Archive for the ‘Norway’ Category

Economist Declares America ‘Not Full Democracy’

February 3, 2017

In this video, TYT Politic’s Jeff Waldorf discusses a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which states that America is no longer a ‘full democracy’. The magazine annual scores countries around the world according to a system of five categories. These are electoral pluralism and democracy, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. Nations are ranked according to a descending scale from full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid democracy and authoritarian. To be considered a full democracy, a country must have a score of 8.00 and over. America has slipped from 8.05 to 7.98, making it a ‘flawed democracy’ along with France, Italy and Japan for the first time in its history.

Waldorf argues that although it’s tempting to blame this on Donald Trump, he’s only been present for about a week, and the decline in American democracy has been going on for much longer. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. He argues that the real cause is the influence of the rich and powerful in politics. He notes that other studies have concluded, in his words, that America ‘is an oligarchy with elections’. He makes the point that not all rich people are necessarily bad, and that many support the same policies he supports, such as LGBT equality. However, the system works so that the rich are able to buy adverts promoting their policies at the expense of those that favour working and middle class people. A study has found that legislation benefiting these groups, rather than the corporate donor elite, is only passed 18 per cent of the time. Pro-LGBT legislation was passed members of the elite as well as the majority of ordinary Americans supported it. However, when the corporate rich are hostile to particular legislation, like the minimum wage, there is far more difficulty getting it passed. Most Americans, including half of the Republican party, believe the minimum wage should be higher. However, the corporate rich are largely opposed to this, as it will damage profits. And so in certain areas, it is actually illegal for the state authorities to pass legislation raising the minimum wage.

Waldorf also mentions the various countries that the report states comprise each particular category of its democratic index. North Korea, unsurprisingly, is an authoritarian regime, along with Syria. Morocco is one of the ‘hybrid’ regimes. The most democratic country, however, is Norway, followed by the other Scandinavian countries and Ireland. Britain is ranked the 16th most democratic country.

Waldorf notes that America is not alone in its slide towards authoritarianism. The report states that half of the 167 countries surveyed have seen a decline in the quality of their democracy. Waldorf states that this is due to neoliberalism. As more services are privatised, it sets up a vicious cycle which sees more right-wing politicians elected, who privatise more services in order to stop government from working.

Waldorf also suggests a number of ways in which American political culture and democracy could be restored. These include getting the money out of politics, more political parties, restoring section 5 of the voting rights act, making registration to vote compulsory and making voting easier. He also recommends ending the corporate nature of the media, where anchors sitting in a studio earn $20 million a year for reading the news, but have absolutely nothing in common with their lower or middle class viewers, and do not represent their interests.

This study and its analysis by the TYT’s man exactly describes the crisis in American democracy and its causes. A study a few years ago by, I think, Harvard political scientists concluded that America was an elected oligarchy, in which both parties served the corporate elite rather than the common man and woman. He’s also right about the way many ordinary people are alienated from political life, because the policies embraced by their elected representatives actively hurt them in favour of the corporate elite. The Harvard study noted that approval ratings of Congress really only polled a maximum of 25 per cent, and very often much less, down to the low teens, because Americans justifiably felt their politicians were ignoring them.

I am, however, surprised at Britain having a relatively high rating, even if we are only the 16th most democratic country according to the survey. Successive governments since Thatcher have followed America in legislating for the benefit of rich corporations. John Major’s administration was notorious for its corporate sleaze, while Blair did everything he could to increase the dominance of leaders of industry over the machinery of government, appointing managing directors like David Sainsbury to important government posts.

I also take issue with Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn being described as ‘populists’. Populism usually denotes right-wing demagogues, who offer their followers a false democracy, pretending to represent working class interests while at the same time standing for a range of policies, including racism, which harm their working class followers. The examples are Trump and the Republicans in the US, and the Tories and UKIP over here. Corbyn and Sanders aren’t populists, because they genuinely represent the working and lower middle classes hurt by neoliberalism. They also aren’t at all racist. In fact, both are quite definitely anti-racism and discrimination, despite the smears of the Israel lobby. What they do represent is a threat to the corporate domination of the established left-wing parties, such as the Clintonite Democrats in America and the Blairites in the Labour party over here. And thus Sanders and Corbyn are smeared as ‘populists’ by the neoliberal elite determined to misrepresent itself as occupying the moderate centre ground, when they are as responsible as the right-wing parties for establishing the power of the major corporations at the expense of the electorate.

On both sides of the Atlantic, people need to wake up to the decline in the quality of democracy caused by neoliberalism and corporate power, and fight back. We need to curb corporate donations and the appointment of managing directors to political office, so that our governments represent us, not big business.

Radical 80s Anti-War Pop: Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes

August 6, 2016

A week or so ago I put I blogged about Sting’s great anti-war song, Russians. Based on a tune by Prokofiev, and with the haunting refrain, ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’, this was Sting’s protest against the new Cold War between America and Russia in which both sides were condemned for their militarism. The video I used here was of a performance the great songster made a few years ago on Russian TV, which shows how far the world has come since I was a schoolboy in the 1980s. Then, Russia and the rest of the former eastern bloc were very much closed off to the West, although as the political climate thawed, the BBC did launch a fascinating series of films on the Soviet Union. This included an edition of antenna on Soviet TV. I was moved to put up the video as a reminder of great pop challenging the horrific spectre of nuclear war by the arms build up in the West and increasing tension between NATO and Russia. There’s been a series of manoeuvres in Estonia, Poland, Romania and the other Baltic states against the possibility of a Russian invasion, despite the fact that the Russians have said that they have no intention of doing any such thing. This follows a book by a NATO general predicting that by May next year, Russia will have invaded Latvia, and our nations will be at war. This should terrify everyone, who grew up in the 1980s and remembers the real threat of nuclear Armageddon then, along with the horrific spoutings of some generals about fighting a ‘limited nuclear war’ in Europe.

Unfortunately, that possibility has just come a step nearer after the statement on Morning Joe, an American news programme hosted by Joe Scarborough, that he had been told by a foreign policy expert that in discussing the subject with Donald Trump, the coiffured clown asked him three times why America hadn’t used nuclear weapons. As I said in my last post, this is a very good argument for keeping the pratt out of the White House, if not the society of decent humans. If you only needed one argument for not wanting to see Trump as president, regardless of the endorsement of violence, the misogyny, the racism and Islamophobia, this would be it. Trump shouldn’t be president, because he’s a threat to all life on Earth.

Sting wasn’t the only pop musician to release a piece in the 1980s against the militaristic posturing between East and West. So too did Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Frankie … were a band that managed to shock the British public with the release of their single, Relax, and the homoerotic imagery of both the song and the accompanying video. It was so shocking, that the Beeb was supposed to have banned. This, of course, had the usual effect of making it massively popular, and it shot to Number 1 in the charts. The band’s frontman, Holly Johnson was gay, as was I think, one of the other band members, but most of them were straight. Bands like Frankie…, and other gay pop stars like Marc Almond, Jimmy Summerville and Boy George helped to challenge the popular prejudice and real hatred there was for gays there still was then, over a decade after gay sex in private between consenting adults had been legalised.

Two Tribes continued their trend of edgy music by presenting the confrontation between East and West as a bare knuckle boxing match between someone, who looked very much like Ronald Reagan, and an opponent, who was clearly based on one of the Russian presidents of the time. I can’t work out quite who the Russia is based on, as he looks a bit like Brezhnev, but not quite, and I can’t remember who Andropov and Chernenko, the last two Soviet presidents before Mikhail Gorbachev, looked like. To my mind, he looks more like Boris Yeltsin, the former mayor of Moscow, who succeeded Gorby as president of Russia. Unlike Gorby, Yeltsin wasn’t a Communist, but a capitalist-in-waiting, who sold off just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. The result was that Russian economy went into meltdown, millions across the former USSR were thrown out of work without any of the welfare safety nets in place in Europe or America, while rampant inflation wiped out people’s savings. Despite his generally pro-Western, pro-capitalist stance, he could also be belligerent. Sometime in his presidency, a Norwegian sounding rocket went off course, and landed somewhere in Russia. Yeltsin appeared on TV pounding his desk and declaring that he had been quite prepared to respond with nukes, if such an event seemed to be an attack on Russia. He was also, like many of the Russia politicos, including Brezhnev, massively corrupt. A lot of the state enterprises he privatised mysteriously ended up in the hands of his cronies, and people, who were prepared to fork over a lot of roubles. He was also a figure of western media amusement, as he appeared to be permanently smashed, unlike his predecessor, who appeared far more temperate and had launched a strong anti-drink campaign. The mass privatisation of the Soviet Economy had a devastating effect on its citizens’ health, which Basu and Stuckler discuss in their book, the Body Economic, on how economic austerity harms people’s physical health. Putin, with his promise of economic stability and national pride, is very much a response to the chaos of the Yeltsin regime. I’ve got a feeling Yeltsin might be dead now, but if anyone needed a good drubbing, it was him, though by the Russian people, who had a better reason to hate him than Ronald Reagan.

Frankie’s Two Tribes shows the violence in the ring escalating, until the audience of other international dignitaries begin fighting amongst themselves, to the consternation of the ringside commentator. The video ends with the Earth itself being blown up, a graphic comment on the real danger of the conflict. The song’s title, Two Tribes, also gives a very cynical take on the conflict. This isn’t about politics, human rights or the effectiveness and justice of economic systems. This is just pure tribalism, the primitive, nationalistic aggression that has haunted humanity since the Stone Age. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and just about everyone I know is repulsed and disturbed by the Relax video. But Two Tribes is a classic piece of ’80s pop with a very relevant political message, and one that deserves to be given another hearing. Before Trump gets anywhere near the White house, and starts ranting and threatening like Reagan.

Rupert Murdoch and the Privatisation of the BBC

June 9, 2016

One of the major forces behind the Tory’s demands for the privatisation of the BBC is Rupert Murdoch. It is well-known that Murdoch owns the Sky satellite TV network, and so bitterly resents the state broadcaster as an obstacle preventing his own continuing expansion into broadcasting. Murdoch isn’t the only media mogul to demand the break-up of the Beeb in favour of their own interests as private broadcasters. Until recent, Richard ‘Dirty’ Desmond, the proprietor of Express newspapers and various grubby mags found on the top shelves on newsagents also owned Channel 5, along with his Fantasy X porn channel. The situation was much the same in the 1980s, when one of the other newspaper magnates, the late, unlamented Robert Maxwell, owned Rediffusion, which was also looking to expand, and so attacked the Beeb. But because of his domination of the market, Murdoch is perhaps the leading voice demanding the Beeb’s privatisation.

Mark Hollingworth discusses Murdoch’s self-interested attacks on the BBC in his book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship. While this section isn’t particularly surprising in itself, as the Dirty Digger has been doing it for decades, what is shocking is how viciously and single-mindedly the old brute prosecuted his attacks on the Beeb in the 1980s. He writes:

The attacks on the BBC began in January 1985, during the corporation’s negotiations for an increased licence fee, and were sustained through the year. On 14 January 1985, the Times published the first of three successive leading articles extolling the virtues of advertising the need for deregulation of the BBC: ‘The BBC is today accused of inefficiency, unaccountability, self-aggrandisement and feather-bedding its employees…Are the critics justified? In their main principles, yes.’ The next day Labour MP Joe Ashton launched his private member’s bill calling for advertising on the BBC. That morning the Times’ editorial was headlined-‘Wither the BBC’- and called for the break-up of the corporation: ‘Advertisers can clearly pay some part in generating the revenue to pay for many programmes…We need a more open, less monolithic system of broadcasting in which customers can choose what qualities they want from their TV screens.’ The next day the Times thundered again at its 1,300,000 readers: ‘Lord Annan’s Committee recommended a break-up of the BBC into its radio, TV and local radio components. The government should now prepare to go further than this. It should consider quickly the establishment of a new broadcasting commission to auction franchises that are currently operated by the BBC.

Now, what the Times fails to tell its readers is who will directly benefit if these franchises are auctioned. At the front of the queue will be a certain R. Murdoch, proprietor of the Times, who will benefit commercially if the BBC is broken up. Murdoch’s company, News International, owns Sky Channel-a cable and satellite operation which transmits 73 hours a week of alternative television and has three million subscribers in 11 countries. In 1983 Murdoch also took control of Satellite TV, Sky’s parent company, at a cost of £5 million and has a 75.5 per cent shareholding. Satellite began transmitting in 1982, beaming English language programmes to Norway and Finland for two hours a night. In 1985 the Times’ owner acquired the biggest stake in 20th Century Fox to provide films for his satellite Sky Channel to beam across Europe. Clearly, if even parts of the BBC are privatised, these Murdoch-owned companies will make a lot of money.

Murdoch’s views on the BBC are quite clear. ‘I would like to see it privatized,’ he said in November 1985. But this was not just his private opinion. According to the Mirror’s Paul Foot, Murdoch ‘has personally ordered a sustained attack on the BBC and all its people.’ Alastair Hetherington, former editor of the Guardian, added weight to this assertion when he accused the Times of conducting ‘a vendetta against the BBC in its leaders, news stories and features’. This is certainly borne out by the evidence. The Times published at least eight anti-BBC editorials throughout 1985. The paper also published a series of news reports, often based on the thinnest material, which suggested extravagance and incompetence among BBC management. ‘BBC Condemned As Licence Fee Monster’ was the headline for one story which was merely a report of an article by an obscure ex-BBC employee in a trade journal.

Moreover, when angry readers have written to complain about the coverage or offer and alternative point of view, the Times has refused to publish their letters. this was revealed by Paul Fox, Managing Director of Yorkshire Television. On 2 November 1985, the Times published another leader attacking the BBC, the IBA and ITV companies and misquoted comments that Fox had made about public service broadcasting. Fox wrote to the paper to set the record straight about his misrepresented remarks, but his letter was not published. Three days later, on 5 November 1985, David Plowright, the Managing Director of Granada TV and Chairman of the ITV Companies Association, also wrote to the Times to complain about front-page news report of a MORI opinion poll on advertising on the BBC. In his letter, Plowright pointed out that the Times opinion poll showed that more people were either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied with the quality of TV in Britain than those who took the opposite view. How curious, wrote Plowright, that the paper’s news story had failed to include these facts. The letter was not published and the issue was not corrected.

The Times was not the only Murdoch paper to attack the BBC. His tabloids have joined in the fun. Here’s the Sun on 23 January 1985: ‘Oh, what superior people they are at the BBC. Here is the Director-General, Alastair Milne, raising his hands in horror at the idea of accepting adverts…Just where is the BBC superior to the commercial channels… There is only one area where the Beeb shines. No-one could possibly match its overbearing, totally unjustified smugness. And again on 2 September 1985: ‘The BBC should compete in the market so it ceases to be such a burden on the public.’ The Sun’s sister paper, the News of the World, began its campaign a trifle later than most but soon made up for lost ground. Every week throughout April 1985 there was a news story about the expenses of BBC staff which were reaching ‘scandal’ proportions. The next month News of the World journalists were instructed to file detailed reports of the eating and drinking habits of fellow reporters on the BBC during a royal tour. One brave woman journalist refused, because she said this was not her job. A News of the World executive then telephoned from London to accuse her of being disloyal. However, halfway through his lecture, the editorial executive was much dismayed to find that he had been put through by mistake to Kate Adey-a BBC television news reporter. (pp.12-14).

The News of the World executive probably left the phone with his ears ringing. ‘Kats Adie’ is the formidable woman, who was thrown out of Libya after she put the fear of the Almighty into Colonel Gaddafy. She is most certainly not afraid to ask awkward questions of the powerful.

The Beeb does have its faults. Its biased news coverage enrages me, and has been criticised many times for its bias against Labour and to the Conservatives. On the other hand, at its best it does provide good, solid public service broadcasting that few of its commercial rivals are able or even willing to provide. And advertising increasingly cannot provide the needed funding for some TV programmes today. A few years ago there were plans to bring back Spitting Image, the much-loved satirical puppet show screened on Channel 4 on Sunday evenings. This was eventually dropped because it was simply too expensive.

And no matter how biased the Beeb is, Murdoch’s worse. The more he goes on, the more he resembles the Bond villain, a media-mogul, who planned to start a war between America and China simply for its news value. That particular piece of Bondage ended with Commander Bond and his mates killing the villain, who was then reported as sinking in the South China Sea along with his stealth yacht. An end very similar to the drowning of Robert Maxwell. After something like five decades of lowering media standards across the globe, you feel it’s about time someone from the world’s covert intelligence agencies made him put a sock in it.

In the meantime, here’s Spitting Image on the Dirty Digger and his nearly subterranean journalistic standards.

Vox Political: Brexit and Tories Damaging EU Protection for British Steel Industry

June 1, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a fascinating piece discussing and reproducing Stephen Kinnock’s detailed statements on the way the Tories’ commitment to free market Neoliberalism and the Brexit campaign are actively damaging the British steel industry. Kinnock was one of those sent to negotiate with Tata Steel about the closure of the plant in Port Talbot, and wrote the article after he returned from meeting the company’s directors in Mumbai.

He states that the Conservatives are actually planning to pass legislation to allow China to continue dumping its steel without any protective tariff blocks. They are trying to get China granted Market Economy Status. If granted, this would mean that neither the EU nor anyone else could raise tariffs to stop them wrecking their domestic steel industries by dumping their steel. As for the status itself, that’s highly questionable, considering that China’s steel industry is 80 per cent owned by the state. The Tories have also turned down the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, which gives money to states so that they can re-train workers thrown out of work through globalisation.

As for the two models for our future relationship with the EU outside it, the Canada model would result in our losing much of our industry, as it is hit by the loss of the vast market and 53 individual states that constitute the European Union. The Norway model would continue to allow us to trade with the EU, but it would force us to accept EU legislation without debate or participation, as a condition for continuing trading. And, it could be added, it still wouldn’t stop the mass migration across the continent, which has generated so much fear and support for Brexit and the Tories. Norway has been forced to accept EU levels of immigration as part of the deal for their continued trade links to Europe.

This argument against Brexit is stronger now than when it was written

This is the complete and opposite of what Cameron and Osborne want to tell us. They are not defending Britain nor making us more competitive. They are destroying British industry in favour of the Chinese. But this is quite acceptable. To Conservatives, only organised labour, like Socialists and trade unionists, are ever considered traitors and a threat to this country’s economy and industry.

Secular Talk on Alex Jones’ ‘Libs Are Demonic Villains Who Want Blood’

March 4, 2016

This is yet another piece from Secular Talk, and I’m reblogging it because it answers some of the accusations the American far right throw at anything even vaguely liberal or left-wing, as well as showing just how peculiar their opposition to Obamacare is.

Kyle Kulinski is here commenting and taking apart an interview on Alex Jones’ Infowars programme with a right-wing documentary film maker, Joel Gilbert, who has produced a movie, No Such Thing as Utopia, attacking the left and its economic and social doctrines. Jones and his guest accuse liberal policies of devastating the economy and deliberately attacking the family, leaving millions of families without fathers. Deprived of paternal guidance, the boys from these broken homes turn to crime. It was liberal policies, of course, that has left Detroit the wrecked, dying city it now is. They claim that liberals are all secret Marxists intent on a entering and corrupting mainstream political parties, like the Democrats. And then Alex Jones goes off on a mocking sneer about how liberals are like ‘gangster-type felons’, extremely bloodthirsty wanting to inflict a genocide, but in public affect a simpering attitude of ‘But I’m so Liberal!’

As for Obama, they claim that his intentions were ‘never good’, and that he only intended to cut the deficit in half.

It’s rubbish, of course. Kulinski challenges them to name one Marxist policy the Democrats have. There isn’t one. They are, in his view, centrist corporatists. As for the devastation of Detroit, that’s often been claimed by the right to be due to ‘socialist’ policies and the trade unions. The simple fact is that it was wrecked by NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The corrupt, corporatist system destroyed middle class, factory jobs that kept people employed. This meant that all the jobs were exported abroad. It wouldn’t have matter, who the people of Detroit would have voted for – Democrat, Republican, Fascist, Centrist, Communist. And the economy’s going to remain like that until another industry comes into to revive Detroit.

He also tears into the Republican accusation that Obamacare is a Marxist policy. In no way is it. This may surprise you – it certainly did me – but it was first suggested by – wait for it! – Richard Nixon. It was also supported by Bob Dole. Newt Gingrich supported it during the Clinton administration. Even the far right, all-American Heritage Foundation made notes on it.

Obama himself has honoured his promise to halve the deficit. Bush left the country with a staggering debt of $1.4 trillion. Under Obama, it’s gone down to $480 – $460 billion. As for Obama’s supposedly evil intentions, Kulinski states that it’s ridiculous, but the stance is also shared by people on the left. Everyone rationalises that what they’re doing is good for the country.George Bush, with whose policies Kulinski radically disagrees, thought he was doing his best for the country. Even Joseph Stalin rationalised his monstrous crimes against the Soviet people and the countries he conquered in this way.

And if you want to point to Detroit as an example of what liberalism does, how about Mississippi as an example of the effects of Conservatism. It is the poorest, most obese state in America, with the lowest levels of education and the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. He also adduces the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. They have the best middle classes in the world, best standards of health care, best social safety nets and they’re people all self-report that they are the happiest. And they’re incredibly liberal.

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.

Moves for Texas to Secede from the US Goes Ahead in Texas Legislature

December 11, 2015

This is The Young Turks’ report and comment on the news that the proposal that Texas should secede from the USA has passed the preliminary proceedings. It was sponsored by the Repug’s Tanya Robertson. Here the Turks’ anchor, Cenk Uygur, calls it what it is: treason.

I’m not surprised that some Texans want to secede for the US. Elements of the American right have been screaming for years that President Obama is a Nazi-Communist-Muslim terrorist, who wants to establish a Socialist dictatorship in their country, and have been demanding that the only alternative is to secede. The TYT reported six months ago that some Texans were afraid that the American military was planning to invade their state after the US army started doing manoeuvres on the border. They promised that if America did invade, they would be met by determined resistance.

This is despite the fact that Texas is part of America. Here’s that report.

This is bearing out something else that The Turks also reported: that in Norway, ‘Texas’, or ‘helt Texas’, is a slang term meaning ‘bonkers’.

More from Neurasthenia Milkshake on Ben Goldacre, ME, and Bad Science

November 2, 2015

Following my posting of their comments about ME, I got this appreciative comment from Neurasthenia Milkshake, discussing the problems at Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science website, and adding further information on the controversial nature of the findings of the Oxford scientists that, somehow, ME or chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is all ‘in the mind’. Here it is.

Why, thank you for this–what a pleasant surprise to find. This is a big story, though it never has been ,and, fortunately, it only seems to be growing. We may be coming at it from slightly different angles, but I believe firmly that there is an enormous story even beyond PACE, and if all the pieces are put together the right way by good people, it amounts to a medical scandal the likes of which I’m fairly sure nobody has ever seen. But that’s speculation, for another day, hopefully.

A last word on Ben Goldacre–this is a professional who has indeed spent a lot of his time working to expose poor science. It seems therefore a bit curious that he has never really said much about ME, or PACE, or related topics. I suppose it’s to his credit that he never lauded PACE, though it was vigorously defended on his forum.

(The backstory behind why that forum is no longer attached to his website is ugly and most definitely ME/CFS related, but with the relevant info no longer available, not provable. Let’s just say some commenters got out of hand, though in a most vicious manner ,and if I were Goldacre there would have been a time when I would have been concerned with legal action–but the ‘evidence’ has conveniently been lost. I can elaborate further, but only if requested, and specifically with the proviso that I can only describe what I know and saw, but not prove it, and Goldacre himself would almost certainly not have tolerated it, had he been aware, which I would guess he wasn’t.)

One might ask, then, why didn’t he speak up one way or another? Going on the assumption that he is indeed a crusader, I would suggest that he has connections, if not specifically to the PACE researchers (which is actually quite possible), then to their colleagues. It’s more than possible that he was not comfortable speaking up against these people. I’m sure this is not unique to this particular environment, but I have certainly heard tales of treatment of colleagues who do not share their views, and that’s not a pleasant matter, either. It’s especially frustrating, because one would hope that medical science would be devoid of such environments, all the more so when people are suffering horribly, and are treated poorly based on admittedly flawed perceptions of publications like PACE (i.e. that ME is psychological, in spite of the protests of the PACE team that this may not be so).

I apologize again for offering opinion when I would prefer to offer facts. There is a possibility Goldacre has been somewhat negligent if he spotted the flaws identified by Tuller and Coyne–but a large number of other researchers, physicians, and, importantly, journalists, never have, either. Do I point a finger at the PACE team? Yes. I point a finger at Sir SImon Wessely as well, although, with his formidable eloquence, he typically sidesteps efforts to paint him as a malevolent, all-powerful puppet master.

He is affiliated with the Science Media Centre, however. And the history of some of those folks–Revolutionary Communist Party, Living Marxism, Spiked…is something I expect someone will take a good, long look at. Someday.

Last word: you know about the DT–and you’ll know about some of the following from Tuller’s blogs.

Naturally, the NHS is still promoting CBT and GET for ME:

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2015/10October/Pages/Exercise-and-therapy-useful-for-chronic-fatigue-syndrome.aspx

In the US, so is the CDC:

http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/management/quality-of-life.html

http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/management/managing-activities.html

Although earlier this year the US Institute of Medicine issued a report saying the disease is definable by the relapse caused by exertion…

http://iom.nationalacademies.org/Reports/2015/ME-CFS.aspx

While in Norway, reseachers are actually publishing studies showing success with a chemotherapeutic agent, Rituximab (not that they or anyone else find it easy to secure funding):

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27813-antibody-wipeout-found-to-relieve-chronic-fatigue-syndrome/

So: CBT and GET…or…a cancer/RA drug?

How is this even possible?

I find it extremely encouraging that the Norwegians should be reporting success with drug therapy. It shows the flaws in our corporatist-controlled model of the disease very clearly.

I’m not particularly interested in the specifics of the furore at Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science website. These internet fights and controversies are quite common, and have affected no end of web sites. Given the controversial nature of what went on, and that Neurasthenia Milkshake says they can only describe what they saw, but not prove, it might be best to leave it at that.

I am, however, still very interested in any information that will rebut the psychological model of ME, and any similar disease, which the DWP are trying to fob people off by saying that it’s just psychological. And I completely agree with Neurasthenia Milkshake that there is something wider going on here. My guess is that the psychological origin of this and many other disorders is simply being driven by the insurers, like Unum. It also conforms to the ideology of the transatlantic Right, which includes Blairite Labour, that people taking leave off sick are essentially workshy malingerers, who should ‘pull themselves together’. Or have a ‘short, sharp shock’, and some other nonsense.

As for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it has its uses as the only successful therapy in for anxiety disorders, including depression and Obsessive-Compuslive Disorder. Even here, its success rate is mixed and it doesn’t work for everyone.

It’s promotion by the Tories as a panacea for nearly every disorder and disease they can ascribe to psychological disorders reminds me of the 19th century fad, Couetism. Monsieur Couet was a French doctor, who believed people could improve their mental health by repeating the phrase ‘Every day, I am getting better and better’. Now, an optimistic attitude definitely has its benefits, but it won’t make one’s mental health automatically improve, and certainly not if there is something seriously wrong.

And I remember it most of all from one of the Pink Panther films, when the Commissionaire, finally released from the mental hospital, goes completely off the rails and becomes a Bond villain after another incident with Clouseau. The last image of him is of him frantically playing the organ, eye twitching manically, before he finally disappears into a puff of smoke, destroyed by his own laser weapon.

If only that would happen to those promoting this nonsense.

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.

Wales OnLine Outs Kipper Candidate as Member of Traditional Britain Group

March 31, 2015

Early today I posted Private Eye’s review of William Rees-Mogg’s book, Picnics on Vesuvius, and commented on the career and extreme Right-wing views of his son, Jacob, the Tory MP for part of Bath And North-East Somerset. I mentioned that the extreme nature of his views is shown by his membership of the Traditional Britain Group. This is a far-right organisation that demands the dismantlement of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, the restoration of the feudal social hierarchy, and an end to immigration. They are particularly opposed to Islam, and their members have posted on various anti-Islam, ‘counter-jihad’ sites. They were also seen a few years ago at the fringes of that year’s UKIP conference.

Now the news website, Wales OnLine, has revealed that the Kipper candidate for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Christopher Gillibrand, is a member of the Group in their article Welsh Ukip candidate is vice president of group which in 2013 made Doreen Lawrence ‘go home’ slurs on Facebook.

The article notes some of the Group’s racist comments and actions over the previous years, such as

* Two years ago in 2013 they objected to Doreen Lawrence being awarded a peerage on their Facebook page. Doreen Lawrence is the mother of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered by a group of four white racist thugs. Not only that, but they demanded that she and millions of others like her, should be deported to their countries of origin.

* They called the Tory backbencher, Nadhim Zahawi, ‘foreign’, and described the Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, as Nigerian, despite the fact that he’s Londoner, born and bred.

* Their website also carried a video by Marine Le Pen of the French Neo-Nazi party, Front National, talking about the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

* At their conference last October, they showed a video presented by a member of the British Democratic Party, called The Irresistible and Happy Political and Cultural Rise of the Front National in France. The British Democratic Party is another Nazi party, founded by Andrew Brons, formerly of the NF. Back in 1970s, Brons was arrested in Brum for goosestepping about in Nazi uniform shouting at the elderly.

* Last June the guest of honour at their annual Black tie dinner was the Vlaams Belang’s MEP, Philip Claeys. The Vlaams Belang are the Flemish nationalist party, who demand a separate Flanders and an end to multiculturalism.

* They hailed the far-right anti-Islam party, the Sweden Democrats, as ‘the resistance in Sweden’, and applauded the ‘record numbers’ of Nigerians and Muslims being expelled from Norway.

The article quotes the Welsh language activist, Simon Brooks, who complained about the lack of Welsh language materials at a UKIP meeting in Wales, who believes that the party’s apparent contempt for indigenous Welsh language and culture is part of their general xenophobia and intolerance. He also stated that they had 21 aims, including the destruction of the welfare state and the restoration of ‘authority’. Plaid Cymru supported Mr Brooks’ comments, and stated that someone like Gillibrand should not be standing for parliament. They also said that they would work for the wellbeing and prosperity of everyone in Wales.

Gilllibrand has made a rebuttal of some of these points, claiming that he has been slandered. He stated that he was not responsible for the Facebook comments about Doreen Lawrence, and said that he did not share or condone the racist comments of the other members.

Jacob Rees-Mogg too condemned the attack on Doreen Lawrence, and hailed her as ‘a wonderful and courageous woman who has contributed to British public life and, in any traditional view of Conservatism, she should be lauded for what she has done.’ He stated that his attendance at their black tie dinner was a mistake.

The article can be read at http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/welsh-ukip-candidate-vice-president-8950779#ICID=sharebar_twitter

Nevertheless, Gillibrand is still vice-president of the Traditional Britain Group. If his disgust at their racism is genuine, then he should have taken issue with it long before it was raised by the press, or done the decent thing and resigned.

As for Jacob Rees-Mogg, while I may have been wrong about his membership of the group, it’s clear from the fact that he attended their gala dinner that he is in sympathy with them and their views, even if baulks at their comments about Doreen Lawrence. Neither Gillibrand nor Rees-Mogg are in any way sympathetic to the post-War culture of this country, and the rights, wellbeing and prosperity of its working people. And while Rees-Mogg at least has condemned their racism, Gillibrand still strikes me as profoundly hostile to the welfare of this country’s Black and Asian citizens, and their right to reside and participate in our political, social and cultural life.