Archive for the ‘United Nations’ Category

The Coronavirus and the Death of the Dream of a Disease-Free Future

March 30, 2020

There has been one other consequence of the Coronavirus, apart from the immense toll its taken in tragic deaths, its disastrous impact on economies and social life around the world as trade and personal contact has been reduced to a minimum as countries go into lockdown. I doubt few people have noticed it, but I believe that the pandemic has finally killed the sixties dream of the conquest of disease.

It was an optimistic decade, and although the high hopes of technological, social and economic improvement and expansion ended with the depression of the 70s and its fears of overpopulation, ecological collapse, and the running out of resources, coupled with global terrorism, labour unrest and the energy crisis, some of that optimism still continued. And one of the sources of that optimism was the victories that were being won against disease. Before the introduction of modern antibiotics, diseases like tuberculosis, polio, diptheria and cholera were common and lethal. In the case of polio, they could leave their victims so severely paralysed that they had to be placed in iron lungs in order to breathe. Their threat was greatly reduced in Britain and the West through the introduction of antibiotics, as well as the improvements in housing, working conditions and sanitation. And these advances appeared to be global. Yes, there was still terrible poverty in the Developing World, but these emergent nations were improving thanks to the efforts of charities and the United Nations. The UN was helping these nations become educated through schools, setting up wells and other sources of clean water, teach their peoples about the importance of sanitation. Most importantly, it was actively eradicating disease through immunisation programmes.

The UN and the charities are still doing this, of course, often working in hostile conditions in countries wracked by dictatorship, corruption and civil war. But in the 1970s the world won a major victory in the struggle against disease: smallpox was declared extinct in the wild. Humanity had overcome and beaten a major killer that had taken the lives of countless millions down the centuries. Cultures of the disease still remain in laboratories, just in case it returns. But outside of these, the disease was believed to be finally extinct.

It was the realisation of the optimistic ideas contained in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. The series envisaged a future in which humanity had set aside its national and racial division, and become united. It had joined other extraterrestrial races in a benign Federation, a kind of UN in space, and embarked on a wave of space colonisation and exploration. It sent out ships like the Enterprise ‘to seek out new life and new civilisations’, and boldly split infinitives which no-one had split before. And part of that optimistic future was the victory over disease. It was still there, and there were instances where it ravaged whole planets. But by and large humanity and its alien partners were conquering it. That optimism continued into the subsequent series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation and the films. Serious diseases, which now regularly afflict humanity would be easily treatable in this future. In the third Star Trek film, The Voyage Home,  the crew of the Enterprise journey back to the 20th century to save the whale and thus the Earth of the future from an alien spaceship that somehow causes advanced technology to shut down. Entering a hospital to rescue Chekhov, who has been captured by today’s American army, McCoy finds an elderly lady awaiting dialysis. ‘What is this!’, he characteristically exclaims, ‘the Dark Ages!’ And gives her a pill. When next we see her, She’s fit and well and raising her walking stick in thanks to McCoy as he and the others rush past. Around her two doctors are muttering in astonishment about how she has grown a new kidney. And in the Next Generation pilot episode, ‘Encounter at Far Point’, McCoy is shown as an elderly man in his 120s.

Now medical progress is still being made, and people in the West are living much longer, so that there is an increasing number of old folks who are over 100. And some scientists and doctors believe that advances in medical science, especially geriatrics, may eventually lead to people attain the age of 400 or even a thousand. The last claim appeared on a BBC 4 panel game over a decade ago, in which various scientists and doctors came before the writer and comedian Andy Hamilton and the Black American comic, Reggie Yates, to argue for the validity of their theories. And one of these was that the first person to live to a thousand has already been born.

But such optimism has also been seriously tempered by the persistence of disease. Just as humanity was eradicating Smallpox, SF writers were producing stories about the threat of new killer diseases, such as in the films The Satan Bug and The Andromeda Strain, as well as the British TV series, Survivors. I think public belief in the ability of humanity to conquer disease was seriously damaged by the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s. This was so devastating, that some viewed it in terms of the Black Death, though mercifully this wasn’t the case. And after AIDS came bird flu, swine flu, and now the present pandemic. And unlike these previous health emergencies, the world has been forced to go into lockdown. It’s an unprecedented move, that seems more like a return to the response to the plagues of the Middle Ages and 17-19th centuries than the actions of a modern state.

The lockdown is necessary, and this crisis has shown that states still need to cooperate in order to combat global diseases like Coronavirus. Medicine is still improving, so that it’s possible that some people, the rich elite who can afford it, may enjoy vastly extended lifespans. But the current crisis has also shown that serious diseases are still arising, illnesses that now spread and affect the world’s population as a whole. And so the 60s dream of a future without serious disease now seems very distant indeed.

Star Trek: Was Gene Roddenberry Influenced by Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ Novels

March 20, 2020

This is just a bit of SF fan speculation before I start writing about the really serious stuff. I’ve just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Pirates of the Asteroids. First published in 1952, this is the second of five novels about David ‘Lucky’ Starr, Space Ranger. In  it, Starr goes after the Space Pirates, who killed his parents and left him to die when he was four. He tries to infiltrate their organisation by stowing away aboard a remote-controlled ship that’s deliberately sent into the asteroids to be attacked and boarded by the pirates. He’s captured, forced to fight for his life in a duel fought with the compressed air push guns NASA developed to help astronauts maneuver during spacewalks. After fighting off an attempt on his life by his opponent, Starr is taken by the pirates to the asteroid lair of a reclusive, elderly man, one of a number who have bought their own asteroids as retirement homes. The elderly man, Hansen, helps him to escape, and the pair fly back to Ceres to meet Starr’s old friends and mentors from the Science Academy. Starr and his diminutive Martian friend, Bigman, decide to return to the old hermit’s asteroid, despite it having disappeared from its predicted position according to Starr’s orbital calculations in the meantime. Searching for it, they find a pirate base. Starr is captured, his radio disabled, and literally catapulted into space to die and the pirates plan to attack his spaceship, left in the capable hands of Bigman. Starr and Bigman escape, travel back to Ceres, which they find has been attacked by the pirates in the meantime, and the hermit, Hansen, captured. Meanwhile Earth’s enemies, the Sirians, have taken over Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. Starr reasons that the pirates are operating in cahoots with them to conquer the solar system, and that the pirates are taking Hansen there. He heads off in hot pursuit, seeking not just to stop the pirates and their leader before they reach Ganymede, but thereby also prevent a devastating war between Earth and Sirius.

In many ways, it’s typical of the kind of SF written at the time. It’s simple fun, aimed at a juvenile and adolescent readership. Instead of using real profanity, the characters swear ‘By space’ and shout ‘Galloping Galaxies’ when surprised or shocked. It also seems typical of some SF of its time in that it’s anti-war. The same attitude is in the SF fiction written by Captain W.E. Johns, the author of the classic ‘Biggles’ books. Johns wrote a series of novels, such as Kings of Space, Now to the Stars, about a lad, Rex, and his friends, including a scientist mentor, who make contact with the civilisation behind the UFOs. These are a race of friendly, humanoid aliens from Mars and the asteroid belt, who befriend our heroes. Nevertheless, there is also an evil villain, who has to be defeated by the heroes. It’s a very long time since I read them, but one thing a I do remember very clearly is the anti-war message expressed by one the characters. The scientist and the other Earthmen are discussing war and the urge for conquest. The scientist mentions how Alexander the Great cried when he reached the borders of India, because there were no more countries left to conquer. The characters agree that such megalomaniac warriors are responsible for all the needless carnage in human history, and we’d be better off without them. This is the voice of a generation that lived through and fought two World Wars and had seen the horror of real conflict. They weren’t pacifists by any means, but they hated war. It’s been said that the people least likely to start a war are those who’ve actually fought in one. I don’t know if Asimov ever did, but he had the same attitude of many of those, who had. It’s in marked contrast with the aggressive militarism of Heinlein and Starship Troopers, and the ‘chickenhawks’ in George W. Bush’s administration way back at the beginning of this century. Bush and his neocon advisers were very keen to start wars in the Middle East, despite having done everything they could to make sure they were well out of it. Bush famously dodged national service in Vietnam. As has the latest incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump.

But what I found interesting was the similarity of some the elements in the book with Star Trek. Roddenberry, Trek’s creator, was influenced by another SF book, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, as well as the ‘Hornblower’ novels. The latter is shown very clearly in Kirk’s character. But I suspect he was also influenced by Asimov as well in details like the Vulcan Science Council, subspace radio and the energy shields protecting Star Trek’s space ships. The Science Council seems to be the chief organ of government on Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan. Which makes sense, as Vulcans are coldly logical and rational, specialising in science, maths and philosophy. But in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books, Earth’s Science Council is also a vital organ of government, exercising police powers across the Terrestrial Empire somewhat parallel to the admiralty.

Communications across space are through sub-etheric radio. This recalls the sub-etha radio in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and shows that Adams probably read Asimov as well. In Star Trek, space communications are through ‘sub-space radio’. The idea of FTL communications isn’t unique to Asimov. In Blish’s Cities in Flight novels, the spacefaring cities communicate through normal radio and the Dirac telephone. The ansible, another FTL communication device, appears in Ursula K. Le Guine’s 1970s novel, The Dispossessed. What is striking here is the similarity of terms: ‘sub-etheric’ and ‘sub-space’. These are similar names to describe a very similar concept.

Star Trek’s space ships were also protected by force fields, termed shields, from micrometeorites and the ray weapons and torpedoes of attacking aliens, like Klingons, Romulans, Orion pirates and other riff-raff. The spacecraft in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books are protected by histeresis shields. Histeresis is a scientific term to describe the lag in materials of the effects of an electromagnetic field, if I recall my ‘O’ level Physics correctly. Roddenberry seems to have taken over this concept and imported it into Trek, dropping the ‘histeresis’ bit. And from Trek it entered Star Wars and Science Fiction generally. The idea is absent in the recent SF series, The Expanse. This is set in the 23rd century, when humanity has expanded into space. The Solar System is divided into three political powers/ groups: the Earth, now a united planet under the government of the United Nations, the Mars Congressional Republic, and the Belt, which is a UN protectorate. The Martians have gained their independence from Earth only after a war, while the Belt is seething with disaffection against UN/Martian control and exploitation. The political situation is thus teetering on the brink of system-wide war, breaking out into instances of active conflict. The ships don’t possess shields, so that bullets and projectiles launched by rail guns smash straight through them, and the crews have to dodge them and hope that when they are hit, it doesn’t strike anything vital. The Expanse is very much hard SF, and I suspect the absence of shields is not just the result of a desire to produce proper, scientifically plausible SF, but also a reaction to force fields, which have become something of an SF cliche.

But returning to Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ novels, it does seem to me that Roddenberry was influenced by them when creating Star Trek’s universe alongside other SF novels,  just as Adams may have been when he wrote Hitch-Hiker. Asimov’s best known for his ‘Robot’ and ‘Foundation’ novels, which have also been highly influential. But it looks like these other books also exercised a much less obvious, though equally pervasive influence through Roddenberry’s Trek.

Failure of Hague’s and Jolie’s Scheme to Combat Use of Rape in War

January 13, 2020

It’s not just the people of Britain that the Tories are failing. Last Friday’s I carried a piece by Hugo Gye, ‘Hague and Jolie’s sexual violence scheme ‘let down survivors’, about the failure of an international initiative by Willliam Hague and Angelina Jolie to raise awareness of and fight the use of rape as a weapon of war. This was well-funded right up to the moment Hague stopped being responsible for it. As soon as that happened, its budget was drastically cut, and the scheme may have ended up doing more harm than good. The article ran

A UK Government effort to curb the use of rape as a weapon of war did not succeed and may even have harmed victims, a report suggests.

The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) was launched in 2012 by the then foreign secretary, William Hague, and the actress Angelina Jolie in her role as a United Nations special envoy.

Its aim was to “raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence against women, men, girls and boys in situations of armed conflict and rally global actions to end it”. But as soon as the Conservative politician left office a few months later, work on the scheme was drastically scaled back.

A report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact says that withdrawing support for victims of violence may have left them worse off than if it had never been offered. The PSVI’s budget fell from £15m to just £2m with only four full-time civil servants working on it.

The aid watchdog concluded that the project had helped to make Britain a “leading voice in the international effort to address conflict-related sexual violence” but fell short of the ambitions originally set for it.

It said: “The initiative lacks a clear strategy and overall vision to guide its activities, and the lack of a shared understanding of the problem has inhibited cross-departmental collaboration on addressing conflict-related sexual violence.

“There is little monitoring and reporting on how outputs translate into lasting outcomes, making it difficult to access [its] effectiveness.”

Last night, the Foreign Office said that the report failed to “fully recognise the impact of the UK’s leadership on PSVI, which has mobilised the international community and brought real change for survivors.”

I’d like to believe that Hague was sincere about this scheme when he set it up, but it does look very much like a typical Tory plan: inaugurated with great hoo-hah and fanfare, but lacking substance and immediately cut the moment it loses the public’s attention. Like Boris Johnson’s plan to build forty more hospitals, most of whom have no more than seed funding to sort out legal problems.

And I’m not sure how successful a scheme to suppress sexual violence in war is going to be when some of the worst offenders are the Tories’ Fascist friends. Rape was used by Thatcher’s friend, General Pinochet to torture his regime’s political prisoners. The building used for it within the concentration camp in which they were interned was nicknamed ‘the discotheque’ because of the thugs’ use of disco music when they raped their victims.

No matter how well Hague or Jolie meant, that policy was definitely going to be scrapped if it got in the way of good relations with their real Fascist mates.

Right, Guido Fawkes?

‘I’ Review of Art Exhibition on Ecological Crisis and Some Solutions

January 8, 2020

Also of interest in yesterday’s I was a review by Sarah Kent of the exhibition, Eco-Visionaries, at the Royal Society in London. This was about the current ecological crisis, and showcased some possible solutions to the problem, some of them developed by architects. This included a moving desert city, the Green Machine, which also planted a watered crops as it moved. The article ran

Melancholy humming welcomes you to the exhibition, with a globe suspended in the cloudy waters of a polluted fish tank. This simple installation by the artist duo HeHe neatly pinpoints our predicament: our planet is suffocating.

“The absence of a future has already begun,” declare Ana Vaz and Tristan Bera in a film, Reclaimed (2015). We know this already – according to the UN, we need to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050 if we are to prevent the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem. So what are we waiting for?

Vaz and Bera highlight the problem. The situation requires a wholesale change in attitude: minor tinkering can’t solve it. We need “reciprocity with nature rather than domination… We are nature.” We are mesmerised by events such as the Arctic on fire, Greenland’s ice-cap melting and Venice drowning. But the scale of the problem is so enormous that we can only watch, “fascinated by the acceleration” of the crisis.

The collective Rimini Protokoli encourages us to confront our imminent extinction. On film we see a tank full of languidly floating jellyfish. They flourish in the warming seas and, with diminishing fish stocks, there’s less competition for the plankton they feed on, so their numbers are increasing dramatically. Humans are similarly multiplying – by 2050, according to the UN, there will be 9.7 billion of us – but unlike jellyfish, we require too much energy to adapt to climate change so, like the dinosaurs, our days are numbered. At the end of the presentation they invite us to go with the words: “Your time is up; you will have to leave.”

The Royal Academy is to be congratulated for hosting an exhibition that tackles this urgent issue, but the show exemplifies the problem. The warnings are persuasive, but the solutions envisaged are pitifully inadequate, mainly by architects who don’t address the catastrophe but instead offer us post-apocalyptic follies. The Green Machine (2014) is Studio Malka’s answer to desertification. Resembling a giant oil rig, this monstrosity trundles across the Sahara on caterpillar treads that plough the ground then sow and water the seeds to produce 20 million tons of food per year. Solar towers, wind turbines and water-capturing balloons create a “self-sufficient urban oasis” for those inside. What percentage of the 9.7 billion will they accommodate, I wonder?

Studio Malka’s Green Machine mobile desert city.

It’s a grim subject, and clearly the ecological crisis requires drastic action across the entire globe and very soon. But I am fascinated by the Green Machine. It reminds me of the giant moving cities that cross the devastated future Earth in the SF film Mortal  Engines. As for how many people such a machine could house, the answer is: very few. Douglas Murray’s book Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture predicts that if we carry on as we are, we will end up with a future in which the rich will inhabit closed, protected environments like the various biodomes that were created in the 1990s, while the rest of humanity will be left to fend for itself in the decaying world outside.

It’s a bleak, dystopian prediction, but one I fear will come true if we carry on electing leaders like Trump and Johnson.

Tories Pushing Children into Poverty and Stripping Them of Their Rights

January 4, 2020

Yesterday Mike commented on a piece in the Independent, which reported that, thanks to the Tories, Britain had been declared ‘inadequate’ in its protection of children’s right. Britain has now fallen from 11th to 156th place in the global rankings for children’s rights. It’s now in the bottom lowest ten performers after getting the lowest possible score in all six indicators in the Children’s Rights Environment, according to KidsRights Index 2017.

There are serious concerns about structural discrimination in the UK, particularly against Muslims following recent anti-terrorism measure, and against Gypsy and immigrant children.

I’ve already put up some stats on how the Tories’ vile austerity policy has pushed more families and children into ‘food poverty’ – meaning hunger, potential malnutrition and starvation. But the book also worries about the social impact hunger has on people. Families can no longer afford to families and friends around to share a meal, and this is raising concerns that this will also increase the social isolation of the families affected.

Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton write in their chapter on food poverty in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity

However, evidence from the PSE UK suggests that 11 per cent of households could not afford to have friends or family around for a meal or drink at least once a month in 2012 compared to 6 per cent in 1999. Furthermore, the proportion who could not afford to have a friend’s child around for tea or snack once a fortnight doubled between 1999 and 2012, from 4 per cent to 8 per cent, representing 1,000,000 children. ~Given that social relationships between children and their peers are an integral aspect of their development and well-being, the consequences are likely to be highly damaging and include increasing social exclusion and societal fragmentation. (p.97)

If ethnic minority families are particularly affected, then this will increase their exclusion and alienation from mainstream society, and could lead to some becoming dangerously radicalised. And their could be a similar effect among poor Whites, who may believe that Black and Asian families are being far better treated because of their colour through positive discrimination policies. Increasing poverty and the removal of anti-discrimination legislation and safeguards is a recipe for increasing racial tension.

Joanna Mack in her chapter on maltreatment and child mortality in the above book also gives the stats on how Britain compares with some of the other European countries: it’s abysmal. She writes

The consequences of such reductions in income is that the UK, which has long had a poor record on child poverty compared to many other nations with similar levels of economic development, has slipped further behind. Eurostat, which gathers comprehensive data from across Europe, reports that in 2014 over 22 per cent of children in the UK lived in deprived households, taken as being unable to afford three or more of a range of household items, compared to 14 per cent in France, around 12 per cent in Germany and a mere 4 per cent in Norway and Sweden. In 2007, before the austerity years, the UK’s rate was 15 per cent well below the EU average – now it is above. (p.87).

She also reports that the increase in child poverty in the UK was of such concern to the UN that it called for the reintroduction of the targets for the reduction of child poverty, which the government had repealed in 2016, and for ‘the provision ‘for clear and accountable mechanisms for the eradication of child poverty’ and the revision of recent benefit reforms.’ (p. 85).

Mike was so angry about this catastrophic reduction in Britain’s status for respecting children’s rights that he urged his readers to tell people who voted Tory about it, and that thanks to their vote, Britain will continue to fail future generations. He also urged them to ask the following questions

And tell them that discrimination against children on racial or religious grounds has been incorporated into the structure of UK society under the Conservatives.

Ask them whether they consider themselves to be racists and, if not, why they support a racist administration.

And if they say they don’t, remind them that prime minister Boris Johnson is a known racist.

Point them to the anti-Semitism in his novel if they want proof beyond his Islamophobic comments and other recent outbursts.

UK plummets from 11th to 156th in global children’s rights rankings. The Tories are responsible

Britain is becoming more racist, and its children poorer, thanks to the Tories. And it’s all so that the 1 per cent, including Bozo, Rees-Mogg and the rest of them, can get richer.

Tories’ and UKIP’s Nazi Anti-Immigration Imagery

December 31, 2019

Remember how UKIP and its head honcho, Nigel Farage, got into trouble a few years ago for their anti-immigration poster? This showed a long line of middle eastern immigrants stretching across the landscape trying to get into Europe and Britain. It was based on the Syrian and North African refugees that had made their way to the West up through the Balkans, a million of whom had been promised asylum by German chancellor Angela Merkel. It was another piece of Farage’s anti-immigration propaganda. The argument runs that unless we get out of Europe, EU law will force us to take in more extra-European immigrants. And particularly Muslims, who are now the specific object of right-wing suspicion and hatred.

As Mike’s shown, the argument’s nonsense. Britain’s not part of the Schengen immigration area, and so doesn’t have to take in immigrants from outside Europe, who have sought refuge in one of these countries. The laws demanding Britain take in asylum seekers are UN treaties governing the rights of refugees, which obviously have nothing to do with the EU and will still be in place when we leave.

But Farage also got into serious trouble with the post because it was almost exactly like one put up by the Nazis protesting against Jewish refugees from eastern Europe trying to enter Germany. And there are more recent images from British neo-Nazi rags which also express the same type of bitter anti-immigrant sentiments.

I found this piccie of the cover of the British Nazi rag, The White Dragon, in Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s book on modern Nazi paganism, Black Sun. It seems to be of Hindu worshippers in the Ganges, but has been taken out of context and captioned ‘Welcome to Dover’. It’s from 1999, but could have come from any time up to the present.

Farage’s poster caused a storm of controversy, but the recent Tory victory and their promises of getting Brexit done have emboldened the islamophobes and racists. So can we expect more anti-immigration posters like UKIP’s? And will the Scum, the Depress or the Heil put a photo like this on their front pages when they issue another rant about non-White immigration?

The Rise in Child Poverty Predicted for 2020

December 29, 2019

Vickie Cooper’s and David whyte’s book, The Violence of Austerity has a chapter on ‘Child Maltreatment and Child Mortality’ by Joanna Mack. It’s a deeply troubling subject which in itself should be an indictment of the Tories and their wretched austerity. Mack uses the horrific incidence of infant mortality in Britain to show how the Tories justify it as somehow inevitable, and that therefore it should therefore be considered an act of political violence, albeit carefully hidden. She writes

The UK infant (0 to 1 years) mortality rate, at around four deaths per 1000 births in 2014, is higher than all but two of the nineteen Euro area member states. About half of these deaths are linked to short gestation and low birth weight, both of which are highly associated with deprivation. The result is that babies born into poorer families in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to die than children from richer families.

Allowing a pregnant woman to go without food in a cold, unheated home is to compromise her baby’s life chances. The World Health Organisation defines ‘child maltreatment’ as an action that in the context of a relationship of power results in ‘actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity.’ If an individual takes such action then they may be liable to prosecution. Yet if a political system results in such actions, it is seen as an inevitable, if unfortunate, by product of economic necessity. This is not overt violence but cover violence. (p. 89).

She then goes on to describe just how hollow Tweezer’s promises to end austerity and improve people’s life expenctancy in the UK actually are.

On becoming Prime Minister in July 2016, Theresa May tried to set a new tone, making bold promises about ‘a country that works for everyone’ and fighting the ‘burning injustice’ of those born poor dying earlier than others. Yet for all the talk of an end to austerity, all of the planned benefit cuts will go ahead. Largely as a direct result of these planned cuts, over half a million more children are set to fall below the 2010/11 poverty line in 2020/21 than did in 2015/16 while the percentage of children in relative income poverty is predicted to rise from 18 per cent in 2015/16 to 26 per cent in 2020/21. And these projections could prove optimistic given the economic uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the threats to turn the UK into a low tax haven with its inevitable consequence of a further rolling back of the welfare state. There are warnings of sharp falls to come to the real-terms incomes of the poorest, particularly those with children. (p.91)

She concludes

This makes a mockery of promises to fight the injustice of poverty. To do this, there would need to be a real commitment to the transfer of income and wealth from the rich to the poor. And that would challenge the very basis of the neoliberal ideology still underpinning the government – an ideology that embeds within it the violence of child poverty.

Well, Tweezer’s gone and been replaced by Boris, who will carry on the government’s neoliberal programme. If anything, he’ll ratchet it up.

And more children will fall into poverty and die in their first year.

Remember how Tweezer swanked onto the stage at the Tory conference to the tune of ‘Killer Queen’? From this perhaps a better track for her and all the other Tories should be Alice Cooper’s ‘Dead Babies’.

Outrage as Iain Duncan Smith Given Knighthood

December 29, 2019

This is a really sick joke, and shows the absolute contempt the Tories have for the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of the Tories welfare reforms, has been given a knighthood in the New Year’s honours. Smith is the pompous nonentity who was briefly the leader of the Tory party at the beginning of this century before David Cameron took over. It was a period of failure, in which the party utterly failed to challenge Blair’s Labour Party. He was, however, a close ally of his successor, and has also served Boris. He tried to stand up for Johnson when our farcical Prime Minister was denied the lectern in Luxembourg, claiming that the Luxembourgers should be grateful to us because we’d liberated them during the War. But we hadn’t. The Americans had. And under Tweezer he’d also peddled the line that there would be no legal divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

But what Smith is most notorious for is mass murder. As head of the Department of Work and Pensions, he was responsible for the welfare reforms, including the Work Capability Assessments and the system of benefit sanctions, that have seen hundreds of thousands denied the welfare payments they need and deserve. He is also responsible for Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments. UC is supposed to combine all the welfare payment into a single system. It has proven catastrophically flawed, with people waiting weeks or months for their payments, which have been significantly lower than the previous system. Mike in his article about it quotes statistics that some of those on UC are £1,000 a year worse off. But this jumped-up, odious little man boasted that Universal Credit would be as significant in lifting people out of poverty as the ending of slavery in the British Empire in 1837.

The result of IDS’ reforms is that at least 130,000 people have died. The true figures may well be higher, as the DWP has been extremely reluctant to release the true figures, as Mike and other disability campaigners have found. His attempts to get the Department to release them under the Freedom of Information Act were refused, then stonewalled. Finally Smith’s Department released some figures, but interpreted his requested so that they weren’t quite the figures Mike had requested.

As well as the financial hardship there is the feelings of despair and humiliation that his reforms have also inflicted on the poor. Doctors and mental health professionals have reported a rise in depression and suicide. The Tories, naturally, have repeatedly denied that their policies have any connection to people taking their own lives, even when the person left a note explicitly stating that this was why they were.

Some sense of the despair IDS’ wretched reforms has produced in young people is given by the quotes from them in Emma Bond and Simon Hallworth’s chapter, ‘The Degradation and Humiliation of Young People’ in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. ‘Julie’ said

The way that it feels walking into the JobCentre is that you are there to do what you are told to do and that’s it and then you leave. They are not there to actually help you it is just like, you have to do this and if you don’t do this or you won’t get no money. (p. 79).

And ‘Bridget’ described how she felt so low at one point she contemplated suicide.

I am ashamed to admit it but I did feel suicidal at one point. I felt so down after I was made redundant that I felt that there was no point. I had worked really hard at school and I got good grades but for what? I was happy when I got my job, it wasn’t that well paid but it had prospects and a career path – or so the recruitment agency told me – I had my flat and that and I thought I was OK. But when it [the redundancy] happened I felt like I had been hit by a brick wall. I got really down especially when I went to the JobCentre and they would not help me. I felt so depressed. I could not afford my rent. I lost my flat and the few things I had saved up for. I did not know where to turn. I took drugs for the first time in my life – I felt so wretched. I wanted to die. I was too ashamed to tell my parents that I had lost my job. (p. 80).

But IDS, as Zelo Street reminds us, is the man who laughed at a woman talking about her poverty in parliament. He’s also blubbed on television, describing how he met a young woman, who didn’t believe she’d ever have a job. ‘She could have been my daughter!’ he wailed. But this is just crocodile tears. He, like the rest of the Tory party, have no love whatsoever for their victims as the guffaws with Dodgy Dave Cameron in Parliament showed.

Mike in his piece about the wretched man’s ennoblement has put up a large number of Tweets by ordinary people expressing their outrage. One woman, Samanthab, states how rotten the honours system is when it rewards not just IDS, but other creeps and lowlifes, like the sex abusers Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris.

The outrage is so great that one NHS psychiatrist, Dr Mona Kamal Ahmad, has launched an online petition at Change.Org calling for the scumbag’s knighthood to be withdrawn. She describes him as responsible for some of the cruellest welfare reforms this country has ever seen and notes that Britain is the first country the United Nations has investigated for human rights abuses against the disabled. She states clearly that the suffering and impoverishment in Britain today is a direct result of Smith’s welfare reforms.

30,000 people, including myself, have already signed it. If you want to too, go to Mike’s article at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/28/will-you-sign-nhs-doctors-petition-to-stop-iain-duncan-smith-receiving-knighthood/ and follow the links.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/27/chorus-of-derision-greets-announcement-that-iain-duncan-smith-is-to-be-knighted/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/arise-sir-duncan-cough.html

The Labour, Pro-Working Class Arguments for Brexit

December 22, 2019

The decisive factor which swung 14 million people to vote Tory in the general election two weeks was Brexit. Labour’s programme of reforms was popular, despite the predictable Tory attacks on it as impractical, costly, too radical, Marxist and so on. 60 to 70 per cent of the public in polls supported the manifesto, and the party received a slight boost in popularity in the polls after its public. The areas in Labour’s heartlands in the midlands and north that turned Tory were those which voted ‘Leave’. Craig Gent in his article for Novara Media on the lessons Labour must learn from this defeat lamented this. By backing Remain, Labour had ceded Brexit to the Conservatives, allowing them to shape the terms of the debate and the assumptions underlying it. But Gent also argued that it could easily have gone the other way.

Indeed it could. Labour’s policy, before the right-wing put pressure on Corbyn to back a second referendum, was that Labour would respect the Leave vote, and try for a deal with the EU that would serve Britain the best. Only if that failed would Labour consider a general election or second referendum. This is eminently sensible. The referendum was purely on whether Britain would leave the European Union. It was not on the terms under which Britain would leave. Despite Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, he will have no more success than his predecessor, Tweezer. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has stated that the negotiations are going to take far long than the eleven months Johnson claimed. The people who voted for him are going to be sorely disappointed.

The right-wing campaign for leaving the EU heavily exploited racism and xenophobia. Not only had Britain lost her sovereignty to Brussels, but it was because of the EU that Britain was being flooded with immigrants taking jobs and placing a burden on the social and economic infrastructure. In fact, the Black and Asian immigrants entering Britain were permitted, as Mike showed on his blog, through UN agreements covering asylum seekers. Moreover immigrants and foreign workers were a net benefit to Britain. They contributed more in taxes and took less in benefits. But with this was drowned out, along with other, vital Remain arguments in the Tory rhetoric of hate.

But there was always a part of the Labour movement that also distrusted the European Union for democratic, socialist reasons. The late Tony Benn devoted an entire chapter to it in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism. One of his primary objections to it, as he outlined in a 1963 article for Encounter magazine, was

that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses its bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice.

Like right-wing Eurosceptics, Benn also objected to Britain joining the EU because of loss of national sovereignty and democracy through inclusion into a European superstate. He was also worried about the threat from Brussels to British industry. The European Union hated Britain’s nationalised industries, and Benn said that he was told by Brussels bureaucrats that investment, mergers and prices in the former British steel industry would have to be controlled by them. Every issue of state aid to British manufacturing industry would have to be subject to the European commission. He was very much afraid that British manufacturing would be unable to compete against the better financed and equipped European firms, and so close. And he also argued that membership in the European Union would create higher unemployment through the EU’s economic policy, which was exactly the same as that tried by Conservative premier Ted Heath’s first government. He believed that EU membership would leave British workers with a choice of either being unemployed at home, or moving to Europe to seek work. Only the directors and shareholders in European companies would profit. He then gives the statistics showing how much Britain was paying to the EU for policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, that penalised Britain’s highly efficient farming system in favour of that of the continent, and the disastrous effect EU membership had had on British industry and jobs. The devastation caused to some sectors of British industry and agriculture also formed part of Conservative attacks on the EU. The former Mail, now Times journo, Quentin Letts, bitterly criticises the EU in his book, Bog Standard Britain, for the way the common fisheries policy drastically cut back our fishing fleet to a fraction of its former size.

It also seems that Ted Heath also used some very underhand, dirty tricks to rig the initial referendum to give the result he wanted: that the British people agreed with him and wanted to join Europe. This was the subject of an article in the parapolitical/ conspiracy magazine, Lobster some years ago.

I’m a Remainer. I was as shocked by the Tories’ victory as everyone else on the Left. I expected that they would win because of the vast propaganda and media resources they had poured in to attacking Labour and Corbyn personally. But I was astonished by how large the victory was. I believed that the continuing failure to secure a deal with Europe would have made Brexit less popular, not more. The result of the original referendum was so narrow that I believed a second would reverse the decision. How wrong I was.

Some of the Eurosceptic arguments against Europe are overstated or simply wrong. The EU was a threat to our nationalised industries, but it seemed nothing prevented the French, Germans and Dutch from retaining theirs and buying up ours, as the Dutch firm, Abellio, was awarded the contract for some of our rail services. Britain’s entry into the EU did not result in us losing our sovereignty. We retained it, and all law passed in Brussels had to become British law as well. And I believe very strongly that leaving Europe, especially under a no-deal Brexit, will badly damage our trade and economy.

But understanding Brexit and the arguments against EU membership from the Left from people like Tony Benn, may also provide a way of winning back some at least of the support Labour lost at the election. Labour can show that it understands the fear some people in those communities have about the loss of sovereignty, and the effect EU membership has had on trade, manufacturing and employment. But we can also point out that the Tories are using the same set of economic principles as the EU, and that this won’t change so long as Boris is Prime Minister. And any trade agreement he makes with the Orange Generalissimo will be worse than staying in the EU. It won’t secure British jobs or support British industry, manufacturing or otherwise. Indeed, it will cause further damage by placing them at a disadvantage against the Americans.

A proper Brexit, that respected British workers and created a fairer, better society, could only be brought in by Labour. But the Thursday before last, 14 million people were duped into rejecting that. But Labour is learning its lesson, and people are getting ready to fight back.

Labour can and will win again, on this and other issues. Brexit may have got Johnson in, but it may also be the issue that flings him out. 

‘I’ Article on Allegations of British War Crimes in Iraq and Aghanistan

November 18, 2019

I put up a piece yesterday evening commenting on a trailer for the Beeb’s Panorama programme tonight, 18th November 2019, investigating allegations that British troops have committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is also the subject of an article in today’s I by Cahal Milmo, titled ‘Army and UK Government accused of cover-up in war crimes scandal’. This reads

The Government is facing demands to ensure an investigation into “deeply troubling” allegations that torture and murders – including the killing of children – by British soldiers were covered up by senior commanders and officials.

Leaked documents provided to an investigation by BBC Panorama and The Sunday Times detail claims that evidence of crimes committed by UK troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was not fully investigated.

Amnesty International said that rather than sweeping such claims “under the carpet”, Britain needs to ensure cases are “treated with the seriousness they deserve”.

The claims, which include an allegation that an SAS soldier murdered three children and a man in Afghanistan while drinking tea in their home in 2012, arose from two official investigations into alleged war crimes by British forces. The Iraq Historic Allegations Teams (IHAT) and Operation Northmoor, which investigated alleged incidents in Afghanistan, were wound down in 2017 after a solicitor – Phil Shiner _ was struck off for misconduct after bringing more than 1,000 to IHAT.

Neither IHAT nor Northmoor resulted in any prosecutions, a fact which the Government insists was based on “careful investigation”.

But military investigators told the BBC and The Sunday Times that other factors were responsible. One former IHAT detective said: “The Ministry of Defence had no intention of prosecuting any soldier of whatever rank he was unless it was absolutely necessary and they couldn’t wriggle their way out of it.”

The media investigation uncovered claims no action was taken after military prosecutors were asked to consider charges against a senior SAS commander for attempting to pervert the course of justice in relation to the Afghanistan incident. It also found evidence that allegations of beatings, torture and sexual abuse of detainees by members of the Black Watch regiment did not reach court.

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted all cases had been looked at and “the right balance” struck in terms of court action.

A spokesman for the MOD said “Allegations that the MoD interfered with investigations or prosecution decisions relating to the conduct of UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are untrue. The decisions of prosecutors and investigators have been independent of the MoD and involved external oversight and legal advice.”

Underneath the article is a statement in a box that reads Another investigator said ‘Key decisions were taken out of our hands. There was more and more pressure from the Ministry of Defence to get cases closed as quickly as possible.’

As I wrote yesterday, this is something that no-one really wants to hear. We’d love to believe our girls and boys are far better than this. But I’m afraid that for all their training and professionalism, they are just humans like everyone else, placed in positions of extreme fear and danger. Regarding the killing of children, it also has to be taken into account that the enemy in those areas has hidden behind children and tried to use them to kill allied soldiers. This has resulted in allied squaddies having been forced to shoot them to preserve their own lives.

Falling Off the Edge, a book which describes how neoliberalism is forcing millions into poverty worldwide and actually contributing to the rise in terrorism, begins with a description of a firefight between American soldiers and Daesh in Iraq. The Daesh fighters are losing, and one of them drops a Rocket Propelled Grenade in a house’s courtyard. The fighters then run inside, and throw out of the door two little boys. They boys try to grab the RPG despite the American troops screaming at them not to. One of them makes to pick it up, and is shot by an American trooper.

It’s an horrendous incident, but one in which the squaddie had no choice. It was either himself and his comrades, or the child. It’s a sickening decision that no-one should have to face, and I don’t doubt that it will scar this man psychologically for the rest of his life. One of the complaints Private Eye had about the lack of appropriate psychological care for returning servicemen and women suffering from PTSD was that they weren’t put in the hands of army doctors and medical professionals, who would understand the terrible choices they had to make. Instead many were put in civilian treatment groups, who were naturally shocked and horrified by their tales of killing children. It may well be that some of the accusations of the murder of children may be due to incidents like this. I also remember an al-Qaeda/ Taliban propaganda video from Afghanistan that the Beeb played during the Afghanistan invasion. This was intended for audiences elsewhere in the Middle East. In it, one of the fighters hands a gun to another small boy, who waves it around as if he can hardly hold it, and proudly declares that he will gun down the evil westerners. This seemed to show that the Taliban and al-Qaeda weren’t above using small children as soldiers. It’s evil, and banned under the UN Rights of the Child, I believe. But if the Taliban have been using boy soldiers, this might explain some of the murders.

Even so, these are very serious allegations. I blogged yesterday about how an American diplomat in Iraq was shocked at the conduct of US forces. The mess of one division was decorated with Nazi insignia, mercenaries were running drugs and prostitution rings, and shot Iraqi civilians for sport. And the American army was also supporting sectarian death squads. We need to know if there is similar lawlessness among British troops.

And I’m afraid I have no faith in the ability of the British army or the MoD to investigate these claims fairly. Nearly every fortnight Private Eye’s ‘In the Back’ section has yet more information from the Deep Cut Inquiry into the suicide of three squaddies at the barracks now well over a decade ago. There have been allegations that the initial investigation was appallingly inadequate, that detectives and doctors were taken off the investigation, or prevented from properly examining forensic evidence. And reading some of the depositions makes it appear that there may well have been a cover-up. And this also lends credibility to the allegations that the government and MoD are covering up atrocities here.

This needs to be very carefully investigated with complete transparency. And it also shows how profoundly morally wrong the invasion of Iraq was. It was a war crime, and the criminals responsible were Bush and Blair.