Posts Tagged ‘Arctic’

The Rise and Fall of Modern Architecture, Environmentalism and a Humane Planned Environment

July 14, 2019

Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture, by Douglas Murphy (London: Verso 2016).

This is one of the books I’ve been reading recently, and it’s fascinating. It’s about the rise and fall of Modern architecture, those grey, concrete, Brutalist eyesores that were built from the 1950s onwards. This book shows how they were seen at the time as the architecture of the future, widely praised and admired until opposition against this type of architecture came to head in the 1970s.

Megastructures’ Design and Ideology in the Age of Space Travel and the Car

Murphy shows that this type of architecture drew its inspiration from space travel, as well as underwater exploration. It was optimistic, and came from a time when it was believed that the bureaucratic state could plan and build better communities. In Britain part of its stimulus came from the massive congestion in British towns caused by the growth in motor traffic. With the number of motor vehicle accidents rising, The British government published a report recommending the clearance of the older areas of towns. Pedestrians and motor vehicles were to be kept separate. There were to be submerged roads and motorways, while pedestrians were given raised walkways and under- and overpasses. At the same time, the post-war housing crisis was to be solved. Homes were to be made as cheaply as possible, using the methods of industrial production. Concrete panels and other items were to be prefabricated in factories, and then assembled on site by smaller crews of workers than traditionally used in house-building. The masses were to be housed in new estates, or projects in America, and most notoriously in tower blocks. Architects also drew their inspiration from the American architect and guru, Buckminster Fuller and his massive geodesic domes. A series of world expos from the 1930s onwards across the world portrayed megastructures as the architecture of a brilliant future of space colonisation. Giant metal frames were to be built above the cities themselves. As it was believed that society was going to be more mobile, ‘plug-in’ cities were designed. In Archigram’s design of that name, cranes would move along these frames, building and tearing down new structures as and when they were needed. This idea reached its culmination in architectural designs in which the space-frame was all there was, the interior occupied by nomadic hippies. In Britain, the architect Cedric Price to the logic of structures that could be easily altered and rearranged to logical extreme. His design for a new university campus, the Potteries Thinkbelt, was based in a railway yard, so that trains could haul around the various structural elements and place them in new configurations as required.

The architecture for these projects threatened to be monotonous, so architects attempted to provide for this. The Habitat 67 building designed by the Israeli-Canadian architects, Moshe Safdie, was modular. Each element was a self-contained box. However, these could be added and arranged in a number of different ways to create flats of different dimension, in an overall block of great complexity. A Dutch architect believed that the solution was for the state to provide the frame work for a housing block, with the residents building their own homes to their tastes. Another British architect, designing a housing block in one of the northern cities, tried to solve this by opening an office in the city, where people could drop in and give him their ideas, criticisms and suggestions. The result was a long, concrete block of housing, which nevertheless had some variety. At points there were different designs in the concrete, and woods of different colours were also used in some places.

Geodesic Domes and Space Age Megacities

There were also plans to use geodesic domes to allow the construction of massive cities in places like the arctic. One plan for a town in the Canadian north had it lying under an inflatable dome to protect it from the harsh environment. The town would be located near a harbour, to provide easy communications with the rest of Canada. It would be heated using the water used to cool the nuclear reactor, that would provide it with its power. People would enter and leave it through airlocks, and to cope with the sixth-month long darkness of the arctic winter, a powerful lamp would be mounted on tracks above the dome to provide an artificial sun, and thus simulate daylight in temperate regions. And to cope with the white nights of the arctic summer, the glass panels in the dome would darken to simulate evening and night in temperate climes. The French submarine explorer and broadcaster, Jacques Cousteau, was involved in a plan to build a floating city off Monte Carlo. Buckminster Fuller himself had plans to enclose Manhattan under a massive dome. There were plans for pyramid cities the size of mountains, along with the arcologies of Paul Soleri. These were also mountain-sized, but resembled termite mounds.

Modernism and the Green Movement

The architects of these cities were also deeply influenced by the nascent green movement, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. This predicts the fall of civilisation some time before 2100, due to population exceeding food production, environmental degradation and resource depletion. These environmental concerns were taken up by the hippies, many of whom deliberately chose the dome as the architecture of their communes. They wanted a technological future in which humanity lived in harmony with nature. The communalist movement in the US produced the massive influential Whole Earth Catalogue, which spread its ideals and methods to a wider audience.

Decline and Abandonment

But this modernist vision fell out of favour in the 1970s through a number of factors. The commune movement collapsed, and its members drifted off to join the mainstream, where many became the founders of the IT revolution. The social changes that the megastructures were intended to provide for didn’t occur. There were a series of scandals following disasters at some of these structures, such as the fire at the Summerland holiday resort in the Isle of Man, which killed fifty people. Much of this new housing was shoddily built, using dangerous and substandard materials. In some instances there was corruption between the builders and local politicians. They were also blamed for increased social problems, like crime. At the same time, grass roots activists protested against the destruction of already living, working class communities in the name of progress. There was also widespread scepticism at the ability of the bureaucratic state to plan successful new cities and estates. And for a moment it seemed that the collapse of civilisation predicted by the Club of Rome wasn’t going to happen after the passing of the energy crisis and the oil boom of the 1980s. At the same time, much of the antipathy towards concrete housing blocks in the West was simple Conservative anti-Communism because they resembled those of eastern Europe, where the same views and techniques had been adopted.

These result was that Modernist architecture fell out of favour. Many of the housing estates, tower blocks, town centres and university campuses built in it were demolished or else heavily modified. In its place emerged post-modernism, which consciously drew on the architecture of past age and was itself largely a return to the French style of architecture that existed from the late 19th century to the First World War. This had been abandoned by some progressive and socialist architects because they felt that it had expressed and embodied the capitalist values that had produced that War. Thatcher and the Tories enthusiastically supported this attack on architectural Modernism, and the emphasis that was placed instead on the home represented the return of the Conservative values of family and heritable property.

The only remnants of Modern architecture are now the High-Tech buildings of the modern corporate style, as well as shopping malls, airports, and university campuses, while the environmental domes intended to preserve nature, which are ultimate descended from the Stuttgart Winter Garden, built in 1789, and the Crystal Palace, have survived in the notorious Biosphere experiments in the 1990s, which collapsed due to internal wrangling among other things.

Biodomes and the Corporate Elite

While Murphy is scathing about some of the projects he discusses – he rails against the domed arctic city as trite and resembling something out of 2nd-rate Science Fiction novels – he warns that the problems this style of architecture was designed to solve has not gone away. Although widely criticised, some of the predictions in Limits to Growth are accurate and by rejecting Modernist architecture we may be closing off important solutions to some of these problems. The environmental dome has returned in plans by the new tech companies for their HQs, but they are shorn of the underlying radical ideology. And as the unemployment caused by automation rises and the environment continues to deteriorate, biodomes will only be built for the corporate rich. They will retreat to fortress cities, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Conclusion: Modernist Planning Still a Valid Approach in Age of Mass Unemployment and Environmental Crisis.

It’s a fascinating book showing the links between architecture, politics, environmentalism and the counterculture. While it acknowledges the defects of this style of architecture, the book also shows clearly how it was rooted in an optimistic view of human progress and the ability of the bureaucratic state to provide suitable housing and institutional buildings to serve its citizens’ needs. And it does a very good job at attacking the Tories’ abandonment of such schemes in the name of the free market. Much of the architecture of this style is, in my opinion, still monumentally ugly, but some of it sounds awesome. Like the domed city of the arctic north. It is a space-age city, and one that could be easily built on the Moon or elsewhere. For all the author’s denunciations of it, I found its design highly inspiring. And I believe him to be right about the intentions of the global elite to hide in their private fortified cities if and when the policies they have demanded and implemented cause the environment and civilisation to collapse.

This is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. We need to get the corporatists and neo-liberals out, and proper Green governments in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Britain Aims for Communications Contract for Moon Space Station

July 14, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Saturday 13th July 2019, also carried from encouraging space news in an article page 13, ‘UK seeks to play key mission role’ by Jamie Harris. This reported that Britain is trying to get the communications contract for a space station around the Moon. The article ran

Britain hopes to provide essential communication between the Moon and scientists back on Earth as multinational plans to build a new space station get under way.

The UK Space Agency is bidding for a slice of key activity on the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway, which is intended to serve as laboratory and short-term accommodation post for astronauts.

In November, the next round of funding decisions will be determined by the European Space Agency, of which Britain is a member.

Guildford-based SSTL is bidding to be technology provider for communications, allowing astronauts and rovers on the Moon to send data.

Sue Horne, the head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: “We’d like to do the communications system and the refuelling element. On the refuelling, it is probably fifty-fifty. We have a much better chance of getting the communications.”

News that the space authorities are considering building a lunar space station were revealed last week by the head of Human Resources for the British Space Agency in Swindon on The One Show. The show was doing an item on women in space, presented by Carol Vorderman. It was part of the season of features celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landings. The programme discussed women’s contribution to the American space programme. It was a female engineer, who devised the rocket fuel that allowed the Americans to launch their first space probe, Explorer 1, successfully. It was a female nutritionist, who came up with the idea that astronauts should eat good, nutrious, tasty and varied meals. That’s obviously important, because for people working in isolated, dangerous environments, like the poles, meal times can become the highlight of the day and they’re important in keeping up morale. The programme also mentioned that the number of female employees at NASA has grown from a handful when it began, to 40 per cent now.

The HR head added that the British space programme was set to expand, and stated that there were plans to build a lunar space station. Which is why the British equivalent of NASA, based in Swindon, was expanding. And they were looking for all kinds of people, not just scientists and engineers.

So, with luck, there could be some fascinating and inspiring careers in space research for some people! 

The item did not, however, mention some other instances where women, including those from ethnic minorities, were involved in the American space programme. Like the ladies, who trained as Mercury astronauts before the Agency decided that they weren’t going to send women into space, or the group of Black female mathematicians, who did the calculations for the Moon landings. These ladies must have been absolutely brilliant, because the maths behind space travel can be terrifyingly hard. Let’s face it: it is rocket science! But I guess these pieces were left out as there have already been a number of books and features about them already. There has even been a female about the Black lady mathematicians.

I’m extremely encouraged by the news that humanity is planning to return to the Moon, fifty years after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and co. set foot, and I really hope that this time Britain will be there also in some capacity.

Radio 4 Programme on British Invasion of Russia to Overthrow Russian Revolution

October 13, 2017

Also on Radio 4 next week, on Friday, 20th October 2017 at 11.00 am., is a programme on the British invasion of Russia. This followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917, and was intended to overthrow the new Communist regime. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times states

The story of a little-known war that took place a century ago along the frozen rivers of the Russian Arctic and transformed Russia’s relations with the West for decades to come. After the October Revolution, thousands of foreign troops under British command fought Russians on Russian soil for more than 18 months. Lucy Ash meets the 93-year-old son of General Edmund Ironside, who wrote at the time that he was in charge of “a tiny army of not very first class troops” stranded in the icy vastness of Russia “in the midst of a bitter civil war”. (Page 139).

Again, there’s a bit more information on the facing page, 138, written by Tom Goulding. This reads

The UK’s relationship with Russia has always seemed cold – coloured by by decades of menacing but empty rhetoric on both sides. so it’s often overlooked that just under 100 years ago a real and bloody conflict took place between Britain and the Bolsheviks in the frozen Arctic. Journalist Lucy Ash investigates this infamous incursion of British boots on Russian soil by speaking to the 93-year-old son of Edmund Ironside, the general who led Churchill’s crusade to put down the fledgling Bolshevik state. The intervention was a disaster, and the resulting mistrust between the two countries looms large to this day.

With 20/20 hindsight, it could be said that it’s a pity that the invasion didn’t succeed. The Bolsheviks were authoritarians from the start. They suppressed the other political parties and organisations, including left-wing and socialist groups such as the Mensheviks, Trudoviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Strict discipline was reintroduced, and the Bolsheviks reinstated the same proprietors and managers to manage the factories and other industrial concerns that they’d nationalised, against the desires of the anarchists, syndicalists and Left Communists, who wished to create a genuine worker’s state with worker’s control of industry. These were also suppressed, and their leaders and members arrested.

And if Bolshevik rule had been overturned, the Nazis may never have come to power as there would not have been a Communist threat that they could claim to be protecting Germany and the upper and middle classes from. And Stalin would not have come to power, to kill and imprison something like 30 million Soviet citizens – although some estimates put the death toll higher at 45 million – in the gulags and purges.

On the other hand, the Whites were also extremely brutal and oppressive. They, like the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, also held out the prospect of restoring democracy. However, the leader of one of the White counter-revolutionary bands was a maniac, who I think believed himself to be Jesus Christ or Buddha – or both. This butcher used to throw cold water over his prisoners’ naked bodies in the depths of the Russia winter so that they froze to death, and snap pieces of their bodies. Tony Greenstein in a recent blog post describes how the Zionist leaders approached another anti-Semitic White General, Petlyura, about sending Jews from Russia to Palestine. The Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov vividly describes the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence during the Civil War in the Ukraine in his classic, The White Guard, adapted from his play, The Days of the Turbins. He mentions the lynching of Jews by the peasants, and one of the characters killed by the mob in this way is a Jewish man, whose only crime was to have left his home to try to buy food and medicine for his family.

And if you read accounts of the Russian Revolution, it’s very clear why the peoples of the Russian Empire rose up, even if they mostly didn’t support Lenin and the Bolsheviks: they were pushed to the end of their tether through losing a war for which the ordinary squaddies were poorly treated and equipped, and by social conditions of horrendous poverty and near starvation in industry and the countryside. Russia was beset by strikes, and their were hundreds of peasant uprisings that occurred one after the other in the Russian countryside.

As for the British invasion, it seems to me it had two objectives. These were to keep the Russians in the War, fighting the Germans and Austrians, and to overthrow the Bolshevik state as a threat to capitalism. I dare say that it was accompanied with claims that it was about defending democracy, but as it wasn’t until the ’20s that all men got the vote regardless of property qualifications, and women finally gained the suffrage, such claims are probably rather specious.

Pat Mills, in one of the interviews I put up a few weeks ago, mentioned that he wrote a story for the First World War strip, Charlie’s War, in the comic Battle, which dealt with the British invasion of Russia. Mills is very left-wing, and says in the interview that the British officers ‘behaved like animals’. Which I don’t doubt they did, considering the stupid brutality they later unleashed in Ireland during their Revolution, though this was mostly done by the auxiliary units, the Black and Tans, rather than the regular army.

North Dakota Oil Pipeline: Company Destroys Native Burial Sites

September 10, 2016

If true, this is pure barbarism. I blogged earlier this week about protests by Native Americans about the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which is intended to carry oil through the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux people. The tribe are opposing it, as they fear that the pipeline will lead to the pollution of their water supply and the destruction of their lands and its ecosystem. In this piece from Democracy Now!, the anchor Amy Goodson speaks to the tribe’s lawyer, Jan Hasselman, from the chambers Earthjustice, and the tribe’s chairman Dave Archambault.

The oil company has tried a number of tactics to try to close down and disrupt the protests. They local sheriff and officials have pulled cellphone access over the area, to stop citizens uploading videos of the protests to the internet. They’ve also attacked the protesters with dogs and pepper spray. There’s video footage of the bites some of the protesters received from one of the animals, with blood dripping from the muzzle of a Doberman Pinscher. The oil company has also tried to destroy the ancient burials on the site, which Mr Hasselman was hoping to use as part of his case against the development.

Mr Hasselman and a team of archaeologists surveyed the site to show that there were Native American archaeological remains, some of them very rare, in the area which was scheduled for digging. These included the burials. They submitted these to the court in the hope that the judge would therefore rule that digging could not go ahead under the relevant legislation protecting ancient monuments in America and desecrating burial sites. The reverse happened. The company took the information, and used it as a guide to the location of the remains. They then sent the bulldozers in to destroy them. They did so in front of the protesters, and when they moved to protect the monuments, the security guards set the dogs on them and attacked them with mace.

Here’s the report.

This is outrageous on so many levels. It’s disgusting when anyone’s graves are desecrated. It is particularly outrageous when it’s deliberately done by a multimillion, if not multibillion dollar company against an impoverished community in a deliberate attempt to destroy their past for corporate profit. I have a postgraduate qualification in Archaeology from Bristol University. When I was on the course, a number of the other students I met were archaeologists from the other side of the Atlantic – America and Canada. Several of them had worked studying ancient First Nation American and Canadian remains. One young woman had designed a heritage park for one of the local peoples in southeast America. Another young man had also worked in Canada, prospecting ahead of the oil companies on the Canadian prairie for palaeoindian remains. And another young woman had been part of an expedition to the Canadian arctic to study Inuit monuments.

There is a wealth of fascinating archaeology from the indigenous American and Canadian cultures, which archaeologists have recovered and from which they are still learning. This archaeology is often not fully appreciated, even by the local people, to whom it really belongs, as for years the American and Canadian governments and some religious organisations, Such as the Roman Catholic missions in the American South West, did their level best to destroy the indigenous culture. In Canada, this was most notoriously through the government boarding schools, which were designed to isolate Native children from their ancestral culture and inculcate in them the culture, including clothing and language, of the White majority. The same policy was adopted in Australia against the Aboriginal people. As a result, some First Nation peoples tragically have only a very hazy idea of their traditional culture and the meaning of the monuments their ancestors created and left behind. I believe such a policy today of trying to destroy the Native people’s ancestral way of life would count as genocide under international human rights legislation.

Because of the historic injustice against these communities, excavation of these sites is extremely sensitive and, in Canada, they’re very strongly protected. The lad, who worked on the prairie informed me that he was working to make sure that there were no ancient Indian artifacts around before the oil companies moved in to extract oil from the shale geology of the area. If just one flint arrowhead was found, the area was a protected site and no development could go ahead. He also told me of some of the ceremonies that had to be carried out, and in which the archaeologists conducting the excavation, had to take part according to tribal religion. The archaeologists exploring ancient Sioux burial grounds, for example, had to be ‘smudged’ by the tribe’s shaman. ‘Smudging’ is something like Christian exorcism, but also rather different. The excavators and investigators, including those just handling the remains and writing up the notes, had to be anointed on their wrists and neck with buffalo grease by the local shaman for as long as the excavation lasted. This obviously made washing and personal cleanliness difficult, but it had to be done. The archaeologists were after all investigating another people’s culture, and so had to respect it.

Because archaeological remains are scarcer in America and Canada, because of the sparser population before the European conquest, excavations are carried out with a greater thoroughness than in Britain and Europe. They may take longer, and are done in finer detail than is frequently possible across the Atlantic.

Now it seems remains of immense cultural, spiritual and personal value to Sioux people, as well as of inestimable scientific value to archaeologists, has been destroyed for no reason other than to spite the protesters and their supporters, and prevent proper investigation by the courts. Several of the faculty at Bristol uni were members of, or had personal connections to, the World Heritage Organisation. Archaeologists, like other academics, travel all over the world to excavate and teach. So you can bet that scholars across the world have heard of this attack through their organisations, colleagues and students. And they aren’t going to be impressed.

Emma Thompson: Trump and Nigel Farage are white Nationalists

August 27, 2016

Earlier this week Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP until he sort of resigned, but didn’t quite, appeared at a Trump rally in Mississippi to give his support to Trump. Sort of. He never actually told the assembled crowd that he would vote for Trump. Rather, he said that if he were an American, he wouldn’t vote for Hillary ‘if you paid me’. He then told the assembled Trumpists that they could defy the polls and win, just like Britain defied the polls and won with Brexit.

Amy Goodwin, one of the main anchors with Democracy Now!, discussed this with the veteran British thesp, Emma Thompson. Thompson had been in the arctic, and so hadn’t been around when Farage made his pronouncement. Asked for her reaction, Thompson declares that it was frightening, because Farage and Trump were both ‘nationalists- White nationalists’. She was shocked that Trump didn’t accept the reality of global warming, and declared that she was amazed that anyone who had anything between their ears didn’t believe in it, when 98 per cent of the world’s climate scientists did. This included that IPCC, which usually offered only mild criticism. Even they realised we were in serious trouble. She stated that one good reason for voting for Hillary was because she did believe in climate change.

It’s quite a messy little interview. When challenged by Goodwin over what she meant by ‘White nationalist’, Thompson doesn’t answer the question and carries on talking. She’s still talking when the titles start rolling and Goodwin has to cut her off.

I think she’s right about Trump being a White nationalist. He does have very strong racial views against Mexicans and Muslim immigration, even if he tries to camouflage it with claims that Blacks and Hispanics really love him. A similar racism did fuel the Brexit campaign and is evident in much of Bilious Barrage’s party, UKIP, despite its repeated claim that it won’t tolerate members, who have been members of the Fascist Right.

The reference to the arctic I think refers to a film Thompson has been making on the effects of climate change on the environment in that region. About this, I doubt, however, that Shrillary will be much better than Trump. She accepts the reality of climate change, but my guess is that she’s too much of a corporate shill beholden to the big energy companies and Wall Street ever to want to do much to curb their depredations on the environment. Anyone seriously interested in Green issues and tackling climate change would probably be better voting for Jill Stein and the Greens.

And finally, there’s Farage’s presumption in telling Americans how to vote. Talking about this with Mum the other day, she reckoned it was ‘a bit of a cheek’. It is. No nation likes being told which way to vote by foreigners. I remember the time over a decade ago when the Guardian – or was it the Observer – was so horrified by the prospect of Bush winning the election that they organised a mass letter writing campaign to voters in one of the counties in Ohio, on the grounds that this district had just the right number of voters to swing the vote. This had the opposite effect. Good patriotic Americans were duly royally annoyed at being told what to do by the Limeys again, 200 years after throwing us out. The result was a landslide for Bush, and much hilarity on Have I Got News For You when they covered the story.

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

July 14, 2016

Anti-Nato Headline

Russian anti-US Cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empire Files: The Tyranny of Big Oil

January 19, 2016

This is another excellent video from the Empire Files. In this edition, the presenter, Abby Martin, discusses the power and corruption at the heart of the industry, from the emergence of the first oil monopoly under the Rockefellers, to the effect control of the market, the economy and US and global politics by a few firms, such as Standard Oil, Chevron, Mobil and, of course, BP. These firms have reaped massive profits, and are able to act with impunity to trash the environment, and destroy lives and livelihoods by buying the loyalty of politicians in both the Republican and Democrat parties. Through their influence in the media and in academia, they suppress or distort climate science to allow the continuing massive destruction of Earth’s fragile ecosystem through oil spills, global warming and the effects of fracking.

Martin begins by describing how oil wealth is at the very heart of US imperialism. Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Qatar have all been set up as ‘oil monarchies’ founded on its power. She describes how John D. Rockefeller climbed to his position as the world’s first oil billionaire through strong arm tactics used against the other oil firms. Rockefeller was the owner and founder of Standard Oil. He made a deal with the railway companies, which he used to force the other companies in the nascent oil companies to sell up to him. When this didn’t work, he bought their pipelines, and then used his power there to force them to give in. Eventually, Standard Oil owned 90% of all US refineries, and had a workforce of about 150,000 men. Rockefeller was, unsurprisingly, bitterly anti-union, and so they had no union representation. And since him the power of the oil tycoons subverts democracy in the US and imperils the Earth.

Martin then interviews Antonia Juhasz, the author of the book, The Tyranny of Oil, written during the final years of the Bush administration about the massive political, human rights’ and economic abuses of the oil industry. She states that Obama is not as tied to the oil industry as Bush was, but nevertheless he was not confronting the industry’s power. She then moved on to discuss the rise of deep drilling in oil rigs off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The age of easy oil, where all you had to do was stick a pipe into the ground and out it would come is over. Most of the world’s oil is already claimed, and that which isn’t, is difficult to get to. As a result, oil drilling went further out into the ocean and deeper. And the results were blow-outs and spills. Such as the BP blowout in 2012. This resulted in the deaths of a million birds. To disperse the oil, 2 million gallons of a chemical were used which made it 42% more toxic. It also caused the deaths of eleven men. During the investigation it became clear that BP actually had no plans what to do in the eventuality of a spill. They simply counted on learning it ‘on the fly’. And the result was the world’s largest offshore oil spill to date. Juhasz states that she herself saw some of the resulting ecological devastation from a submarine. All the local wildlife that could get out of the area, did. The animals and plants that couldn’t, in her words, ‘were nuked’. There’s nothing down there except a tarry blanket of oil that will be there forever.

Martin also has as another of her speakers the left-wing journalist, Greg Palast. He reveals that BP had a spill 17 months previously in the Caspian Sea. This was covered up by the company itself, the Azerbaijani government – which he terms the Islamic Republic of Azerbaijan, because it’s so completely owned by BP – and also the American government’s State Department under Condoleeza Rice. Why the American government? Because the spill was partly due to BP using an American quick-drying cement. Despite this, the US Defense Department doubled their contracts with BP.

The Gulf Coast blow-out cost BP $17 billion in fines. This is a staggering amount of money, but not nearly as much as the company should have been fined. The Bush administration passed a number of extremely strict environmental laws. If these had been properly applied, then BP would have been hit with a fine of $200 billion. This would have made it difficult for the company to continue operating. As it was, the company said that the fine they eventually got was ‘manageable’.

The programme also discusses the immense political power the oil industry has through the banking lobby, and the power of the big corporations over the Senate. In the early part of last century, pressure from the Progressive Party and mass protests and agitation caused the US government to pass the anti-trust laws and break up Standard Oil, not least because they also wanted to destroy the unions. This was fragmented into 34 separate companies. These, however, are beginning to coagulate and reform back into a single giant trust as they merge and buy each other out. BP was a prime example of this. The company only got into America because it bought a US company, Arco. By the time Standard Oil had been broken up in 1911, Rockefeller was the world’s first billionaire. At that time the world’s oil industry was owned by only three dynasties – the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds and the Dutch royal family.

This dependence on oil and the power of the oil industry has shaped the structure of American cities. The oil industry has done everything it can to destroy public transport systems. In 1949 the system of streetcars in one US city was destroyed through illegal action taken jointly by General Motors and the oil industry. The legislation passed to protect the environment contains massive exemptions for the oil industry. The corruption goes deep into government. Three of every four lobbyist for dirty energy used to work for the US government. 430 + congressmen have ties to the oil industry. And the industry has already given $35 million to political candidates for 2016. Dick Cheney was part of the industry, duly drafting legislation in its favour. Condoleeza Rice sat on the board of Chevron. And under Obama America has become the world’s top producer of oil and gas.

The programme then moves on to fracking, and the disastrous effects this has had on North Dakota. This state has been overnight transformed into an oil-producing environment. It contrasts with the other areas, where the industry has been around longer and so people have had time to get used to it and organise resistance. The state’s beautiful countryside of rolling hillsides and buttes, including a Native American reservation, are now disrupted by flaring, in which natural gas is burnt off. In neighbouring Oklahoma there have been 600 earthquakes in a single year due to the dumping of the waste water produced by fracking.

As for politics and the oil industry, the programme states that the oil industry now is the American political process. It’s not as bad under Obama as it was under Bush. Then big oil was the American government. The power of the oil industry is still there, but it’s now more subtle. Palast describes how every Republican candidate in the US elections is frantically in favour of the Excel pipeline, to the point where one of them even said that ‘you have to love it.’ This is directly due to the Koch brothers. The Koch brother bought a big refinery on the coast. However, there are laws that prevent them from using Texan oil. So they have to import ‘heavy’ oil from elsewhere. This is either Venezuela, where they’ll have to try to remove opposite by ousting Chavez or Madura, or to import it from Canada. This is the Excel pipeline, from which the Koch brothers will each get an extra $1 billion a year. Just as the Republicans are connected to the oil companies, so the Democrats have their links to BP. Obama has approved drilling in the Arctic. Palast describes how he was at one of the communities that may be affect, Qoqtovik, where he was told by one of the local Inuit that if drilling started, ‘it was over for them as a people there’. And if there is a spill in the arctic, it’ll go under the ice cap all the way to Norway.

Martin and her guests also discuss why it is Americans are so ignorant about climate change. The problem is that the oil industry buys up America’s academics. Palast states that almost every biologist in America is on BP’s payroll through grants from the Lawrence Livermore laboratory, which were donated by BP. And what happened to biology has also happened to climate science. The oil industry will also exaggerate the importance and status of dissenting scientists through the press. One flagrant example of this was when NPR, which Palast calls National Petroleum Radio, stated that the oil spill in the Gulf would be eaten by ‘oil-eating’ bacteria. This piece of disinformation came courtesy of a $1/2 billion grant to Lawrence Livermore by BP. The press, however, never informed its readers that the release and the science was paid for by that company. America no longer has an investigative press. They simply state that some people say this, while other have an opposite opinion.

Another example of corporate control over academia was in the case of Von Heerden, a meteorologist at Louisiana’s Hurricane Center. One month before Hurricane Katrina hit, Von Heerden warned that New Orleans could be under water due to the oil industry’s destruction of the neighbouring mangrove swamps for 100 miles. And 30 days later, New Orleans was under water. Instead of celebrating this man for his warning and efforts to save the city, the state closed down the Hurricane Centre and replace it with a Wetlands Centre. This was due to the state receiving a massive cheque from the oil companies, who specified that they would also choose the staff to be employed in the new Centre.

And globally the environmental damage from the oil industry is devastating, to the point where the future of the planet is in grave danger. The UN in 2015 stated for the very worst effects of climate change to be avoided, three-quarters of the world’s fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Yet in the US alone there have been 20,000 oil spills a year. In the Niger Delta they have had to put up with the consequences of the devastation equivalent to an Exxon-Mobil spill every year for the past fifty years, due to untouchable oil corporations. In 2013, 1.15 million gallons of oil was spilled due to derailed trains. The preferred mode of transport for the oil industry nevertheless remains road. From 2008 to 2012 550 workers in the oil industry were killed in industrial accidents. This is a deathrate eight times higher than the other industries. And yet the world’s use of oil is completely unnecessary. Stanford University developed a plan to transfer America entirely to renewable energy, state by state, by 2050. The cost of the Iraq War alone could have financed the world’s transition to renewables. However, the power of the oil industry will only be destroyed when the power of the American Empire is also destroyed.