Posts Tagged ‘Adam Curtis’

The Tory, Privatise Enterprise Cure for Stressed Teachers: Electrostimulate their Brains!

July 3, 2017

Everything about this says Bad Science, as in the book by Ben Goldacre. And ‘bad’ in every definition of the word. Not only wrong scientifically, but also morally. But it’s what you get all too often with the Tories in charge.

Mike over at Vox Political has today posted up a piece commenting on a story in today’s Torygraph, hyping the use of an electronic device, the Alpha-Stim, which Leigh Academies Trust are offering to their staff at seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a special educational needs school in Kent to treat the symptoms of stress amongst their staff. The Torygraph says that the device is the size of a mobile phone, and works by sending micro-pulses of electricity to the brain to stimulate the production of alpha waves. This supposedly helps relieve anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. The Trust is offering it along with other therapies. The extract Mike includes in his piece quotes one Peter Caunt of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, who says ‘We know this type of therapy works’ before going on to say that the question is whether it is cost-effective.

Mike compares it to the shock treatment used on very disturbed people, which works by burning out part of their frontal lobes. He states that he personally knows people, who’ve had it done, and they have not been the same afterwards.
He asks why the schools management company isn’t trying to solve the problem by making teachers’ lives less stressful.

He wonders if the real reason is that the company’s bosses want to turn their staff into compliant little teaching zombies, who won’t complain, because they’ve had their conscience burned out of them along with the stress.

He also makes the point that the Trust used to be headed by Frank Green, who was appointed to a two-year stint as schools commissioner by Michael Gove. This shows the strong connection between the company and the Tory party.

The device should, apparently, be used for 20 minutes each, but some teaching staff are using it twice or three times. So Mike asks the obvious question of what kind of teachers they’re like afterwards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/the-tory-cure-for-stressed-teachers-is-electrocute-their-brains/

Everything about this is highly dubious. It looks very much like something straight out of the accounts of bad, if not pathological science, from the pages of Ben Goldacre, Martin Gardner and others. Ben Goldacre, you may remember, wrote a book, Bad Science, about this kind of nonsense a few years ago. the Sceptic, Martin Gardner also attacked bad and pernicious science a few decades ago in his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This looks like a prime example of it, to go with other, earlier pseudo-sciences like eugenics, lobotomies, Lysenkoism, Nazi ‘race science’ and monkey glands.

As for electro-convulsive therapy, it was devised by a German Jewish doctor, who fled Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy. Deciding that it could be an effective method of treating the mentally ill, he started by testing it on tramps he and the authorities rounded up off the street. Adam Parfrey published an essay on it, ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’, in one of his books on the extremes of belief in 1990s America, Apocalypse Culture or Cult Rapture. That essay made it very clear just how nasty it was.

It’s still used, but proper medical professionals only resort to it in the case of severely disturbed people, where there really isn’t much choice.

And everything known about the brain should say that tinkering with it, unless you know exactly what you’re doing, is an appallingly bad idea. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Modern neuroscience has succeeded in identifying which parts of the brain produces which mental function, but even so, there is a vast amount we don’t know. Raymond Tallis, who is a Humanist and former neurologist and neurosurgeon, wrote a book, Aping Mankind, with the aim to show that much human thought and mind couldn’t be reduced to neurological functions. He stated clearly that he wanted to show that thinking was ‘as mysterious as walking on water’. Given the vast complexity of the brain, and its vulnerability, it really is stupid and dangerous to mess around with it in this manner.

Remember a few years ago, when many doctors started to worry about possible brain damage caused by putting mobile phones next to your ear? They were afraid of the health risks posed by putting what is a microwave source next to your brain when talking on the phone.

It also reminds me of the ‘feedback cult’ of the ’70s. This also noted the connection between alpha waves and mood. It therefore encouraged people to hook themselves up to special monitors, which registered their alpha waves, and then learn how to control them and so altered their mood, all for supposedly beneficial purposes. That was also debunked some time ago.

The alpha-stim also sounds to be me like something that escaped from the Human Potential labs in the ’60s and ’70s. The Human Potential movement was one of those weird movements based on psychology that emerged in the 1960s, promising to bring people fulfilment and happiness through their programme of therapies. It still survives in various forms, and developed strong links with corporate capitalism, to the point where its detractors have called it a corporate mind control cult.

Adam Curtis devoted a programme to it in his documentary about the legacy of Freudianism, The Century of the Self, over a decade ago now. And what the programme revealed about it was truly chilling. The movement and its doctors managed to convince the medical profession to let them try to treat a selection of patients suffering from schizophrenia. The treatment consisted of dosing these poor souls up to the gills with LSD, and then attaching electrodes to electrify their brains. And all the while they were taught to repeat to themselves, ‘I am comfortable in myself’.

They interviewed one poor young woman, who’d been a victim of this nonsense. The treatment was a horrible, ghastly failure. It was perhaps a mercy that the woman said that she couldn’t remember much about it now, except that sometimes she had it done several times a day. It was this kind of appalling medical experimentation that the producers of Classic Star Trek took solid aim at in the episode ‘Dagger of the Mind’.

As for this latest rubbish, it also reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, when Doctor Bashir is called on treat Garak, the station’s Kardassian tailor and spy. Garak, like many other Kardassian secret agents, had a device implanted in his brain to stimulate his pleasure centres, so he could get through being tortured. Garak, however, has become so miserable that he started using it recreationally, and so has become addicted. Bashir has no choice but to find out what he can about the device, and try to remove it from his friend.

Which all sounds dangerously close to what’s going on here, with the exception that it’s teachers being treated with it, not alien spies.

I am really not at all surprised that it’s the Tories, or a company that’s associated with them, that’s peddling this nonsense. The Tories just love pseudoscience. I’ve reblogged stuff from Kitty S. Jones and other disability bloggers about the model of sickness devised by Unum and their pet psychiatrists at Cardiff University to have people thrown off benefit and declared fit for work, has been roundly debunked by other medical professionals.

And a little while ago, Private Eye in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column took a pot shot at a Tory-controlled council in Kent or that part of the world, where the local authority had cut council services, but was funnelling tens of thousands of pounds to a company headed by one of its female members, which specialised in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming or some other kind of dodgy therapy to offer spurious treatment to council staff.

Which, again, sounds very much like what’s going on here.

And then there was the case of the Leaderene herself, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was into Ayur Veda, a system of alternative therapies brought to the world by one of the dodgy Indian gurus, who rocked up here in the 1960s. Thatcher treated herself to baths, where along with the water there was a weak electric current. Obviously, she thought it would do her some good. I’m quite sure there were many others, who wish the voltage had been somewhat stronger.

This looks to me very much like a potentially harmful pseudoscience. As for Caunt’s statement that ‘we know it works’, that’s what Tory spokespeople have said about work improving people’s mental health, and other mental professionals, not to mention normal, ordinary people without a financial or ideological stake in it, pointing out that it’s rubbish. And I’ve no doubt it’s the same here.

This is just bad science, which is being hyped by company that obviously finds it cheaper to have their staff trying to make themselves less miserable by running electricity through their brains, than actually trying to do something more positive and concrete to improve conditions for them.

Pretty much like British society as a whole, where instead of offering real guidance and support to the unemployed, their harangued and demeaned by Jobcentre Staff through stupid, nonsensical models of unemployment and disability supported as government policy.

After Israeli Lobbying Exposes, Time to Expose those Behind the Anti-Semitism Smears

January 18, 2017

Mike also put up another excellent piece today, pointing out that Al-Jazeera’s investigation into the nefarious attempts by the Israeli embassy to interfere with democracy in this country has resulted in this all starting to fall apart. The lobbyists thought that they could simply manipulate everything covertly from the shadows. Now they find instead that they’ve been pulled into the light. The Mondoweiss article Mike’s piece quotes and is based on states that the author found it clear that the purpose of Labour Friends of Israel was simply to smear Palestinians and their supporters with spurious charges of anti-Semitism. The programme showed a number of Zionist activists, including Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, Jennifer Gerber, the director of the Labour Friends of Israel, and Ella Rose all advising the pro-Israel wing to smear their opponents with this accusation, and stating that it is now the ‘dominant narrative’. And if their victims hit back, they respond by acting the victim, like Michael Foster, a Jewish donor, who started screaming that his accusers were acting like Nazi stormtroopers.

That’s a truly vile accusation, especially as many of the people smeared were Jewish, or of Jewish heritage, and so very likely had lost family members to the real Nazi stormtroopers. Quite apart from gentile Brits, whose parents and grandparents did their bit to keep Europe free from Hitler’s hordes.

Mike wonders if this conspiracy wouldn’t have been uncovered if he and others hadn’t objected and questioned the smearing of Jackie Walker, Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone. Mike says he was advised not too, as the people he was taking on were too powerful.

Mike makes it clear that now is the time to pull in and start questioning the very people behind these disgraceful smears and libels. Like John Mann, Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jackie Walker’s accusers in the Jewish Labour Movement and even in Momentum, as well as all the newspaper editors and proprietors, who thought fit to publicise the smears.

He concludes

The list of possible suspects gets ever-larger, and is likely to grow even further, if these people are contacted and questioned in a thorough manner.

The issues here are serious. We are being told that agents of a foreign country have infiltrated our institutions and undermined our foreign policy with false accusations against our politicians and political figures.

As the extract below shows, the trail leads back at least as far as Mark Regev – and he is Israel’s ambassador to the UK.

At the very least, this is a major diplomatic incident.

So why is the Conservative Government refusing to take the necessary investigative steps?

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/18/accusation-games-its-all-falling-apart-for-the-knee-jerk-anti-semitism-accusers/

Mike’s calling this nasty little piece of clandestine plotting a conspiracy – which is exactly what it is. There are dangers to doing so, as in the past when someone has discussed the pernicious influence of Zionist lobby, like the authors of the book of the same name did a few years ago in their treatment of the funding of US politicos by Zionist and pro-Israeli firms and individuals, they were accused of anti-Semitism. Their accusers stated that by claiming that there was covert influence – a conspiracy – they were repeating the stereotypical lies that Jews are engaged in monstrous conspiracies against gentiles, like the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In fact the authors weren’t. One of them was even Jewish. I’ve got a feeling it may well have been that long-term anti-Zionist dissident, Norman Finkelstein.

It was the same when it was revealed that Likud had laid out plans with the Republicans for the invasion of Iraq twenty years before 9/11 gave them the pretext that Saddam Hussein was conspiring with Osama bin Laden. As soon as that came out, the Republicans and the Israeli lobby starting shouting very loudly that this was ‘conspiracy theory’, and so anti-Semitic. They’ve had to stop, since it’s become very clear that this was one conspiracy that was absolutely true.

As many conspiracies are. Not the stupid, poisonous theories about the Jews being engaged in some vast, worldwide plot to destroy or enslave the White race. Or the same paranoia about Freemasons, reptoid aliens, or little Grey creatures from Zeta Reticuli.

The real conspiracies have been plots by the intelligence agencies or private interests to manipulate public opinion. Such as the CIA covertly funding arts and literature, setting up various front groups and campaigns, and infiltrating and manipulating the trade unions and internationalist Socialist movement as part of the campaign against Communism during the Cold War. Or the way the same intelligence agencies, government think tanks, and right-wing pressure groups and big business arranged coups against left-wing regimes around the world, and conspired to bring down left-wing leaders and movements at home. The parapolitics magazine, Lobster, has been documenting and discussing these ever since it was founded in the 1980s. As has Counterpunch, and Larry O’Hara’s Notes from the Borderland.

Mike also asks why Al-Jazeera had to investigate the connections between the Israelis, the Zionist lobby and the anti-Semitism smears. Why not, he asks, the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4 or the mainstream British print media?

Robin Ramsay, in one of his pieces in Lobster, remarked that the Beeb frequently ties itself in knots trying to claim that it isn’t biased towards Israel when it blatantly is. And some of that bias is very subtle indeed. For example, you may remember the Adam Curtis documentary a few years ago that took apart the Neocons. Curtis is a great film-maker, and I highly recommend his series The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. His demolition of the Neoconservatives was effective and very welcome. But he omitted one fact. The Neoconservative programme was launched in the pages of an American Jewish magazine in the late ’60s explicitly as a way of drumming up public support for Israel.

Now I can appreciate why some people might be reluctant to include that fact for entirely decent reasons. Many people would be afraid to include it because it might be seized upon by real anti-Semites to provide a specious justification for their racist nonsense. But that doesn’t stop it being true that Neoconservatism has always been about promoting and defending Israel.

I also wonder if part of the silence from the mainstream media in this country is because so many of their management have links to Israel. Danny Cohen, who was a senior manager with the Beeb, emigrated to Israel a year or so ago, loudly declaring that this country, and Europe, was becoming unbearably anti-Semitic. Barbara Amiel, the wife of Conrad Black, the convicted fraudster who used to own the Torygraph, used to write for the Jerusalem Post, urging the Israeli political leaders to be even more right-wing than they already were. Though it also has to be said that Channel 4 has stood up to the Israelis. There was a nice exchange between Jon Snow and Mark Regev when the Israelis were pummeling Gaza three years ago, when Snow got fed up with Regev’s lies and told him that he was a liar.

My guess is that a large measure of the support the British mainstream media gives Israel may well be a hangover from the Cold War and British colonialism. The founders saw themselves as a western country, not part of the Middle East, and far superior to its indigenous peoples. There were accusations during the British mandate that the British government wanted to encourage Jewish colonisation in order to create a pro-British enclave within a potentially hostile indigenous population, like Protestant Belfast amongst the Nationalist, Roman Catholic parts of Ulster.

The country also became a vital part of the Global war against Communism. The surrounding Arab nationalist regimes, such as the Ba’ath regimes in Syria and Iraq, and Nasser’s Egypt, were Socialist, and pro-Communist, though their ruling parties weren’t Marxists. Israel, and the ghastly theocracies in the Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the rest, provided extremely useful pro-western bulwarks against Communist influence in the region.

I also believe that American influence here has also been decisive. Since the Second World War, Britain has tried to maintain itself as a world power through supporting the Americans. This became particularly necessary after the Suez Crisis. Our attempt to take back the Suez Canal, which had been nationalised by Nasser, collapsed when the Americans said they weren’t going to support us. America has staunchly supported Israel, and so, I believe, Britain has fallen in line. And much of the EU’s support for Israel has also been dictated by the Americans.

And in this instance, the British establishment were also all too keen to promote any lie to smear Corbyn and his followers, because it fears the end of Neoliberalism. Hence the repeated lie that he’s a Trotskyite, and he and his followers are ‘far left’.

This has all come together so that the neoliberal political establishment and the mainstream media have been all too eager to promote the lies and smears that Momentum and the Labour left were anti-Semites.

Now, thanks to an Arab news broadcaster, this web of lies and smears has been exposed. It has also shown, through their silence, the complicity in these smears of the mainstream news outlets. It’s shown why we need alternative news sources like Al-Jazeera and RT, which is owned by the Russians, and other internet news shows like The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report and Secular Talk. I don’t agree with the show’s anti-religious viewpoint, but on non-religious issues it provides a very good, left-wing analysis of news and events on the other side Pond.

It’s why the corporatist wing of the Democrats and the Beeb are all screaming about the threat of ‘fake news’.

Well, we’ve had ‘fake news’ for decades till we’re sick of it. And much of it comes from the mainstream news sources, including the Beeb, which haven’t been doing their job, and just fed us lie after lie after lie.

It’s time this stopped, and they were made accountable to the public they’ve kept ignorant and misinformed. They need to be questioned over this issue along with politicos like John Mann. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is just one, albeit very significant episode, in a long history of bias and lies.

Is Rupert Murdoch the Biggest Purveyor of Fake News?

January 14, 2017

Yesterday, I put up a piece commenting on a report in the I newspaper that the BBC had decided to set up a special team, Reality Check, to rebut fake news on the internet. James Harding, the head of BBC News, said that this wouldn’t be about policing the internet, and it wouldn’t attack the mainstream press.

This all rings very hollow, as at least in America, faith in the mainstream news outlets is at an all-time low. More people are turning to alternative news sources on the internet as a reaction to the bias and misreporting of the established news outlets and broadcasters. And the Beeb certainly has plenty of form when it comes to bias. Like editing the footage of the battle between the strikers and the police at Orgreave colliery during the Miners’ Strike, so that it appeared to show the miners attacking the police. The reality was the complete opposite. Barry and Savile Kushner in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, point out that the Beeb rarely allows a dissenting voice to be heard against austerity. When one is heard, they are interrupted or shouted down by the presenter, keen to maintain the government, establishment view at all costs. And Nick Robinson himself did a piece of deliberate misreporting worthy of TASS or Goebbels during the Scots referendum. He asked a question Scottish independence might have on the financial sector north of the border. Salmond answered it fully. This was then gradually edited down over successive news programmes, until it vanished altogether, with Robinson claiming that Salmond hadn’t answered the question.

So there’s plenty of very good reasons why you can’t trust the Beeb.

Now there is a considerable amount of fake news on the Net. The American elections have thrown up any amount of pure rubbish. In addition to the usual weirdness from the Ufolks, which claimed that Putin had told the Russian armed forces to prepare to defend the motherland against extraterrestrial invasion, there were the tin foil hatted claims of Alex Jones. Jones, the head of the conspiracy news site, Infowars, had come out with some truly barking, and very dangerous comments about Hillary Clinton. He claimed that she was part of some Satanic cult, which was abusing children from a pizza parlour in Philadelphia. She was also supposed to be demonically possessed, like Barack Obama, and may have been an alien or robot, at least in part. It’s entirely bogus, along with the reports others put up claiming that she suffers from a neurological illness contracting from eating children’s brains.

But the mainstream media has also produced bogus news. And one of the worst offenders is Fox News. Someone analysed how many of the stories Fox reported were actually true, and came out with the statistics that about three-quarters of the time they were rubbish. Put simply, if you watch Fox, you will be less informed that someone who doesn’t. There’s a reason why the network’s earned the nickname of ‘Faux News’. It’s very much like the old clip sometimes added to pieces on the internet, in which a man upbraids another for making an answer so stupid, that it’s lowered the IQ of everyone in the room, and the other needs to apologise. Well, that’s Fox writ large.

Fox News is also on the internet, along with many other newspapers and channels. So you can watch Bill O’Reilly tell lies about his career there. O’Reilly’s one of the channel’s veteran anchors. He was caught out claiming that he was actually in the Falklands or nearby parts of Argentina reporting during the Falklands War. He also witnessed a sectarian riot in Northern Ireland, and was present outside the house of one of the witnesses of the JFK assassination when he committed suicide. In fact, this was all shown to be bilge. In the Falkland’s conflict, for example, he was safely several thousand miles away in Buenos Aires.

Will the Beeb try and rebut some of the barking stories reported by Fox? No, of course they won’t. Fox is a mainstream news source, and is part owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Times and the Scum over here. The Scum is notorious for its bias and mendacity, but somehow the Times and its sister paper, the Sunday Times, has managed to avoid this. Sometimes you wonder why, as the Sunday Times has also carried bogus stories.

Like the time it claimed Michael Foot was a KGB agent called Comrade Boot, for which the former Labour leader successfully sued for libel. And then there were the ‘Clinton Crazies’. These were a group of journos around the Sunday Times and the American Spectator, who believed that Bill Clinton was a violent mobster. The former governor and US president was supposed to be importing cocaine from South America through an airfield in his state. He was also responsible for ordering the deaths of 20 + aids and other figures, who had displeased him. One of the journos responsible for this nonsense was so paranoid, that during an interview with another journalist he kept the curtains closed, and anxiously peered out into the street at various intervals, in case ‘they’ were watching him from a parked car. One of the hacks, who produced this tripe later saw reason, and appeared on one of Adam Curtis’ documentaries stating very clearly it was all crazy nonsense. But the Sunday Times published it.

But the Beeb very definitely isn’t going to tackle Murdoch’s rubbish, because Murdoch is the favourite of the various parties that have occupied No.10 in recent years, both the Tories and New Labour. In exchange for favourable publicity for the Murdoch press, they’ve been very happy to concede greater advantages to the media mogul, despite numerous conflicts of interest and the construction of a near monopoly in private broadcasting.

Murdoch hates the Beeb with a passion. He’s been demanding its break up since the 1980s, publishing stories attacking the Beeb at every opportunity in his papers, including the Times. And so with the threat of privatisation now made extremely clear by the Tories, the BBC will very definitely not want to show how mendacious Fox is.

So you can expect the Beeb to crack down on the alternative news outlets on the Net, under the pretext that it’s fighting the rubbish put out by Jones and co., while doing nothing about the fake news churned out by the establishment. Like the Murdoch press, and the Beeb itself.

Lobster on the Israel Lobby and the Creation of the Neo-Cons

May 5, 2016

I found this piece on the creation of the Neo-Conservatives by the Israel Lobby in the 1970s in ‘The View from the Bridge’ section of Lobster 48, Winter 2004: 25.

The Power of Nightmares

The three films by Adam Curtis, shown here in October/November on BBC 2, under the title of The Power of Nightmares, documenting the rise of militant Islam and American neo-Conservatives, deservedly received much praise. Curiously – or perhaps not curiously – none of the comments I read seem to have noticed that Curtis’ account of the origins of the neo-Conservatives was based on a big omission. In Curtis’ view the neo-Cons grew out of the ideas of political philosopher, Leo Strauss, some of whose students are now prominent in the Bush regime. (Strauss is discussed in this issue by Bernard Porter.) But much more important in the neo-Cons rise to prominence was the Israeli lobby in the United States. (The ‘house journal’ of the neo-Cons in the 1970s was Commentary, the journal of the American Jewish Committee.)

Alarmed by the ‘even-handed’ approach taken by Henry Kissinger and Nixon during the 1973 Israeli war with the Arabs, the Israeli lobby set about remaking US foreign policy to protect Israel. This involved first recreating the Soviet Union as the big bad wolf (Cold War 2). As Curtis showed, this entailed the wholesale fabrication of a renewed ‘Soviet threat’, at the heart of which was the so-called Team B exercise. Then the Soviets were presented as the controllers of international terrorism, enabling the Israelis to label the Palestinians as terrorists, controlled by the KGB. This theme was launched at the Jonathan Institute conference of 1979 in Israel before being taken up by anti-détente groups within the US intelligence community. Yet the Israeli lobby’s was missing from Curtis’ films.

And so the world has been subject to the tension of the Cold War of the 1980s and then the grotty imperialism of the past decade and a half, partly because Zionist Americans and Israeli hawks were alarmed at Nixon being a bit too fair to the Arabs for their liking.

Libertarian Socialist Rants on the Top 10 US-backed Atrocities and Brutal Regimes

April 30, 2016

Libertarian Socialist Rants is an Anarchist vlog on Youtube. Why I don’t agree with his variety of Socialism, the Libertarian Socialist has made some excellent videos making extremely incisive points about capitalism, state-committed atrocities and the vile state of politics and individual politicians in this country. In the video below, he goes through a list of what he considers to be the top ten atrocities and most brutal regimes supported by America. These are, in reverse order:

10: Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. This is interesting because it shows you what is rarely discussed, which is how awful the regime was against whom the Viet Cong were rebelling. And he’s fairly typical of many of the dictators on this list, with massive nepotism, brutal suppression of internal dissidents, including labour organisations, and persecution of Buddhists.

9. Agha Yahya Khan of Pakistan for his regime’s brutal war against Bangladesh.

8. The Shah of Iran.

7. Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, the dictator, who was overthrown by Castro.

6. Apartheid South Africa. This is also interesting for showing how far White South Africa was supported by Britain and a certain Margaret Thatcher, because it was a bulwark against the ANC, who were Communists. The pictures in this section show Thatcher stating that she wouldn’t impose sanctions, and the infamous right-wing song, ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’. Thatcher justified her refusal to impose sanctions by stating that the ANC were terrorists. However, what this video does not say, is that they were driven to terrorism only after repeated attempts to change the situation by legal means had failed. They started out in the 1950s by simply writing letters to the South African parliament urging change, the dismantlement of Apartheid and the enfranchisement of the Black population. It was only after these were repeatedly rejected, that they did what others do when the road of peaceful protest is closed to them, and turn to violence.

5. The Chilean coup which overthrew Salvador Allende and replaced him with General Pinochet. The video also shows how Thatcher’s favourite South American thug was supported by the economists of the Chicago school. These, explains, were all Chileans taught at the University of Chicago by Milton Friedman, the founder of Monetarism. When Pinochet came to power, Friedman paid the Nazi a visit to supervise the privatisation of Chile’s nationalised industries.

4. General Suharto of Indonesia, who massacred hundreds of thousands and committed crimes against humanity in a military crackdown against Communism. He received substantial support from the US, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Suharto then went on to invade East Timor, during the occupation of which 1/3 of the population were murdered. This part of the video shows a discomfited Clinton being asked about his support for Indonesia’s dictatorship by a gentleman of the press. Clinton comes towards the journo, repeatedly asking him when he’s going to get to the point. Slick Willy’s demeanour is smooth, but the hack clearly has got under his skin.

3. El Salvador. This starts off with the murder of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Oscar Romero, who committed the heinous and unforgivable crime of writing to the US authorities about what was being done to the people of this country by the Fascist dictatorship. This piece also includes accounts from the teenage kids, who were forcibly recruited into the regime’s death squads, and indoctrinated and brutalised using methods copied from the Nazis’ SS. None of this video is easy watching, but this section is particularly harrowing. Among other atrocities, the regime used to decapitate whole families, including babies.

2. Pol Pot in Cambodia. He’s on the list, because Kissinger helped them into power through a bombing campaign of the country. Intended to destroy Communism, it actually increased support. And once in power, the regime received covert assistance from the US and Britain.

1. Guatemala and the United Fruit Company. This describes the long history of the country’s domination by the American United Fruit Company, which was supported by various dictators. The UFC owned extensive banana plantations and had the concession of the entire east coast railway, forming a feudal ‘state within a state’. Liberal movements demanding reform, labour unions and pro-peasant organisations were banned and brutally attacked. And when Arbenz in the 1950s dared to extend the franchise and nationalised the UFC’s plantations, the American government organised a coup and overthrew him, all with the pretext that he was a Communist, who was going to turn Guatemala into a puppet state of the USSR to attack the US.

What I found particularly interesting in this segment was the piece from a US propaganda newsreel celebrating the coup with the headline title ‘Freedom Comes to Guatemala’. The announcers voice and accent are very much the same as that of the fake Internet newsreel messages in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990s version of Starship Troopers. Verhoeven grew up in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation, and the film is supposed to be a satire on militarism and Fascism, using as its vehicle the most militaristic of Heinlein’s SF books.

The section on Guatemala also covers the long war in the 1980s that was waged against the country’s indigenous peoples, and the brutalising effect this had on the country’s children.

And finally, there’s a section at the end where the Libertarian Socialist lists a few ‘honourable’ mentions. It’s so long that it has to be skimmed through at speed. He also quotes Team America: World Police, and concludes at the end that states and corporations are not moral actors and have colluding in committing the most appalling atrocities.

It’s a very, very good video, done pretty much in the style of Adam Curtis’ brilliant documentaries, but with the use of black humour in place of Curtis’ montage effects. Be aware, though, that this is a very grim piece. It describes the various tortures these regimes have inflicted on their opponents. As the standard warning goes, some viewers may find it upsetting.

Vox Political on Yvette Cooper Condemning Renationalisation

February 23, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political also has a piece from the Independent about Yvette Cooper. Apparently, she is set to make a speech attacking the nationalisation of industry as an old, discredited idea. It will not help modern workers, according to her, or those trying to ‘build an app’. Mike therefore asks if she’s deliberately trying to mislead people about the issue in defending ‘wasteful’ privatisation. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/23/is-yvette-cooper-deliberately-misleading-people-about-nationalisation/.

Now I agree with Mike that privatisation is wasteful. It also led, paradoxically, to a massive increase in bureaucracy. This expanded massively when the utility companies, including that for water, sewage and the environment, were sold off and separate regulatory bodies had to be set up. In order to try and keep to their promise that selling off Britain’s family silver would reduce bureaucracy, they had to cut down on the regulatory bodies so that they wouldn’t have so much power, and wouldn’t represent the interests of the consumers. And there was also the usual revolving doors between the civil service and the privatised utility companies, where the mandarins who were supposed to be watching them in the public interest did no such thing, and later got a job with them after they left Whitehall. I can remember reading report after report on this, fortnight after fortnight, in Private Eye in the ’90s. It was all part of the sleaze surrounding John Major’s administration.

I’ve also heard that, despite the impression given by privatisation that all aspects of energy generation, and its supply, and that of water and gas, the actual infrastructure remains the concern of the state. The private utility companies get to cream off the profits, but the actual maintenance of the national grid, pipes and so on remain the duty of the state, which bears the financial burden. Now I’ll have to check on this, but if it’s true, then privatisation really has been just a scam with minimal benefit to the consumers. Quite beyond the very obvious profiteering we’ve seen by the energy companies themselves.

Now let’s come to the example of the information technology industry she used. It won’t help workers developing an app, according to Cooper. Now, the free marketeers just love the computing and information technology. Look, they say, at the way a group of private individuals in the 1970s – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others, built a whole industry from sheer private enterprise, all in the garages or spare time or whatever. The Financial Times had a go at this myth, as did Adam Curtis in his documentary, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. The Financial Times pointed out that the kids, who were able to create the modern computing industry, were able to do so not because of the free market, or because their part of California had excellent schools, or indeed any of that. They were able to get ahead and develop it because they were all already very wealthy, and could afford to develop their creations. And Adam Curtis in his documentary went and showed that the mathematical basis behind the suggestion that private enterprise gives better results through allowing people to co-operate independently and form a coherent strategy without a central planner was also baloney.

And if you want a real counter-example, then try France. The French computer industry was created in the 1970s through the efforts of the French state. And the French have been very successful in their efforts. So central planning, nationalisation and state investment can help create jobs in the high technology sector. Even in America, my guess is that much of the technology sector is supported by generous state subsidies, regardless of what Cooper believes or think she knows about the benefits of laissez faire industry.

Now I have to say, I think Cooper genuinely believes that private enterprise is superior to nationalised and state-owned industry. It’s a basic item of faith of the New Labour clique. And she also has a point about nationalisation not necessarily benefiting workers. Harry Gosling, the founder of the T&GWU with Ernest Bevin, made a speech in Bristol stating that nationalisation wouldn’t do so unless it involved a degree of worker’s control. And proper representation of the workforce in the workplace is what trade unions are for. It’s also what the Labour party was set up to do. Unfortunately, Blair, Broon and New Labour decided that they didn’t. Just before one of the two left office – I can’t remember which one – they passed a whole tranche of legislation actually weakening the unions. Moreover, on the government website telling you what rights you had under the law as a worker, there was also a secret section for employers that told them how they could circumvent all this. So there’s an element of hypocrisy there. Cooper’s against nationalisation, because it wouldn’t help the workers. But Blair wasn’t keen on organised Labour either. I can remember how he threatened to cut the ties between the unions and the Labour party.

And there’s more, much more to be said about this. I’ll blog about the foundation of the nationalised industries some other time. But for now, the opposite of what Cooper said is true: privatisation is discredited, and the privatisers of New Labour have also shown themselves unwilling to act for the poor or the working class either. It’s why UKIP took off so spectacularly. And while their leadership are privatisers on steroids, most of the grassroots members actually want the utilities nationalised. The Angry Yorkshireman wrote several pieces about this, all of which are worth reading.

Bruce Page on Rupert Murdoch

January 27, 2016

I found an entire chapter devoted to Rupert Murdoch in the book, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Petrolia: CounterPunch 2007). The book is about the end of critical, investigative journalism, particularly in America, and the way the press now colludes with and promotes Conservative parties and policies. The chapter on the Dirty Digger, ‘Murdoch’s Game’, describes the Australian media magnate’s rise to global dominance, his role as a right-wing propagandist and his psychopathic psychology. Part of the chapter is an interview with Bruce Page, an Australian-born British journalist and former member of the Insight team at the Sunday Times, before that august journal was bought out, along with the Times proper, by the Chunder from Down Under. Page had written a critical study of Murdoch and his empire of yellow journalism and sleaze, The Murdoch Archipelago. Other books have been written about the media magnate since then, and particularly since the phone hacking scandal. This chapter is still very interesting, and it’s worth reading the whole. However, I was particularly struck by certain passages, which I’ll reproduce here.

Cockburn himself makes a good point about Murdoch as a propagandist for Right-wing regimes.

core thesis is that Murdoch offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief (as with the recent PCC ruling on the acquisition of DirecTV), monopoly markets and so forth. The propaganda is undertaken with the utmost cynicism, whether it’s the stentorian fake populism and soft porn in the UK’s Sun and News of the World, or the shameless bootlicking of the butchers of Tiananmen Square.

Page on Murdoch’s attitude to offshore ownership and democracy:

“On sovereignty: my belief is that Murdoch and his like deeply fear every kind of collaboration between effective democratic entities. They can exist only in an offshore domain from which they truck and barter with comprador elites. Sadly for them, there is an antagonistic tendency which every now and then makes crucial advances: if and when the OECD countries organise a viable tax system, Newscorp is toast. The US and the EC have made more progress in that direction than is generally realised. Only crooks really like offshore, and crooks have no guaranteed monopoly over the world.”

‘Comprador’ is a Marxist term for the elites in subaltern countries, who collaborate in the economic domination of their country by the capitalist West. General Pinochet and his cronies in Chile would constitute such a ‘comprador elite’ after the CIA sponsored coup, for example.

Page makes the case that Murdoch learned his authoritarianism and mendacity from his father, the journalist, media mogul and propagandist Sir Keith Murdoch. Murdoch claimed to be an independent journalist, but worked behind the scenes to impose conscription for Australians during the First World War. He was also involved in a plot against the Ossie general, John Monash, purely because that senior officer was Jewish. This was despite the fact that it was Monash’s volunteers broke the German line at one of the battles. Page goes on and says of the way Murdoch’s own authoritarianism and sheer credulity have allowed him to dominate the world’s media.

“Journalists are insecure, because they must trade in the unknown. Their profession, said the sociologist Max Weber, is uniquely ‘accident prone’. Good management may reduce this insecurity-but Newscorp style actually uses insecurity as a disciplinary tool. And the seeming assurance of the authoritarian has tactical benefits: Murdoch can swap one attitude for another with zero embarrassment, and it enables him to ‘deliver’ newspapers to any power he approves of. Readers naturally grow sceptical. But this does not yet harm Newscorp’s business model.

“It would have been remarkable for Rupert to develop in non-authoritarian fashion, given his inheritance. When his father died, he had neither graduate from university, nor gained any real newspaper tradecraft. In order to take control of what was then News Limited, under the trust Sir Keith established, Rupert had to accept his father as a paragon of journalistic integrity: to convince the trustees, believers in that myth, of his desire to emulate it. Exactly when independence is essential for personal and professional development, a spurious parental image descended on him. And he has emulated the political propagandist, not the mythological paragon.

“The outcome attracts today’s politicians because a sickness afflicts them. In all developed societies trust in politics has declined: while democracy advances in the developing world, it finds itself ailing in its homelands. Finding themselves distrusted, politicians turn for a cure to tabloid journalism-Murdoch’s especially-which they realise is distrusted still more than themselves. They do so just as victims of a slow, fatal disease use quack remedies if the real cure still seems too strenuous.

“The real problem of politics is the increasingly complex, and therefore occult nature of advanced society. We fancy it has become more open, and it somewhat has. But progress has fallen behind the needs of better-educated, less deferential citizens whose problems grow more daunting intellectually. The state for which politicians are responsible cannot explain itself to its citizens. It might change this by opening itself far more freely to scrutiny. But against this the bureaucrats-public and private-on whom politicians rely for administrative convenience conduct relentless guerrilla attack. Should politicians choose to fight back, they will not lack allies, for most Western societies still have some competent, independent news media and the demand exists among citizens. In Britain, real newspapers and broadcasters like the BBC continue to be trusted, as Murdoch’s tabloids will never be. But quack remedies still appeal to governments: and all Murdoch asks in return is a little help in extending his monopolies.

“Of course, if the process goes far enough, only the quack remedy will be available, and democracy’s ailment would then be terminal.”

In other words, modern society is too complex to be easily explained by politicians and civil servants. The complex nature of modern life has meant that the educated want more information, not less. The civil servants don’t want this. The politicians also find themselves distrusted. So to the boost politicos’ popularity and for the civil servants to fob people off with less information than they want or need, both groups of officialdom turn to Murdoch.

I’ve got a feeling that Adam Curtis said something extremely similar in one of his documentaries years ago. I’ve got a feeling it was in the one where he attacked game theory, and its view of people as fundamentally selfish. And since then, the elite’s desire for secrecy and disinformation has come back in spades, as shown in Cameron and co.’s attempts to muzzle the Freedom of information Act. And guess what? They were helped into power by none other than the Dirty Rupe, dubbed in his homeland, ‘the Minister for Public Enlightenment’. This was the title the Nazis gave Goebbels. And if the cap fits, wear it.

Lobster: Garrick Alder on World War I as a Battle for Democracy

January 27, 2015

Lobster Logo

Garrick Alder, in his piece ‘Holding Pattern’ in issue 69 of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has a very interesting piece about the current myths flying about the First World War. Alder has been contributing to Lobster for many years, and I think I’ve seen his name amongst the credits as one of the ‘elves’ on QI. Amongst the other snippets of interest to the watchers of the murkier parts of history and the political landscape is the piece, ‘Set in Stone’. In this he follows a contemporary war memorial, that placed the date of the end of the First World War not as 1918, but the following year, 1919. The War was supposed to have ended on 11/11/1918, but there was an extension to allow the allies to advance and occupy the Rhineland.

He also notes that as its the centenary of the War’s outbreak, there has been a lot of talk about how the War was fought to protect democracy. He found this disquieting, a feeling probably shared by many of his readers. He points out that at the time Britain was not a democracy, and the monarch still held considerable power behind the scenes. So where did this myth come from?

Alder states that it

seems to have sprung from US President Woodrow Wilson’s propaganda advisor Edward Bernays, who helped Wilson craft an oftquoted slogan about ‘making the world safe for democracy’ to encourage the USA’s voters into supporting a war they had hoped to avoid.

and concludes

So the lie of the war being fought in the name of democracy was being told during the war itself. History is being rewritten under our noses – and this time, there are no living witnesses left to protest against it.

Bernays was Freud’s cousin, whom Adam Curtis identified in his excellent documentary, The Century of the Self, as the person, who incorporated Freud’s psychological theories into advertising and then into politics as a way of manipulating public opinion. As for the First World War, the catalyst was the campaigns of the Yugoslav peoples to gain more independence from their Austrian overlords. The War itself was fought not for democracy, but to decide the balance of power in Europe.

The article’s at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster69/lob69-holding-pattern.pdf, on page 21.

Adam Curtis and Brooker’s 2014 Wipe: Putin and the Postmodern Politics of Control through Confusion

January 26, 2015

Charley Brooker

Charley Brooker: Master of the Baleful Gaze of Criticism

‘Confuse your enemy and you confuse yourself!’

-General ‘Mad Bloody Butcher’ Cheeseman, The Fall of the Mausoleum Club, (Radio 4, 1985).

I found Charley Brooker’s review of last year, Newswipe 2014, over on Youtube. Assisted by Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas, Brooker casts his jaundiced eye over last years’ events, and inveighs against the horrors and stupidity therein, both of themselves and in the media, that reported them. Brooker’s comments are masterpieces of highly inventive scorn and outrage. Cunk and Shitpeas, for their parts, are highly intelligent people, who satirise the news by posing as complete morons for whom even a relatively straightforward film like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ is beyond their comprehension.

Brookers’ angry nihilism, in which he sees recent events and the latest offerings of the world’s celebrity-obsessed media as proof that we live in an absurd, pointless universe, wherein human civilisation is a bad joke about to collapse, and Cunk and Shitpeas’ faux naïve and inane comments are amusing enough. What lifts the show into another dimension entirely is a short film by Adam Curtis, on the way politicians are using the feelings of helplessness created by the terrible events replayed across our TV screens as an instrument of control.

Curtis is the director of the superb documentaries The Living Dead, The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, and How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. These explored how politicians used and abused theories of history, psychology, game theory and simplified models of human behaviour based on computer models, to boost their own power, while depriving the people they claim to represent of the power to change their destinies and better their lives. In this film, he explores how politicians, both those in Putin’s Russia and in Britain, have created an absurd, meaningless view of contemporary events in order to maintain their power by keeping their peoples deliberately confused and off-balance.

Tserkov, and the Politics of Spectacle and Subversion

This tactic was invented in Russia by Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Tserkov, who has spent 15 years aiding Russia’s elected tsar. Tserkov was an avant-garde artist, and important elements from Conceptual art into Russian politics. The Soviet Regime has staged and promoted a series of gatherings and spectacles as part of its campaign to mobilise Russian support. But he has also gone further, giving funding to groups directly opposed to his master and each other, from Neo-Nazi stormtroopers to Human Rights activists. He has also deliberately let everyone know he has done this. This has produced a radical destabilisation of the opposition, as it is no longer clear what is authentic and genuine, and what is carefully staged propaganda. The result is an enervating feeling of defeat.

Tserkov has even found a way to profit from the terrible civil war now raging in Ukraine. Last year he published a short story about how politicians could practise what he called ‘non-linear warfare’. In this, the gaol is not to win the war, but to use it to spread further confusion. The aim is to create a situation in which no-one really knows who the enemy is, or why they are fighting.

Cameron’s Absurd Government and the Politics of Despair

Curtis goes further, and argues that a similar condition is present in this country. Although not deliberate, the confusion created by politicians’ contradictory policies and actions has had the same result. He identifies Cameron as the British counterpart of Tserkov’s shape-shifting, non-linear politician, and gives the following examples of his government’s contradictions and confusion:

* Aging deejays are prosecuted for their historic crimes, but not the bankers, whose actions have created the current global economic mess.

* We are told that President Assad is evil. However, his Islamist enemies are worse, so we end up bombing them, thus helping Assad.

* George Osborne says that the economy is booming, but wages are going down.

* Gidiot says that they are cutting the national debt, but the deficit has actually increased.

*The government is pursuing a policy of austerity, taking money out of the economy. They are, however, putting it back in through ‘quantitative easing’.

Quantitative easing is the massive subsidy and bail-outs the taxpayer is giving the banks. It amounts to £24,000
per family. This has not gone to the poor, but to the richest five per cent. It is the biggest transfer of wealth, and could be a real scandal, but nobody knows anything.

Because there is no effective counter-narrative offered to the above policies, the public similarly feels defeated, disempower. The response is ‘Oh dear’.

But, says Curtis, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Baudrillard

Tserkov’s Co-Option of the Society of the Spectacle

From here, it looks like Tserkov took hold of the Society of the Spectacle, and adopted it as a deliberate policy. The Society of the Spectacle was a theory developed in the 1960s by Baudrillard, the French postmodern philosopher. Baudrillard believed that capitalism survived ideological attack, by taking over its opponents weapons and then re-presenting them as spectacles. The forms had been preserved, but their ideological power had been drained and discarded. Way back in the ’90s, one of the small press magazines devoted to the weird and bizarre gave the Glastonbury Festival as an example. When it started, it was very definitely a fringe, countercultural event. It’s very existence was a challenge to mainstream culture. Now it is very much a part of that same mainstream culture. Instead of seeing the bands for free, you are now charged tens, sometimes hundreds of pounds for a ticket.

The former Soviet Union, like all totalitarian regimes, had a deliberate policy of staging fake demonstrations and events in support of the regime. There’s an old story from a very public school teacher, who organised a trip for her girls to the former USSR. One of the planned outings for the day was disrupted by a noisy Soviet peace demonstration. The headmistress duly complained to the authorities, who reassured her, ‘Do not worry, ma’am. This spontaneous display of the people’s anger will end at 2.00 pm precisely’.

Subverting Situationism

Where Tserkov differs is that he has gone beyond this, using the ideas of Situationism and turning them back on themselves. The Situationists were hippy anarchists, who organised a series of spectacles to subvert mainstream, ‘straight’ society. Malcolm McLaren, the founder of the Sex Pistols, claimed to have been a Situationist, but this was just a bit of self-aggrandising hype on his part. The tactic hasn’t gone away with punk and the hippies. It’s still used by contemporary anarchists to use comedy, humour and spectacle to satirise and subvert capitalism and its organs of oppression and control. Tserkov has learned from this, and turned it against the opposition, using the very methods of liberation from capitalism and the state as weapons for their preservation and extension.

Non-Linear War, Vietnam, ‘ Nomad’ and ‘Deathlok the Demolisher’

As for Tserkov’s theories of non-linear war, you can trace these back to the feelings of disempowerment and confusion in 1970s in America created by Vietnam and Watergate. The Vietnam War presented ordinary, patriotic and freedom-loving Americans with terrible reports of their country’s atrocities against another people, all in the name of freedom. Despite the unequal status between the two countries, the war dragged on for decades, and the American public saw the friends and relatives killed, and many of those that returned home stricken with terrible physical and psychological injuries. This result was a feeling of anomie and despair. The nation’s self-confidence took a further blow with Watergate, when even the supreme leadership were shown to be corrupt.

Captain America Forswears his Country

That feeling of alienation and national disenchantment found expression in the comic strips of the day. American comics began to explore political issues, including racism, feminism and the abuse of the media to aid in crime and foment hate. It was perhaps expressed most forcefully by the actions of that most patriotic superhero, Captain America. The Captain is a symbol of everything good and noble in American society. In the strip, he had been created as a super-soldier to fight the forces of evil in the shape of the Third Reich, a storyline followed in the recent film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Faced with his country’s corruption, the Captain changed his name and costume to become ‘Nomad’, a superhero without a country.

Deathlok

Deathlok: Robocop against an Anonymous Enemy

Post-Vietnam disillusionment and confusion found further expression in another Marvel strip, Deathlok the Demolisher. Deathlok was a cyborg created from the mechanical reanimation of an American army officer. The strip was set in a future America devastated by a terrible war, in which whole cities have been abandoned. To fight the war, the government has taken to creating cyborg soldiers, vicious killing machines like Deathlok, which are engineered to enjoy killing and maiming. A battle with a rival cyborg destroys the mechanisms controlling Deathlok, allowing the human side to reassert itself, and the man inside to go on a quest to recover his humanity. In flavour, the strip very much resembled Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, with its cyborg hero, robotic killing machines and a city devastated by crime and political neglect. Unlike Robocop, which came out later, the strip made it deliberately unclear what the point of the War was, or even who soldiers like Deathlok had been created to fight. The suggestion was that it had all somehow been staged by the government, to divide, terrorise and rule.

There are no cyborgs slugging it out on the streets of Moscow or Kiev, but the depiction of ‘non-linear war’ looks exactly like the shattered America in Deathlok.

Tory Lies Drawing

Shifty Cameron, Austerity and the Enrichment of the already Wealthy

As for Cameron, he is indeed a protean, shape-shifting politicians, adopting guises only to abandon them when he got into power. Remember when he said that ‘this would be the greenest government ever?’ It didn’t take long for that to go once he got his foot through the front door of No. 10, along with his promises about the health service and the abandonment of the market economy so proclaimed by his mentor, Philip Blond, in his book, Red Tory.

The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich is not confusing by any means. It’s been a feature of American politics for decades, where the government has pursued a policy of austerity for the poor, and subsidies and tax breaks for the rich. It’s only confusing because the extremes of poverty and wealth created by the banking crisis has thrown into very acute relief.

Assad, Islamism and the Paradoxes of the Modern Middle East

As for Assad, this is the product of Western politicians genuinely not understanding the politics of the Middle East. They pursued idealistic goals that ran in direct contradiction to the perceived good of the nations to which they were applied. Assad and his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dictators, who held power through terror and brutality. Western governments see themselves as defenders of democracy and freedom, and so felt bound to support the popular revolts that broke out in the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’. Yet however undemocratic these regimes were, they were also secular, Westernising regimes that ostensibly promoted liberal policies of religious tolerance and personal freedom and relative gender equality to an extent which the Islamic and Islamist regimes that sought to replace them did not. The result has been the volte-face from seeking to oust Assad, to trying to combat his enemies in order to preserve his secular, Ba’ath regime.

Time to Reject Failed Neo-Liberalism

All of this has had a disempowering effect, because the parties have moved so close together, that there is little apparent difference between them. They are still attempting to apply discredited economic and foreign policies, while hiding their failures.

It’s long past the time when this situation changed, and politicians began thinking out of the Neo-Liberal box.

Vintage Curtis: The Power of Nightmares

January 23, 2015

This is an attempt to provide a fuller answer to the question Mike over at Vox Political posed in his post Terrorism, Islam, and the need to keep the Western world in fear. Mike suggested that politicians were exaggerating the scale of the threat from Islamist terrorists, and, for that matter, Russia, in order to keep us down. Ten years ago the Beeb’s Adam Curtis produced the documentary, The Power of Nightmares, arguing that this was precisely the case.

The Power of Nightmares: Politicians and the Use of the External Threat

The Power of Nightmares is a superb documentary. I found it stored at the Internet Archive. Broadcast eleven years ago, it was a series of 3 films titled Baby, It’s Cold Outside, The Phantom Victory and The Shadows in the Cave. The series examined the rise of the Neo-Cons in America, the origins of radical Islamism in the ideas of Sayyid Qutb and the War on Terror. Curtis took the view that the scale of the terrorist threat had been exaggerated out of all proportion to reality in order to serve the Neo-Cons’ right wing agenda. Politicians, according to Curtis, had used external threats to restore their own power and authority. Whereas once they power and prestige through offering the possibility of transforming the world for the better, people had now become disillusioned. In this post-ideological vacuum, politicians became mere managers. Now, by exploiting the fears of terrorism, and of terrible, unimaginable enemies that only they could correctly identify, they hoped to win back their status by presenting themselves as being the only people, who could protect us.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

In the first episode, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Curtis described the origins both of the Neo-Cons, and radical Islamism. The Neo-Cons were the followers of the philosopher Leo Strauss. Strauss believed that modern, liberal society had made Americans socially atomised, nihilistic and materialistic. He wished to counter this by stressing religion as a socially cohesive force, which could be used to unite America. His ideas were then taken over by Irving Kristol, a former liberal, who crossed over to the Dark Side following the race riots of the ’60s and ’70s. He believed that Liberalism itself was responsible for the breakdown and moral decline of American society. The Neo-Cons attempted to reverse this process, not only by using religion, but also by stressing the existence of an external threat. This would be used to unite Americans behind traditional, Conservative values, as well as restore American particularism – the view that America had a unique identity and duty to tackle evil in the world.

This external threat was the Soviet Union.

The Neo-Cons and the Demonisation of the USSR

Here, their ideas of the military power of the USSR was entirely illusory. The Neo-Cons were originally entirely cynical in their use of religion and the existence of an external threat. These were, to them, nothing more than Plato’s ‘Noble Lie’, a useful mythology to move the populace to a desired end. It did not matter whether the myth was factually true or not. As they became obsessed with finding evidence of Soviet military supremacy, they became convinced by their own propaganda.

This part of the film is blackly funny. The Neo-Cons hated Kissinger, because Kissinger was ruthless pragmatic. Kissinger did not believe in moral absolutes. He was merely interested in creating a stable world. He therefore signed the arms limitation agreements with the Brezhnev regime which formed the basis of the détente between America and the USSR. The Neo-Cons thus created ‘Team B’, to examine the military reports the government was using, but use them to show that in reality the Russians really were ahead of America. There was absolutely no evidence of this. And so the Neo-Cons decided that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. The absence of any evidence that the Soviet were superior, meant that they were so far ahead their weapon systems had evaded detection. The Americans had been unable to find any evidence that the Russians had acoustic detection equipment on their submarines. Instead of concluding, however, that this meant that they didn’t have any detection equipment, the Neo-Cons instead decided that the Soviets had something better, and so sophisticated, it was undetectable. Similarly, line of radar installations in the Soviet Far East were interpreted, not as anything as mundane as radar installations, but as a super-sophisticated laser weapon array. The Neo-Cons thought they finally had found the positive proof they needed when they discovered a document written by the CIA presenting the case that the Soviets were indeed militarily superior. Except that the CIA informed them that it was rubbish. They knew, because they’d written it, and it was nothing but black propaganda. They even brought out the document’s author, to tell the Neo-Cons that it was nonsense. But the Neo-Cons still wouldn’t believe it. The Neo-Cons had also managed to convince themselves that the USSR was responsible for the proliferation of Marxist terrorist organisations around the world, such as Germany’s notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang. Again, there was no evidence for this, and it was entirely illusory. Nevertheless, to the Neo-Cons it was a fact.

The Rise of Reagan

The Neo-Cons finally gained the power they craved when Reagan took office. Reagan had partly succeeded through an alliance with the American religious right. Believing that America was fundamentally corrupt, these had traditionally stood aloof from politics, as they did not wish to become entwined with such a corrupt system by voting. The Neo-Cons allied the religious Conservatives to oust more traditional Conservatives, who stressed personal freedom and choice. The film here includes footage of a Republican candidate stating his support for a woman’s right to choose on abortion being booed off the platform at a Republican convention. The result was the renewed Cold War in the 1980s, and the funding of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as part of Reagan’s confrontation with the Evil Empire.

Sayyid Qutb and Radical Islam

At the opposite political extreme were the radical Islamists, who took their ideas from Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was an Egyptian schoolteacher, who had gone to America in the 1950s to study the American way of life, and bring the lessons learned back to Egypt. He did, but they were lessons that the US definitely didn’t want to give. Like the Neo-Cons, he believed that American society was fundamentally rotten and materialistic. Americans pursued material goods, fussing over their lawns and consumer accessories. He was particularly shocked by a dance held in a church hall, which he described as being full of ‘love and lust’. While most Westerners would simply regard the dance as being entirely innocent, rather than any kind of orgy, to Qutb it was an example of the way Liberalism allowed people to give way entirely to their animal desires. And he definitely didn’t want this coming back to his homeland.

When he returned to Egypt, Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood. He wanted a morally regenerate, Islamic society, that would enjoy all the technological and scientific benefits of Western society, but would have none of the materialism or permissiveness of Western Liberalism. The Egyptian president, Gamal Nasser, was adamant that Egypt would be a secular society, and Qutb was imprisoned and tortured. His experiences in prison convinced Qutb that Western liberalism and democracy were fundamentally brutal. He formulated an ideology which advocated the formation of an elite, who would act as a revolutionary vanguard to create the new Islamic society. The Islamist revolutionaries believed that by adopting Western values of democracy, the country’s political leaders had betrayed Islam. And as Islam’s enemies, they deserved to be killed.

The Assassination of Sadat and Ayman Zawahiri

This doctrine resulted in the assassination of Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat. Qutb had been executed, and was succeeded as the leader of the Islamist revolutionaries by Ayman Zawahiri. Sadat was marked for assassination both because of the domestic corruption of his regime and because he signed the peace accords with Israel at Camp David. Sadat publicly denied any corruption, but in fact his administration was marked by the corrupt influence of six bankers. Rather than returning to the kind of arch-traditionalist Islam Zawahiri and the others wanted, he pursued an open-doors policy towards the West. His signing of the peace agreement with Israel was also seen, not as a heroic act of a genuine peacemaker, but as that of someone who had fundamentally betrayed Islam. As a result, the Islamists rose up and assassinated him.

They were profoundly disappointed with the result. The Muslim Brotherhood had believed that the assassination of the liberal, secular leaders would provoke the masses to rise up against the Westernised, secular society that had been imposed on them. But the Egyptian masses didn’t rise up, and the Islamists were rounded up, and put on trial. As a result, the Islamists pushed their doctrine further. They decided that the Jaihiliyya, the non-Islamic state of ignorance created by Westernisation had corrupted even the people themselves. Hitherto they had confined their violence to politicians. Now they argued that even members of the public should be killed as traitors to Islam.

The Phantom Victory: Afghanistan and the Fall of Communism

Episode 2: The Phantom Victory discussed the War in Afghanistan, and the Neo-Cons fall from power with the accession of George Bush snr and then Bill Clinton to the presidency. The Americans saw the War in Afghanistan as part of their crusade to destroy the Soviet Union. They therefore began to arm the Mujahideen. These were initially organised around Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar. Azzam, however, did not believe in killing non-combatants, and made his followers take an oath to that effect. In competition with Azzam, however, was a smaller group of Islamist rebels, the followers of Zawahiri, who were quite prepared to kill and murder innocents. These were the group Islamic Jihad. One of those idealistic Muslims, who went to Afghanistan to join the struggle against the Soviet, was Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was originally a follower of Azzam, but was seduced away from him to Zawahiri’s group. Complementing the fighters were many political dissidents, who had been released from prisons all over the Arab world in the hope that they would go to Afghanistan, and not come back.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, was acutely aware of the immense problems facing the Soviet Union. He believed that the USSR was in danger of imminent collapse, and so wished to push forward a comprehensive campaign of reform. In order to do so, he wished to withdraw from Afghanistan in order to concentrate on the USSR’s domestic problems. He therefore sought a negotiated peace with Reagan and the Mujahideen. But the Reagan administration would not make a deal, and Gorby was shocked by their intransigence. In the period following the Soviet withdrawal, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet bloc collapsed completely. Both the American Neo-Cons and the radical Islamists believed they had been responsible for the USSR’s collapse. But this was untrue. The USSR fell, not because of military defeat, but because the regime and society was fundamentally rotten.

George Bush Snr

Convinced of America’s special destiny to promote democracy and correct moral values in the world, the Neo-Cons wanted Bush’s regime to export it at gunpoint to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during Gulf War I. But Bush was, like Kissinger, another pragmatist, and so was content merely with freeing Kuwait, and containing Saddam. He did not want to change the Iraqi regime, and his supporters believed that, had he adopted this aim, America would still be in Iraq 14 years or so later.

Bill Clinton

The Neo-Cons were further disappointed when Clinton became president. Slick Willy had succeeded partly by winning over Republican supporters alienated by the religious influence on their party. The Neo-Cons saw him in the same Manichaean terms they applied to the Soviet Union – as the embodiment of evil itself. They therefore sought to blacken him anyway they could. Clinton was accused of multiple adultery, of fraudulent land deals in the Whitewater scandal, assassinating one of his aides, and smuggling drugs through an airport in Arkansas. These accusations all came from a minute American Conservative magazine, the American Spectator. With the exception of Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, none of this was true. And in the case of the Whitewater deal, the Clinton’s actually lost money. One of those speaking in the documentary about this was a former journalist on the magazine, who had initially believed these stories, but then came to repudiate them utterly.

The Brutal Collapse of Islamism in Algeria

The Islamists in the Middle East were also suffering their own setbacks. In Algeria, the Islamic party, the FLN, had won the first round of elections. They presented a challenge to democracy, as the Islamists wished to replace secular authority with that of the Qu’ran. This would effectively make political parties obsolete, as the Qu’ran could not be challenged as the source of law. The armed forces stepped in and seized power, rather than the secular society destroyed. The Islamist forces in their turn rose up against them. The result was a bloody civil war, in which the Islamists took to attacking and killing the civilians they felt had betrayed Islam by not supporting the revolution. The various Islamist militias were infiltrated by the Algerian armed forces, who turned them into committing increasingly extreme and horrific acts of terrorism. The intention was to turn ordinary Algerians away from these groups through disgust at the atrocities they were committing. The tactic succeeded, and the Islamists terrorists became ever more extreme. Finally they turned on each other. Each group believed that they, and only they, were the true Muslims. The end finally came with one Islamist group, led by a former chicken farmer, declaring that it and only it represented true Islam, and advocating the death of everybody else.

The Shadows in the Cave: Dubya and 9/11

Shadows in the Cave, the third and final film, took the story from the election of George ‘Dubya’ Bush
to the time the show was screened in 2004. As is now notorious, Dubya was another Neo-Con, and believed that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden really were at the centre of a vast, global terrorist network. This network was another illusion. There was just a number of different, radical Islamic groups, who used bin Laden as a source of funding. But bin Laden himself was in no way their leader. Rather, they were using him. The idea of a single terror network, al-Qaeda, really only appeared after 9/11, and was a result of the American legal system. In the aftermath, the Americans rounded up other Islamists, who had been complicit in the atrocity, with the aim also of convicting bin Laden himself. But the legislation under which the terrorists were tried had been put in place in order to deal with organised crime. In order to convict bin Laden, the authorities needed to prove that he was head of a distinct terrorist organisation with its own identity. And hence they produced al-Qaeda, which was largely a legal fiction. Bin Laden himself only started using the term after it was used by the Americans.

The 9/11 attack, rather than being a sign of the movement’s international strength, was even then the result of a small minority. Most of the Islamists in Afghanistan were radical nationalists, who wished to export the Islamic revolution to their own countries. However, rather than taking that step, bin Laden had gone for ‘the further enemy’ America.

The Northern Alliance: Dodgy Information and the Selling of Prisoners

In hunting down al-Qaeda, Americans also allied themselves with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, a group of warlords fighting the Taliban. They were given arms and money in return for intelligence and al-Qaeda prisoners. A total of a million dollars may have been given to them. But some of the information they supplied, and the prisoners they handed over, were much less than what they seemed.

Remember Tora Bora? Those were the caves in which bin Laden supposedly had his lair. The documentary includes footage of American news programmes, in which the caves were presented as a highly sophisticated complex, complete with separate living units, offices and replete with high-powered surveillance devices. The Americans duly bombed the caves, only to find to find that it was a simple series of caves. Some had been used to store equipment, but it was definitely not the underground Bond-villain style fortress it had been built up as.

As for the prisoners, many of whom may not have been directly involved in the attacks, but were shipped off to Gitmo anyway. It’s even doubtful how many of them were actually al-Qaeda terrorists. Some may just have been Arabs unlucky enough to have been picked off the street by the Northern Alliance to sell to the Americans.

The Hunt for Domestic Terrorists

The authorities were naturally keen to round up possible domestic terrorists. There developed a theory that there were a number of terrorist ‘sleeper cells’ in America, ready to rise up and commit further atrocities. Several of the Muslims arrested on suspicion of terrorism seem to have been innocent. There was a group of three men, who had gone away to a terrorist training camp, before returning to America. They were watched by the FBI for a year as suspected terrorists, but none of them did anything terrorist-related. In fact, one of them had been so desperate to get back to America, that he had actually feigned illness. Then one of them left for Bahrain, and sent his friends a letter, stating that he was getting married and would not see them for some time. The authorities swooped, believing that this was a code for a possible suicide attack on the American Gulf fleet. No, the message was as innocuous as it appeared. Rather than going to blow himself up, the man really had gone to get married, and so didn’t expect to see his friends for some time.

Another group were arrested after they filmed themselves going to Disneyworld. This was seen by the authorities, following their experience with criminals, as a kind of casing video, in which the suspected terrorists were looking for points of attack. They had disguised their actions, however, simply as a group of tourists making an ordinary video of their day. Other evidence was a doodle from the house they occupied, which was interpreted as a secret map of the defences of an American base in Turkey by its head of security. It wasn’t. Subsequent investigation showed it had been drawn by a madman a year previously. The man had occupied the same house, and was convinced he was head of the Yemeni security forces. He had drawn the doodle, which then got lost down the back of the furniture, until it was discovered by the FBI.

Other suspects included a group of young Muslims, who’d been out paintballing. This was again interpreted as terrorist training, but was in fact exactly what it appeared: a group of young guys out paintballing.

And some of the people making the accusations were themselves very dodgy. One was a Mr Mimzy. Mimzy was a multiply fraudster, wanted on 13 counts. In return for a lighter sentence, Mimzy made a deal with the Federal authorities in which he accused one of the supposed ‘terrorist’ groups above. They were arrested, but his evidence was thrown out after he was heard telling one of his fellow prisoners that he’d made it all up.

The Mirage of a Dirty Bomb

And then there was the furore about the terrible possibility Islamic terrorists could produce a ‘dirty bomb’. This was a conventional bomb that was designed to hurl amounts of radioactive material out with the explosion, to contaminate the surroundings. People were naturally afraid that such a device would be used, and they, their friends and families were suffer a long, lingering death from radiation sickness.

The federal authorities had prepared for that, and experts from the various atomic organisation simulated the result of such a bomb. They found that rather than cause mass death, it would be extremely surprising if a single person died. They found that it was possible people would suffer a massive, but non-fatal exposure to radiation, but only if they remained where they were for a long time.

A very long time.

About a year.

In reality, the bomb’s explosion would result in the material being so widely scattered and rarefied, that there simply would not be enough of it to cause serious harm, especially if the detonation zone was carefully clean up afterwards.

British Failures

And just in case we in Britain think that it’s only the Americans who got carried away with this, Curtis provided some domestic examples from Blair’s Britain. When Britain joined the hunt for bin Laden, it was with much fanfare. We were going to do better than the Americans, because of our long experience fighting terrorism in Northern Ireland. This didn’t fare much better either. Curtis shows footage of a British officer looking embarrassed as he admits that they haven’t found bin Laden, or captured any terrorists either. Of the 664 people arrested after 9/11 in London, all but a handful were guilty of no more than watching terrorist videos or reading their literature. Many of them were not actually terrorists at all. One of the Jihadis was the owner of a gym, which specialised in self-defence training. It was called ‘Ultimate Jihad Training’, but in reality its only client was a security guard, who wanted to learn how to defend himself at his job. The vast amount of terrorism in Britain was committed, not by Muslims, but by the Protestant and Roman Catholic paramilitaries in Ulster.

Curtis’ film argues that rather than really existing, Blair and the others had taken over the precautionary principle from the Green movement. This urged that even if there was no evidence of a threat, one should nevertheless be prepared for the very worst, and take precautions. The result was politicians imagining a series of terrible threats and events, for which there was no evidence. He contrasted the panic sweeping Britain with the relative calm in Spain. Despite the horrors of 7/7, the Spanish had not panicked and become afraid their entire society was under threat. He concluded that, while there clearly was a threat of Islamist terrorism, and there had been legitimate reasons for suspecting some of those arrested as terrorists, Bush, Blair and the other politicos had massive overstated the extent of the threat. A threat existed, but we were actually quite safe.

The series can be found at:

https://archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares-Episode1BabyItsColdOutside

It’s very well worth watching.