Posts Tagged ‘Cities’

Vox Political: Thatcher Was Urged to Levy Poll Tax on the Homeless

February 20, 2016

This piece from Mike over at Vox Political shows not only what utterly contemptible villains were in Maggie Thatcher’s government, but also how they were blissfully unaware that their wretched tax reforms undermined the basis of civilisation itself. Just as their successors are doing now.

Recently declassified documents released from the National Archives show that Thatcher’s Welsh Secretary, Peter Walker, wanted to impose the ‘Community Charge’ not just on those with homes, but also the homeless. He was afraid that if they were exempt, then people would start sleeping on the streets to avoid paying it. Mike says of this

Obviously Peter Walker was scum and the Poll Tax was a disaster – but worse people than him are running the Conservative Government now.

The idea of charging homeless people a tax on property is clearly ridiculous but that wasn’t the point Walker was trying to make.

He wanted to ensure that every last penny was squeezed from the poorest people, in order to support Conservatives and Tory voters who no doubt needed the money to clean the moat in their duck pond or suchlike. He’s further afraid that the intervening years have made people more susceptible to Tory lies, not less, and that they’ll be taken in the next time they peddle another fraudulent scheme.
See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/19/margaret-thatcher-was-urged-to-make-homeless-people-pay-poll-tax-by-senior-cabinet-minister/.

It’s a truly grotty piece of legislation, but what has been missed is the way that it effectively threatened to destroy part of the fabric of society. If people cannot afford to pay a tax, so that they are forced to leave their homes and sleep rough, then you’ve effectively dealt a blow to civilisation. The very word after all comes from the Latin civilis, a city. It’s part of the reasons why Rome fell: the taxes became so great, urban citizens could no longer afford to pay them. The senatorial aristocracy all moved away to avoid paying their whack, and the burden of taxation fell to the free poor, who couldn’t. As a result, they too moved into the countryside. The result was that in the Third Century AD there was rising inflation and a declining number of urban tradesmen – the bakers, butchers, cobblers, carpenters, smiths and so on that form the industrial and commercial life of cities. The Romans tried to stop this steady migration of tradesmen away from the cities by making certain trades hereditary, setting up a caste system rather like Indian. Unlike India’s, it didn’t work. And so the empire tottered on to its doom as the barbarians invaded.

Not that you’ll hear this from the Tories, including classicists like Boris Johnson. Oh, Boris admires the early Roman Empire with its small bureaucracy, but you won’t hear him talk about how, like now, the Empire fell because the senatorial super-rich decided to escape paying taxes by fleeing to their country estates, just as the super-rich today try to shirk their financial responsibility to society by registering their companies offshore. And they really, really won’t want to talk about how they shifted the tax burden on the free Roman poor, just as today’s working and lower middle classes are also required to make up the tax deficit left by the rich.

No, to them, the real threat to western civilisation comes from an influx of foreigners, just like the Romans had during the barbarian invasions.

But their tax policies and continuing impoverishment of the poorest sections of society are undermining our society and weakening it, quite apart from its complete absence of any morality. These are people, who will grind down the poor to the extent it’ll bring down society itself, just to be that little bit richer.
Complete amoral psychopaths.

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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.

Thatcher, Mussolini and Manipulation of the Economy to Destroy Working Class Opposition

April 18, 2014

Mussolini Pic

Margaret Thatcher destroyed much of Britain’s manufacturing base, and particularly the coal industry, in order to break the power of the trade unions that had brought down Edward Heath’s government. Kittysjones has recently blogged about the academic report into Thatcher’s ‘calculated immiseration’ of the working class for ideological reasons and the profit of the upper and middle classes. See her post ‘ Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”’ at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/.

Mussolini did something similar in Italy. Apart from taking violent action against the Socialist party and the trade unions, who were attacked and their offices wrecked in a concerted campaign of violent intimidation, the Duce also attempted to alter the demographic and class structure of Italian society to halt the increasing emergence of urban opposition. He pursued a deliberate ‘ruralisation’ policy, intended to stem and reverse immigration to the towns from the countryside. He believed that the ideal societies were those of peasant proprietors. These were more fertile than urban societies, and more docile and supportive of autocratic regimes. Sophisticated urbanites, on the other hand, were too clever and too willing to discuss and criticise. And like Margaret Thatcher, the prosperity of the citizens counted for little. Denis Mack Smith in his biography of Musso states:

Prosperity, as he had to confess, was not very high on his list of priorities except for its propaganda value; national strength was far more important. He was expecting a war at any time after 1934 and wanted the country to become self-sufficient in food before then. This was one reason why he hoped Italy would remain mainly agricultural: urbanization was threatening to endanger the food supply of a rapidly growing community. Another hazard was that as people moved to the towns they began to think and talk too much. Peasants, he asserted, were more necessary to fascism than intellectuals or town artisans, both of which latter categories were, as he had to admit, unenthusiastic about his regime if not strongly hostile.

…. the healthiest nations were those based on a population of small proprietors who worked ‘obediently, and preferably in silence’. On the other hand, urban conditions encouraged not only disobedience but a wish for higher wages and greater comfort which, in turn, would result in smaller families, all of which would be profoundly unfascist. To ‘ruralize Italy’ would, he knew, be immensely costly and might take half a century, but it would have to be effected. Less should be spent on improving conditions in the towns because ‘cities are pernicious and parasitic’; even in the countryside, he thought it necessary to restrict improvements in popular housing because better conditions might result in fewer children being born. Such beliefs became an obsession with him. He order the prefects to stop any move away from the land and to use force if necessary. Rome should not become an industrial city but remain the centre of an agricultural region, and many other important towns should be forcibly reduced in size. But he had chosen a hopelessly unequal battle and the towns went on expanding as before. At first he falsified the census returns to conceal this untoward fact, but eventually went into reverse and decided to spend a great deal of money to make Rome into a great centre of industry.

Thus Thatcher, the Tories and the Italian Fascists were determined to sacrifice their countries’ industrial development in the interests of creating their ideal societies, societies which consisted of the poor obeying their social superiors without question, and where critical, urban working and intellectual classes were highly unwelcome.

There is, however, one major difference between the two: Mussolini abandoned this policy when it could not be achieved, and promoted Rome’s industrial development. Maggie and the Tories were successful, and Britain’s manufacturing base has contracted ever since.