Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights’

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

October 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.

Advertisements

Dr Gerald Horne on Trump as the Product of the Racist History of the US

September 10, 2017

This is another fascinating video from Telesur English. It’s from an edition of the Empire Files, in which the host, Abby Martin, interviews Dr. Gerald Horne, the chair of History and African American Studies at the University Houston. Dr. Horne is the author of 20 books on slavery and black liberation movements. The blurb for the video on YouTube states that his most recent work is The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States.

The video is just over half an hour long, and it completely overturns the entire myth of the founding of the United States, in which the Founding Fathers were noble idealists, intent on bringing about a truly democratic state in which all men would be free. In fact the opposite was true. The Founding Fathers were either slave-owners, or else otherwise deeply connected to slavery and slave trade through their business interests. Instead of noble liberators for everyone, they were deeply opposed to granting Black Americans their freedom.

Dr. Horne argues that they were the products of British imperialism and its slave trade, which was first introduced into the Caribbean and then shifted north to the English colonies in North America. He traces the history of Black enslavement and anti-Black racist movements from the American Revolution to the American Civil War, and thence to the formation of successive waves of the Klan. His intention is to show that Trump is not an historical aberration, a strange historical throwback on America’s long progress to freedom and liberty, but a product of America’s racist history and the mass support anti-Black movements have enjoyed and exploited throughout it.

The programme begins by explaining the background to the Confederate monuments, which the Unite the Right stormtroopers marched to defend in Charlottesville the week before last. These were not simply memorials to great generals or valiant soldiers, as the myth around them says. Most of the Confederate monuments in the US were erected in two periods – the period of Jim Crow in the 1920s and ’30s, when the segregation laws were being introduced, and the 1950s when the Civil Rights movement was beginning. They were set up to convey a very specific message: that while Black Americans were technically free, the ‘Negro’ had better know his place beneath the White man. Or else.

He then goes on to describe the emergence of slavery in the US. He states that Britain at the end of the 16th century was ‘a failed state’. The British Civil War of the 1640s between Charles I and parliament was a quasi-bourgeois revolution, which gave some rights to the British merchant and middle classes. The real bourgeois revolution was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which allowed the middle classes to exert more political control, and allowed British merchants to wrest control of the slave trade away from the Crown as a royal monopoly.

The most important part of the British empire in the New World at the time was the Caribbean, and particularly Jamaica. These colonies became immensely profitable due to sugar. However, in the 1720s there was an economic crisis in Caribbean slavery, so some of the major Caribbean slaveowners moved north, to Carolina and other parts of the US. It was from these slave-owning families that the Founding Fathers were descended.

Horne also briefly discusses the role north American slavery played in the definition of White identity. Back in Europe, the different European peoples saw themselves as members of separate nations – English, Irish, Scots, French, Germans and so on. it was only when they crossed the Atlantic to America that they created an overarching racial identity to differentiate them from their Black slaves.

Horne then goes on to argue that the major catalyst for the American Revolution was the American colonists’ frustration at the British governments attempts to limit slavery and stop further colonial expansion beyond the Alleghenies. One of the critical moments in this was the Somerset Case, which ruled that slavery was illegal in England. The ruling was expanded to Scotland a year later. The taxes against which the Boston Tea Party was staged included those levied on slaves. They had been imposed by the British government as a deliberate anti-slavery measure. The British government was also tired of expending men and treasure in the various wars against the continent’s indigenous peoples. This angered the colonists, who longed to expand and seize native American land to the west. One of those, who stood to make a profit from this, was George Washington, who was a land speculator. As indeed, in a curious historical parallel, is Donald Trump. The Founding Fathers also feared and hated Black Americans, because the British had given their freedom to all Black Americans, who remained loyal. As a result, the Black Americans were solidly behind the British against the emerging independence movement.

Dr. Horne then goes on to talk about the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves held by the Southern states. Horne points out that it was felt at the time that Lincoln had somehow broken the rules of war, and done the unthinkable by arming the slaves. As for Lincoln himself, he didn’t have much sympathy with them, and was considering deporting them after the end of the war. Horne goes on to discuss how the deportation of Americans of African descent continued to be discussed and planned at various periods in American history afterwards. It was yet again discussed in the 1920s, when there was a movement to deport them back to Africa.

After the ending of slavery in American following the defeat of the South, many of the American slave-owners and traders fled abroad, to continue their business overseas. Several went to South America, including Brazil, while others went to Cuba.

After the Civil War came the period of reconstruction, and the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th century. Horne also talks about the lynching movement during this period of American history, which continued into the early 20th centuries. Not only were these intended to terrorise Black Americans to keep them in their place, but at the time they also were also almost like picnics. Photographs were taken and sold of them, and White spectators and participants would cut the fingers off the body and keep them as souvenirs. Dr. Horne remarks that, sadly, some White homes still have these digits even today.

He also talks about the massive influence D.W. Griffith’s viciously racist Birth of a Nation had on the Klan, boosting its membership. Klan groups began to proliferate. In Michigan, one branch of the Klan concentrated on fighting and breaking trade unions. Later, in the 1950s, the Klan entered another period of resurgence as a backlash against the Civil Rights campaign.

Horne makes the point that in this period, the Klan was by no means a marginal organization. It had a membership in the millions, including highly influential people in several states. And the Klan and similar racist organisations were not just popular in the South. The various pro-slavery and anti-Black movements also had their supporters in the North since the time of the Civil War. He also argues that the campaign against segregation was extremely long, and there was considerable resistance to Black Americans being given equality with Whites.

He also states that one of the influences behind the emergence of the Alt-Right and the revival of these latest Fascist and White supremacist movements was the election of Barak Obama as the first Black president of the US. Obama was subject to rumours that he was really Kenyan, with the whole ‘birther’ conspiracy theories about his passport, because he was Black, and so couldn’t be a proper American. And it is this bitter hostility to Obama, and the perceived threat to White America which he represents, that has produced Trump.

Watching this video, I was reminded of Frederick Douglas’ great speech, What To the Slave is the Fourth of July? Douglas was a former slave and a major voice for abolition in America. His speech noted how hollow the rhetoric about the Founding Fathers protecting Americans from slavery under the British, when they themselves remained slaves in reality.

He’s right about the rule of the sugar economy in saving the British colonies in the Caribbean, though from my own reading about slavery in the British Empire, what saved these colonies first was tobacco. It was the first cash crop, which could easily be grown there.

The role opposition to the British government’s refusal to allow further colonial expansion in provoking the American Revolution has also been discussed by a number of historians. One book I read stated that British colonial governors were encouraged to intermarry with the indigenous peoples. Thus, one of the governors on the British side actually had cousins amongst one of the Amerindian nations. The same book also described how the British granted their freedom to Black loyalists. After their defeat, the British took them to Canada. Unfortunately, racism and the bleak climate led them to being deported yet again to Sierra Leone. There were also Black loyalists settled in the British Caribbean colonies. One report on the state of colony instituted by its new governor in the early 19th century reported that the former Black squaddies were settled in several towns, governed by their own N.C.O.s under military discipline. These Black Americans were orderly and peaceful, according to the report.

As for the former American slave traders, who emigrated to Latin America, this is confirmed by the presence of one of the witnesses, who appeared before the British parliament in the 1840s, Jose Estebano Cliffe, who was indeed one of the émigré merchants.

Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks have also described the horrors of the lynchings in the Deep South, including the picnic, celebratory aspect to these atrocities. They made the point that if news reports today said that similar lynchings had been carried out by Arabs in the Middle East, Americans would vilify them as savages. But that attitude doesn’t extend to those savages in the US, who carried out these atrocities against Blacks.

It’s worth mentioning here that Blacks weren’t the only victims of lynching. Tariq Ali in an interview in the book Confronting the New Conservatism about the Neocons states that in Louisiana in the 1920, more Italians were lynched than Blacks.

The video’s also worth watching for some of the images illustrating Dr. Horne’s narrative. These include not only paintings, but also contemporary photograph. Several of these are of the slaves themselves, and there is a fascinating picture of a group of Black squaddies in uniform from the Civil War. I found this particularly interesting, as the photographer had captured the character of the soldiers, who had different expressions on their faces. Some appear cheerful, others more suspicious and pessimistic.

There’s also a very chilling photograph of people at a lynching, and it’s exactly as Dr. Horne says. The picture shows people sat on the grass, having a picnic, while a body hangs from a tree in the background. This is so monstrous, it’s almost incredible – that people should calmly use the murder of another human being as the occasion of a nice day out.

This is the history the Republican Party and the Libertarians very definitely do not want people to read about. Indeed, I put up a piece a little while ago at a report on one of the progressive left-wing news programmes on YouTube that Arizona was deliberately suppressing materials about racism, slavery and segregation in its schools, and making students read the speeches of Ronald Reagan instead. As for the removal of Confederate monuments, right-wing blowhard and sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly, formerly of Fox News, has already started making jokes about how ‘they’ want to take down statues of George Washington. Nobody does, and the joke shows how little O’Reilly really understands, let alone cares about the proper historical background behind them. I’ve no doubt that Dr. Horne’s interpretation of history would be considered by some an extreme view, but it is grounded in very accurate historical scholarship. Which makes it an important counterbalance to the lies that the Republicans and Libertarians want people to believe about the country and its history.

The Young Turks on Pizza Delivery Drivers Being Replaced by Driverless Cars

September 3, 2017

This is probably going to be the reality behind the driverless cars the car industry and the media have been hyping. In this short clip from The Young Turks, the hosts Ana Kasparian and Brett Ehrlich report and comment on the story that Domino’s Pizzas are planning to replace their pizza delivery people with driverless cars.

It’s only a trial run at the moment. They intend to go through their customers at random, and ask them if they’re happy with their pizza delivered by a driverless car instead. The vehicle will take a maximum of four pizzas to them. To get their orders, the customers will have to punch in a code into a keypad on the car.

After a bit of silly banter about the number of pizzas people usually order, they get down to discussing what this really represents. Kasparian says that when they usually talk about American jobs being lost, they’re usually reporting on corporate outsourcing. But automation is the other way in which people are losing their jobs in America. Kasparian she states that she isn’t against technological innovation, but points out that not only are people going to lose their jobs as pizza delivery staff, but they’re also going to lose an opportunity to acquire useful skills to succeed in a very competitive jobs market. She also states that we also need to give young people proper, affordable college education as well.

Domino’s has released a statement saying that they have at the moment 100,000 pizza delivery people. They hope that when this comes in, they will be able to find other positions within the company. The Turks end by saying that they hope so too.

To be fair, the BBC has carried news and documentary programmes, which forecast that in the coming decades, 1/3 of all retail jobs will be lost to automation. Nevertheless, whenever you see driverless cars appear, the overwhelming message is one of boundless enthusiasm, with the presenters raving about the technology. Clarkson went on a driverless truck on Top Gear, and went almost berserk with excitement when it started to make its way without human guidance.

Driverless trucks are due to be trialed on roads in Britain, according to a report in the I newspaper. They’re going to be tested in groups of three. I talked about this technology and its threats to jobs with a friend a little while ago. He told me that there are about 40,000 truckers in Britain, so that’s 40,000 people, who stand to lose their jobs.

Counterpunch has run an article on this, stating that there’s no desire for the cars from ordinary people. They’re being hyped and pushed by the insurance companies, who hope that their appearance and promotion as being safer than human driving will allow them to put up their premiums for people, who won’t use them.

What also struck me was how cold, lonely and impersonal the future represented by this type of automation is. In much SF depictions of an automated future, the machines performing human jobs also have something like human cognitive abilities and personalities. Long term 2000 AD readers will remember Dredd’s little robotic companion, Walter the Wobot. The character had a lisp and was a gentle soul, providing a contrast with the brutal machismo of Mega City 1’s toughest lawman. Or the robots in the Robohunter strip. These were extremely strong characters with all the traits, foibles and psychological failings of the human creators, including stupidity, thuggishness and all-round criminality. Like the God-Droid, the automatated underworld boss, a machine version of Marlon Brando with a sign stamped across its stomach reading ‘Omerta’, or the incendiary temperament of Molotov, the automatic cocktail-shaker and head of the Amalgamated Androids’ Union, who lectures Spade on the evils of human exploitation. Or Ro-Jaws, a chirpy, bolshie, foul-mouthed sewer droid, and his more dignified mate, the war-robot Hammerstein, and the moronic and sadistic Mek-Quake, the main characters in the Robusters strip, and its spin-off, ABC Warriors.

These fictional machines all had real, authentic characters. They had minds and characters like human beings, even if their bodies and brains were of metal and plastic. And so the strips’ writers could use them to make serious satirical points amidst the cartoon violence and mayhem. From the first, the ABC Warriors strip included a bitter commentary on the horrors of war, and the way soldiers lives were sacrificed by an officer and political class insulated from the actual fighting. The fact that robots were machines, with no rights, also allowed 2000 AD to explore real issues like slavery, racism, and institutionalized discrimination with deliberate, and sometimes very obvious parallels to the experience of Black Americans before Civil Rights.

But the real machines taking our jobs won’t even have personalities, friendly or otherwise, with which we will interact. Admittedly, there isn’t much social interaction with the mail and other delivery people, who turn up at our doors. The conversation is naturally very limited. But with these machines, we won’t even have that. Just a car turning up, following by the customer trudging out to punch in a code to open the doors.

Silent, efficient, and coldly impersonal.

And this is going to make the atomization and despair of contemporary western, and particularly American society, much worse. I’ve also come across a series of videos Chris Hedges has also made, in which he talks about the new American Fascism, and specifically the Religious Right. I think Hedges is probably an atheist, from some of the things he has said about the religious right promoting magical thinking. But he has a divinity degree, his father was a politically radical Presbyterian clergyman, his mother was also a divinity student, and so Hedges doesn’t hate religion or regard the antics of the religious right and the frauds and bigots leading it as normal. Indeed, he is at pains to show that, for all that they scream that they represent traditional values, they don’t. He states in one video that they’re as far from traditional Christian religious doctrine and practice as the religious liberals they despise.

One of the points he makes in these videos is that these bigots have been assisted in their rise to power by the social atomization of modern American society. In places like LA there are no pavements, so people can’t walk down the street. You have to drive. And so people drive straight to work, and then straight home. They don’t really meet or interact with anyone else. And the religious right has exploited this atomization, this alienation, by offering people a community in the ideologically enclosed space of their megachurches. And the people they target are those who have suffered from the attacks of neoliberalism – people in the rustbelt, who have seen their jobs decline and their communities fall into poverty along with them.

Other observers of the American Right have said the same. One of the essays in the book attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservativism, states that these b*stards are able to get away with promoting bigotry and racism, because of the decline in genuine, working class communities. The jobs are going, and White flight has meant that Whites have moved out of racially mixed areas in the centres of town to the suburbs. Community centres have also closed, and the attack on trade unions has also destroyed this pillar of working class community. The result is that the individual is left isolated from both people of other ethnic groups, and similar people to him- or herself. He or she goes to work and comes home. This isolation leaves them vulnerable to the vile propaganda spewed at them by bigots like Jerry Falwell and the rest of the rightwing televangelists that were thrown up by the 1980s.

This atomization and alienation is one of the fundamental characteristics of totalitarian societies of the Left and Right. In the Soviet Union, society was arranged so that people were deliberately isolated from each other. The only way of keeping in contact and forming communities and relationships, at least officially, was through the party organisations. Ditto with the Third Reich. Hitler boasted that they would never leave the individual alone, not even in a poker club.

And the driverless cars also remind me of another dystopian vision of the future, that of Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian. This is a tale by one of the great masters of SF, in which a man walking late at night is stopped and picked up by a police car. The car’s not crewed. It’s entirely automatic. Bradbury describes the computer punchcards being processed as the machine thinks. The machine asks the man why he’s on the streets so late at night. He replies simply that he just wanted to take a walk.

Already there are places in some American cities, where you can’t walk. Mike found this out a few years ago when he visited friends in California. You had to drive everywhere, even down to the local stores. Which means that the cold future of The Pedestrian really ain’t that far away.

Radical Journalist Chris Hedges and Cartoonist Dwanyne Booth on the True Horror of War

September 2, 2017

I see that the government have started running recruiting ads for the armed forces again. It was the navy a few months ago. Now it seems to be the army. The ads show a greasy, disheveled man, who clearly represents some kind of Latin American Fascist or other butcher, being hunted down and snatched by our brave boys, who then whisk him over the sea in the motorized dinghy to a waiting British warship and justice.

Oh, if that were the reality!

It ain’t, of course. Like the Americans, we seem to have spent the last seventy odd years since the end of the Second World War propping up every Fascist mass murderer we could, so long as he would protect British interests from Communism or local nationalist movements. In 1958 we and the Americans organized a coup against the Iranian prime minister, Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, which included the equipment and complexes owned by Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became British Petroleum, now BP. Then there was Nasser and Suez, and Mrs. Thatcher’s fave South American buddy, General Pinochet. Quite apart from one of the Libertarian organisations that form part of the Tory party inviting the head of one of the South American death squads over as guest of honour at their annual dinner one year.

As for snatch squads, this ad looks inoffensive over here, but if it was shown on American TV it would actually be very sinister. One of the tactics the American military used to terrorise the Vietnamese during the war there was to use snatch squads to catch Vietnamese peasant farmers during nighttime raids. The farmers would then be killed and their bodies left as a mute message to their compatriots.

Britain’s invasion of Iraq with George Bush, in contravention of the UN legislation against pre-emptive war, and the continuing occupation of Afghanistan, have done precious little except create even more carnage and bloodshed in the Middle East. And these wars were not fought to defend America and the West against evil dictators. In the case of Iraq they were fought so that the oil industry and other western countries could loot whatever they thought was profitable in the country’s economic infrastructure. They also managed to wreck the economy by lowering trade tariffs in order to create the magical free trade utopia fantasised about by the Libertarians and Neo-Cons. Added to this was the ethnic and sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the occupation, and the use of mercenaries and Shi’a militias as death squads by the American overlords.

This makes this next video all the more urgently important. It’s not short – over fifty minutes long. It seems to be a film of the American radical journalist Chris Hedges speaking at an American university gathering about his experiences as a war reporter, and the anti-war cartoonist Dwanyne Booth, alias ‘Mr. Fish’, talking about his work. And it’s strong stuff, which doesn’t pull its punches.

Hedges has a degree in Divinity from Harvard. His father was a Presbyterian priest with radical political beliefs, who was strongly involved in the Civil and gay rights movements. Hedges trained in a seminary, but didn’t joint the clergy. After graduating, he joined the New York Times and served as a war journalist in South America in the 1980s, when Reagan was funding Fascists dictators and their death squads, like Contras in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. After that, he then covered the war in Iraq.

And he presents the unvarnished truth about war and the dehumanizing effect it has on those who are involved, whether as combatants or observers. It’s bloody and horrible, and he states that being in a firefight is terrifying beyond imagination. In fact, terror really doesn’t describe the sheer fear felt during these encounters. These are wars fought for the benefit of big business, and the images and stories about it that we are brought up on are lies.

He describes some of the battles in which he was personally involved, and the times he was captured by hostile forces, like Contras in Nicaragua and the Iraqi Republican Army in Iraq, when he really thought they were going to kill him and his companions. He states that before going into battle, everyone, with himself excepted, used to get drunk or high. Particularly the photographers, as they had to do what you really shouldn’t do in a gun battle and stand up. He states he knew many of them, who lost their lives doing their job. He also states that it is not like the movies. He praises Oliver Stone and his movie about Vietnam, Platoon, but says that the battle in that film is not like real firefights. It’s choreographed. Real battles are just chaos, in which you don’t know what’s going or who’s firing. In all the very many battles in which he was personally involved, he only once saw someone firing in his direction.

He describes how the Contras in Nicaragua called the Sandinistas and forces allied or sympathetic to them ‘periacuas’, a Latin American term meaning ‘motherf***er’. The Contras especially despised the press and media as being allied to the Sandinistas, which made his job even more dangerous. They also used to launch night raids, in which they’d murder a couple of peasant farmers. These people, would have had nothing to do with the war or the Sandinistas, but they were killed and a message left for the ‘periacuas’ on their bodies telling them that this was what was going to be done to them next.

They captured Hedges and his team, when he went looking for a group of them, who had gone underground. He found them, and they really weren’t happy. After capturing him, they radioed their headquarters to ask them whether they should kill them. Fortunately, the answer was, ‘No.’ But they were told to release them and say that if they caught them again, they would kill them and burn their jeep. As if they cared what would happen to the vehicle when they themselves were facing death!

He describes how he and another group of journalists were caught in Iraq by the Republican Army, thrown in the back of a jeep, and had guns pointed at their heads. They were then driven out of the city, and were afraid that their captors would stop somewhere in the desert and shoot them. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, and they were captured by proper, regular soldiers rather than the various militias that had sprung up, including companies formed of 14 year old Shi’a boys, who’d been given guns by Iran.

He also talks about the numbing effect war has on its participants, and the way it becomes a drug. Nothing can beat the high experienced by actually surviving a battle. And so he, like the soldiers he covered, became addicted to combat, playing a weird game with God to see if he could survive ever increasingly dangerous situations and battles.

He also talks about the immense alienation former soldiers feel, an alienation that prevents them from fitting back into society when they’ve returned from combat. He describes them as speaking a language no-one can understand, and makes the point that no-one wants to hear what they’re saying. He makes the point that when you find yourself in a war, you realise that everyone, from your government, the media and your educators, has lied to you. He discusses how old soldiers hate being told how well they’ve served their country, and how no-one wants to hear from them what war is really like. Of the troopers who took Iwo Jima, for example, several took their own lives, while a couple of others drank themselves to death. Hedges himself states proudly that he concentrated on talking to ordinary soldiers. He didn’t talk to anyone above the level of lance corporal, because he wanted to get the truth from them, rather than get caught up in the propaganda spouted by the generals and commanding officers. And he was unique in this. Most journalists wanted to see the top people, and so when he went for the job with the Times, he was told that the queue for the job began and ended with him.

As for the brutal reality of war, it is not like it is portrayed on television on the nightly news. He describes how, when he was in Iraq, in one area they visited the Iraqi army had been without water for three days. Dying of thirst, they tried to cross a minefield in the hope that Hedges and the squaddies he was with would give them some. One of the Iraqi troopers had both legs blown off by a mine. It took him six hours to bleed to death.

Hedges says that it’s quite possible now to show incidents like that using a satellite feed, so you can see in real time real soldiers suffering and dying. But no-one wants to see it, or broadcast it, because if they did, there’d never be another war.

Booth in his work is also angry and bitter about war, and the corporations and individuals standing behind it. One of his cartoons shows a little boy pointing into the camera in the classic Uncle Sam/ Lord Kitchener pose in the war recruiting posters. The legend below reads

I want YOU to give me a future not f*cked up by all your crazy bullsh*t about how moral and just the United States of America is when it invades and occupies other countries and how heroic and brave I’d be to kill for you because you’re too f*cking lazy and bigoted and unimaginative to prefer peace to hegemony and terrorism.

Another of his cartoons shows a child’s body in its grave, with corporate logos covering the shroud.

After speaking, there’s also a question and answer session with members of the audience, who include staff at the university. Some of these link the military action of the American empire to the destruction of the environment and other issues.

This is hard-hitting stuff, and it needs to be heard. We still have our politicians telling us lies about Iraq, and the other interventions in the Middle East, like Libya and Syria. And we haven’t been told the whole truth about Afghanistan – that the Taliban were utterly defeated, but the allied occupation was so terrible, and created so much chaos, that they were able to return and actually be welcomed by the people, they’d formerly oppressed.

Despite the fact that he’s a war criminal, Tony Blair’s still at large and desperate to get back into politics.

We need journos like Hedges. But the corporate media aren’t going to allow them to speak. In fact, the New York Times did its best to suppress the truth about what was going on in Iraq. And tens of journalists have died out there in highly suspicious circumstances, which suggests that the American army might have been killing those members of the media, who didn’t follow the approved line and described what they saw, rather than what the military wanted them to.

Don’t believe the corporate claptrap and the rubbish put out in the recruiting films. Support the independent media that dares to say what they won’t. And for heaven’s sake let’s get our young men and women out of the Middle East. Let’s stop wasting the precious lives of courageous people, who are being butchered simply so Haliburton and Aramco can make even bigger, more obscene profits.

Jewish Labour Movement Attempting to Ban Criticism of Israel in Labour Party as Anti-Semitic

August 30, 2017

Tony Greenstein, a veteran Jewish socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has put up a very important piece on his blog reporting that the Jewish Labour Movement is attempting to insert an amendment into the membership clause of the Labour party’s constitution, which would make criticism of Israel illegal. Greenstein is a proud, secular Jew, and opposes Zionism precisely because it is racist, and venomously genocidal in its treatment of the Palestinians and Arab Jews. He has paid the price for his commitment to anti-racism and human dignity. Like other anti-Zionists and critics of Israel, Jewish and gentile, he has been smeared as an anti-Semite. Many Jews, who are critical of Israel, believe that they actually receive worse vilification for their stance than their gentile comrades. In Greenstein’s case, he’s been suspended from the Labour party, like hundreds of others, received hate mail and been physically assaulted.

The hate messages he has received are hardly distinguishable from the vile screeds of gentile Nazis and anti-Semites. A few weeks ago he posted one such message he got from an outraged Jewish Zionist, which called him a ‘traitorous Jew’ and mocked him for his entirely accurate statement that the majority of European Jews wanted to stay in the land of their birth, the countries that were their homelands, as equal citizens, rather than emigrate to Israel. He was told he should try living in a shtetl – the segregated Jewish village in eastern Europe with the gentiles ruling over him. The writer concluded his message with the statement that he didn’t really like saying this to another Jew, but he wished the angel of death had taken him and his family during the Holocaust.

It’s deeply unpleasant, racist stuff. Greenstein put it up on his blog as an example of Zionist anti-Semitism, to make the point that instead of Jewish critics of Israel being anti-Semitic, it was the Zionists. It’s a good point. The Zionist’s message is racist and anti-Semitic. It abused Greenstein because he was Jewish. As for being a ‘traitorous Jew’ – that’s the language the Nazi and Fascist anti-Semites employ when they claim that Jews and people of Jewish heritage are really foreigners, outside the nation, and secretly plotting its downfall. Like the stupid and murderous ‘stab in the back theories’ that circulated in Germany after the First World War, which claimed that Germany had been defeated because of Jewish treachery. These were monstrous lies. Jewish Germans had been extremely patriotic in their response to the war, serving their country with pride and honour. The captain of Hitler’s unit during the War, who had put the future Nazi leader up for an Iron Cross, was Jewish. And the Jewish ex-servicemen’s league was a real problem for the Third Reich, as these old soldiers couldn’t easily be accused of treachery.

This is the same type of language we heard from the Nazis marching at Charlottesville, chanting ‘the Jews will not replace us.’ One component of contemporary Nazi and White supremacist ideology in the states is the sick notion that the Jews under the Zionist Occupation Government are engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and the promotion of Black civil rights.

As for physical assault, Mr. Greenstein in his blog has also described how he was assaulted on the street by an irate Israeli. But because Greenstein fought back, he – not his attacker – was charged with assault, although this was later dropped. It’s a clear, manifest injustice.

Now he reports the Jewish Labour Movement are attempting to define racism, anti-Semitism or islamophobia as whatever is perceived as such by a member of the affected groups. He points out that it’s based on a skewed reading of Shami Chakrabarti’s citation of the McPherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

If implemented, this would outlaw criticism of Israel on the grounds that a Jewish Zionist could simply say that it was anti-Semitic.

I’ve no doubt that this will happen. Mike said that after the sorely misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism libeled him as an anti-Semite, he had Zionists turning up on his Facebook page complaining that his comments about Ken Livingstone were anti-Semitic, because they felt they were. And that was sufficient.

I’ve also seen debates between Zionists and anti-Zionists in which the latter included Jewish and Israel anti-racism activists – where the Zionist has accused his opponents of anti-Semitism, simply because they did not share his belief that Israel has a divinely given right to the Occupied Territories.

This is a deeply hypocritical, and very dangerous game. When New Labour under Blair and Brown wanted to introduce tougher legislation against hate speech, the Tories went berserk and accused them of introducing the same assumption into its definition. That something constituted a racist offence, if the victim thought it was, including racial abuse.

This adds a dangerous element of subjectivity into the argument. Of course, in the case of the JLM, it’s intended to rule out of bounds any criticism of Israel or Zionism, because as soon as anyone raises the subject they’ll scream ‘anti-Semitism’. Even though this may consist of nothing more than the truth: that Israel is an apartheid state, that it is engaged on a decades-long campaign to cleanse its territory of Arabs, and that Arabs in the Occupied Territories can be killed, attacked, have their drinking water fouled, and their homes and other property seized with impunity. They may also be jailed for no other reason than publishing a poem urging their brothers and sisters to resist, as occurred to Dareen Tatour.

Ezra Levant, one of the brains behind the Far Right Canadian media group, Rebel Media, once argued in one of his videos against legislation outlawing hate speech. Levant’s Jewish, and he argued that Jews had long learned from experience that the weapons you give the state to protect you, can also be turned on you. So if you give the state the power to censor or ban certain types of speech, they can use those same powers to silence you. He argued that this was the case with Nazi Germany.

Levant’s part of the Islamophobic ‘counter-jihad’ movement, and what he was really worried about was western countries – Europe, Canada and America – passing legislation to ban speech or writing inciting the hatred of Muslims. But he does have a point regarding the treatment of Jews.

One of the elements in anti-Semitism has been the belief that Jews believe themselves to be superior to and despise and sneer at gentiles. Since the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, western Jews have taken great care to show that they don’t have this attitude. Indeed, in 1920s Germany I believe one traditional prayer was dropped from the synagogue service, in case it gave gentiles this idea. Jewish theologians and writers have also made the point that God gave the Torah to Israel and made them a people for His own possession, not because they were superior or stronger than the neighbouring peoples, but because they were weaker. Israel was to be a servant nation, acting as moral exemplars, and therefore ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’. Mr. Greenstein has also put up another piece on his blog about a Canadian rabbi, whose book on Jewish resistance to Zionism makes precisely this point against Zionism.

But if you introduce the idea of subjectivity into the definition of hate speech, it means that Jews are also vulnerable to unfair accusations of racism. A chance comment or remark, which may only just be a case of bad phrasing, may become a case for prosecution, simply because the person hearing it thinks they are being insulted, whether they are or not.

The insistence of the subjective perception of anti-Semitism also shows how close the Zionist lobby is coming to outright Fascism. Irrationalism was one of the formative components of Fascist psychology and ideology. Rational belief didn’t matter. They were just rationalisations used to justify a pre-existing belief or act. What mattered was how something felt, and this meant primarily one’s passionate commitment to the ethnic group and its character according to nationalist and racist theories. The JLM and the Zionists can’t argue against facts, and so their attempting to use the subjective perception of whether something is anti-Semitic to justify their attempts to close down discussion of Israeli racism and human rights abuse instead.

As for the Jewish Labour Movement, Greenstein makes the point that this is a sister organization to the Israeli Labour party, which is racist to the core. Recently, one of their MKs expressed his disgust that 61 other members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, were Arabs, and made it very clear that he despised Arabs and wanted them expelled from Israel.

He also discusses the example of the far right Israeli leader, Gopstein, a member of a racist nationalist group, Lehava, who made a speech encouraging Israelis to burn down churches and mosques. Despite calls from the Vatican that he should be arrested, Gopstein’s still free.

And Jewish Arabs have also been subject to discrimination and monstrous human rights abuse. Greenstein and Counterpunch have published several articles describing how the Zionist pioneers, as European colonialists, believed they were inferior, and wanted to destroy their Arab character. This even included forcibly taking the babies born to Yemeni Jews away from their mothers and giving them to rich, childless European Israelis or American Jews.

This is not only a crime against humanity in itself. It is also included in the UN definition of genocide, which includes the forcible removal of one part of an ethnic group to another. This also occurred during the Third Reich, where the Nazis sought Aryan bloodlines amongst the conquered Poles. Polish babies with blonde hair and blue eyes were declared to be of German stock, and were taken from their parents to be brought up as Germans.

The JLM are apologists for a viciously racist, genocidal state and political order that is ruthlessly intolerant of its critics, vilifying anti-racist gentiles as anti-Semites, and making the same, or even anti-Semitic insults at decent, self-respecting Jews. If Labour is serious about tackling racism and inequality, this amendment should be thrown out. At the very least, by introducing the element of subjectivity, as the Ezra Levant has pointed out, they have given a potential weapon to the real anti-Semites. And they won’t hesitate to turn it on them.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

Apollo Astronaut Michael Collins on Sexism, the Fragile Earth and Banning Guns in Space Colonies

July 13, 2017

Last week I put up a post about a clip of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, pulling faces at a rambling, incoherent speech made by Donald Trump. Trump was signing into law an act affirming America’s commitment to the space programme. His speech about it was less than inspiring however, and Aldrin, who not only went to the Moon himself, but has also been a staunch supporter of opening the High Frontier up to ordinary women and men, was very definitely less than impressed.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story, written by the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins. Collins was the pilot, who flew the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon, and then waited in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing, before flying back with them on the return journey to Earth. The book is Collin’s account of how he came to be astronaut. Determined to be a pilot after being allowed to hold the joystick of a passenger aircraft on which he and his family were travelling as a child, he joined the USAF and became a test pilot. He then moved on to join NASA’s space programme. He describes the rigorous training required, and his first flight into space with John Young in Gemini 10 in July 1966. He also explains how he came, reluctantly, to leave the astronaut programme for a variety of reasons, not least was the way it was stopping him from spending time with his family. And in his final chapter he, like Aldrin, looks forward to the future spread of humanity throughout the Solar system and beyond, with humans going to Mars and then Titan, a moon of Saturn, which may hold the key to the origin of life.

This isn’t an explicitly political book. Nevertheless, Collins does comment on specific issues as they affect the racial and gender composition of the astronaut programme, his perspective on the importance of the environment and why he believes guns would be banned by the inhabitants of a space colony. These are all issues which Trump, his supporters and donors in the gun manufacturers and lobbyists would strongly oppose.

In the passage where he discusses how he and the other astronauts became part of a panel, whose job was to select a fresh batch of astronauts, makes a point of explaining why only white men were selected. He then goes on to comment that although this was what was done at the time, he believes and hope that this will change, and that Blacks and women are just as capable of flying air- and spacecraft equally well. He points out that the highly technological nature of modern aircraft means that there is absolutely no biological obstacle to women piloting such high performance machines. He writes

Note that I have said “he”, because there were no women in the group, nor where there any blacks. In thinking about that, it seems to me that there were plenty of women and blacks who could get the highest marks in categories 1 and 4 [their intelligence and how badly they wanted to be astronauts], but in 1966 categories 2 and 3 [education and experience] tended to rule them out. There simply did not seem to be aeronautical engineers and experienced test pilots, who were black or women. I think, and hope, that will change in the future. Flying a modern jet aircraft does not require a great deal of strength, for one thing. Hydraulic flight controls, like power steering in a car, prefer a light touch, and women should do as good a job as men. Obviously, an airplane has now way of telling the skin colour of the person flying it. (pp. 72-3. My comments in brackets).

He describes how looking at the Earth from space made him aware how fragile it was, and of the importance of preserving the environment.

I will never forget how beautiful the earth appears from a great distance, floating silently and serenely like a blue and white marble against the pure black of space. For some reason, the tiny earth also appears very fragile, as if a giant hand could suddenly reach out and crush it. Of course, there is no one giant hand, but there are billions of smaller hands on earth, working furiously to change their home. Some of the changes being made are good, and others bad. For example, we are learning more efficient ways of catching fish, and that is good because it means more people can be fed from the oceans. If, on the other hand, these new methods result in the disappearance of species, such as whales, then that is bad. The automobile gives us great mobility, but pollutes our atmosphere. We cook cleanly and efficiently with natural gas, but we are running short of it. Newspapers and books spread knowledge, but require that trees be chopped down. It seems that nearly every advance in our civilisation has some undesirable side effects, Today’s young people are going to have to acquire the wisdom to see that future changes help our planet, not hurt it, so that it truly becomes the beautiful, clean, blue and white pea it seems to be when viewed from the moon. The earth truly is fragile, in the sense that its surface can easily shift from blue and white to black and brown. Is the riverbank a delightful spot to watch diving ducks, or is it lifeless greasy muck littered with bottles and tires? More people should be privileged to fly in space and get the chance to see the fragile earth as it appears from afar.
(p. 146).

Further on in the book, he states that future orbiting settlements would get their power from solar energy, as this would not only be abundant and free, but also clean, unlike coal. (pp. 150-1).

He also remarks on the way the Apollo missions differed from previous historic expeditions in that the explorers were unarmed, and suggests that the future inhabitants of a space colony at one of the libration points where the gravity of the Earth and Moon cancel each other out, and so named ‘Libra’, would similarly see no need for carrying weapons.

Apollo set a precedent for the future in another interesting way. It was probably the only major human expedition in which no weapons were carried. In similar fashion, no weapons would be permitted on Libra and Librans simply would not be able to understand why earth people continued to shoot one another. On Libra, if people felt hostile, they would be urged to put their energies into athletic contests or other competitive events, or simply to let off steam by going flying.

He then describes how the lower or zero gravity in the colony would allow people to fly aircraft power by their own muscles. (pp. 154-5).

Most of this is, or at least should be, non-controversial. Scientists have been warning us about the immense danger to our ecosystem, and the horrific decline in its natural wildlife as more and more habitats are destroyed, and an increasing number of species threatened with extinction, since the early ’70s. Among those warning of the ecological perils to the planet was the inspirational astronomer and NASA scientist, Carl Sagan. And indeed, one of the most powerful images that stimulated ecological awareness and the burgeoning Green movement was that picture of the Earth as a fragile, blue orb hanging in the blackness of space taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. Way back in the mid-1990s the Beeb’s popular science programme, Horizon, devoted an edition, ‘Icon Earth’, to how this photo had influenced politics and culture.

The picture hasn’t just made more people aware of the urgent need to protect the environment. Some of the astronauts have spoken about how it brought home to them how artificial racial and national divisions are. They point out that there are now boundaries visible from space. Helen Sharman, the British astronaut who flew with the Russians to Mir in the 1980s, states in her book about her voyage that space helps to foster international understanding and cooperation. She observes that astronauts are the least nationalistic people.

As for guns, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that shooting in the enclosed environment of space habitat could have truly disastrous consequences through the damage it could do to the machinery and fabric of the colony itself, and their ability to preserve human life in the harsh environment of space. A bullet through the outer skin of a spacecraft could lead the escape of its air, causing those within to die of suffocation and decompression.

Trump, however, is supported by the racist and misogynist Alt Right, who would like to roll back Black Civil Rights and women’s social and political gains since the 1960s, while the Republican party as a whole is generously funded by the NRA and the gun lobby, and the Koch brothers and other industrial magnates. The Koch brothers own much of the American petrochemical industry, and so, like many of the other multimillionaire businessmen, are very strongly opposed to any kind of environmental protection. The Kochs in particular are responsible for closing down awkward parts of the American meteorology and environmental science laboratories when they dare to issue warnings about the damage industry is causing to the country’s natural beauty and wildlife. They are then replaced with other institutions, also funded by the Kochs and those like them, which then conveniently deny the reality of climate change. The Republicans and their supporters in industry have also set up fake ‘astroturf’ Green movements, like Wise Use, which seek to undermine the genuine environmental movement.

Given the way the experience of looking back at our beautiful planet from space has transformed political, social and cultural perspectives all across the world, you can understand why some astronauts just might feel they have excellent reasons for pulling faces at their president.

May Abuses Constitution to Cling to Power – Just Like Hitler

June 19, 2017

No, this isn’t another example of Godwin’s Law. This is a very real instance where the Tories and the Nazis pursue similar legalistic tactics to seize power without a democratic mandate.

Remember back last summer, when one of the comments incorrectly cited by the Israel lobby to support their accusations of anti-Semitism against one of Corbyn’s supporters was a quote from Martin Luther King? The great civil rights leader had said ‘Everything Hitler did was legal’. Historically, MLK was absolutely right. Hitler and Mussolini came to power through the skillful manipulation of their countries’ democratic institutions and their constitution. They were even careful to make sure that the Holocaust – the horrific mass murder of six million Jews – had a legal basis in the German constitution. A few years ago the Beeb staged a drama documentary of the Wannsee Conference, the infamous secret meeting of the Nazi leaders to plan the genocide of the Jewish people in occupied Europe. At one point the drama showed the Nazi party lawyer briefly raising a point against the enactment of the Holocaust. He wasn’t against it for any moral reason. His only objection to it was his concern that it wouldn’t be legal.

Far from being popular revolutions, as they claimed, the Nazis and the Italian Fascists before them were able to seize power through democratic campaigning, and exploiting the political weakness of their right-wing rivals as the various coalitions that had governed Italy and Germany broke down. The governing right-wing parties needed a coalition partner to form a government. And Mussolini in Italy and then Hitler over a decade later were asked to join them in government. The Fascists and Nazis then exploited the political impasse to become the dominant party in these new, rightist coalitions, and then used a series of political crises to ensure that they became the only party following their victory in an election. In the case of Mussolini, the Fascists with the aid of the right wing of the Liberal party altered the Italian constitution so that the whole of Italy became a single electoral district, thus giving them the majority they needed to seize power as the only permitted political party. If the constitution had not been altered, and the separate, individual electoral districts had retained, Mussolini probably wouldn’t have one the election at all. In fact, he was personally embarrassed by the results. In Mussolini’s home town of Pridappa, nobody voted for him or his thugs.

It’s very clear how this situation also applied to Black Americans before the ending of segregation. America is a democratic state, which prides itself on its constitution and democratic institutions. Yet it was also state where Blacks, and other ethnic minorities, such as its indigenous peoples, were marginalised and oppressed through a set of regulations designed to maintain White political and social dominance, a set of regulations that were clearly anti-democratic in that they violated the fundamental democratic principle of equality for everyone under the law, but which nevertheless also claimed a basis in democracy through the support of the majority.

Now it seems Theresa May is also trying to manipulate the British constitution so she can cling to power without a clear electoral mandate. The elections have resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives have the largest number of seats in parliament, but lack an overall majority. So May has been desperately trying to form a coalition with the extremely right-wing DUP, a party with connections to Loyalist terror gangs in Ulster, such as the UDA and UVF. And Mike has also reported how she has cancelled next year’s Queen’s Speech, citing the need to maintain a solid government for Brexit, in order to hang on to another two years of power.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/18/desperate-theresa-may-is-playing-fast-and-loose-with-our-constitution-to-keep-herself-in-power/

I don’t think Brexit is particularly important to May. It certainly isn’t to the great mass of the British people. In a poll, only 15 per cent said it was a priority. However, it is a priority for business, and just about the only issue May has left to campaign on, now that a majority of the British public have shown that they don’t like the promises outlined in the Tory manifesto. The Tories are busily revising this to exclude the most unpopular, such as the Dementia Tax.

Meanwhile, the Tory whips are trying to drum up support for May as this country’s defence against ‘Marxist’ Jeremy Corbyn.

This really is the tactics of the Nazis. The Nazis and the Italian Fascists were crisis regimes. That is, they claimed their mandate to rule through a desperate crisis – the threat of Communism – which was facing their countries. In both cases, the threat of a Communist revolution or insurrection was gone when they seized power. Nevertheless, they were adept at exploiting the fear of a Communist uprising amongst the upper and middle classes.

And they exploited their nations’ constitutional provision for government by presidential decree for the duration of the crisis. This had been invoked by Hindenburg, the right-wing German president, in the late 1920s and first years of the ’30s when the coalition between the SDP, Catholic Centre Party and the Liberal parties broke down. It was then adopted by Adolf Hitler, who used it to keep the regime in power.

The German constitution dictated that the state of emergency could only last four years unless it was renewed. And so every four years, Hitler had to call the Reichstag, which was composed solely of members of the Nazi party, to renew the state of national emergency that kept the Nazis in power.

Similar to the way May is using the crisis of negotiations with the EU to extend her term in parliament beyond her actual democratic mandate to govern.

The Tories are now showing that they’re an active threat to democracy in this country. Blair’s New Labour and the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, passed a series of legislation providing for secret courts. If it is deemed necessary for reasons of national emergency, a person may be tried in secret, with the evidence against him kept from both him-or herself and his/her lawyer. The accused may also not be told the identity of their accuser.

It is exactly the type of legal system that was set up in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

And now May is also seeking to manipulate the British constitution, so she can secure a few more years of rule without the support of the British electorate.

This is another step towards authoritarianism and dictatorship, in which parliament only becomes a rubber stamp, or indeed a democratic façade, for an antidemocratic administration.

This has to be stopped. Now.
May either forms a workable coalition government. If she cannot do so within the next few weeks, then there should be absolutely no question of calling another election.

And this time voting her and her vile party out.

Israeli Headmaster Objects to Use of Holocaust to Spread Fear and Xenophobia in the Young

May 17, 2017

Yesterday Counterpunch published a piece by Jonathan Cook attacking the Israeli government’s exploitation of the Holocaust and promotional days for the police and army to spread extreme nationalism and hatred of other, gentile nations, amongst its schoolchildren.

Cook describes how a video appeared last week, showing Israeli policemen acting out the killing of a ‘terrorist’ to a group of 10 year old schoolchildren. Meanwhile, on the country’s Independence Day last month, the army was also on parade, letting children play with guns, tanks and grenades. In one West Bank settlement, the children were painted with fake blood and equipped with fake amputated limbs as part of the fun.

Cook points out that the killing of the ‘terrorist’ in the police video, as he lay wounded on the floor, mirrored the real life murder of a wounded terrorist by an Israeli soldier. He also describes the killing of another ‘terrorist’, that has been denounced by the human rights group, B’Tselem. This was a 16 year old Palestinian schoolgirl, Fatima Hjejji, who had frozen after pulling out a knife a little distance away from an Israeli checkpoint. The soldiers then gunned her down. B’Tselem concluded that the girl was no threat, and did not deserve to die.

Cook states that the goal of the public relations exercises is to create a generation of traumatised children, intensely fearful of non-Jews. And the Holocaust is a part of this process indoctrination. He writes that a visit to Auschwitz is now a rite of passage for many Israeli schoolchildren. As for Holocaust Memorial Day, he writes

Holocaust Memorial Day, marked in Israeli schools last month, largely avoids universal messages, such as that we must recognise the humanity of others and stand up for the oppressed. Instead, pupils as young as three are told the Holocaust serves as a warning to be eternally vigilant – that Israel and its strong army are the only things preventing another genocide by non-Jews.

The result of this is that Israeli young people are now more extremely nationalist and ethnically and politically intolerant than their elders.

Four-fifths of Israeli schoolchildren do not believe there is any hope of peace with the Palestinians. Half of Jewish Israeli schoolchildren believe that Palestinians should not be allowed to vote. These attitudes are shared by the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Liberman, who called Palestinian members of the Knesset, or those representing the Palestinians, ‘Nazis’ and said they should be treated as such.

And Israel’s declaration that it is the homeland of Jews all over the world turns the Palestinians into resident aliens in their own country.

Cook also describes the actions of some Israeli educators to criticise and act against all this. Zeev Degani, the headmaster of one of the country’s most prestigious schools, managed to cause outrage last year when he stopped the children at his school from going on the annual trip to Auschwitz. He stated that it was ‘pathological’ and intended to generate fear and hatred in order to inculcate extreme nationalism.

Degani and a few principals with similar liberal views have also invited the group, Breaking the Silence, into their schools. This is a group of former soldiers, who describe their participation in war crimes by the country’s military.

This naturally sent Naftali Bennett, a member of the Settler’s Party and the current education minister, into a fearful bate. Bennett then barred Breaking the Silence and other dissident groups, as well as books and theatre groups that threaten stability and order by encouraging Israeli schoolchildren to see the Palestinians as people worthy of compassion and sympathy.

Cook concludes

Degani and others are losing the battle to educate for peace and reconciliation. If a society’s future lies with its children, the outlook for Israelis and Palestinians is bleak indeed.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/16/israel-tutors-children-in-fear-and-loathing/

It’s a troubling, disturbing article, as clearly the goal of the Likudniks and their allies is to spread fear and distrust of foreign countries and non-Jews. Principal Degani and Breaking the Silence are to be applauded for standing up to the government’s demands to indoctrinate schoolchildren. As for Breaking the Silence, by recounting their part in atrocities committed by the military in order to spread a greater awareness of them, they are also doing what many servicemen in other countries have done. For example, when I was doing voluntary work some years ago in a private museum in Bristol, one of the books the museum received was a memoir by a former British soldier in Palestine of a war crime in which he had participated against the indigenous Arabs as a British squaddie. This man, like many others, who have been in similar situations, felt compelled to write his account in order to correct history and shine a light on the officers, who were really responsible for these atrocities.

I mention this as some of the attempts to defend Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians seem to suggest that Israel is unfairly being held to a different standard than other nations, or victimised because it is the Jewish state. This is not so. It is being criticised because it acts like other, non-Jewish, colonialist and Fascist settler states. And those former servicemen and women, who courageously speak out against the war crimes in which they have been involved, are doing exactly the same as other service personnel in other nations around the world, whose consciences similarly demand the public recognition of the injustices to which they, and their countries, are complicit.

As for the abuse of Holocaust Memorial Day to spread both fear of gentiles and the exclusion of any universal message against the persecution of other peoples and ethnic groups, this is one of the reasons why Jackie Walker, a Jewish woman of colour and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was libelled as an anti-Semite in a workshop on how the day should be commemorated last year. Walker, the daughter of a Black American mother and Russian Jewish father, who met during Civil Rights demonstrations in America, had objected to the exclusive concentration on Jewish genocide, and the way other groups were being ignored. Like the 12 million or so Africans, who were ripped from their homes in Africa during the centuries of the slave trade. The slavers killed the same number of people or more that they enslaved during their raids. Anti-Slavery campaigners in the 19th century claimed that whole regions of Africa had been left ravaged and depopulated through such attacks in search of men and women to sell overseas. And Black civil rights campaigners, such as W.E.B. DuBois in the last century have described this as a ‘Holocaust’.

But asking for such other Holocausts be commemorated on Holocaust Memorial Day, at least if it is run by the group behind the event Walker attended, will get you libelled as an anti-Semite. Even if, like her, you’re Jewish, have a Jewish partner, and your child goes to a Jewish school.

I’ve also seen the scribbling on the net of right-wing Canadian groups connected to the Tory and Republican parties, who want to spread the same attitude over there. One such website, run by Kathy Shaidle, called ‘Five Feet of Fury’, regularly used to attack the ‘official Jews’ – the website’s term – of Canada’s main Jewish organisation, and its liberal leader, Bernie Farber. Farber and his fellows annoyed the rightists because they saw the Jewish Holocaust in universal terms, as one of the various genocides that have been perpetrated against different peoples, groups and ethnicities down the centuries. Thus, when the Janjaweed militias were enslaving and massacring the people of Darfur at the beginning of this century, Farber organised a ‘Shabbat for Darfur’. It was to be a solemn Jewish fast, to mark the solidarity of a people, who had suffered genocide, with the victims of another. And it sent Shaidle into further rage.

She and Ezra Levant, another right-wing journalist and broadcaster, also wanted there to be less concentration on White nationalists and Fascists, and more on Muslims. They argued that most non-Muslim Canadians were thoroughly decent people – which I’ve no doubt whatsoever is true – and that the Nazis in Canada had always been a tiny handful. The real threat, they said, came from militant Islam.

It’s very similar to the attitude taken by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Unlike Shaidle and her fellows, this outfit differs in that it massively plays up and exaggerates the amount of anti-Semitism in Britain, in order to scare Jews into emigrating to Israel. But it similarly has little or nothing to say about fighting the genuine Nazi fringe, and prefers to concentrate on painting Muslims in Britain as particularly anti-Semitic.

And you can see the same attitude in the American Zionist organisations. Jacques Torczyner, the head of the American chapter of the World Zionist Organisation, said that Jews should ally with the reactionaries, as this would result in greater numbers moving to Israel. You can also see it in Netanyahu’s own response to Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s another quasi-Fascist, who’s appointed Richard Spencer, an anti-Semite and White supremacist, to his cabinet. Last night, The Young Turks reported that Trump had also ordered the anti-terrorism department of the American security services not to investigate White nationalist and supremacist organisations. Instead, they were to concentrate on Islamic terrorism, despite the fact that White Fascists commit the greatest number of terrorist offences in America.

But Netanyahu isn’t worried, because Trump also supports Israel, and has sent a particularly hardline Zionist to Jerusalem as America’s new representative.

Right across the world, in Britain, Canada and America, Zionist organisations like the scandalously misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism are ignoring real Fascists and White supremacists, and promoting Islamophobia and a conscious retreat from a wider awareness of the persistence of genocide across societies and nations, in order foster an aggressive nationalism and exclusive sense of victimhood in Israelis and Jewish young people in order to encourage further emigration and solidarity with Israel.

And when they object, decent, anti-racist people, gentiles and Jews, who may themselves have suffered abuse and victimisation because of their ethnicity or friendship and solidarity with Jews, are smeared as anti-Semites.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In

April 2, 2017

London: Profile Books 2016

Bernie Sanders is the ‘democratic socialist’ senator for Vermont, who ran against Hillary Clinton last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. He didn’t get it. Although he had more grass roots support than Killary, he was cheated of the nomination through the intervention of the Democrat superdelegates, who massively favoured her. He is the man, who should now be occupying the White House, rather than the gurning orange lump of narcissistic Fascism now doing his best to drag the country back to before the Civil War. The polls show that Bernie could have beaten Trump. But he wasn’t elected, as Bernie’s far too radical for the corporate state created by the Republican and mainstream, Clintonite Dems.

How radical can be seen from this book. It’s part autobiography, part manifesto. In the first part, Sanders talks about his youth growing up in Brooklyn, how he first became interested and aware of politics as a student at Chicago University, his political career in Vermont, and his decision to run for as a presidential candidate. This part of the book also describes his campaigning, as he crisscrossed America holding rallies, talking at town hall and union meetings, appearing on TV and social media trying to get votes. A strong feature of the book is Bernie’s emphasis on his background as one of the country’s now threatened lower middle class. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who worked as paint salesman. He and his family lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, where conditions were cramped so that they often slept on couches. He freely admits that his parents were also relatively affluent and had more disposable income than others.

After having left uni, he began his political career in Vermont in 1971 when he joined and campaigned for the senate in the Liberty Union party, a small third party in the state. During the same period he also ran a small company producing educational films on the history of Vermont and other states in New England. Finding out that none of the college students he spoke to had ever heard of Eugene Victor Debs, he went and brought one out on the great American labour leader and socialist politician. On the advice of a friend and college professor, Richard Sugarman, Sanders ran for election as mayor of Burlington. He won, introducing a number of important welfare, educational and municipal reforms he called ‘socialism in one city’, a play on Stalin’s slogan of ‘Socialism in One Country’. He was strongly opposed by the Democrats. A few years afterwards, however, he was elected to Congress as an Independent, where, despite some resistance from the Democrats, he was finally admitted to the Democratic Caucus. In 2006 he ran for senator, contested the seat vacated by the Republican, Jim Jeffords, who had retired. By 2013 he was being urged by his supporters to campaign for the presidential nomination. To gauge for himself how much support he was likely to receive, Sanders went across America talking to ordinary folks across the country. After this convinced him that he had a chance, he began to campaign in earnest.

At the beginning of his campaign for the nomination, Sanders was very much the outsider, getting 15 per cent of the votes polled to Clinton’s 60 per cent. Then he started winning, climbing up the ladder as he took something like seven out of eight states in a row. The corporatist wing of the Democrats did everything they could to block his rise, culminating in the theft of the nomination through the intervention of the superdelegates.

Sanders is a champion of the underdog. He garnered much support by going to communities, speaking to the poor and excluded, often in very underprivileged neighbourhoods where the police and security guards were worried about his safety. He spoke in a poor, multiracial community in New York’s South Bronx, and to poor Whites in rural Mississippi. The latter were a part of the American demographic that the Democrats traditionally believed were impossible to win. Sanders states that actually speaking to them convinced him that they were way more liberal than the political class actually believe. During a talk to a group of local trade unionists, Sanders asked why people in such a poor area voted Republican against their interests. This was one of a number of counties in the state, that was so poor that they didn’t even have a doctor. The union leader told him: racism. The Republicans played on Whites’ hatred of Blacks, to divide and rule the state’s working people.

Sanders makes very clear his admiration for trade unions and their members, and how frequently they know far better than the politicians what is not only good for their members, but also good for the industry, their customers, and their country. He praises the nurses’ unions, who have endorsed his campaign and backed his demand for a Medicaid for all. He similarly praises the workers and professionals maintaining America’s infrastructure. This is massively decaying. 25 per cent of American bridges are, according to surveyors, functionally obsolete. Towns all over America, like Flint in Michigan, have had their water poisoned by negligent water companies. The electricity grid is also unspeakably poor. It’s ranked 35th worst in the world, behind that of Barbados. Yep! If you want to go to a country with a better electricity network, then go to that poor Caribbean country.

He describes how the poor in today’s America pay more for less. Drug prices are kept artificially high by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, so that many poor Americans can’t afford them. In one of the early chapter, he describes leading a group of women from Vermont over the Canadian border, so that they could buy prescription drugs cheaper. These same companies, like the rest of the big corporations, do everything they can to avoid paying tax. In some cases, these big corporations pay absolutely none. This is because of the corruption of American politics by donations from big business. As a result, the country’s politicians don’t represent the ordinary voters. They represent big business. He makes it clear he respects Hillary Clinton, but ran against her because you can’t combine representing ordinary people with taking money from the corporate rich. And at the heart of this corruption is the Koch brothers, oil magnates with a personal wealth of $82 billion and a corporate wealth of $115. They are not, explains Bernie, small government conservatives, but right-wing extremists. Their goal is to dismantle taxation completely, along with Medicaid and what little the country has of a welfare state. All so that the 1 per cent, who own as much as the poorest 90 per cent of the American population, can get even richer.

Sanders goes further to describe the massive inequalities that are now dividing American society, including the racism and sexism that ensures that women, Blacks and Latinos are paid less than White men. The notorious drug laws that have ensured that more Blacks are jailed for marijuana and other drugs than Whites. The crippling debt that faces more and more Americans. 48 million Americans are in poverty. 24 million have no health insurance. Many of these are people, who are in work, and frequently working their rear ends off just to make ends meet. He describes talking to a charity worker, who purchases just out of date food to give to the local food bank. According to the young man he spoke to, 90 per cent of the people using the bank are working Americans, whose jobs pay so little that they literally can’t afford to eat. In this section of the book he quotes a letter from a woman, who states that she and her husband are work 2 and 3 jobs each, but still can’t make a living. As a result, the young can’t afford to buy their houses, or go to university. He contrasts this with the situation in the 1950s. It wasn’t utopia, and there was still massive inequalities in wealth according to race and gender. But the economy was expanding, more people had the prospect of good, well-paying jobs, owning their own homes, and sending their children to college. This America is disappearing. Fast.

Sanders has given his support to women’s groups, and is a very staunch anti-racism campaigner. Amongst those who backed his campaign were Harry Belafonte and Dr. Cornel West, among other Afro-American intellectuals, performers and politicians. He also received the support of a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Seth MacFarlane and Danny DeVito. And comic book fans everywhere with genuinely progressive values will be delighted to here that his campaign manager ran a comic book store in Vermont. Presumably this guy is completely different from the owner of the Android’s Dungeon in The Simpsons. Sanders talks about his support for the Civil Rights movement, and Selma march, paying due tribute to its heroes and heroines, including Dr. Martin Luther King. He’s also a keen supporter of Black Lives Matter, the Black movement to stop cops getting away with the murder of Black people. As part of his campaign against racism, he also actively supports the campaign against the demonization of Muslims and rising tide of Islamophobia in America. When he was asked whether he would support this by a Muslim American, Sanders replied that he would, as his own father’s family were Jewish refugees from Poland.

Sanders is also strongly opposed to the current wars in the Middle East. He was not in favour of Gulf War 1 in the 1990s, and has attacked the invasion of Iraq under Bush for destabilising the country and region, and causing massive carnage. But he was no supporter of Saddam Hussein, and is also a staunch supporter of veterans, adding his political clout to their campaigns to stop the government cutting their benefits. He points out that the blame for these wars lie with the politicos, not the soldiers who had fight.

Bernie also takes worker ownership very seriously. Among the policies that he recommends for saving and expanding the American middle class are strengthening workers’ cooperatives and allowing workers to purchase their companies. One of the measures he states he will introduce will be to establish a bank to lend funds to American workers so that they can buy their own companies. He also wants to end the ‘too big to fail’ attitude to the big banks and start regulating them again. And as part of his campaign to strengthen and expand American democracy, he is a very harsh critic of the various laws the Republicans have introduced in states across America to stop Blacks, Latinos, the poor and students from voting. He also asks why it is that European countries can afford free medical care, but America can’t. And why Germany can provide college education free to its students, while Americans are faced with a mountain of debt.

Sanders is a genuine American radical in the tradition of Eugene Debs. It’s no wonder that the rich and the powerful now trying to pull the country back into the colonial era, when it was ruled by coterie of rich White men. He states that his country is now an oligarchy, and even a ‘banana republic’. He’s right, and right about the ways these issues can and should be tackled.

The Republicans have also tried to deter people from voting for him based on his apparent lack of interest in religion. They couldn’t attack him for being Jewish – although with those monsters Spencer and Gorka in the White House, I don’t know how long that will hold – so insinuated that he was an atheist. Well perhaps. But Sanders does have religious supporters. His friend and support Richard Sugarman is an Hasidic Jew and Sanders himself several times states how impressed he is with Pope Francis’ support for the global poor. He also made it clear in a speech he gave to the very Conservative Liberty University that he was impressed with the good in all religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, whatever. So he’s secular, but not anti-religious. Just anti-bigotry, and the way the right is trying to use religion to divide America.

It’s also remarkable that Sanders was the focus of a popular phenomenon far beyond his own campaign team. He states in the book that he wanted to control the campaign, and not have a SuperPAC telling people what he didn’t or didn’t believe. But he also found that up and down America, people at the grassroots were organising independently of his campaign team to support him. Unlike the astroturf fake populist campaign the Republicans and Libertarians have set up, Bernie’s genuinely popular with a growing number of American working people.

America desperately needs him. And so do we in Britain. The predatory, parasitical capitalism at the heart of American society has also been exported over here by the Conservatives. Just like the Americans need Bernie, we need Corbyn. And we need the two together, because if Bernie can do anything to stop the current political degeneration in America, it will also help stop the process over here.

Incidentally, Bernie has a personal connection with Britain. His brother is a member of the Green party in Oxfordshire, and campaigns against the privatisation of the NHS. Sanders also has a strong interest in protecting the environment and promoting renewable energy.

I also recommend this book to aspiring young politicos because of the chapters in which he talks about running a campaign, funded by your own supporters, not corporate backers, and what you need to do when running about the country. Like making sure you can get there in time and aren’t double-booked. It’s good advice, and although the latter seems obvious, he talks about a number of incidents in which he disastrously failed to follow it.

Sanders talks about the way people are being turned off politics in America, thanks to the massive corporate corruption. This also reaches into corporate media. Sanders also has a few ideas how they can be reformed. He himself was the subject of a media blackout, as the TV and news companies definitely did not want to cover him, and very much favoured Killary. Hopefully Bernie’s book will reach more of the alienated folk now being excluded from American politics, and show them that there is someone actively fighting for them. And so encourage them to get involved for themselves.