Archive for the ‘The Press’ Category

Weinstein, Acting and the Sexual Exploitation of Women

October 18, 2017

The big news story this week has been the numerous accusations of rape, sexual assault and other forms of indecency against the big movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. The papers and news broadcasts have been full of the accounts by actress after actress about how Weinstein assaulted or otherwise tried to degrade them for his own sexual gratification. And as the scandal has gone on, other women have also revealed how they too were demeaned or sexually exploited in order to get roles or keep their jobs in Hollywood. I saw one headline for a video about Weinstein on YouTube, which quoted one female celeb as saying that he was just ‘the tip of the iceberg. And I’m not remotely surprised.

Hollywood has always had a reputation for the dark side of the glamour of showbusiness. This isn’t just the sordid off-screen lives of some of the stars and directors and producers themselves, but also for the sexual exploitation of aspiring actresses. The most notorious aspect of this was the ‘casting couch’, in which producers would pressure actresses to sleep with them if they wanted to get a part. And I really wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing existed in the theatre. Something very much like it is portrayed in the film All That Jazz, in which Roy Schneider plays a dissolute theatrical producer, who in one scene sleeps with one of the women, whom he is supposed to be auditioning. The film tries to make it somehow less sleazy by having her asking him if he wants to go to bed with her.

And even when there is no personal sexual contact, there is nevertheless a culture where women are very much judged on their beauty and sexual allure in a demeaning manner. Jennifer Lawrence has told how she, along with a group of other young women, were made to strip naked, with only pads covering their private parts, while a female producer looked them over. In Lawrence’s case, she was told to lose a lot of weight in order to compete with the much thinner girls in the line-up. She has said how she told another, male producer about the experience afterwards, to be insulted by him in turn when he said that there was nothing wrong with her weight, and that she was perfectly ‘f***able’.

These stories have been about the American film industry, but I really don’t think we have cause for complacency over on this side of the pond. A friend of mine a while ago told me about a young woman he knew, who applied to enter one of the country’s most prestigious stage schools. She got an audition, during which she was asked to take her clothes off. When she asked why, she was simply told that they wanted to see if she would do anything to get a part.

I don’t know the person involved myself, and this could be another Friend-Of-A-Friend story, but it does have the ring of truth. Some British film stars have told in interviews how they were messed about by the stage schools or acting academies to which they had applied. Euan McGregor said on one interview that when he was trying to start out in acting, he tried several times to get into RADA. Eventually, he got an audition. So he spent £125 on a train ticket from Edinburgh to London. This was in the 1980s, when the money was worth rather more than it is now. When he got there, he found that there was nobody to see him except one man. He was told quite frankly that he hadn’t got in. When he complained that he’s spent a lot of money getting down there just for nothing, the man just replied ‘Well, you’re going to have a lot of disappointments’. Which shows just how arrogant and casually spiteful RADA was, at least to him.

And some men have also said that they were the subject of unwanted advances by powerful cinema executives, who tried to use the immense power they had over their careers to exploit them sexually.

It seems to me that the YouTube video is right. Weinstein is just the tip of the iceberg, and the whole showbiz industry is rotten with amoral, exploitative predators. It desperately needs cleaning out.

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From C. 1989: Pravda International on Launch of Greenpeace Rock Album in Soviet Union

October 18, 2017

Pravda International, with pic of Yeltsyn before he became president. This seems to have been before the drunkenness took hold. It also doesn’t show his uncritical adulation of capitalism, which destroyed the Soviet economy and caused massive unemployment and poverty.

Way back in the 1980s when I was at College, I used to buy Pravda International occasionally. It was, very roughly, an English language version of the Russian Communist party newspaper, but with articles also drawn from the other Russian newspapers and magazines Izvestia, Argumenty I Fakty, Moscow News, as well as by the English editions own staff. Like many magazines over the years, it seems to have folded due to lack of interest. I tried to buy it from my local newsagent, but found out that it was unavailable. The two big magazine distributors had divided Bristol up between them, and one of them wouldn’t carry it. So guess which half of Bristol I was in.

I nevertheless kept hold of some of them, as they were records of an exciting, historic time. This was when Glaznost and Perestroika were in full swing, the Soviet Union was being democratised according to Gorbachev’s belief that democracy and Communism could be combined to produce a new, vigorous, prosperous Soviet Union. The Soviets were opening their borders and allowing western media into the country. The Cold War was thawing rapidly, and right across the Communist bloc censorship was being lifted. The Soviet people were making their voices heard, and books, plays, poetry and art that had previously been banned were now being published and publicly discussed. Stalin and his minions stood, thanks to dissident Marxist historians like Roy and Zhores Medvedev, openly condemned as monstrous mass murderers. And the families, friends and loved ones of his victims organised to demand memorials to the millions he had murdered. And instead of hatred, distrust and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, for a few years it looked like the peoples of the West and East would live as friends and co-workers. The missiles were being decommissioned, the silos filled in. Across the world it seemed that our peoples would never again have to fear the threat of nuclear attack, or invasion from across the other side of the Iron Curtain.

And I also dug out the old copy of Pravda International out of a sense of mischief. RT UK and America have been under attack recently, accused of spreading Russian propaganda and interfering with our politics. What this means is that the Russian-owned news agency has actually done some good journalism, and uncovered the poverty, misery and despair caused by corporatist late capitalism and the gutting of the British and American welfare state and working class organisations. It’s what our own, domestic news networks should be reporting on, but instead they’ve been turned into part of the same corporate system, publishing nothing but mainstream propaganda for the corporatist elite and their puppets and shills in the political parties. I wanted to dig it out to show that the Russians have always had a media presence in the West, and there was a time when it also really frightened some capitalist interests. Although flicking through that issue of the magazine, many of the stories were about western businesses, including British firms, securing contracts to work with Soviet enterprises, as the economy opened up.

Russia, like everywhere else, is also suffering from environmental damage and climate change. Simon Reeve, in his recent TV journey across Russia from the Far East to St. Petersburg, stopped in Siberia to show the terrifying changes that are occurring in the Russian north. The permafrost is melting causing the remaining rock and soil to subside. This has created vast craters in the tundra. One Russian environmental scientist took Reeve to see one of these. It was staggering, the size of the vast Arizona meterorite crater in the US. It was as if a piece of land the size of a city had been scooped out of the Arctic.

These climatic changes are threatening the stability of many of the cities the Russians built up in the north. They’re also a further threat to all humanity, as they release methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. About 25 times more powerful. This threatens to create runaway global warming beyond the tipping point, to the point where the survival or human civilisation, if not the human species itself, is very much under threat.

Looking through this old issue of Pravda International, it was therefore particularly interesting to find an article by their staffer, Jennie Walsh, reporting the launch of a rock album by Greenpeace, released by the Soviet recording company Melodiya, to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The article, ‘Breakthrough for the Environment’, reads

The ecological pressure group Greenpeace has long highlighted the international potential of the environmental movement. The recent release of their rock compilation album, Breakthrough marks an important step forward for the campaign, and for Western music.

Two years ago Greenpeace chairman David McTaggart approached Ian Flookes of the Wasted Talent Artists Agency with a view to putting on a concert of Western bands in the Soviet Union in order to generate roubles for a Soviet-based Greenpeace campaign. Political problems prevented this at the time, but in the changing climate of perestroika the plans were restarted last year, though a compilation record was considered more appropriate.

‘After what happened at Chernobyl, I think the Soviet authorities have become extremely environment-conscious and their approach to Greenpeace and to the project has been one of great support’, Flookes told Pravda International.

With the full cooperation of the Soviet state record company Melodiya, who were granted independent status last year, Breakthrough is the first major release of contemporary Western rock music in the USSR.

It is the first time that Melodiya has been able to do a ‘normal’ promotion campaign, with many of the artists (who all gave their services free of charge) present at the Moscow launch in March. There was an incredible reception. One record store queue was over 7,000 people, which is quite phenomenal – even by Soviet standards!

The purpose behind Breakthrough, however, must not be forgotten amid such hysteria. Kate Karam of Greenpeace emphasised that in releasing the album, they wanted to educate as much as to entertain. Despite perestroika, it is still difficult to put out independent information in the USSR, and the album provided a vehicle for the distribution of a booklet highlighting the work of Greenpeace and the environmental problems of the USSR.

The profits from the record sales will be shared between Greenpeace and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, one of the first independent, non-governmental organisations to be founded in the Soviet Union.

The money will be spent only on projects within the USSR. This is a major indication of the political changes that have taken place. Greenpeace is quite a radical organisation by any standards, and to have some of the top soviet scientists and public servants (including Velikov, vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) support them through the Foundation, has been vital to the project. It is also an important challenge – a challenge to get programmes started in the USSR while maintaining the traditional Greenpeace principle of direct action.

Several environmental projects have now been formally agreed. Greenpeace will use some of the funds from the record to organise an East-West exchange programme in cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for children to study environmental problems. Projects in the pipeline include work with the International Foundation to establish a central clearing house for information on atmospheric pollution problems and trying to involve the Soviet Union in the campaign to stop the industrial pollution of the Baltic Sea.

‘We don’t want to impose our Western standards about the environment on the Soviet Union,’ explains Karam. ‘I think that’s a danger with many of the Western organisations taking advantage of the new political climate there. Greenpeace is going to Russia to learn about their specific problems, because it is wrong to develop homogeneous attitudes about the environment. We need to study and talk to people before we launch into setting up offices and membership drives. Getting educational materials out in Russia is a big enough challenge right now without going straight into direct action projects.’

The popularisation of ‘green politics’ in the West may be little more than rhetoric on the part of its leaders, but it has encouraged the critical eye to fall on eastern Europe with regard to its environmental record. The socialist system may have failed the environment as much as the capitalist, but the big difference is the West has had 10 years lead time with environmentalists pushing legislation through. ‘I think the question is now how bad the USSR’s record is, but what is going to happen over the next 10 years – not in the past 50. I don’t think its fair to criticise.’

Now that the Soviet authorities have made active moves to encourage environmental concern, particularly by creating a Ministry for the Environment, Greenpeace are keen to see whether other east European countries follow suit.

Breakthrough is to be released in all the east European countries as well as in the UK, USA, India, Australia and Japan, emphasising the international aspect of the green movement.

The release of the album worldwide, under the title Rainbow Warriors, will probably be slightly more of a gamble than it has been in the Soviet Union. Compassion fatigue in the West, however, might be overcome by the quality of the record.

There probably hasn’t been an album released yet, which features so many top musicians – U2, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Sting to name a few. There are 26 tracks, all of which have recently been hits. For many, the album will probably have an intrinsic value just for this reason. The fact that it supports Greenpeace will be a bonus.

In the three weeks since the album was released in the USSR over 10,000 copies have been received on the forms that were enclosed in the information booklets.

The worldwide launch is on May 22nd and if it sells for reasons other than its musical content, its educational and mobilising potential could be as effective as the fundraising.

Now, unfortunately, we have had Russian hackers releasing scientific data in an attempt to discredit climate change and global warming, while Trump is also trying to stifle climate science, including the virtual closure of America’s Environmental protection Agency. He and the rest of the Republican party are determined that only the paid propagandists for the Koch brothers will be heard.

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

October 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.

Panorama Documentary on Unnecessary Operations in Private Medicine

October 13, 2017

This should annoy and frighten the Tories’ friends in the private medical industry. Next Monday, 16th October 2017, the BBC’s documentary programme, Panorama, is examining the issue of unnecessary operations performed by surgeons in private hospitals. The programme’s entitled ‘How Safe is Your Operation?’, and the blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

Jailed surgeon Ian Paterson profited from hundreds of unnecessary operations, but do his crimes reveal wider failings in Britain’s private healthcare? Reporter Darragh MacIntyre investigates whether some private hospitals – and those working within them – have put profit before patients. (p. 74).

The programme’s on at it’s usual time of 8.30 pm on BBC 1.

I’m not remotely surprised by this. Private medicine pays doctors and surgeons according to the operations they perform, and so there is a financial incentive to perform unnecessary operations to boost the doctor’s or surgeon’s pay. American surgeons perform far more operations than their British counterparts because of this. And this problem has always been there. I can remember a similar documentary being shown when I was a schoolkid back in the 1980s.

Apart from this, private medicine is also much less efficient than state medicine. It’s more expensive, and because of the financial costs involved in treating the long term sick or disabled, which risks a corresponding lack of profits, it tends to concentrate on providing care to the healthy. Private hospitals are smaller than those of the NHS, and have fewer patients. On its own, there’s very little demand for it in the UK, which is why the Tories and Blairites have been running down and privatising the NHS piecemeal, in order to generate artificially a demand for private medicine.

More Fearmongering from the Murdoch Press: Times Names British Politicians Appearing on RT as ‘Helpers of Putin’

October 12, 2017

You can really feel the fear coming off the mainstream press in waves now, and with this story Murdoch appears to be the most frightened and desperate. This short clip from RT reports and comments on two pieces in the Times today, which named the British politicians, who had appeared on RT. Most of these were from the Labour party, but there were also a select number of Conservatives. One of the pieces was entitled ‘Helping Putin’, and claimed that the politicos going on the Russian-owned station were guilty of helping the Russian president interfere in British politics. Not only did the Times name the individual politicians, it also gave details of how many times they had appeared on RT, and the amounts they’d been paid. Among those outed are the Shadow Energy Secretary, Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, the Welsh MP David Davies, the MP Nigel Evans, and the Shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon.

The RT’s own Polly Boiko remarks that traditionally in Britain, speaking to the media was seen one of our democratic freedoms. She then walks into the studio of RT’s ‘Going Underground’ to talk to the programme’s host, Afshin Rattansi. Rattansi remarks that the story’s ‘pretty shoddy stuff’, and the Times has not come to RT for their comment on this story. He also says that they’ve had not just Labour politicians on the programme, but also Tories as well as those from other parties. They come on the programme as they know they will be listened to. As for ‘helping Putin’, this is an attempt to scare people off the broadcaster by connecting them to Jeremy Corbyn. Boiko asks him if he believes that this will make it difficult for RT to get politicians on to his show. Rattansi states that it was initially difficult, but it has now become much easier as they’ve become established and known for listening to their speakers.

The Russian embassy have also given their response to the accusation, asking if that means that the Russian politicos, who have appeared on the BBC, have been helping the British government.

This looks to me like the Murdoch press doing what it has so often done in the past: kick up a ‘Red Scare’ in order to stop people voting Labour. The Times is copying the attacks on RT America over the other side of the Pond by the Republicans and Corporatist Democrats, who are terrified because increasingly more severely normal Americans are preferring to get their news from alternative media outlets, like RT, rather than believe anything from the biased and compromised mainstream broadcasters. Like Fox News, which is solidly Republican to the core, and whose main host, Bill O’Reilly, and one of its chief executives, Roger Ailes, were both sacked as serial sexual harassers. Obama’s election victory in 2008 was credited to a campaign for him on social media, and it has been social media that’s played a very large part in the massive growth in popularity for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, in opposition to a barrage of lies and smears from the mainstream press and broadcasters.

And Murdoch in particular is threatened by this. Fox News audience is very largely in their late 60s. I think the average age is 68, which means that it is signally failing to attract and influence the younger folks, who are turning instead to Bernie Sanders over in America and Corbyn in Britain. As for the Times, the paper is actually losing money hand over fist, to the point where Private Eye remarked that it would have been closed down long ago if it were not the British ‘paper of record’. Murdoch keeps it propped up so that he has a place at the table influencing our politicians.

Lobster and other commenters have observed that over the past decades, Murdoch has used his power in the British press to make deals with various governments. His papers support them and give them popularity as an a kind of unofficial official press, while in return they give in to Murdoch’s own agenda. This means that they grant him important business concessions, such as purchasing rival satellite and cable networks and generally expanding his squalid little empire. At the same time, they also listen very carefully to his wider political agenda, which has always consisted of smashing workers’ rights, and deregulating and privatising the economy. And that includes the NHS.

Clearly, with this story, Murdoch’s starting to become afraid that time’s running out for this scam. People are turning away from the mainstream media, including and particularly the Murdoch press, which has always had a reputation for sensationalist trash and gross rightwing political bias. And if nobody reads his papers, or watches Sky News, not only is Murdoch’s empire failing in itself, but so is his power to influence British and American politics.

He’s panicking, and it’s clear he’s panicking.

Of course, this isn’t the first time he’s attempted to smear respectable politicos as traitors and agents of Moscow. He’s done that many times before. Way back in the 1990s or early part of this century, the Times under its editor, David Leppard, printed a completely bogus story that Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, had been a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’. This was a highly credible story, as shown by the way Private Eye sent it up on their front page. This showed Foot walking his dog, which was cocking its leg on a tree. The tree, in turn, was attempting to contact Foot in code. Not surprisingly, Foot sued for libel and won.

Then there was the Scum’s attempt to smear various Labour politicians as Commies in the 1987 general election. Among those targeted were Labour politicians, who had spoken to or written for the Marxist press. Shock! Horror! Except that the politicos they tried to smear in this way weren’t actually Communists, nor even necessarily Marxists. They were largely mainstream Labour politicians, who had just written for the Marxist press on a particular issue. They also smeared Red Ken as a Marxist, when those, who knew him, said he wasn’t, though he wasn’t averse to using them and sounding like them on occasion. They also claimed that Peter Tatchell was a member of the Trotskyite entryist group, Militant Tendency, when he was no such thing. As well as making other spurious claims based on his homosexuality.

This is all the kind of stuff the right-wing British press has been doing since the infamous ‘Zinoviev Letter’ of the 1920s. This was an attempt by one of the newspapers to scare people away from voting Labour by publishing a letter from the head of the Comintern, Zionviev, to the Labour party, which purported to show that they were going to collaborate with Russia and turn the country into a Communist dictatorship. Except that the letter was a fake, a forgery, probably cooked up by MI5.

I’ve reposted a number of stories from RT, simply because the broadcaster is doing an excellent job of covering stories that the mainstream British media, including the Beeb, aren’t. This doesn’t mean I support Putin. I don’t. He’s an extremely authoritarian thug, and I don’t doubt that the stories of his own massive corruption are true. But that doesn’t mean that the stories reported by RT are false, or that RT isn’t doing proper journalism when it reveals them. In fact, it seems to me that RT is very much doing this, and it is precisely this that has got Murdoch and the Republicans and Clintonite Democrats in America running scared.

The Russian word for newspaper is ‘Gazeta’. The Russian word for the type of journalism practised by the Murdoch empire is ‘govno’. Which is Russian for ‘Sh*t’.

RT: Government Wishes to Define Google and Facebook as ‘Media Outlets’, Impose Tougher Regulation

October 12, 2017

This shows how desperate the government is about people getting news from alternative media and the internet, news and opinion that very definitely isn’t approved by Tory Central Office and the shills for big business. In this short video, RT reports that the government is considering defining Facebook and Google as ‘media outlets’, as this would allow them to impose the same kind of tough regulations imposed on broadcasters. The programme’s host talks to Neil Wallis, described as a ‘media commenter’, and a spokesman for the Christian advocacy group, Christian Voice, for their views.

Wallis states that this is a gross intrusion into freedom of speech, and states that it is unworkable, and cannot and should not work. He admits that there have been ‘gross excesses’ on Google and Facebook, and that the two should be doing more to crack down on dubious content like fake news or terrorism. However, the legislation goes too far in threatening to impose censorship. He also makes the point that such regulations would be extremely difficult to impose. He states that he makes dozens of Tweets during the day, often retweeting stories. Each of these would constitute under the kind of legislation the government is proposing a new publication, and someone would have to monitor them. In short, it would simply be too cumbersome and difficult to monitor and regulate the sheer amount of online posting.

The spokesman from Christian Voice states that there should be greater regulation, because too often material is posted on the web by anonymous individuals, of whom nothing is known. He also makes the point that people posting in haste may make far more extreme statements than they would otherwise do face to face. He therefore thinks it is fair to pass legislation that would require people using the two companies only to post the type of comments that they would make in a face-to-face conversation.

He is, however, concerned by the government’s statement that they wish to examine particularly the issue of religion on the Net, and LGBTQ rights and issues. The spokesman states that if this means limiting what can be said about Islam or homosexuality, then it is an infringement of free speech.

This looks very much like the Tories getting worried about people passing on uncensored and unspun news over the internet, bypassing the censorship and bias of the mainstream broadcasters and the rightwing press. And in order to justify their censorship, they’re trying to use the pretext yet again of protecting people from cyberbullying, online radicalisation by Islamist terror groups, and, I would assume, the threat to children from online pornography. The report doesn’t mention the last, but that’s been one of the major concerns that has been used to justify previous attempts to regulate content on the internet, such as that imposed by David Cameron’s wretched government.

The Neil Wallis interviewed by RT has the same name as the former editor of the News of the Screws, Neil ‘Wolfman’ Wallis, who used to turn up regularly along with the sordid little rag he edited in the pages of Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column. If that’s the case, then Wallis probably isn’t the best spokesman for press freedom, on the grounds that his publication regularly abused it to invade the privacy of various celebs and other, more ordinary people, whose private lives should have been no concern of anybody except themselves. The most egregious example of this spectacular lack of journalistic ethics and integrity was the phone-hacking scandal, but the Screws had been at the bottom end of the journalistic barrel doing pretty much the same type of pointless muckraking for most of its existence. Think of Mahmoud Mazher, the ‘Fake Sheikh’, who went around trying to get celebrities and politicians to make indiscreet comments or otherwise catch them out. In his guise as an Arab dignitary, he tried to get George Galloway to say something vile in support of the Holocaust. Galloway was wise to him, having recognised Mazher’s 7 ft tall driver and bodyguard, nicknamed ‘Jaws’ because of his immense height and mouthful of gold teeth. Galloway’s an ardent critic of Israel and its barbarous oppression of the Palestinians, but he’s not an anti-Semite. When Mazher tried prompting him into praising the Shoah, Galloway replied instead that the Holocaust was an horrific crime against humanity. And so the ‘Fake Sheikh’ went off unsatisfied.

But even if it the same Neil Wallis, he still has a point, despite his own and his former newspaper’s squalid and sensationalist brand of journalism. Such regulation would be a further, damaging attack on freedom of speech.

It’s clear that the spokesman for Christian Voice is in general far more supportive of such legislation, except where it touches what can be said about Islam and homosexuality. This probably reflects his own bigoted views against a competing religion and same-sex attraction. However, even there he has a point. A few years ago, it was reported that Christianity had overtaken Judaism as the most persecuted religion in the world. And very many of the countries that persecute Christianity, especially severely, are Muslim. With the increase in Islamphobia and racism in the West, there is a need to protect Muslims and their religion from bigotry and prejudice. However, this should not be used to limit reasonable criticism, including rejection of Islam, or any other religion or ideology.

The same should be true of any discussion of homosexuality. Prejudice against homosexuals should be condemned, as should any attempts to encourage discrimination or violence towards them. But people should be allowed to object to homosexuality as a simple matter of free speech.

The Real News Network on the Anti-Semitism Smears and the Expulsion of Moshe Machover from Labour

October 10, 2017

The Real News Network is another great alternative news service that’s on the net. Like RT, it’s actually doing proper journalism and showing just how corrupt and unjust contemporary politics is under neoliberalism in the West. In this video, Shir Hever from Heidelberg talks to Moshe Machower, an Israeli professor and anti-Zionist activist, about his expulsion from the Labour party. Hever states that the allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party started shortly after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, and that it has become clear that they don’t have any basis in reality. They are a device to smear critics of Israel. There’s a brief clip of Jackie Walker, the Black Jewish anti-racist campaigner, who was smeared and falsely suspended as an anti-Semite because of her views on Israel’s barbarous treatment of the Palestinians, and her refusal to kowtow to the fake definition of anti-Semitism which conflates it with opposition to Israel. Walker states that the anti-Semitism smears were an entirely constructed scandal in order to bring down Corbyn.

One of the most recent victims of this witch-hunt is Professor Moshe Machower, a long time critic of Israel. Machower’s not just Jewish, but an Israeli himself. He is also a prominent mathematician and very well respected. He was expelled under the pretext that he was an anti-Semite last week because he made a very well received speech and wrote an article in the Weekly Worker making the point that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. In the article he committed the heinous crime of pointing out that the Zionist organization in Nazi Germany actually welcomed the infamous Nuremberg Laws separating ‘Aryan’ and Jewish Germans in 1937.

Machower was then approached by Labour Party Marxists, who asked if they could reprint his article in their magazine. He agreed. And this is what precipitated his expulsion. The Blairites in the party used the article’s publication by the Marxists to have him ‘autoexcluded’ without any opportunity to defend himself as a Communist infiltrator. They then used the smear that he was an anti-Semite to expel the Marxist comrades, who published the article, as anti-Semites in their turn.

Machower states that this is not about anti-Semitism. It’s just a weapon in a campaign by the Blairites in the Labour party to try to cling on to power. Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party has expanded to become the largest political party in Europe. Not only have new, younger members joined, but also the old ‘uns, who had previously left, disillusioned with the cynicism and Tory-lite policies of Blair and his cronies. And most of the Labour party, including Jeremy Corbyn and its top leadership, are left-wing. Hence, this isn’t a struggle in which the Labour party is trying to destroy itself, as Mr. Hever asks. It’s a struggle in which the Blairites are desperately trying to expel the Left.

I’d say here while the Blairites are trying to expel the Left from the Labour party, they have shown that they have absolutely no qualms about destroying the party in doing so. Several times there have been rumours about the Blairites wishing to split the party, and local Blairite Labour party officials have even gone so far as to ask Tories and Lib Dems to join the party to help them remove left-wing, pro-Corbyn members.

This shows how desperate they are, and how actively disloyal to the party. As well, of course, as their complete lack of morals in foully smearing decent, anti-racist, Jewish and non-Jewish men and women. And as Hever and Walker comment, their smears have been picked up by the other, competing parties and organizations outside the Labour party.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atfsoIqJjSo

But their smear and expulsion of Prof. Machower has not been without consequences. Tony Greenstein, another long-term Jewish critic of Zionism, and stout anti-racist and anti-Fascist campaigner, has put up a very interesting piece on his blog, reporting the mass anger that has erupted against Machower’s expulsion. So great is this discontent, that MacNicholl and the other Blairites behind Machower’s exclusion have invited him to present his case defending himself. This is in stark contrast to their earlier, summary expulsion.

I hope this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the expulsion of Prof. Machower becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It should be a step too far, and should discredit not just the smears and lies against Professor Machower, but all the lying allegations of anti-Semitism against decent people in the Labour party.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/moshe-machover-explosion-of-anger-at.html

There’s another article by John Booth over at the parapolitics magazine Lobster, which also makes very clear that the anti-Semitism smears are baseless lies, used by the Blairites and the Zionist lobby in the Labour party, the Labour Friends of Israel and Jewish Labour Movement, to hang on to power. And it makes very clear in its opening paragraphs just how much these allegations differ from reality by describing the Jews active in the Labour party, or who were speaking as guests as its conference last week. He writes (footnotes included)

Anyone reading and hearing about Labour’s annual conference in Brighton might have thought it riven by yet more acrimonious controversy over antisemitism. From The Guardian to the Daily Express and the broadcast journalists in between that was the big story for those critical of the party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. 1 But for those who were there or learned of it through the burgeoning alternative media, there were other impressions to be gained. The Jewish former party leader Ed Miliband appeared in relaxed mode at fringe events. 2 The keynote conference speaker was Naomi Klein, the Canadian author of Jewish descent who has done much to challenge the orthodoxies of neoliberalism and neo-conservatism. On the conference floor Jewish party 3 activist Naomi Wimbourne-Idrissi wowed delegates by her denunciation of Israeli policy on settlements and Gaza. She concluded: ‘This party does not have a problem with Jews.’ 4 Away from the formal party conference fringe, the events of the Momentum-led festival The World Transformed were routinely oversubscribed. Momentum is chaired by Jon Lansman, a former kibbutznik brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family. Later that day Wimbourne-Idrissi helped launch Jewish Voice for Labour
or 1 or <http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/858647/labour-party-conference-2017-antisemitism-jew-brighton
or 2
3
4
(JVL) alongside international jurist Sir Stephen Sedley, Oxford emeritus 5 professor Avi Shlaim (a member of the Israel Defence Forces in 1967) and David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group. 6 A clue as to why the Corbyn-led Labour party has been dogged by antisemitism allegations can be found in comparing the words with which Rosenberg concluded his 2017 JVL address to a packed audience and one from a fundraiser for New Labour 15 years earlier. Here’s Rosenberg on Marek Edelman, the longest surviving member of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, who died in 2009: ‘This hero was persona non grata in Israel for remaining an anti-Zionist, and for saying about that incredible Uprising: “We fought for dignity and freedom. Not for a territory, nor for a national identity”. But the very most important thing he said was: “To be a Jew means always being with the oppressed, never with the oppressors.”’ In contrast, this is Jon (now Lord) Mendelsohn speaking to Jewsweek.com on 8 September 2002: ‘[Tony] Blair has attacked the anti-Israelism that had existed in the Labour Party . . .Labour was cowboys-and-Indians politics, picking underdogs. The milieu has changed. Zionism is pervasive in New Labour. It is automatic that Blair will come to Friends of Israel meetings.’

Another reason for the Blairites’ hatred of Corbyn is his own personal convictions. Not only has Corbyn been active in pro-Palestinian movements, but his second wife was a refugee from Pinochet’s Chile. As Blair was quite easy about providing support to every right-wing thug while trying to mask it under liberal platitudes, it’s not surprising that Mandelson and the others should be bitterly opposed to someone who takes standing up for human rights very seriously.

For more information, see:file:///C:/Users/User/lob74-labour-corbyn-anti-semitism.pdf

Did the Tories Start an Advertising Campaign to Discredit Sociology in the 1970s-80s?

October 9, 2017

I heard this from a friend of mine, who has an MA in Cultural Studies. He told me that in the 1970s, the Tories paid Maggie’s favourite advertisers, Saatchi & Saatchi, to start an advertising campaign designed to discredit sociology. The Tories wanted to turn the British public against the subject by presenting it as an intellectually fraudulent pseudo-subject, dominated by Marxists. To do this, Saatchi & Saatchi placed comments sneering at, or otherwise disparaging the subject in other adverts. One of these, my friend claimed, was the advert for BT with Maureen Lipman, in which the actress is delighted that her son has got an ‘ology’, in this case a qualification in sociology.

Cultural Studies arose as a reaction to it, combining some social history with feminist and left-wing cultural criticism, including the French postmodern philosophers Julia Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan. While there was a reaction against postmodernism in the 1990s, such as in Michael Sokal’s and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures, Cultural Studies was left largely alone. This was because it’s research and conclusions were qualitative, rather than quantitative. It presented a series opinions on the nature of society, but, unlike sociology, it was not dominated by statistics, which had the potential to show unpalatable truths that the Tories would like to hide.

I’d be interested in finding out more about this. For as long as I can remember, sociology has had that image of a non-subject, taught in modish redbrick universities by Communists. And it’s true that Marx has been called the founder of sociology because of his research trying to show how the economic structure of society determined its overall form. However, others have suggested that the origins of sociology go further back to Auguste Comte, an atheist, who wished to establish a ‘religious of humanity’ with its own rituals and priesthood, and who also advocated the use of statistics for investigating social conditions.

One of the other major influences on sociology was Emile Durckheim, the founder of fuctionalism. This is the view that society functions somewhat like a machine or organism, with different parts of it performing different functions according to the needs of society as a whole. From what I understand, Durckheim was a socialist, but not a Marxist.

There’s also a very strong relationship with anthropology, which began long before Marx, and whose major 20th century influence was Boleslaw Malinowski. Malinowski was the creator of ‘participant observation’, the view that anthropologists should ‘get off the missionaries’ veranda’ and live amongst the people they are researching, in order to experience their way of life and see the world and their culture from their point of view. Or as close to it as possible. Ethnographers don’t just research the lives and customs of primal societies in the Developing World. They are also active researching different social groups and subcultures in developed countries like Britain, America and Europe. One aspect of this project was the establishment of Mass Observation in the ’30s. This was founded by a group of anthropologists, who complained that less was known about the lives of ordinary people in this country, than about tribes in remote Africa or Asia, for example. They therefore set about trying to correct this by carrying out research into what ordinary working class Brits were doing.

Some of this research was very bizarre. A book came out on Mass Observation in 1985, and I can remember reading a review of it in the Observer. One bit of research consisted of one of the anthropologists going into the toilets in a pub and timing how long it took the men there to use the urinal. I wonder how the man avoided being beaten up, or arrested. Nevertheless, they did much valuable research, some of which formed the basis for the first television documentaries on the British working class made in the 1950s.

And even in the 1980s, not every Tory stalwart was convinced that sociology was dominated by Commies. I can remember reading a piece in the Torygraph in 1986/7, in which one female Tory stated that while sociology had a reputation for left-wing jargon and viewpoints, ‘there was nothing more Conservative’.

The story that the Tories made a deliberate effort to discredit sociology isn’t one that I’ve heard before, but it does ring true. As does my friend’s opinion that they left Cultural Studies alone because it didn’t back up its critique with statistical facts, or at least, not to the same extent as sociology. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, has said there that it seemed to him that postmodernism was a retreat from actively critiquing and combating modern capitalism and Conservatism. Instead of presenting a clear expose of the way elite groups and corporations ran governments in order to reinforce the class structure and keep the working class, the poor and other marginalized groups in their place, exploited at the bottom of the social hierarchy, postmodernism instead produced mountains of largely unreadable and intellectually pretentious text, much of which was deliberately obscure. The leading postmodernists were left-wing, but the obscurity of their prose meant that to some they had little to say of any real political value. That was the attitude of Michael Sokal, a scientist of very left-wing opinions, who had resigned from his career in American academia to teach mathematics in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

In recent years Cultural Studies has been attacked by the right in its turn. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have declared that it, and related subjects, are full of Gramscian Marxists attacking traditional western society in order to introduce Communism. This has in turn resulted in anyone, who offers any kind of left-wing critique of Conservativism or traditional western society being denounced as a ‘cultural Marxist’.

My friend was convinced that the Saatchi campaign against sociology was part of a wider Thatcherite assault on intellectual freedom in the universities. Thatcher was rabidly anti-Communist, and passed legislation that tried to make it illegal for Marxists, or members of Marxist organisations, to hold tenure at universities. Hence the rise of people calling themselves ‘Marxian’. It was a legalistic device by which academics, who held Marxist views, described themselves as ‘cultural Marxists’, that is, people who had a Marxist culture, which allowed them to hold on to their jobs.

If it is true that Maggie and the Saatchis tried to discredit sociology, then it shows just how afraid the Tories were of their favourite economic theories being discredited by inconvenient fact. As indeed they have been for a very long time. I can remember how they began redefining unemployment to create the false impression that it had decreased when I was at school back in the 1980s. It also shows how deeply, profoundly anti-intellectual Conservatism is. There’s no particularly surprise there. The philosopher Roger Scruton in his book on the new Conservatism in the 1980s stated quite clearly that it wasn’t intellectual, but based on respect for tradition. And more recently we’ve seen a succession of Republican administrations in America attacking the teaching of evolution in schools and trying to suppress the evidence for climate change.

The Tories don’t just rely on propaganda and distorted news to support their rule. They have also been actively engaged in censoring and using propaganda in order to spread ignorance and misinformation against established academic disciplines. Their goal is to keep ordinary working people poor and uninformed. They are a party of anti-intellectuals, who aim to rule partly by spreading stupidity and ignorance.

Jimmy Dore: Americans Going to Mexico for Dentistry

October 8, 2017

Yesterday I put up a story from the I, which reported that over half of British dentists were planning to leave the NHS in the next few years. If that happens, courtesy of Jeremy Hunt and the Tories’ plan to privatize the NHS, British dentistry might end up looking very much like this.

In this video from the Jimmy Dore Show, the American comedian and his co-hosts, Ron Placone and Steffi Zamorano comment on a story broadcast on NBC. The news team there visited the town of Los Almagadones in Mexico, which now styles itself the ‘dentistry capital of the world’. The town has a population of 5,000, but has more than its fair whack of dentists. It has 600 practicing dentists, working in more than 300 clinics. 114 million Americans lack dental insurance, and so can’t afford dental treatment. And so some make the journey south of the border to get their teeth fixed.

Dore states that this will explode the myth of American exceptionalism – the idea that America is innately superior to every other nation. Clearly it isn’t. Not if many of its citizens are reduced to going abroad for healthcare. Dore points out that the stories of Canadians coming to south to America for their medical treatment is largely a myth. But the story that Americans are going to Mexico are very real.

He and Placone and Zamora also use the story as an opportunity to lambast the continuing racism against Mexican and Hispanic migrants in the US. Americans are going south of the border for what is known as ‘dental tourism’, but the Mexicans aren’t organizing mass protests or trying to shame them.

The three joke about the idea of combining tourism with dentistry, including building a combined nightclub and dental surgery, before Dore rounds of the video with a well-aimed attack on Hillary and the corporate Democrats. These are the politicos, who rigged the Democratic nominations so they could steal it from Bernie Sanders and give it to Killary. And she and they care only for the immensely rich, and are entirely happy to deny ordinary, middle class working Americans with single-payer healthcare. Because free, universal healthcare is ‘utopian’, despite the fact that the Germans have had it ever since Bismarck in the 19th century.

Bernie Sanders in his book describes vividly the deplorable lack of affordable healthcare in America. Many counties lack doctors, let alone hospitals, because the area is too poor to support one according to the law of free market economics. He tells how one Sunday every month, one of the dental surgeries in Virginia provides free dental treatment. People are so desperate for it they actually sleep in their cars overnight.

This is what British healthcare is going to be like, if Theresa May and the Tories get back in.

Don’t let her. Get her and them out. Now.

Tories Set to Destroy NHS Dentistry with Majority Considering Leaving Health Service

October 7, 2017

I found this very worrying article by Rachel Burnett in Monday’s I, for the 2nd October 2017. Entitled ‘NHS dentistry facing ‘existential crisis’ with majority set to leave, it reads

More than half of dentists are planning to leave the NHS within the next five years, a survey has found.

A study by the British Dental Association (BDA) has revealed that around 58 per cent want to move on, mostly to private work. Others want to go overseas, retire or to move out of dentistry.

It also found that 53 per cent of young and newly qualified NHS dentists, aged under 35, plan to leave.

Henrik Overgaard, BDA chairman of General Dental Practice, called for government reforms to avoid a “crisis”.

He said: “These young dentists are the backbone of the dental workforce, and losing them at the start of their careers raises existential questions about the future of the service.”

The survey was carried out in June-July 2017, with 1,212 questionnaires completed.

Around 42 per cent of those young dentists who plan on leaving said they will focus on private practice, the results show.

Harman Chahal, chairman of the BDA’s Young Dentists’ Committee, said he decided to leave the NHS practice in April.

He added that young NHS dentists are “offered no reward for going above and beyond, just the constant threat of penalties for not hitting government targets.”

I don’t doubt that there are many complex factors not mentioned in the article, but this seems to me to be another step in the privatization of the health service, and particularly the decimation of an already seriously threatened dental service. I can remember way back in the late 1980s when Thatcher refused to increase NHS dentists’ pay, and thousands thus left the NHS. At the moment it can be very hard to find an NHS dentist, and many are suffering because they simply can’t afford to go.

This is just another example of how much that liar and fraud Jeremy Hunt and the rest of the Tories ‘cherish’ the NHS. Well, he said in his own book that he wanted to privatize it, and the Tories have been privatizing it by stealth since Thatcher won in 1979.

I’m heartily sick and tired of it and them. Get Jez, May, Boris and the other Tory vultures seeking to privatize the NHS now.