Fowler wished to publish a string of adverts in newspapers and magazines pointing out the particular dangers of anal sex. At the time this accounted for 85% of all cases. Thatcher, however, wanted to block this, as she was afraid that if the great British public found out about it, they’d start doing it.

At which point, you begin to wonder precisely where Thatcher got her ideas on sex from, and how much she really understood the people over whom she ruled. Perhaps well brought up ‘gels’ of her class and generation weren’t supposed to know about such things, rather like the massive sexual ignorance that plagued 19th century England. Unfortunately, even my grandparents’ time, such basic biological facts as menstruation weren’t taught in schools, so that many girls were frightened and bewildered by the changes that their bodies underwent at puberty.

And in the first half of the 20th century, when homosexuality was illegal, a number of people really didn’t know it even existed until they were in the early adulthood. I can remember a friend of mine telling me about one writer or actor, I’ve forgotten quite who, who said that he was in the 20s when he found out that there were such things as gays. And even then, his first reaction was that the person who told him was pulling his leg.

But by the time Thatcher got into power in the 1980s, people knew about gays and anal sex all right. All Thatcher needed to do to find out about this was to have one of her cabinet ministers tell her some of the coarse jokes being bandied around bars and pubs. Or school playgrounds. I found out about it all in secondary school, where there were some very crude jokes. Many of the circumlocutions used for gay men also referred obliquely to anal sex. In 19th century England one of such euphemisms was ‘gentleman of the back door’. Lenny Henry had a section on his TV show at the time, sending up the contemporary vogue for screen adaptations of novels set in pre-independence India. These were The Jewel in the Crown and A Passage to India. Henry spoofed them and the racial attitudes behind them as ‘The Jewel in India’s Passage’, which is surely a double entendre on the back passage, the human rectum. Just a few years ago Julian Clary made the same double entendre in the title of his autobiography, A Young Man’s Passage.

Or Thatcher could simply have turned the TV on. The 1980s saw a number of dramas, which included gay characters, or dealt with gay relationships. Gay sex could not be shown on TV, along with masturbation and bestiality, but even so there was a new sexual frankness there. And some of the comedies could be extremely explicit and very coarse, despite the traditional constraints on what was fit for broadcast. One of the programmes I remember on ITV at the time was Spooner’s Patch’, a police comedy about a particularly coarse and boorish police captain and his unit. It was written by Galton and Simpson, the pair responsible for the classic Steptoe and Son, who really should have known better. One episode included homosexuality, and had Spooner making a number of very coarse and bigoted comments about ‘brown hatters’. These were very clear in describing homosexuality in terms of anal sex, even if they didn’t describe it in those exact terms. It was all a very long way away from the 1950s, when comics and comedy writers were told they could not makes jokes about ‘effeminacy in men’, along with other taboo subjects such as religion, the monarchy, disability or the colour question.

What made Thatcher’s views even more anachronistic and misplaced is that a few years previously there had been the massive scandal surrounding the gay affair Jeremy Thorpe had with a male model, leading blackmail demands and a hitman allegedly being hired to shoot the man’s dog. This was so notorious that it led to schoolchildren using ‘Jeremy’ as a term of abuse.

All this shows just out of touch and petit bourgeois Thatcher and her sexual attitudes actually were. Now there are genuine issues about how much children should be taught about sex in schools, including homosexuality. Children do need some, if only to understand their bodies, the physical changes that go with puberty, and the need to protect themselves against STDs, and not just AIDS. There are those, who would prevent them knowing even about that. Peter Hitchens, the Conservative journalist and writer for the Mail on Sunday, opposes sex education on the grounds that it was started in Hungary in order to break the power of conservative Christian parental attitudes. He believes it encourages promiscuity. This is news to me. I remember the sex education we had at school, how awkward some of out teachers looked talking about it. And despite raging teenage hormones, the dry descriptions of the act were quite enough to put you off it. In the same way, Thatcher must have been out of her tiny little mind to think that knowing about anal sex would make the rest of British society want to try it. Anyone already interested in experimenting with gay sex was far more likely to be influenced by David Bowie and the sexual ambiguity of his Ziggy Stardust persona than get even remotely turned on by an advert warning of the dangers of a terrible and debilitating disease.

There are reasonable limits to how much children should be taught about sex and when. But adults reading newspapers and magazines are different. People need to be informed. And, to paraphrase the slogan used about the disease at the time, it’s not just AIDS which will kill you due to ignorance.

Blogging and the Tory Victory

May 12, 2015

As you probably noticed, I had a short break from blogging over the past few days. The reason’s simple: the Tory victory left me so bitterly angry and depressed, that quite simply I couldn’t face writing about it. And I was afraid that if I did try to put fingers to keyboard, anything I did write would simply be an angry stream of coarse invective and obscenity against an obscene, exploitative and murderous government that had been returned yet again by a majority of the people of England and Wales.

Bristol was one of the places where the Labour candidates won. It’s a local victory, that has led to three new Labour MPs, all women entering parliament. But this seemed to be little comfort to the broader political picture. There were a few further, minor compensations in that the Lib Dems saw themselves virtually wiped out, reduced to about eight MPs, while the Fuhrage over in Thanet signally failed to get elected.

I was up visiting friends in Cheltenham Friday as the news of the Tories’ victory began to sink in. One of them showed me the tweets he was getting over the mobile from others, equally disgusted with the decision of the British electorate. Many of them were of the type asking if they should now go to Canada, or New Zealand, or Norway and Denmark – anywhere, in short, where the political elites still had some respect for the people in whose name they govern, and have humane, sensible welfare policies and are dead set on dismantling their state health service for personal profit and that of the multinationals.

One person on Twitter simply said that it was the English voting once again out of spite and cruelty towards the poor and unemployed. Another wrote simply ‘England – Burn it down’.

I talked to one of the local small businessmen, who was also depressed and disgusted at the Tory victory. He stated that in the coming years, he’d probably stop giving to overseas aid charities, because there would be real poverty and starvation here in Britain, which equally deserved his money and attention.

It was an opinion shared by one of my friends, who took immediate action. He went out and spent a tenner of his benefit money on food to give to the local food bank, ready for the next influx of the poor and genuinely starving, thrown off benefit to save corporate vultures like Murdoch, Rothermere, Lebedev and the Barclay twins from the indignity of having to pay tax like the ‘little people’.

The Tories definitely will not have it their own way over the next few years. They’ve got a wafer thin majority of about three or five. That’s about the same as Labour had during their minority government in the mid-1970s. My friend pointed out that there are about 23 – 30 bye-elections every parliamentary turn, so this majority could easily vanish. It won’t be easy. Things certainly will get harder, much harder, for the poor, the sick, disabled and unemployed. But he felt that it would prevent them from doing the really horrific stuff, like selling off the health service.

Let’s hope so. In the meantime, let’s keep the pressure up every step of the way. It’s been pointed out that the Tories owe their victory to only 20 per cent of the vote. Which is an argument for proportional representation. We need to fight them constantly if we are ever to keep them from destroying any more lives, and preserve anything of the welfare state.

Adam Curtis’ Bugger: A Century of Paranoia, Incompetence, Failure and Smears in MI 5

January 11, 2015

Gerbil

Agent ‘Whisters’ of the elite Gerbil Squadron. Danger Mouse and Penfold were unavailable for comment.

As the Human Rights Blog has warned, this week the government is trying to rush through further legislation that will diminish traditional British freedoms as part of its anti-terror campaign. These measure are ill thought out, and represent potentially serious breaches of human rights and justice. Yet they have apparently support from both sides of the House, and criticism has been extremely muted. Anyone who genuinely believes that these measures will be administered by a sober, professional intelligence service, concerned for justice and with a clear and objective view of the threats to Britain from without and within should read the post on Adam Curtis’ blog ‘Bugger’ on the BBC site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/3662a707-0af9-3149-963f-47bea720b460. It has the slogan ‘Maybe the real state secret is that spies aren’t very good at their job, and don’t know very much about the world’.

MI5’s Real History: Incompetence and Paranoia

Curtis’ point is that MI5’s history from its inception at the First World to the end of the Cold War in the 1980s is largely one of incompetence and abject failure. It’s few successes were either the result of accidents, or actually due to efforts by outside agencies, like the police. Some of them have even fabrications by the agency itself, designed to promote itself. The image of cold efficiency promoted in John Le Carre’s novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People are completely opposite to the reality. In reality the agency has been riddled with failure and incompetence and torn by factionalism. And rather than having a clear, objective view of the world, the spies have been massively paranoid to the point where they suspected Prime Minister Harold Wilson of being a KGB agent, and did not actually believe that Communism had fallen.

William LeQueux, The 1906 Invasion Scare and the Foundations of MI5

Curtis’ post includes the story of how William LeQueux, who feared a coming war with Germany, offered his 1906 book The Invasion of Britain to the Daily Mail. The book was set in 1910, and designed to warn the British of the dangers of a possible German invasion. Lord Northcliffe accepted the book, but changed the German invasion route through East Anglia and the east coast, so that the Germans conquered towns, where there were actually Daily Mail readers. The result was a runaway success for the book, and an invasion scare, which saw people writing into the Mail informing on neighbours they suspected – falsely- of being German spies.

The scare led, however, to the creation of MI5. In 1914, the agency boasted that it had successfully broken a German spy ring, and imprisoned the captured agents. But as recent historians have uncovered, this was completely false. It was a lie designed to promote the new agency.

Cecil Day-Lewis and the Magnetic Mountain

During the 1930s, when the Agency was determined to guard Britain against the threat of revolutionary Communism, they placed Cecil Day-Lewis, Damian Day-Lewis’ father, under surveillance as a suspected Communist. This was because he had made a £5 donation to the British Communist party. However, they failed to find any further evidence that he was a revolutionary Marxist, despite the fact that he was the author of the poem, The Magnetic Mountain, hailed as the most revolutionary poem by an Englishman, which actually called for Communist revolution.

Factionalism and Percy Sillitoe

In the 1940s the agency had real success in turning German agents against their masters and sending them false information. But this success was offset by the development of vicious factionalism within the spy agencies. Curtis quote the journalist Philip Knightley on the atmosphere of failure and nepotism within the organisations. After the War, the new Labour government tried to clean the mess up by placing in charge Percy Sillitoe. Sillitoe had had great success before the War when, as Chief Constable of Glasgow, he cracked down on the razor gangs in the city. Sillitoe was treated with contempt and insubordination by the spies, he had been brought in to sort out. He was eventually forced out after a string of traitors were found, like Klaus Fuchs, who had passed nuclear secrets to the Russians. None of these had been unmasked by MI5, however.

Anthony Blunt

And the situation got worse with the scandal around Philby, Maclean, Burgess and co. When the agency was told that Anthony Blunt was a Communist mole in 1965, they were so embarrassed that they gave him immunity from prosecution, and he carried on with his job as the ‘surveyor’ of the Queen’s art collection. In fact the Queen Mother had known he was a Communist as far back as 1948.

Oleg Lyalin

The agency suffered a further setback in 1971 by one of its few real successes. This was the success of the Soviet agent Oleg Lyalin for drunk driving. Lyalin wanted to stay in Britain with his British mistress, and in exchange for this he named 105 Soviet spies, who were then deported. This effectively broke the Soviet spy network in Britain, and left the agency with very little to do. The British government and the civil service were extremely suspicious about the agency’s claims that there was a continuing Soviet threat in the UK. Ted Heath, the Tory Prime Minister, also had a low view of them. He stated they talked the most dreadful nonsense, and were even paranoid of about Mirror readers they saw on the underground as a threat to British security.

The Hunt for the ‘Fifth Man’

Curtis also discusses the agency’s hunt for the ‘fifth man’ in Burgess and Maclean case. This was prompted by the fact that MI5 actually couldn’t accept the fact that the reason they hadn’t uncovered the moles was simply their own incompetence. No, there were further moles, secretly helping the Soviet spies, further up in the organisation. And so they accused a string of highly placed figures, including the head of MI5, Roger Hollis, the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson and Sir Andrew Cohen, the former governor of Uganda.

Chapman Pincher, Nigel West and Peter Wright

Chief among those publishing these stories and accusations in the press were Chapman Pincher in the Daily Express, and Nigel West. I remember both of these journalists from their columns in those newspapers, and how they were promoted as almost infallible experts in the weird world of the spies. It’s interesting and amusing to find how misguided they were, and says much about the paranoid mindset of both those newspapers. One of the main people behind the accusation that Wilson was a spy was Peter Wright, the author of Spycatcher, whose publication also upset Maggie. Wright revealed one too many official secrets in the book, and so it was duly banned in Britain. But it remained freely available in the rest of the world, and so people in this country simply took the step of ordering it from America, Australia and New Zealand instead. The result was a farce, which Private Eye’s cartoonist, the humourist Willie Rushton, sent up in his book, Spythatcher.

And what was Wright’s reason for suspecting that Wilson was a spy? He had made a series of business trips to the USSR before becoming Prime Minister. And, er, that’s it. and he surrounded himself with people the agency didn’t like and didn’t trust. He did. Yes, really.

It got to the point where Maggie herself accused Lord Rothschild of being the ‘fifth man’, to the incredulity of both Labour and Tories. In 1986 the deputy leader of the Labour party, Roy Hattersley, backed by some of the Prime Minister’s own party, called in parliament for her to retract this spurious accusation.

Graham Mitchell and the Chess Conspiracy

The paranoia continued, however, with MI5 suspecting the international chess expert, Graham Mitchell, of passing on British secrets in the letters describing the chess moves he was playing by correspondence with other chess players in the USSR. The journalist James Rusbridger attempted to end all this by making clear that he believed the accusations were false, and journalists and the government misled by right-wing loonies in MI5. Unfortunately, he was found dead from a bizarre game of auto-erotic asphyxiation, and so the paranoia continued. Curtis quotes John Le Carre on the reality behind his novels about MI5. Rather than being cold professionals, they were really mediocre failures.

Michael Bettaney and Geoffrey Prime

The revelation of further moles in MI5 continued with the cases of Michael Bettaney and Geoffrey Prime. Bettaney was a former University Nazi, who admired Adolf and sang the Nazi party anthem in pubs. Despite this, he was recruited into MI5. After being posted to Northern Ireland, where he witnessed some of the horrors of the terrorist campaign first hand, he announced that was now a Communist. He was caught, because he began taking secrets home. He stuffed some of these into the letterbox of Arkady Gouk, the deputy head of the Russian embassy. Gouk didn’t know anything about Bettaney, however, and thought MI5 were trying to frame him. He thus took the secrets back to MI5 and informed on Bettaney.

Geoffrey Prime was a former RAF officer and a member of staff at GCHQ in Cheltenham. He left to work as a taxi driver, while also passing official secrets onto the Russians. He was caught as he was vicious paedophile, and his car was spotted in the area of one of the girls he assaulted. After the police came round to interview him about it, he confessed to his wife, who then, three weeks later, informed the cops.

Percy Craddock and the End of Communism

What finally discredited MI5 and the spies was their utter failure to predict the end of Communism, or even to accept that it had actually occurred when it had. The head of MI5, Percy Craddock, believed that the apparent collapse of the USSR and the Soviet bloc was a ruse, and that the USSR still remained, poised for world domination.

This was precisely the same attitude as various far-right conspiracy nutters in the American mid-West in the 1990s. They too didn’t accept that the USSR had collapsed, and so devised elaborated conspiracy theories in which it was still covertly existing. Among some of the more bizarre of these theories was that the Russians had secretly established bases just across the border in Canada and Mexico. On a given, tanks would pour out of these bases in preparation for the invasion of the Land of the Free. I don’t think Craddock was as far gone as to believe that, but from the sound of it he was still very far from reality.

Failure to Predict Fall of Shah in Iran

Faced with this manifest failure to accept facts, even Thatcher lost patience with them. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has been saying since the 1980s that the British intelligence agencies were corrupt, out of control and incompetent. They point out that the only Prime Minister in the ’70s and ’80s who actually bothered to read their reports was Maggie Thatcher. All the others thought they were rubbish. And on the international scene, none of the intelligence agencies predicted the fall of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The closest they came was the CIA’s prediction that the Ayatollah Khomeini would return to Iran to act as a Gandhi-like figure of peaceful protest.

If only.

The Gerbil Counterspies

One of the weirder schemes of the spooks at MI5 was to use gerbils to identify spies and terrorists. The idea was that they would identify them from the smell of their extra sweat they produced from fear. This had to be abandoned, as the gerbils couldn’t tell the extra sweat from terrorists on airplanes from that of people who were simply scared of flying. Hence the photo at the top of the post.

How Competent are the Spies Now?

Curtis makes the serious point that the spies are in control of vast budgets, and claim that they have reformed. The mistakes of the past could not be made today. But we, the public, cannot be sure, because the agencies are secret, and we can’t be informed how they’ve changed for security reasons.

Wrongful Internment Iraqi Students

This has very serious implications for human rights abuses in this country. Curtis begins his piece with the story of 33 Iraqi Ph.D. students, who were interned as potential terrorists and spies in 1991 during the War with Iraq. The students were all listed in a letter the Iraqi embassy had sent to the Bank of England, requesting that their student grants should not be frozen. The letter had been signed by the Iraqi deputy military attaché. MI5 considered this clear evidence that they were spies, and so they were interned at Rollestone Camp in Salisbury Plain. IN fact the military attaché was also the official in charge of administering the grants.

The students were later released after MI5 was challenged to produce the evidence showing that they were spies. They hadn’t any.

In the meantime, the students had been detained without either they or their lawyers knowing the reasons for it.

Threat from Secret Courts and the New Anti-Terrorism Act

The Human Rights Blog, in their post about the new anti-terror legislation, has raised its concerns that these measures are a further attack on British freedom, and that the potential for terrible miscarriages of justice is great.

The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice, Tom Pride, Johnny Void, and Mike over at Vox Political, have also raised their concerns about the secret courts planned by the Tories and Lib Dems. These courts will examine the cases of suspected terrorists in closed session, so that the accused and their lawyers may not know what they evidence against them is.

The danger that British citizens will be either exiled or interned as terrorists without an open trial, on the flimsiest evidence, is thus very real. So real it cannot be ignored.

The Tories, Lib Dems and the supporters of this bill across the House have shown that they fear British freedom as much as they fear the terrorists. They are knee-jerk authoritarians, and this bill should be stopped immediately.

Lobster on Neoliberalism’s Trashing of the Land of the Kiwi

March 29, 2014

lange-celebrating

David Lange, the Labour leader, who introduced Neoliberal economics into New Zealand, celebrating 1984 election victory.

Early this week in the post ‘Letter from Australia’ I republished Gathering Swallows comments on the way Abbott, the current premier of Australia, was introducing the same policies Down Under that are being used to destroy the welfare state over here, and attack the poor and working class. The same Neoliberal programme of privatisation and cuts to the health service and the welfare state was also carried out about two decades ago in New Zealand. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, no. 31, for June 1996, pp. 34-5, carried a review of Economic Fundamentalism: A Laboratory Experiment by Jane Kelsey, a New Zealand law professor (Pluto Press: London 1996). It was an account of how a handful of bureaucrats and their supporters in New Zealand big business took control of the nation’s economic policies and imposed a mixture of Neoliberalism, Thatcherite privatisation of state assets at rock-bottom prices, and the type of restructuring schemes imposed by the IMF on developing nations.

The review describes just how bizarre these policies were, considering their background in American economic imperialism:

The oddity of what they did can’t be exaggerated. IMF restructuring programmes traditionally have been implemented at gun-point, imposed by the US-dominated IMF on developing countries with the ever-present threat of political action – from economic sanctions, through CIA subversion, up to full-blown coup in the background. They have to be imposed by force because they are simply schemes whereby the imperialist powers (until recently usually America) extract wealth from the Third World. Loan-sharking or extortion would describe them. In New Zealand, a bunch of true believers imposed this catastrophic nonsense on their own country.

Like Blair’s administration in Britain, this occurred under a Labour government. The review states that it was allowed to go on, because Labour politicians didn’t know enough about economics and opposition to these policies were divided. As in Britain, the Left was more concerned with opposition to nuclear weapons and feminism, while the unions failed to combat these policies. The policies also succeeded because the media, who really don’t know a thing about economics, absolutely believed everything that the businessmen and their economists told them, and then marginalised the opposition to them.

Lobster states

The result has been entirely predictable: less economic activity and/or depression, unemployment; massive redistribution from poor to rich, from manufacturing to money-lenders; massive rip-offs; destruction of unions, welfare state and health service; export of NZ capital, purchasing of NZ companies and former government assets by foreign capital.

Ramsay suspects there was a strong American influence controlling this somewhere. He notes that at the time there was a major effort by the Americans to counter the anti-nuclear stance of the New Zealand Labour Party and the trade unions at the time. Part of the programme of mass privatisation and destruction of the welfare state involved US-sponsored trips to America for New Zealand personnel. Again, there’s a parallel here in the way the British American Project and similar schemes has operated to influence and train up aspiring British political and industrial leaders, like Tony Blair.

The real responsibility for inflicting these policies on New Zealand lies not secret diplomacy by the US, but the uncritical adoption of Neoliberalism by New Zealand Labour politicians themselves. The review cites Bryan Gould’s description of meeting them in 1987 in his 1995 book, Goodbye to All That:

I recall a stimulating evening over dinner with [Labour Finance Minister] Roger Douglas and a group of “young Turks” from the Treasury. They had all the conviction of religious zealots. They were convinced they had found the Holy Grail and were seemingly unaware that their prescriptions had been tried and largely abandoned elsewhere.

Gould had been a British Labour politician, but was side-lined by New Labour, and as a result left politics to become a vice-chancellor at one of New Zealand’s Unis.

Throughout the world the same Neoliberal economic policies are being ruthlessly pursued, resulting in the destruction of welfare provision, massive unemployment and poverty amongst the lower middle and working classes, and the further, colossal enrichment of an extremely wealthy elite. This has happened not just because of Conservative administrations like Thatcher’s in the UK, but also through nominally left-wing parties, such as New Labour under Blair.

It’s high time this was stopped. It needs people across the world to learn from each other, and formulate a truly global campaign of resistance. For what’s being done elsewhere now, will be done here today.