Archive for the ‘Romania’ Category

Have I Got News For You and the Bias in BBC News Satire

December 17, 2016

As I said in the previous blog post, I’ve stopped watching Have I Got News For You, because I’m sick of its bias. This is partly because I’m fed up with the show constantly repeating the anti-Corbyn, anti-Labour line of the mainstream newspapers. I also think its because, after having read some of the alternative news outlets and organisations about various issues, like Counterpunch, Lobster and seen Abby Martin and Amy Goodson on RT and Democracy Now, as well as The Young Turks, Secular Talk, the Jimmy Dore Show and Sam Seder’s Majority Report, I’ve become acutely aware of how far the reporting of the corporate media, including the mendacious BBC, is from the real situation in Britain and other nations around the world.

I was particularly struck by it during an edition of Have I Got News For You a month or so ago. One of the guests that week is the new head of the Conservative part in Scotland. I can’t remember her name. I did, however, find her very smug, self-satisfied and sneering, as you’d expect from a Tory official. She was also introduced as being ‘openly gay’, as if it were part of the changes the Tories had made to make themselves more electable to the guid people north of the Border. The Tories have been fielding many openly gay candidates around the country for several years now, ever since Dave Cameron took over the party and very ostentatiously set about his modernisation policy. This was about trying to make the Conservatives look more left-wing than the Labour party, then under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which wasn’t exactly the most difficult task. Part of this involved them trying to break the image of the ‘nasty party’ by endorsing more female and minority candidates. This is presumably calculated to impress that part of the liberal middle class, who are worried about the lack of representation of women, ethnic minorities and gays in parliament, but only if they come from respectable upper and middle class backgrounds like themselves. If they’re working or lower middle class, then they had better know their place along with the rest of the proles, and not threaten the wonderful Thatcherite utopia the Tories and Blairites have created.

At one point, the Tory went off on a rant about how the Ukraine was under threat from Putin, as part of his campaign to annexe the whole country, beginning with the eastern part of the country and the Crimea, before taking over the Sudetenland and invading Poland. The view pushed very much by her was that the Russians are the aggressor, who need to be stopped at all costs from victimising the innocent Ukrainian regime.

It’s a tissue of lies. The Ukrainian regime is hardly innocent. It is stuffed full of Nazis from the Pravy Sektor, individuals and organisations that have adopted the full regalia and rituals of the SS auxiliaries that fought for the Nazis during the Second World War. These Ukrainians Nazis fully participated in the Holocaust and were responsible for some of the most horrific pogroms against Jews in the occupied Soviet territories during the War. These groups have shot at and savagely beaten left-wingers, including trade unionists. Just as the regime is intent on clamping down on independent journalists, who do not follow Kyiv’s ultranationalist line. This has included compiling and publishing a black list online of several hundred offending journalist, who have subsequently received death threats.

It is also a lie that the current regime is the product of spontaneous democratic demonstrations, like that of the Maidan Revolution. It isn’t. It is essentially the creation of a clique of very corrupt oligarchs, backed by quangos from America and the EU. The orange uniforms the protestors wore were handed out to them at a tent run by these semi-official US organisations.

And instead of being the aggressors, it is the Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who are the victims. Simply looking online, you can find reports of these people being beaten and murdered by the Ukrainian army, and of the Ukrainian government sending troops in to prevent them from reaching polling stations. This is to stop them putting in their votes for the opposition. I realise that some of this is going to be Russian propaganda, but not all.

But this is very much not the image presented by the corporate media and the Beeb. Including Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop. Hislop cut into the woman’s spiel. However, instead of challenging her about the real situation in Ukraine, he instead decided to ask her questions about whether or not she had contradicted Boris Johnson.

This is an issue, especially if you like to see the Tories tear themselves apart. But it’s not the most important issue here.

Which is that the British people are being fed lies by their media, and the British, American and EU authorities to whip up hatred of the Russians and strengthen ties with a brutally intolerant and persecutory Nazi regime. There’s obviously a very good reason why the Beeb and the corporate media want to silence any mention of Nazism in Ukraine. Despite the vile antics of National Action, the sight of a real Nazi politico, like those in the Ukrainian rada, in full SS gear, giving the Nazi salute would appal the vast majority of people in this country, regardless of whichever side of the political spectrum they came from. Except, perhaps, the Tory right and parts of UKIP.

And so in the interests of furthering this international, corporatist agenda of incorporating the Ukraine into the web of western-orientated, free-trade governed countries, any reporting and discussion of just how murderous and undemocratic the Ukrainian regime is, is rigorously censored.

And this incident also showed how the Beeb’s political bias works, even in a show which proclaims itself as ‘irreverent’. In an interview a while ago at the Edinburgh television festival, the genuinely irreverent – amongst many other things – Scots comedian Frankie Boyle discussed political bias at the Beeb. Boyle, you will remember, had been a regular guest on Mock The Week, another news comedy show. This was more like What’s My Line, in that the guests were given subjects to joke about by the question master, Dara O’Brien. Boyle disappeared as some of his jokes were too extreme and dark for the Beeb, even if the show was broadcast after nine O’clock. Boyle commented that the Beeb’s idea of remaining impartial is simply to lampoon all of the parties. It does not, however, like criticism or jokes about particular issues. And so Boyle’s humour was too edgy for the Corporation.

He was also critical of Have I Got News For You and the cosy relationship the show has with the politicians it lambasts and lampoons. Boyle had been to Romania. While he was there, he watched a Romanian comedian on television, who was making jokes about the country’s government, members of which were in the audience. The comedian pointed them out, and the politicos and comedian exchanged quips and greetings. Boyle found it all far too cosy and complacent, and said so to his Romanian guide. The man defended the show, saying that Boyle had it in his own country. How so, asked the Scots comedian. ‘I’ve seen it. Have I Got News For You‘, replied his Romanian friend, who stated it was just like that.

And Boyle concurs that it is. He stated that if the show rips into a politico one week, the next week they’ll have him on the panel, laughing and joking with them. He gave the example of Boris Johnson, who was a regular guest on the show. He could have mentioned many others. Such as Cecil Parkinson, who father a love child with his secretary, Sarah Keays, and then did his best to prevent the story getting out and imposing legal restrictions on Keays and her disabled daughter that led to great hardship. I have to say, I don’t know many women, who find Parkinson at all attractive. Far from it. I think most women find him smarmy. And my mother and her friends described him as ‘the type of man you would not like to be caught behind the filing cabinet with’. But Parkinson’s charm certainly worked on Hislop. After he appeared on Have I Got News For You, the editor of Private Eye talked about he charmed all of them on the programme. Perhaps you have to meet him in person to feel it.

I’m very much aware that Frankie Boyle is very much a controversial figure. Some of his jokes are too dark and tasteless for most people. But in this case, he’s absolutely right. The BBC has a very pronounced bias, even on ‘satirical’ shows such as Have I Got News For You, where the presenters and guests very definitely keep away from certain topics, and keep their criticisms within the very narrow compass prescribed by the official media.

Vox Political On Simon Jenkins Lies About Corbyn and NATO

August 24, 2016

Mike also put up an article a few days ago correcting another mendacious article about Jeremy Corbyn, penned by Simon Jenkins in the Observer. According to Jenkins, at the leadership debate in Solihull last week Corbyn had answered ‘No’ to the question of whether he would go to the defence of another NATO country if they were invaded by Russia. Other Blairites had also got the same impression, it seems. One of my friends told me that he had received an email from a Blairite friend telling him in very coarse terms that Corbyn had stated that he would submit to Putin and let the Russians rule us.

But Corbyn didn’t say that at all. He said he would go to war to defend a NATO ally, but explained at length that he would do everything he could to make sure it didn’t come to that. Mike has put up a full transcript of that part of the debate, pointing out that Jenkins’ article, and his conclusion that Corbyn wants us to leave NATO, is a lie.

As for Jenkins’ own personal politics, Mike has a photograph of him speaking at a meeting of Policy Exchange, the ‘intellectual boot camp of the Tory modernizers’. Which shows you how left-wing he is.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/22/no-simon-jenkins-its-your-lie-about-jeremy-corbyn-that-is-a-step-too-far/

In actual fact, it’s not unreasonable to ask what NATO’s real purpose is. William Blum in issue 22 of his Anti-Empire Report, has an article entitled ‘Why Does NATO Exist?’ It’s a fair question. NATO was formed to protect Europe from the threat of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the military pact formed by the countries of the eastern European Soviet bloc, with the exception of Yugoslavia. Blum points out that neither the Soviet Union nor the Warsaw pact exist any more, both having collapsed about 1991. He asks

If NATO hadn’t begun to intervene outside of Europe it would have highlighted its uselessness and lack of mission. “Out of area or out of business” it was said.

If NATO had never existed, what argument could be given today in favor of creating such an institution? Other than being a very useful handmaiden of US foreign policy and providing American arms manufacturers with billions of dollars of guaranteed sales.

See: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/22

But there are voices demanding that NATO be disbanded because of the threat it poses to peace. The New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and member of the council of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Alice Slater, two years ago published an in article in Counterpunch stating that with 16,000 of the world’s 17,000 nuclear weapons in the West and Russia, the US should not be working its way towards starting a new Cold War with Russia over events in Ukraine. Instead, she argued that it should honour the agreement it made with Gorby not to expand into the former Soviet bloc in return for his agreement not to block the reunification of Germany, and the entry of the former East Germany into NATO. She goes on to state that we should be working to disband NATO, and remove the US’ weapons from Poland, Romania and Turkey. She also states that the US should agree to the proposal to ban space weapons, made by China and Russia, reinstate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was scrapped by Dubya in 2001, and take up Russia’s offer to negotiate a treaty against cyberwarfare.

She briefly discussed the article in the Washington Post by Jack Matlock, who was the US’ ambassador to Russia under Reagan and Bush, and who described how it is NATO that is provoking Russia with its conduct in eastern Europe. She states that it is ironic that Obama is holding a third ‘Nuclear Security Summit’, without planning to cut back on America’s own huge nuclear arsenal and the $640 billion it plans to spend in the next ten years on two new nuclear bomb factories and new delivery systems – submarines, missiles and planes.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/25/time-to-disband-nato/

This is far more radical than anything Corbyn said. And Corbyn’s statement that he would work to stop a war before it got started is plain commonsense, given that such a conflict could, if not almost certainly would, lead to nuclear Armageddon.

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.

Counterpunch on the Putin’s Non-Existent Threat to the Baltic States

July 14, 2016

Anti-Nato Headline

Russian anti-US Cartoon

Anti-Nato Headline (top) and cartoon against escalating American militarism (bottom). Both from the Russian political magazine, Novoe Vremya, for 17th December 1982.

Last week, NATO began sending reinforcements into Poland and Estonia, and began a series of manoeuvres close to the Russian border. The supposed reason for this is to send a warning to Putin against a possible invasion of those countries. The Russians have been attempting to fly military planes over Estonia. Actually, this isn’t anything particularly new. They’ve been trying to do it to us every week since the beginning of the Cold War. Usually what happens is that we send a couple of our jets up to intercept them just as they’re approaching Scotland. The Russian flyboys then take the hint, and fly off back to the former USSR. It clearly ain’t a friendly gesture, but it’s been going on so long, that’s it not sign of an imminent invasion either. It’s just business as usual.

Except that the build up of NATO troops in eastern Europe clearly isn’t business as usual. It looks very much like a return to the Cold War of the early 80s, when Thatcher and Reagan ranted about the USSR being ‘the evil empire’, and the world teetered on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. There were at least three occasions before the Fall of Communism, when the world really was almost a hair’s breadth away from nuclear war. Nearly three generations of people grew up in it’s shadow. I can remember the way it terrified my age group, when we were at school at the time. Hence the two illustrations at the top of the page, taken from a Russian language magazine at the time. One’s a headline for an article attacking NATO, the other’s a cartoon against advancing American militarism.

The American left-wing magazine, Counterpunch the other day published an article attacking the supposed rationale for the NATO manoeuvres. These aren’t just in Poland, but also include Lithuania and Romania. According to the article ‘Putin’s “Threats” to the Baltic: A Myth to Promote NATO Unity’, by Gary Leupp, the manoeuvres are a response to the book, 2017: War with Russia, by the deputy commander of NATO, Sir Alexander Shirreff. Shirreff predicts that by May next year, Russia will invade the eastern Ukraine and Latvia. Leupp argues that the prediction of a Russian invasion of the Baltic states, with Latvia singled out as a particular target, comes from Putin describing the collapse of the USSR as a ‘catastrophe’ and tensions between the Russians and the now independent Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Putin, so it is believed, is a new Stalin aiming at the revival of the USSR. The also point to the Russian war with Georgia in 2008, and events in Ukraine two years ago in 2014, to show that the threat from Russia is real.

Leupp’s article argues that it is nothing of the sort. The Russians have denounced NATO expansion up to their borders and held manoeuvres of their own, but have also continued with offers of co-operation and referred to the NATO nations as ‘our partners’. He argues that the tensions with Russia in the Baltic states are due to the stripping of the Russian minority in these countries of their rights as an ethnic minority, and increased anti-Russian nationalism, after the states gained their independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Russia certainly sees itself as the protector of ethnic Russians elsewhere, including the Baltic and Ukraine, but points out that this does not mean that it is planning an invasion. It is also much smaller and weaker, militarily, than NATO. NATO forces comprise nearly 3 1/2 million squaddies, compared to Russia, which has just under 800,000. NATO spends nearly $900 billon on defence, while Russia spends $70 billion.

He also argues that the war between Russia and Georgia wasn’t a simple case of Russian aggression either. They went into defend South Ossetia and Abkhazia, small countries that had been forcibly incorporated in Georgia, and which wished to break away. He compares it to the NATO dismantling of Serbia, when Kosovo was taken out of Serbian control. This was against international law, but justified by Condoleeza Rice against protests from Spain, Greece and Romania.

He also states that the support the Russians have given to their ethnic fellows in the Donbass region in Ukraine, against the Fascist-backed Ukrainian government, hardly represents an invasion.

He also argues that the existence of NATO, and its supposed necessity is never discussed or questioned, with the exception of a recent piece in the Boston Globe by Stephen Kinzer, a senior academic at Brown University. He didn’t argue that NATO was unnecessary, only that we needed less of it. This was followed by a piece by Nicholas Burns, a member of George W. Bush’s administration, and now a lecturers in diplomacy at Harvard. Burns states that NATO is necessary for four reasons: defence against Russian aggression; the fragmentation of the EU following Britain’s decision to leave; violence from North Africa and the Israel-Syria region spreading into Europe, and to counter the lack of confident leadership in responding to these issues from Europe and America.

Burns and General Jim Jones, a military advisor to Obama, believe that NATO should station permanent troops in the Baltic, the Black Sea region, the Arctic and Poland, and be ready to send American forces in to help the Poles defend themselves. Burns also argues that NATO is needed because of the growing threat of isolationist forces – meaning Trump – in the US. He finally concludes that it seems to be an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who has, in contrast to Trump, been very keen to bomb Libya, support the invasion of Iraq, and now wants to bomb Syria.

See the article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/12/putins-threats-to-the-baltics-a-myth-to-promote-nato-unity/

Meanwhile, the prospect of a real, lasting peace between the West and Russia, which began with the thaw between Reagan and Gorbachev, is now threatened by a new generation of militarists, including the hawkish Shrillary. It’s another reason, apart from her bloody legacy when she was in charge of Obama’s foreign policy, why she should not get in the White House any more than Trump should.

The EU and the Avoidance of Conflict between Albania and Macedonia

June 10, 2016

Still on the subject of the European Union, Albania and Macedonia, my hopes are that if those two nations do join the EU, then it might help prevent, or at least mitigate, further ethnic tensions in that part of the Balkans. Many of the Balkan states contain large ethnic minorities within their borders. The former Yugoslavia before its break up included not only Serbs, Croats and Muslims, but also Macedonians, Slovenians, ethnic Albanians, Romanians and Hungarians, as well as a number of other nationalities. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia also contains a sizable Albanian minority. This may constitute as much as 30 per cent of the population, although this is disputed. There has been considerable political tension between Albanians and Macedonians, and some observers have feared that a civil war might break out, should the Albanian minority demand that the parts of the country they inhabit break away to join Albania.

Some of us can still remember the horrific bloodbath which broke out when the former Yugoslavia collapsed, with its massacres and ethnic cleansing. The same occurred when Kosovo also decided it wanted to become independent of Serbia. The prospect of another war breaking out in the region is truly terrifying.

The EU, however, claims that it has helped keep the peace in Europe for over half a century after the Second World War. It’s one that can be challenged, of course. It’s possible to argue that what has really kept the peace in Europe was the absolute horror all of the countries involved in the Second World War felt at the merest possibility that such a terrible war could ever break out again, and so took conscious steps to find means of avoiding it. One of which was, of course, the EU. Now I’ve said in previous posts that I don’t think it’ll be anytime soon that Albania and Macedonia will join the European Union. But if they do, and membership helps allay ethnic conflict in that part of Europe, and prevents a war, then it will have done the job it was set up to do. And this should help justify Britain’s membership. After all, if another war broke out in the Balkans, we would also be expected, as NATO members, to contribute to a peacekeeping force. And I have no doubt that, whether we were members of the EU or not, we would still be expected to do our bit by providing sanctuary to refugees from the nations involved. So we have a vested interest in supporting the EU as a way of preserving peace in Europe.

Vote Leave Scaremongering, Bristol and Albanians and Romanian Immigrants

June 10, 2016

I’m still a bit annoyed about the Vote Leave’s scaremongering last night about Turks, Albanians and Romanians all threatening to abandon their homelands and march across Europe to get into Britain. Frankly, it ain’t going to happen. Apart from the fact that Turkey, for example, isn’t expected to reach the criteria for EU membership for another 30 years, the number of Turks, who actually have passports is only 8 million. Yet if you believe Vote Leave’s bilge and UKIP, all 75 million of that ancient and historic country’s people are going to leave Anatolia, just to come to Britain. Furthermore, despite the freedom of movement written into the European constitution, there are still some border checks in the Schengen area. So remaining in Europe doesn’t mean that millions of foreigners will sudden be heading over the Channel anytime soon.

As for the particular threat from Albanians and Macedonians, I think this is going to be very overblown too. Bristol’s a very diverse city in terms of the various ethnic minorities, who’ve settled here. Apart from Blacks and Asians, there were also Poles and other peoples from eastern Europe, who arrived here after the War. There are also long-established Italian families, such as Verecchia’s, who are ice cream vendors. Bristol also has an Albanian community. I don’t know how large it is, or indeed anything about it. I only know it exists from looking along the shelves at the Central Library in town, and finding a few books in that language. One of them was on Mother Theresa of Calcutta. The fact that they’re here, but are otherwise unremarkable indicates, I hope, that there’s little in the way of friction between them and other Bristolians. I certainly haven’t noticed outbreaks of mass prejudice against them in my part of Bristol, though that doesn’t mean it necessarily doesn’t exist.

The same goes for Romanians. Remember how UKIP were telling us all that millions of Romanians were threatening to come over, along with a similar number of Bulgarians? In the end, instead of the millions only a few thousand or so arrived. According to an item on the local news a few years ago, Bristol is also the major centre of the Romanian community in the UK. We have so many of them in the city, that the government decided to locate their consulate here. I’m pleased that our city has such links with a part of Europe that was previously closed to westerners. Again, I might be wrong, but I haven’t noticed any particular problems with those that have come here.

So, from the fact that Bristol’s Albanians and Romanians are so un-newsworthy, I think that these people present very little of a problem as immigrants. I’m aware that there are criminal gangs from eastern Europe, and that human trafficking from the former Soviet bloc is a problem. But from my city’s experience, I don’t see immigrants from these nations are likely to cause any problems, and I don’t believe that there’ll be the mass migration with which Vote Leave and UKIP are trying to scare us all.

It is just scaremongering, and should be treated as such.

Vote Leave’s Lies about the EU and the NHS Funding

June 9, 2016

I just caught a bit of Vote Leave’s referendum broadcast earlier this evening. It was broadcast around about 7 O’clock, just before the One Show. I didn’t see all of it, as I was busy here, putting up article, but just managed to catch a snippet where they claiming that the £350 million they claim we spend every week on Europe could be used to build hospitals in the NHS. They then claimed that the EU therefore was undermining the Health Service.

They then went on to scaremonger about immigration, raising the dire spectre of what might happen when Albania, Macedonia and Turkey all join the EU. There were large, scary arrows from those countries running across Europe to Britain, rather like the diagram of the Nazi advance in the titles of Dad’s Army. Which is actually what I’d much rather be watching, even in the recent film version, than the Brexiteers and their wretched propaganda. But they made, the claim, so let’s filk it.

Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Farage (and Johnson, Gove and Ms Patel)

First of all, the claim that Britain spends £350 million every week on Europe has been refuted again and again. Yes, we do spend that money, but we get over £100 million or so of it back. So in net terms, no, we certainly don’t spend that amount. See Mike’s articles about this over at Vox Political.

Then there’s that guff about funding the EU diverting money away from the NHS. This is rubbish. What is undermining the NHS is the stealth privatisation carried out by Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill of 2012. This has opened up the NHS to further privatisation by private health care firms, such as Virgin, which under law must be given contracts. This has frequently gone against the wishes of the patients using the NHS. The reforms included forcing local authorities responsible for some NHS provision to contract out at least 3 medical services from a list of eight sent down by the government. Furthermore, the remaining state-owned and managed sectors of the NHS are being deliberately starved of funds as part of the campaign to privatise the whole shebang. See Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ NHS SOS, particularly the chapters ‘1. Breaking the Public Trust’, by John Lister; ‘2. Ready for Market’, by Steward Player, and ‘7. From Cradle to Grave’, by Allyson M. Pollock and David Price.

It’s a lie that the NHS is being starved of funding due to Europe. It’s being starved of funding due to Lansley and the rest of the Conservative party and their purple counterparts in UKIP. If Vote Leave were serious about the funding crisis in the NHS, then Johnson, Gove, Patel and the other xenophobes and Little Englanders would have voted against Lansley’s bill. They didn’t. They supported it.

‘Bloody Foreigners, Comin’ Over ‘Ere!’

Let’s deal with the threat of people from Turkey, Albania and Macedonia all flooding over here in the next few years. This too, is overblown and pretty much a lie. Turkey would like to join the EU, but the chances of it actually qualifying to do so are presently remote. Critics have suggested that it’ll only reach the point where it has developed sufficiently to be admitted in about 30 years’ time. So the Turks are hardly likely to come flooding up from Anatolia in the next few years.

As for Albania and Macedonia, I’m sceptical about the numbers that will come from those nations due to the open borders policies. Mike’s posted up pieces reminding us all how millions of Romanians and Bulgarians were supposed to be ready to inundate Britain, and in the event only a small number arrived. Mark Steel, the left-wing activist and comedian, in one of his newspaper columns, republished in Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove’s The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, attacked the inflated claims of the threat of uncontrolled immigration by pointing out that many of the Poles, who were supposed to flood in, had in fact gone back to Poland. So while it’s certainly possible that a vast number of Albanians and Macedonians may want to come to Britain, it’s also possible that few in fact will.

And in any case, why would they all want to come to Britain? The impression given by the Brexit video tonight was that Britain was a tiny island under siege, and that the first country that the Turks, Albanians and Macedonians would all head for was Britain. But why? Britain’s social security system and welfare state – or what remains of them – are much less generous than some parts of the rest of Europe. Britain does have more cache, apparently, than some of the other nations, but Britain is by no means the sole destination for migrants, as we’ve seen.

Vote Leave’s video tonight was little more than right-wing scaremongering. What I saw was mostly speculation, and when it wasn’t speculation, as on the piece on the NHS, it was a distortion compounded with lies. There are problems with Europe and immigration, but leaving the EU isn’t the solution. Indeed, voting for Johnson, Gove, Patel, Farage and their cronies will only make the situation worse. They want to privatise the NHS, just as they want to remove the EU human rights legislation and social charter that protects British workers. The anti-EU campaign is part of this programme to grind down and deprive working people of their hard-won rights at work and for state support in sickness and unemployment. Don’t be taken in.

Brexit and the British Film Industry

June 2, 2016

I’m not sure that this piece will count as one of those identified as part of Project Fear, which is putting voters off the whole debate. Nevertheless, I think it’s another factor that needs to be taken into consideration. About a year or so now, a European initiative was launched with the intention of creating closer ties and commercial connections between the various national film companies in France, Germany and possibly Britain. One of the leaders of this initiative was the French Canal Plus. The goal was to create a film combine strong enough for Europe to become an effective rival to Hollywood. I think it’s an excellent idea.

Don’t get me wrong – I like Hollywood movies the same as the next guy. I just want to preserve my own film industry as well, as uniting with the French, Germans and so on seems the best way to do it. Film and television are very expensive media. I can remember being told way back at a Dr Who convention in the mid-1990s that a day’s outdoor film cost something like £40,000. The only way some films are able to get made is through multi-country financing. And this has allowed some excellent, alternative films to be made. For example, Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem, about a mad computer scientist in a corporate dystopian future trying to prove mathematically that the world is pointless, was a joint production between, I think, Britain, France and Romania. And in recent years, there have been a number of really excellent films made on the continent. Amelie was the art house favourite a few years ago, but far more to my taste was The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, about the adventures of French female Indiana Jones-type archaeologist, as she attempts to stop a rampaging pterodactyl and return ancient Egyptian physicians from the day so that they can cure her sister, who is in a persistent vegetative state following a bizarre hatpin accident.

My fear is that if we leave Europe, we will also lose access to the EU’s arts funding, including financial and other support for our film industry, as well as easy access to the rest of the continent’s cinema chains. France does operate a system of protectionism, intended to preserve their domestic film industry against Hollywood competition, and we could be similarly penalised, if and when the British film industry proves once again there’s life somewhere.

Stephen Hawking on Why British Science Needs the EU

June 1, 2016

One of the many piece Mike put up on his site yesterday reported on Stephen Hawking’s statement that British science would be put at risk if we left the EU. Hawking was speaking as a guest on the show Good Morning Britain, and stated that the EU was good for British science for two reasons. Firstly, it allowed scientists and students from different countries to travel, thus sharing their skills, knowledge and experience. Without this exchange of personnel and ideas, Britain would be come isolated and remote from the centres of scientific endeavour. He also stated that British science benefited from generous funding from the European Union.

Another EU personality clash: Stephen Hawking vs Michael Gove. Who do YOU think should win?

Hawking’s views here are, unsurprisingly, exactly right. In fact, British intellectual culture has benefited from the exchange of staff and ideas from across the continent. Many, perhaps the majority, of unis today have teaching staff and students from elsewhere in the EU and the wider world. In the archaeology department at Bristol University four years ago, when I was studying for my postgraduate degree, there were staff from Greece, Portugal and Germany. There were also speakers at the regular postgraduate seminars from countries such as Austria and Belgium, apart from those from the other parts of the Anglophone world. These archaeologists reported on excavations they had carried out not only in their home countries, but also in places like Turkey, Egypt, Romania and the former USSR. Well some of this is no doubt possible without the umbrella of the EU, it’s made much easier with it.

And Britain does benefit from the international contacts the EU brings at a corporate and financial level. ESA, the European Space Agency, operates a system of a juste retour. Under this system, the countries that contribute the most funding to a European space project get the most contracts for it. And we’ve missed out on the benefits of closer cooperation with the European Space Agency in the past. For example, we could have been much more involved with the Ariane satellite launcher. This was developed by France from the remains of the ESRO project to build a European launch vehicle. We developed our own launcher too, Black Knight, which successfully launched a British satellite in the 1970s, but was cancelled after its first mission. We could have had a place, or many more places for our satellites, aboard Ariane. Instead, some Whitehall mandarin decided that we should instead throw in our lot with the Americans’ space shuttle. Well, we suffered there, not just because of the horrific engineering problems with that space vessel, which resulted in the deaths of the crew of the Challenger and more recent fatalities. We also suffered because the launch of our satellites depended on whether there was space left over after the Americans had filled it with the experiments they wanted for their missions. Meanwhile, Ariane, quietly and successfully, carried other countries’ experiments and satellites into orbit, while we waited for the goodwill of the Americans.

And Ariane itself, the rocket launcher, is excellent value for money. It costs the same as the Space Shuttle to launch a satellite, but that’s only because the Space Shuttle was heavily subsidised by the US government. If you’re looking for something that justifies itself according to free market ideology, then it’s probably Ariane you’d go for.

Much of the cutting-edge, gosh-wow science that science educators love, because it captures young minds, like space, atomic physics and so on, is very expensive. I doubt whether the UK on its own could bear the cost of building a particle accelerator the size of CERN, or its rivals in America. So CERN was the result of collaboration between different European nations. And the importance of international contacts and intellectual mobility between countries is also underscored by the initial post-War success of American atomic physics. The Americans were able to build such huge nuclear reactors and accelerators, not just because they had the vast financial resources to afford them, but also because they benefited from the influx of all the scientists and engineers the Nazis had chased out of Central Europe.

Mike, following one of his esteemed commenters, asks who people should believe about science and Brexit, Stephen Hawking, or Michael Gove? Really, you don’t have to have read A Brief History of Time or understand the intricacies of N-dimensional String Theory to know the answer to that one. It’s definitely going to be Hawking.

TV Documentary from 1999 on Contemporary British Fascism

April 3, 2016

This is more Fascism – British this time – for those that can stomach. And some of it is hard to take. This is a British documentary, The Lost Race, broadcast in 1999, that charts the career of the various Fascist parties and movements in Britain from c. 1979 to the end of millennium. It follows the NF, BNP and other Fascist splinter groups, like the Third Position after Margaret Thatcher’s election victory of 1979 took the wind out of their sails by taking many nationalist votes from the NF. Faced with defeat after it was almost on the verge of becoming a mainstream party, the National Front split, the British National Party emerged as the dominant party of the Far Right, and British Fascism in general began a process of self-examination and exploration trying to find ways to recover their position.

The documentary covers some of the bizarre intellectual movements within the BNP at this time. This includes Nick Griffin’s attempt to turn his stormtroopers into ‘political soldiers’ following the ideas of the Italian Fascist and occultist aristo, Giulio Evola and the Italian Fascist, Roberto Fiore. This involved trying to cultivate a mystical, spiritual dimension to the Fascist revolt, and the ideas of the late Libyan dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. I think Nick Griffin travelled at least once to Libya, and he tried to get the other goose-steppers to study Gaddafi’s notoriously muddled and incoherent ‘Green Book’. One of the former Fascists interview, now standing as a ‘National Liberal’ local councillor in one of the London boroughs, describes how he got a copy for the local council. It’s on their shelves, but no-one’s read it. Also highly influential in this stage of the BNP’s development were the ideas of the Romanian Fascist, Corneliu Codreanu, who tried to form a mystical nationalism based on a synthesis of love of the land with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This also failed to ignite any interest. It’s hard to see how Griffin expected it to be otherwise. Codreanu’s Iron Guard was a failure, even in Romania. From what I understand, in the 1930s they tried to overthrow the Romanian government in a coup. King Carol formed a government of his own from the traditional Rightist groups, which then counterattacked and massacred the Fascists, including Codreanu. His ideas were also unlikely to have any resonance for contemporary Brits, considering the very different intellectual climate in western Europe. The early Russian intellectuals, for example, used to contrast the mystical mindset of their own country with western rationalism and its obsession with the law and legal niceties, in contrast with their own preferences for utopianism and solving social problems through a complete restructuring of that society.

As for the International Third Position, this can be summed up as plain, old fashioned segregation. In their case, Blacks and Asians were to be allowed to remain in Britain, but would be kept separate from Whites through a system of apartheid. This also eventually died the death, as the traditional stance of the BNP and Nazi groups always was for an end to non-White immigration and the deportation of Blacks and Asians back to their countries of origin.

One of the Fascist groups also made an abortive, and borderline fraudulent attempt, to set up a Whites-only Nazi commune on a farm in France. The documentary makers themselves go there, and visit the site in the company of one of the local dignitaries. They find the site abandoned and dilapidated. Its British owners only stayed there once, and were looking to sell the place. Despite this, they were still appealing for money for the project in the various extreme Right-wing journals.

This made sense of some of the things I’d heard about the extreme Right at the time. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in his book on contemporary Nazi occultism, The Black Sun, discusses some of the links between Libya and European Neo-Nazis, who adopted a pro-Islam view linked with their anti-Semitism. Larry O’Hara, who did a doctorate, I believe, on the contemporary British Far Right, mentions the Third Positionists several times in some of the articles he wrote for Lobster in the 1990s. He also briefly mentioned the attempt in France to found a Nazi commune in his own conspiracy journal, Notes from the Borderland.

The BNP/NF also tried to gain support by copying the Liberals, and concentrating on ‘parish pump’ politics, local issues at council level. It’s about this new electoral strategy that they talk to the ‘National Liberal’ town councillor in London.

The documentary also discusses the extreme violence of the Far Right, and the rise of Combat 18, an extremely violent, expressly Nazi organisation that specialised in attacking left-wingers and anti-fascists. It was founded in 1979 by the American Klansman and Nazi, Harold Covington, whose members shot day five civil rights protestors.

What I, and no doubt many others, found particularly repulsive was the way the NF/ BNP tried to recruit and indoctrinate schoolchildren. The various Nazi periodicals encouraged pupils to inform on staff, who were supposed to be promoting ‘Communist’ ideas. These were then beaten up by the storm troopers. The programme includes an interview with a teacher, who was attacked by two men in school, after one of his pupils wrote such a snitch letter to one of the Nazi rags. The man was beaten because he had taught Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto. From that, you could be forgiven for thinking he was indeed a Marxist. Except he wasn’t. The documentary makers ask him this straight out, and he gives them a flat denial. The school’s course at the time involved teaching them about the Soviet Union for a term, which involved obviously studying the ideological foundations of the state in Communism. The next term, however, they were due to study America, and the term after that Europe. So no, the teacher was definitely not a Communist. And even if he was, it would have been a matter for official censure and discipline if he was trying to indoctrinate his young charges, and definitely not ground for a savage physical attack.

The Nazis also launched their own ‘comic’ intended to draw children into their vile world of racial nationalism. There’s a clip of one of them hanging around outside a school’s gates, selling copies of The Stormer to the children leaving school. The Stormer took its name from Der Stuermer, one of Goebbel’s vile propaganda rags. The documentary briefly shows a page from the ‘comic’, with strips like ‘Ali the Paki’ clearly intended to promote hatred towards Blacks and Asians through playing up racial stereotypes. I’ve got a feeling that The Stormer was banned, and the Nazis producing and distributing it sent to jail for incitement to racial hatred following police raids on their homes. Good. The footage of the Nazi shouting to all the schoolchildren to get their copies of it, only 10p is genuinely repulsive and creepy. It has the same kind of overtones as paedophiles hanging around school gates, trying to get their claws into young, vulnerable children in their turn. It’s one that makes you want to take a bath after you’ve seen it.

The documentary, however, states that these attempts by the NF and BNP to revive their flagging membership and electoral support ultimately died, as in those 20 years Britain became used to and more comfortable with being a multicultural and multi-ethnic country. There’s an interesting section where the presenter asks John Tyndall, the leader of the NF, if he would deport, say, someone who was half-black, or a quarter. Tyndall gets very tetchy indeed, and gives an evasive answer about how these issues would be dealt with on a case by case basis.

This was at the time a little too optimistic, as in the early years of this century the BNP seemed to be in the ascendant. Fortunately, that passed when just about everyone turned on Griffin and the BNP. These groups are still around, but they’re smaller than they used to be, though still as nasty, and now openly anti-Semitic, whereas before they kept that hidden.

Here’s the video.