Posts Tagged ‘California’

Counterpunch on California Healthcare Workers Defending Immigrants and Demanding Single-Payer Healthcare

March 2, 2017

This sort of leads on from my last post, in which I blogged about Kyle Kulinski reporting on initiatives into introduce single-payer healthcare in California on his show, Secular Talk. There’s a fascinating piece in today’s Counterpunch by Cal Winslow reporting that the Californian trade union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, have declared that they will resist attempts by the Trump regime to deport undocumented immigrant members of their organisation. Winslow writes

Thirteen thousand members of the California-based National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) have taken the resistance movement a step further by declaring themselves a “sanctuary union.”

After a series of union-wide meetings, NUHW joined the growing network of sanctuary institutions last month by pledging to do everything within its power to “ensure the safety and security of all members of our community regardless of their immigration status.” This means the union “will not voluntarily cooperate with federal agents to enforce immigration laws.”

Immigrant labor is vital to patient care. American hospitals and nursing homes employ workers from around the globe, and membership reflects that diversity.

“Many of our members and their patients are undocumented immigrants, or have family members who are undocumented,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “We have a responsibility to protect and defend them.”

The union has also passed a resolution supporting Medicare For All in California, and are working with two Democrat state senators to achieve this.

Our union has been leading on this issue since the early 1990s and we reaffirmed our support for universal coverage earlier this year. We define real healthcare reform as Medicare for All — a single-payer system. In the 1990s there were initiatives on the California ballot toward accomplishing Medicare for All and other patient protections. We worked with scores of organizations to craft and advocate for those initiatives, but none became law.

Now, we have a new opportunity — even with all the things that are happening with the federal government and Obamacare. We have an opportunity in California to quickly achieve major healthcare reform for everyone in the state. State Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) have introduced legislation that we strongly support. This is the way for California to get ahead of the curve and avoid the catastrophe of millions of people losing access to care. And if we can accomplish this in California, which has about 12 percent of the nation’s population, why not the whole country?

In the interview, Rosselli also talks about what his union is doing to protect immigrant workers from persecution by Trump, including using law firms to defend them in the courts. The union is also pressing to give people the same access to mental health care and the struggle they have had to achieve this with Kaiser Permanente. Equal access to mental healthcare is particularly under threat from Trump’s repeal of Obamacare.

Rosselli states that his union is part of the growing resistance to Trump, and they see their role as empowering and educating their workers about the issues confronting them.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/02/healthcare-workers-proclaim-sanctuary-union-push-for-medicare-for-all-in-california/

The reference to Kaiser Permanente is also relevant to the British debate about the involvement of private medicine, as the Blairites’ and the Tories’ break up of the NHS into Community Care Groups, and the use of referral centres to double check the cost efficiency of sending patients to particular hospitals, is based very much on the system of Managed Care set up by Kaiser Permanente. The morons and corporate whores in New Labour thought it was more efficient. It isn’t. It’s less so, but gives power to private healthcare providers and insurance companies. It also adds another layer of bureaucracy to the NHS while opening the door to the privatisation of much of its infrastructure. Which is what the Blairites intended.

Secular Talk: California Moves to Introduce Single-Payer Healthcare

March 2, 2017

In this clip from Secular Talk, host Kyle Kulinski comments on a move by politicos in California to introduce single-payer healthcare. He states that it’s been a great week for such initiatives. His show had already covered the way a crowd of Republicans at a town hall meeting in the American south had cheered when a Christian lady stated that, as a Christian, she believed her country should introduce ‘Medicare for all’. Later in the clip, Kulinski reports how poll research has shown that support for the government ensuring that all Americans have healthcare has now grown to 60 per cent. This is something of a recovery, as 64 per cent of Americans had supported this statement, but this had then dropped much lower. Kulinski says that he used to believe that single-payer healthcare should be introduced at the federal level. However, Conservatives object to this on the grounds of states’ rights, feeling that the power here should be kept to the local state authorities. Kulinski feels that we should now meet them halfway on this. It will, however, be extremely difficult to do it this way, as the healthcare companies, big pharma and the other corporate interests realise they will lose some of their profits if single-payer is introduced. So they will do everything they can to prevent it, just as they have done with the other states that have tried to introduce it.

Kylinski is still optimistic, as he feels that if anyone can do it, California can simply because of the state’s size. And he looks forward to other states following it, so that there are separate single-payer healthcare systems in place in Kentucky, Alabama and so on, until eventually single-payer is introduced for all Americans at a federal level.

Amen to that.

Alt-Right Goebbels Milo Yiannopolis Spectacularly Self-Destructs Defending Paedophilia

February 25, 2017

This week, Alt-Right ideologue Milo Yiannopolis’ career was spectacularly destroyed by the outrage over a year-old video of interview in which he defended paedophilia. I’ve blogged about Yiannopolis before. He’s another journo from the right-wing news organisation, Breitbart, who’s been very vocal in his support of Donald Trump. He’s also a walking mass of contradictions – a self-hating gay, who rails against homosexuality, and a racist, who’s half-Jewish and talks about his Black boyfriend. He’s also extremely anti-feminist. Guy Debord’s Cat has written a particularly good piece taking him and his bigotry apart at: https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/lets-talk-about-milo-yiannopoulos/

A year or so ago, Yiannopolis was a guest on Joe Rogan’s Drunken Peasant’s podcast in which he defended paedophilia. Yiannopolis declared that the laws regarding consent were confused and oppressive, and confessed that he’d had a gay relationship when he was 14 with his Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael. He claimed that such relationships could be positive, and that he had been the initiator in the relationship. He also went on to claim that he had also been on Hollywood boat parties, in which ‘very young boys’ were also present and abused by the older men there.

Kevin Logan made a video of this part of the podcast, naturally attacking Milo for his vile defence of child abuse. This was picked up by the American mainstream media in the furore following Yiannopolis’ appearance on the Bill Maher Show. The result has been that Yiannopolis’ has been disinvited from CPAC, the main Conservative conference in the US. His deal for a proposed book, Dangerous, has also been dropped by the publisher, and many of the universities at which he was booked to speak have also dropped him. He has also been forced to resign from Breitbart.

Yiannopolis has now made a kind of non-apology, in which he claims it was all a joke, or something like that, and stating that he does not condone nor defend paedophilia. However, he makes a distinction between this and hebephilia, which is supposed to be sexual relations with teenage boys. This just seems to be a case of hair-splitting, as Milo is still talking about the abuse of those, who are minors under the law. It’s still child abuse, and I think under American legislation would be considered statutory rape of a minor.

Here’s a video from the Jimmy Dore Show, in which the comedian rips apart Yiannopolis’ original comments and his later quasi-apology.

Dore also makes the point that Yiannopolis has also committed an additional crime under Californian law. This obliges those, who know that child abuse is being committed, to inform the police. Yiannopolis was present at these parties where ‘very young’ – barely teenage? – boys were being abused, and did not tell the cops. I think he also claimed to know three or four other men, who were also abusing underage boys.

Yiannopolis’ defence of child abuse is disgusting, but many left-wing bloggers and vloggers have also pointed out that he’s also made revolting comments about non-Whites, feminism and ‘SJWs’, or Social Justice Warriors, the Alt-Right term of abuse for anyone concerned with minority rights and social justice. He’s always been a troll, who delights in deliberately saying the offensive and unspeakable to shock and outrage those on the Left. Dore, and David Pakman, who has also commented about this on his show, also make the point that Yiannopolis in himself isn’t really very interesting. His views ain’t original. All that makes him noteworthy at all is that he’s a gay man, saying vile things about other gays. It’s another example of the Republican strategy of taking one member of a particularly minority to criticise and attack the others. Quite often its Black Conservatives attacking Blacks. They’ve also pointed out that it also shows the great intellectual cachet Americans accord anyone with an upper class British accent. Yiannopolis’ views on race and feminism are bog-standard, unremarkable bigotry. But because he articulates them in a BBC, public-school accent, they are somehow taken to be more insightful and intellectually respectable than they are.

For the moment, Yiannopolis’ career has imploded. But one of the commenters on one of the news threads about this predicted that he’d probably be back in time. Unfortunately, I can see this being true. As for the universities that have cancelled him, I think they’re entirely right to do so. Beyond matters of principle, unis and other places of education have a duty of care to their students. Many students and staff will have children, and will obviously be very uncomfortable about the university allowing someone to speak, who believes that statutory child abuse in certain circumstances is acceptable. Yiannopolis’ views are also in strong opposition to the ethics of school teaching. These have very strong rules designed to protect students from abuse, and teachers from false accusations, which also occur from time to time. Universities aren’t schools, but at least in Britain they do run teacher training courses. The education professionals running these courses are highly unlikely to want to see invited onto campus a speaker, whose stated personal views attack the moral and legal principles they wish to impress on the teachers of the future.

In the meantime, Yiannopolis’ fall has shown that there is a line even which the trolls of the Alt-Right cross at their peril. But as the other left-wing bloggers and vloggers have pointed out, it’s a pity that this didn’t happen to Yiannopolis earlier when he making his vile comments on race and feminism.

Blum’s List of Country In Which US Has Interfered with their Elections

February 18, 2017

A few days ago I posted up a list of the nations in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower where the US had interfered in its politics to block the election of a left-wing or liberal candidate, have them overthrown, or colluding and gave material assistance to a Fascist dictator and their death squads. As well as outright invasions, such as that of Grenada and Panama under Reagan and Bush in the 1980s, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under George Dubya.

Blum also has a list of countries, where the US has interfered with their domestic politics to pervert their elections. These include

The Philippines 1950s

Setting up by the CIA of a front organisation, the National Movement for Free Elections to promote its favoured politicians and policies, giving finance and other assistance to those candidates, disinformation, and drugging and plotting to assassinate their opponents.

Italy 1948-1970s

Long-running campaigns against the Communist party and to assist the conservative Christian Democrats.

Lebanon 1950s

CIA funding of President Camille Chamoun and other pro-American politicians; sabotaging of campaigns of politicos sceptical of American interference in their country.

Indonesia 1955

CIA donated a million dollars to Centrist Coalition to attack the electoral chances of President Sukarno and the Communist party.

British Guiana/Guyana 1953-64

Campaign to oust prime minister Cheddi Jagan, using general strikes, terrorism, disinformation and legal challenges by Britain.

Japan 1958-1970s

CIA funding of conservative Liberal Democratic Party against the Japanese Socialist Party, allowing the Liberal Democrats to stay in power continuously for 38 years.

Nepal 1959

CIA operation to help B.P. Koirala’s Nepali Congress Party to win the country’s first ever election.

Laos 1960

CIA arranged for massive fraudulent voting to ensure electoral victor of local dictator Phoumi Nosavan.

Brazil 1962

CIA and Agency for International Development funded politicos opposed to President Joao Goulart, as well as other dirty tricks against various other candidates.

Dominican Republic 1962

US ambassador John Bartlow Martin instructs the heads of the two major parties before general election that the loser would call on his supporters to support the winner, and that the winner would offer seats to the loser’s party. Also worked with the government to deport 125 people, including supporters of previous dictator Trujillo and Cuba.

Guatemala 1963

Overthrow of General Miguel Ydigoras, as they feared he was about to step down and call a general election, which would be won by previous reforming president and opponent of American foreign policy, Juan Jose Arevalo.

Bolivia 1966

Funding by CIA and Gulf Oil of campaign of president Rene Barrientos. The CIA also funded other rightwing parties.

Chile 1964-70

Interference in the 1964 and 1970s elections to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, democratic Marxist, to the presidency.

Portugal 1974-5

CIA funded moderates, including Mario Soares and the Socialist Party, and persuaded the other democratic socialist parties of Europe to fund them in order to block radical programme of generals, who had overthrown Fascist dictator Salazar.

Australia 1974-5

CIA funding of opposition parties and use of legal methods to arrange overthrow of prime minister Gough Whitlam because he opposed Vietnam War.

Jamaica 1976

Long CIA campaign, including economic destabilisation, industrial unrest, supplying armaments to his opponent and attempted assassination to prevent re-election of Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Panama 1984, 1989

CIA-funded campaigns first of all to support Noriega, and then against him in 1989, when the CIA also used secret radio and TV broadcasts.

Nicaragua 1984, 1990

1984: Attempt to discredit the Sandinista government by CIA. The opposition coalition was persuaded not to take part in the elections. Other opposition parties also encouraged to drop out; attempts to split Sandinistas once in power.

1990: Funding and partial organisation of opposition coalition, UNO, and its constituent groups by National Endowment for Democracy to prevent election of Sandinistas under Daniel Ortega; Nicaraguans also made aware that US intended to continue proxy war waged by Contras if they elected him.

Haiti 1987-88

CIA supported for selected candidates after end of Duvalier dictatorship. Country’s main trade union leader claimed US aid organisations were smearing left-wing candidates as Communists and trying to persuade rural people not to vote for them.

Bulgaria 1990-1, Albania 1991-2

Interference in both countries election to prevent re-election of Communists.

Russia 1996

Extensive backing and support to Yeltsin to defeat Communists.

Mongolia 1996

National Endowment for Democracy funded and helped form the opposition National Democratic Union, and drafted its platform, a Contract with the Mongolian Voter, based Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. The goal here was to accelerate the regime’s privatisation programme and create government favourable to the establishment of American corporations and intelligence agencies in the country.

Bosnia 1998

US turns country into ‘American protectorate’ by appointing Carlos Westendorp as high representative in 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. Before 1998 elections Westendorp removed 14 Bosnian Croatian candidates, claiming reporting by Croatian television biased. After election removes president of Bosnia Serb republic on grounds that he was causing instability.

In 2001 and 2005 high representative also removed one of the three joint presidents of the country. In 2005 high representative Paddy Ashdown, who sacked Dragan Covic.

Nicaragua 2001

US smears against Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, accused of human rights violations and terrorism. US ambassador openly campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolanos. US also pressurised Conservative party to withdraw from the elections so as not to split right-wing vote. There were also adds in the papers signed by Jeb Bush, claiming that Dubya supported Bolanos. Bolanos himself also stated that the Americans had told him that if Ortega won, they would cease all aid to the country.

Bolivia 2002

Extensive campaign against socialist candidate Evo Morales because he was against neoliberalism and big business, as well as the attempts to eradicate the coca plant, the source of cocaine.

US ambassador smeared him with accusations of connections to drug cartels and terrorism. US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere also said America could cut off aid if Morales elected. Meetings between US ambassador and officials and leading figures in rival parties to support Morales’ rival, Sanchez de Lozada.

Slovakia 2002

Warnings by US ambassador to the country and the US ambassador to NATO that if they elected Vladimir Meciar, former president running on anti-globalisation campaign, this would damage chances of their country entering EU and NATO. Also interference by National Endowment for Democracy against Meciar.

El Salvador 2004

Campaigning by US ambassador and three US Republican members of congress, including Thomas Tancredo of California, threatening cessations of aid and work permits for the countries’ people to work in America, in order to prevent election of FMLN candidate Schafik Handal and win victory of Tony Saca of the Arena party. FMLN former guerilla group. Handal stated he would withdraw Salvadorean troops from Iraq, re-examination privatisations and renew diplomatic contacts with Cuba. Arena extreme rightwing party, pro-US, free market, responsible for death squads and the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Afghanistan 2004

Pressure placed by US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, on political candidates to withdraw in favour of Washington’s preferred candidate, Hamid Karzai.

Palestine 2005-6

Massive pressure by the Americans to prevent the election of Hamas, including funding of the Palestinian Authority by the National Endowment for Democracy.

This last country is my own suggestion, not Blum’s.

Great Britain?

Go and read various articles in Lobster, which describe the way the US and its various front organisations collaborated with the right-wing of the Labour party to stop possible Communist influence. In the 1980s Reagan also created the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, alias BAP, to cultivate rising politicians of both the left and the right, and make them more favourable towards America and the Atlantic alliance. These included Tony Blair and Ed Balls, but you won’t read about it in the Times, because it’s editor was also a BAP alumnus.

Despite DAPL, Trump Plans to Steal More Native American Oil

December 7, 2016

A few days ago the water protectors in North Dakota won a victory against big oil when Barack Obama finally did the right thing, and refused to award the oil company the final permit that would allow them to dig. Despite this victory for the First Nations, and the very many Americans of all races and creeds, who came together to support them, it seems big oil and their puppets in Congress still want to take Native Americans’ final natural resources.

In this short piece from The Young Turks, Ana Kasparian and her hosts discuss plans by Donald Trump’s advisors to privatise the oil deposits on the Indian reservations, so that they can be exploited by private industry. Although the reservations comprise only 5 per cent of America’s land, they hold 20 per cent of the country’s oil deposits. And so naturally the oil companies want to get their mitts on them. If this goes through, it would violate the reservations’ status as sovereign nations. Kasparian and The Turks believe that the advisors will try to sell this idea to Native Americans as an opportunity for them to become prosperous through the exploitation of their mineral wealth. However, in reality this is just another episode in the long history of Native Americans having their lands seized by the American government and private industry. They also make the point that the American government actively overthrows governments in the interests of big business, such as Arbenz’s government in Guatemala and the 1953 coup that toppled Mossadeq in Iran. Arbenz was a democratic Socialist -but not a Communist – who nationalised the banana plantations. Most of these were owned by the American company, United Fruit, who had the American government organise a right-wing coup. This set up a brutal military dictatorship, which kept the majority of Guatemalans as virtual slaves to the plantation masters. Mossadeq in Iran was also overthrown, because he nationalised the Iranian oil industry, which again was in foreign hands. As a result, America organised a coup, which overthrew him, thus initiating the brutal rule of the Shah as absolute monarch, a rule which only ended with the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Trump’s administration really is one of rapacious capitalism, absolutely determined to crush Americans’ civil liberties, and the rights of minorities for the benefit of big business. Not that Killary’s regime would have been any different. She was gearing up for more war in the Middle East, wars which would have been fought not free its peoples from dictators, but simply so that American multinationals could loot their oil and state industries.

Tribal sovereignty is, quite rightly, a very sensitive issue with Native Americans. Way back in the 1980s there was an armed stand-off between one of the Amerindian people in New York state. The FBI had pursued a Native American man, who was a member of the American Indian Movement, for a series of violent offences. The man drove into the reservation, and the way was blocked by angry indigenous Americans when the FBI tried to follow him. They claimed that the reservation was a sovereign country in its own right, and that any attempt by the authorities to infringe that sovereignty would be met with force. The tribe’s chief stated that if the police and the FBI tried to enter, the matter would then be up to the tribe’s young warriors.

I think the issue must have been legally clarified since then, as I can remember that at the same time there was considerable controversy over the decision by some Amerindian peoples to issue their own passports, as separate, independent nations.

Given how extremely sensitive the matter of sovereignty and land rights are to Native Americans, this latest scheme by Trump’s friends in the oil industry seems to me to have the potential to do immense harm, not just in the potential environmental damage, and the further dispossession and impoverishment of the First Nations, but also in overturning what must have been a series of very delicate negotiations between the Federal law enforcement agencies and the First Nations. This is quite apart from the various other programmes that have been launched over the years to bring Native and non-Native Americans together, and incorporate their point of view into the wider story of American history.

As for trying to convince Native Americans that private ownership of their oil would bring prosperity, that was the line the mining companies were trying to sell to the Aboriginal Australians back in the 1980s. I can remember a piece in the Torygraph of the time moaning that left-wingers were keeping Aboriginal Aussies poor by refusing them to mine the uranium on their lands.

Given the immense environmental damage oil pipelines like DAPL have done, and the rapacity of the oil companies and American government when it comes to exploiting other nations’ oil, Native Americans would likely be very well advised to keep well away from this. One of the instances of massive environmental damage done by the oil corporations show in one of the American left-wing news sites – I can’t remember whether it was The Turks, Majority Report or Secular Talk, was the destruction of hundreds of acres of waterways in Louisiana. The oil company had completely removed all the available oil, which had formed a supporting layer under the fertile rock and soil. As a result, the surface started sinking, with the marshland and waterways degenerating into a toxic, oil-sodden sludge.

The multinational companies in the Middle East also pay very little in royalties to the countries, whose oil deposits they exploit. Greg Palast in his book, Armed Madhouse, states that Aramco, the oil conglomerate formed to exploit the oil in Saudi Arabia, actually only gives one per cent of its profits to the Saudis as royalties. It’s a pittance, though enough to support the bloated and corrupt Saudi ruling caste in obscene luxury and absolute power. Similar trivial amounts of money are paid to the other Middle Eastern countries for exploitation rights, including Iraq.

If this goes ahead, the Amerindians can look forward to losing more of their territory, the devastation of the tribal lands, which is at the heart of the culture, and further poverty as the oil companies keep the profits for themselves.

Of course, the oil deposits do offer the possibility of enriching the tribes that posses them. But you can raise the question quite legitimately why a private company is needed, or should be allowed, to extract the oil. I understand that many tribes have set up their own, collectively owned companies to manage and exploit their natural resources for themselves, through tourism, woodland management and agriculture. One of the First Nations in California set up a company to catch, can and market the area’s salmon. If companies are to drill for oil on tribal land, a strong case could be made that the company should be at least part-owned by the tribe as the sovereign people, and very strict provisions put and rigorously enforced to protect the people and their homeland.

Frontiers Magazine on Robot Weapons

October 23, 2016

The popular science magazine, Frontiers, way back in October 1998 ran an article on robots. This included two pages on the ‘Soldiers of Tomorrow’, military robots then under development. This included drones. These are now extremely well-known, if not notorious, for the threat they pose to privacy and freedom. The article notes that they were developed from the unmanned planes used for target practice. They were first used in the 1960s to fly reconnaissance missions in Vietnam after the US air force suffered several losses from surface to air missiles. Drones were also used during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union, though instead of beaming the pictures back to their operators, they had to eject them physically. They were further developed by the Israelis, who used them to spy on their Arab neighbours during their many wars. Their next development was during the Gulf War, when they broadcast back to their operators real-time images of the battlefields they were surveying.

Apart from drones, the article also covered a number of other war machines under development. This included remotely operated ground vehicles like SARGE, and the Mobility Module and remotely controlled buggy shown below.

robot-army-cars

SARGE was a scout vehicle adapted from a Yamaha four-wheel drive all-terrain jeep. Like the drones, it was remotely controlled by a human operator. The top photo of the two above showed the Mobility Module mounted aboard another army vehicle, which contained a number of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition sensors. Below it is a missile launcher fixed to another remote-control buggy. The article also carried a photo of a Rockwell Hellfire missile being launched from another of this type of adapted vehicle.

robot-army-car-missile

Next to this was a photo of the operator in his equipment, who controlled the Tele-Operated Vehicle, or TOV, as the developers were calling such machines.

robot-army-car-operator

Another of the machines described in the article was the Telepresent Rapid Aiming System, a robot gun designed by Graham Hawkes and Precision Remotes of California as a sentry robot. As the article itself notes, it’s similar to the tunnel machine guns used by the Space Marines in the film Aliens. It could either be operated by remote control, or made fully automatic and configured to shoot live ammunition. At the time the article was written it had already been tested by a number of different law enforcement agencies.

The only vaguely humanoid robot was the Robart III, shown below.

robot-solider

This machine was able to track a target automatically using its video vision, and possessed laser guidance to allow it to be operated remotely. In demonstrations it carried a pneumatic dart gun, capable of firing tranquillizer darts at intruders. In combat situations this would be replaced with a machine gun. It was designed to be used as a mechanical security guard.

The article also stated that miniature crawling robots were also under development. These would be used to creep up on enemy positions, sending back to their operators video images of their progress. If such machines were mass-produced, their price could fall to about £10. This would mean that it would be easily affordable to saturate an area with them. (pp. 56-7).

The article describes the state of development of these machines as it was nearly 20 years ago. Drones are now so widespread, that they’ve become a nuisance. I’ve seen them in sale in some of the shops in Cheltenham for anything from £36 to near enough £400. Apart from the military, they’re being used by building surveyors and archaeologists.

And while robots like the above might excite enthusiasts for military hardware, there are very serious issues with them. The Young Turks, Secular Talk and Jimmy Dore have pointed out on their shows that Bush and Obama have violated the American constitution by using drones to assassinate terrorists, even when they are resident in friendly or at least non-hostile countries. Despite all the talk by the American army about ‘surgical strikes’, these weapons in fact are anything but precise instruments that can kill terrorists while sparing civilians. The three programmes cited, along with no doubt many other shows and critics, have stated that most of the victims of drone attacks are civilians and the families of terrorists. The drones may be used to home in on mobile signals, so that the person killed has been someone using their phone, rather than the terrorists themselves. Others have been worried about the way the operation of these weapons through remote control have distanced their human operators, and by extension the wider public, from the bloody reality of warfare.

Way back in the first Gulf War, one of the French radical philosophers in his book, The Gulf War Never Happened, argued that the extensive use of remotely controlled missiles during the war, and the images from them that were used in news coverage at the time, meant that for many people the Gulf War was less than real. It occurred in Virtual Reality, like a simulation in cyberspace. Recent criticism of the military use of drones as killing machines by whistleblowers have borne out these fears. One, who was also an instructor on the drone programme, described the casual indifference to killing, including killing children, of the drone pilots. They referred to their actions as ‘mowing the lawn’, and their child victims as ‘fun-sized terrorists’, justifying their deaths by arguing that as the children of terrorists, they would have grown up to be terrorists themselves. Thus they claimed to have prevented further acts of terrorism through their murder. And they did seem to regard the operation of the drones almost as a video game. The instructor describes how he threw one trainee off the controls after he indulged in more, unnecessary bloodshed, telling him, ‘This is not a computer game!’

And behind this is the threat that such machines will gain their independence to wipe out or enslave humanity. This is the real scenario behind Dr Kevin Warwick’s book, March of the Machines, which predicts that by mid-century robots will have killed the majority of humanity and enslaved the rest. A number of leading scientists have called for a halt on the development of robot soldiers. About 15 or twenty years ago there was a mass outcry from scientists and political activists after one government announced it was going to develop fully autonomous robot soldiers.

I’m a fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, which is about a group of robot soldiers, who now fight to ‘increase the peace’, using their lethal skills to rid the galaxy of criminals and tyrants and protect the innocent. The robots depicted in the strip are fully conscious, intelligent machines, with individual personalities and their own moral codes. The Frontiers article notes elsewhere that we’re a long way from developing such sophisticated AI, stating that he did not believe he would see it in his lifetime. On the other hand, Pat Mills, the strips’ writer and creator, says in the introduction to one of the collected volumes of the strips on the ‘Volgan War’, that there is a Russian robot, ‘Johnny 5’, that looks very much like Mechquake, the stupid, psychopathic robot bulldozer that appeared in the strip and its predecessor, ‘Robusters’. None of the machines under development therefore have the humanity and moral engagement of Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws, Mongrol, Steelhorn, Happy Shrapnel/ Tubalcain, Deadlok or even Joe Pineapples. The real robotic killing machines now being developed and used by the military represent a real threat to political liberty, the dehumanisation of warfare, and the continuing safety of the human race.

The American Court Ruling against Holocaust Denial

October 17, 2016

In my article on Saturday reviewing the book Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, edited by Israel W. Charny (London: Mansell Publishing 1991) I mentioned that amongst its contents, the chapter on Holocaust Denial has a passage describing how a Neo-Nazi rag in America was successfully sued over the issue of the existence of the Holocaust. The rag stated it never happened, and challenged people to prove that it had. One man did, and when the magazine refused to pay out the sum it had promised to pay, took them to court. The judge ruled in his favour, and stated that it was more than adequately demonstrated that the Shoah was historical fact. Here’s the passage:

Verdict of an American Judge on the Offer to pay $50,000 for Proof that the Nazis Gassed Jews

In the United States, the Institute for Historical Review offered to pay fifty thousand dollars to anyone who would be able to “prove” that the Nazis gassed Jews. IHR advertised this challenge in Los Angeles at their September 2, 1979 International Revisionist Conference. Such proof was provided by Mr. Mel Mermelstein, who now lives in Huntington Beach, California, and whose family died in the Birkenau gas chambers, but the institute refused to accept the proof or pay Mermelstein the money. Mermelstein sued them, and the result was an official statement by Judge Thomas Johnson, on October 9, 1981 in Lost Angeles Superior Court, that that “This court does take judicial notice of the fact that Jews were gassed to death at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland” and that the Holocaust is not reasonably subject to dispute. “It is capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to sources of reasonable indisputable accuracy. It is simply a fact.”

Despite this unequivocal statement of the Superior Court, the IHR still did not pay Mermelstein, but Mermelstein sought further relief in the Courts. Judge Robert Wenke in Los Angeles Superior Court approved the settlement that called for the IHR to pay the Auschwitz survivor. As reported in the New York Times, “The institute, which says the Holocaust never happened, must also pay Mr. Mermelstein $100,000 for the pain and suffering caused by the reward offer.”

Mr. Mermelstein’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, stated:

Mr. Mermelstein’s victory in this case will now send a clear message to all those throught the world who attempt to destroy history and inflict misery and suffering on Jews, that the survivors of the Holocaust will fight back through the legal system to protect themselves and vindicate the truth about their lives. (p. 55).

This hasn’t stopped Nazis repeating their despicable claim that it never occurred, or that it somehow was much smaller than the 6 million or so Jews killed in the death camps. But it does mean that, at least under American law, and certainly under German and Austrian legislation, they are peddling a lie. The IHR were fortunate. As Americans, they only had to pay out $50,000, plus no doubt costs and damages for their refusal to do so. In Germany and Austria, and a number of other European countries, Holocaust Denial is a crime, for which you can be imprisoned. Considering the disgusting nature of their claim, the IHR got off very lightly.

Black Civil Rights Organisation Wants Moratorium on Academy Schools in America

August 18, 2016

The Black civil rights organisation, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) has attacked charter schools and demanded a moratorium on them. In this video from the Real News, the anchor, Jaisal Noor, talks to Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, a teacher, educationalist and blogger, who’s the head of the leadership in education programme at one of the American universities about the NAACP’s call for a ban. The charter schools are the American equivalent of our academy schools. They were introduced in 2001, and began to expand massively after Obama’s election in 2008 as part of his ‘Race to the Top’ education programme. The NAACP object to these schools on the grounds that they remove public control, enforce segregation and have punitive educational regimes. They also draw a comparison between the proliferation of these schools and the predatory sub-prime mortgage market which was partly responsible for the near collapse of the banking system in 2008.

This isn’t the first time the NAACP has criticised charter schools. In 2010 they made a statement that rather than promoting the expansion of these schools, more money should be given to improving existing public (state) schools in urban America serving Black communities. In 2014 the NAACP further condemned charter schools as part of the privatisation of education of education, and the wider privatisation movement. The demand for the moratorium on these schools was passed this year by a meeting of more than 2200 of the organisation’s delegates. Heilig states that this is a very reasonable position as when they were first introduced, charter schools promised more freedom and more accountability. They have instead gained more freedom and less accountability.

Noor responds by stating that for many Black parents in cities like New York and Baltimore, charter schools represent some hope of improving their children’s education over the dire state schools in their areas, but there are long queues of people trying to get in. He quotes a Black Democrat politician, Shivar Jefferies of Democrats for Education Reform as stating that they should be concentrating on fixing what is broken, and expanding what works. Heilig states that he has offered to debate Jefferies about charter schools in California or New York. Jefferies first accepted, and then declined. Heilig states that when you examine the statistics, the supposed advantages of charter schools melt away. He does agree with Jefferies, however, on the wider point that society has failed Black, Latino, Native American and other poor students deliberately. He states that American society has decided that ‘inequality is OK’. Where Heilig and Jefferies differ is in the way this is to be tackled. He points out that there are big corporations, like Wall Street, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation and many more behind the private control of education. Heilig says that this is where he differs with Jefferies. He and the others in NAACP would like community schools, and community-based charters, district charters and intergovernmental charters. He points out that people are upset with the creation of charter schools, because the free market system they are trying to use to improve schools – he gives the example of the ‘better house you buy, the better the school’, is the very system that has damaged the educational system in the first place.

He states that the key to change and improvement is offering more democratic control for parents in their local schools through community-based programmes. Heilig makes the point that if you look at the polls of what people want, they want less testing, higher quality teachers, and better courses. Those require resources. But the Supreme Court in Texas, however, decided that the $25,000 differences between classes for rich and poor is acceptable at school. This means millions of dollars in difference at the district level.

Noor also asks him about the statistics showing that children at charter schools perform extremely well, and so therefore charter schools are an educational improvement that should be further implemented. Heilig points out that there are some state schools that are also doing a great job. He also makes the point that the 2009 Credo study showed that 89 per cent of students at public schools performed exactly the same as those in state schools. Shivar Jefferies and the others in favour of charters schools don’t like that study, and prefer to quote another Credo study from 2015. This study, however, showed that in charter schools Latinos do 0.008 per cent better in reading, and Black 0.05 per cent. He states that the difference in performance is almost negligible. Furthermore, there are other methods in improving performance that are far more effective. These methods, which include reducing class size, can improve educational performance by between 1000 to 4000 per cent. He states that there’s no secret to what works, and you don’t need to go to countries with high standards in education, like Finland and Singapore to see that. You only have to go ‘across the tracks’ to rich neighbourhoods to see what resources are given to their schools, to see the kind of improvements that have to be made to the schools in poor neighbourhoods.

I’ve reblogged this because this debate is clearly very relevant to what’s happening over here with the academies Blair set up and which Thicky Nicky Morgan wanted to make universal. The system’s critics over here have pointed out that they are a part privatisation of education. The backers in Britain, however, tend to be second-rate businessmen. The leading businesses don’t want to touch them because they’re divisive. They are also very highly selective. A much larger proportion of students are expelled, or effectively expelled, from these schools, often for very trivial reasons. These frequently tend to be the poorer, or less intelligent students, the children the school would have problems with getting them through the exams. So they try to get rid of them by expelling them for supposed infractions of school rules. And discipline is also extremely strict. A few years ago a television documentary on the Vardy schools, set up by an evangelical Christian businessman, had humiliated pupils by refusing them to go to the toilet, even when they were in desperate need, and not allowing the girls to leave to change their sanitary towels. And there are also concerns that they’re socially divisive, especially as many of them are now under the control of the church or religious organisations.

Britain tends to look across the Atlantic to try to see what the Americans are doing in certain issues. This demand by the NAACP for a moratorium on charters/ academies, so that society can take stock of their impact, might have an effect in encouraging Black educationalists over here to follow and further demand a halt to their expansion in Britain. This would not only improve conditions for Blacks, but also for the poor White students that are also falling behind.

Jimmy Dore: Stop and Search Policing Now Shown to Be Rubbish

July 11, 2016

This is another fascinating piece from the American comedian Jimmy Dore, who turns up regularly on The Young Turks internet show. In this video he discusses an article in one of the New York Papers, reporting a study that has shown ‘broken windows’ policing to be complete rubbish. ‘Broken windows’ policing is the name given to the police strategy of prosecuting people for minor offences – what are called ‘quality of life’ offences, like graffiti, riding your bike on the pavement and so on, in the expectation that cracking down on minor crimes will lead to a drop in major felonies. It includes ‘stop and frisk’ – what over here is called ‘stop and search’ – in which people are stopped and searched at random by the rozzers.

The ‘broken windows’ strategy takes its name from an official experiment, in which a car was left in the road with its bonnet up in two different neighbourhoods. One, I think, was a rough part of New York. Within hours, the car had been stripped. They then left a similar vehicle in an upmarket neighbourhood in California – Palo Alto. The car was left alone. So the experimenters broke one of its windows. It was only after they did that, that the car was gutted. And so they came to the conclusion that to cut down on major crime, you have to start with minor misdemeanours.

Except that it doesn’t. An official study shows that it has no effect. Dore and the others off camera describe how such arrests can wreck a person’s life in the US. If you’re arrested for a felony, you can’t get a student loan and you automatically lose your right to vote, along with other disastrous consequences. Stop and frisk policing is similarly false. 87 per cent of those stopped are Black or Latino in America, but in only six per cent of cases does this lead to an arrest, and only half of those result in a conviction. Meanwhile, as they point out, it’s a massive way to increase Black and Latino alienation from the cops. Dore mentions some of the many over-reactions of the police to perceived Black criminality. Like a case where a teenage boy was followed by helicopter, because he jumped a turn-style. Meanwhile, according to Dore, a CCTV camera elsewhere had recorded the cops choking a man to death.

‘Broken windows’ policing and stop and frisk also have no effect on crime, which has been declining in America for decades anyway. So there’s no reason why these policies, which are only punishing ethnic minorities unfairly, and driving them away from the police, should be continued.

I’m reblogging this, as although the study relates to America, it is clearly relevant to the situation over here. There have been complaints by the Black community in London against the police using ‘stop and search’ there. As for ‘broken windows’ policing, something similar has been advocated by members of the Conservative right, like Peter Hitchens. (In fairness, I should qualify that: Hitchens was not in favour of Thatcher’s sale of council housing, and does not support private prisons, both of which seem to be standard Tory, and New Labour, policies). In his Mail on Sunday column a few years ago, Hitchens cited the pattern of policing before the First World War as the reason for that time’s comparatively low rate of serious crime. This was a time when people were arrested and jailed for very minor crimes like drunkenness, sleeping rough and so on. I think Hitchens’ attitude is that if people are punished for ‘quality of life’ offences, they’ll acquire some self-respect and start to behave like responsible citizens. This shows that they won’t.

Norman Finkelstein and Elizabeth Baltzer on Young American Jews Rejecting Zionism: Part 1

May 27, 2016

This is as another video, which has some indirect relevance to the accusations of anti-Semitism against leading members of the Labour party – Ken Livingstone, Naz Shah and Jackie Walker. None of these are anti-Semites, and all of them have taken a strong part in anti-racist activism. Jackie Walker’s mother was a Black civil rights activist, who was deported from America for her protests against the official maltreatment of Black Americans. Her father was a Russian Jew, and her partner is Jewish. These allegations have nothing to do with anti-Semitism. They are about the Israel lobby attempting to deflect criticism of its oppression of the Palestinians by attacking its critics as anti-Semites, even when they most obviously are not. Coupled with this is the attempt by the Blairite faction in the Labour party, Progress, to hang on to power by smearing their opponents.

Yesterday I put up a post and a video by the Israeli critic of his country’s abuse and massacre of the Palestinians, Ilan Pappe. Dr Pappe is certainly not along amongst Jewish critics of Zionism and its persecution of the indigenous Arabs. A number of people , who were either Jews or of Jewish heritage, commented on an earlier piece in this blog, that they did not support Israel’s horrendous policies. This video is of a talk given by two more of the leading American Jewish critics of Zionism, Norman Finkelstein and Elizabeth Baltzer, introduced and moderated by Adam Shatz, of the London Review of Books. I think its from a literary festival in New York, and both Finkelstein and Baltzer have written a number of books about Israel and the Palestinians. They’re both activists, and Baltzer has spoken at various social, religious and political gatherings, including synagogues and churches. In this video, they talk about the growing abandonment of Zionism by young American Jews. The event consists of first a talk by Dr Finkelstein, followed by Madam Baltzer, and then a longer session where they respond to written questions from the audience.

Finkelstein in his talk describes how for a very long time Jewish identity was not automatically bound up with Zionism, and many Jews were either hostile or indifferent to the idea. The initial Jewish settlers were few. Most Jews wished to stay in their homelands in Europe. Many were opposed to the foundation of a Jewish state, as they feared that this would revive the suspicion that they had dual loyalties. Dr Finkelstein doesn’t mention it, but this was very much the case when Balfour’s Cabinet announced that it would support the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The ‘Balfour Declaration’ was opposed by Samuel Montague, the only Jewish member of the Cabinet, because he feared that British Jews would be seen as less than British, with their loyalties ultimately more towards the new Jewish state. Montague was backed in his campaign against the decision by 75 of the leading British Jewish families.

Finkelstein continues, and states that even after the foundation of Israel, many Jews remained sceptical and hostile. He notes that Commentary, the main Jewish magazine in America, frequently ran articles by some of the now most zealous supporters of Israel, criticising it for the maltreatment of the Palestinians. This opposition changed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the defeat of the Arab armies. Israel then became imbued with the same sense of spiritual election and special destiny that informs the American self-image – ‘a shining city on a hill’, ‘a light to guide the Nations’. However, support for Israel by American Jews is by no means unconditional, especially amongst the young. Jewish American politicians, when given a choice between what will benefit Israel as against America, have consistently chosen America. And Israel increasingly plays little part in the self-identity of the younger generation, who increasingly see themselves as American with little connection to Israel.

Baltzer provides more information on young Jewish Americans rejection of Zionism, and their opposition to the continued abuse and maltreatment of the Palestinians. She discusses the dwindling membership of the Zionist organisations. The chapter in her home in Sonoma in California claims to be thriving, but won’t give the number of synagogues that are affiliated to it. On the other side, she lists a plethora of Jewish groups and organisations devoted to defending the Palestinians. These include such groups of as Young, Jewish and Proud. Baltzer, however, makes the point that ultimately it isn’t about Jews speaking on behalf of the Palestinians. They have their own voice, and it is they who truly deserve to be heard. She notes that some people feel that they somehow need Jewish permission before they support the Palestinians. She makes the excellent point that nobody should need permission, of Jews or anyone else, to listen to the Palestinian people and support them.

I am actually very glad she made this point, as I’ve refrained from blogging about this issue previously as I don’t want to appear anti-Semitic, nor give any succour to the genuine anti-Semites, who are trying to ride on the coat-tails of principled anti-racist opposition to persecution of the Palestinians. It is, paradoxically, good to hear a Jewish voice stating that you shouldn’t need Jewish permission to support the Palestinians, from the perspective that it is understood that the people she’s addressing aren’t anti-Semites.

Despite having the same ultimate gaols, Finkelstein and Baltzer have differences over tactics, and the form the emancipation of the Palestinians could take. One of these differences is over language. Finkelstein does not think that opponents of Israeli policy should use the term Zionism. Most people don’t understand it, and the gaols of the pro-Palestinian movement can be better expressed simply using plain language. These means just stating that you’re opposed to the occupation of the West Bank, or the inferior status of the Palestinians in Israel, the seizure and destruction of their farms, homes and property by the Israeli state.

He also makes the point that if the term ‘Zionism’ is used, their opponents will seize on it to make the worst claim they can about the person using it – that he or she is actively seeking the destruction of Israel, because of the ambiguity about the term’s meaning. They will also use it to try to divert the argument into one about Jewish identity – whether the Jews are a race, religion or people, or perhaps all three. The argument isn’t about Jewish identity. It’s about the appalling way Israel treats the Palestinians.

Baltzer, on the other hand takes the view that there is some good in a limited use of the term within certain contexts.