Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights’

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.

The Empire File’s Abby Martin on Trump’s Advisor, Steve Bannon

March 22, 2017

In this video from Telesur’s The Empire Files, Abby Martin discusses the repugnant rise on Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart and pillar of the Alt Right now serving as the chief advisor in Trump’s cabinet. She describes how Bannon began his career as an officer in the US navy. An ardent militarist with a love for war and staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan, Bannon was nevertheless disappointed at not seeing active combat as the conflict he was hoping for with Iran did not materialise. He left the navy to work in the US financial industry for Goldman Sachs, before leaving them to form his own investment house. He got the job with Goldman Sachs after personally meeting the first head. After selling his investment company two years later, he began making right-wing documentary films. These are apocalyptic dystopias of a collapsing America under assault from armies of criminals. But they weren’t successful beyond the restricted circles of the Tea Party. So in 2004 he moved to working for an internet company, IGE, or Internet Gaming Entertainment. This made its money from paying people to mine the Virtual resources in internet game such as World of Warcraft to sell to the games’ players. Bannon managed to convince Goldman Sachs to plough $60 million into this fantasy world. However, IGE was run by some ‘highly problematic’ people. Its founder, Marc Collins-Rector, was wanted for child rape, and eventually all three of the company heads were sued for the abuse of underage boys. Eventually IGE itself collapsed, sued in a class action by games.

A new company, Affinity Media, rose from the remains of IGE. Bannon overthrew the head of this company and replaced him with himself. He then left it a few years later to work for Breitbart.

The film also discusses his abusive second marriage to Mary Louise Bacard, whom he married after she became pregnant. Bannon postponed marrying her until only three days before she gave birth, stating that he wasn’t going to marry her unless the children were normal. Fortunately, amniocentesis scans showed they were. He did not pay much attention to his two newborn daughters and refused to pay child maintenance. Less than a year into the marriage, a domestic argument broke out between Bannon and Bacard, which ended with Bannon becoming violent and trying to strangle her. The police had to be called, and Bannon was charged with domestic misdemeanour, battery and witness intimidation. The trial broke down, however, as Bacard did not appear in court. Bacard divorced him, and later revealed that Bannon and his lawyers had threatened to ruin her life if she pursued the charges against him. After the divorce, Bacard also had the terms of Bannon’s visitation rights to their children changed after she caught him hitting one of the 17 month old babies. She also said that he argued with her in front of them and that she did not feel safe.

It is not just his wife he has abused. He has also been charged with the coarse verbal abuse of female employees.

Martin also goes into Bannon’s opportunist support for Conservative and reactionary political movements, which he thought he could promote as vehicles for his own views, such as the Tea Party and then Sarah Palin, about whom he made a documentary. Curiously, this does not include an interview with Palin herself.

Bannon became friends with Andrew Breitbart, the news agency’s founder, because of their shared love of reactionary media. Breitbart even admiringly referred to Bannon as ‘the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party’, referring to the Nazi propagandist who directed Triumph of the Will, about the Nuremberg rally and an equally celebratory account of the Munich Olympics. Breitbart was a protégé of Matt Drudge, the creator of the Drudge Report, who converted the style and approach of Conservative talk radio, in which subjects were discussed in a manner unsuitable for television, to the internet. Drudge took other media stories, but manipulated their headlines and contents to fit its bias against the progressive Left, women, the working class and ethnic minorities. Along with Bannon, Drudge also picked up and promoted the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. She notes that while Jones is viewed as an internet ‘sideshow’, he has an audience of millions that hang on his every word. Bannon was brought into Breitbart to encourage outside investment into it. But the company was itself experiencing severe problems. These stems from it being blacklisted after it manipulated footage of a female government employee to make it appear that she was advocating violence against Whites. After Breitbart’s death, Bannon took over the leadership of that company too. He then set up the Government Accountability Institute, which issues spurious reports alleging government conspiracies. These include the allegation that protest movements are secretly funded by the government. Among the millionaires supporting Breitbart is Robert Mercer, the investment banker who ran anti-Muslim ads attacking the Ground Zero Mosque and advocating the death penalty, and who has one of the largest private collections of machine guns. Other donors included the billionaire Koch brothers. Martin notes how the Institute acted to allow these millionaires to launder money, which could be invested in Breitbart. The money donated to the IGA was then used to pay the wages of Breitbart employees, which is illegal.

Ex-employees have stated that Bannon has a tight, dictatorial control of the company and expects both journalists and guests to follow his editorial line. Among those, who have been published in his organisation are the anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller, Michael O’Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, and the bigot and paedophile enabler, Milo Yiannopolis. She shows how the site manipulates and aggregates news stories to attack Blacks and Muslims. Following the rise of massive anti-Muslim feeling in Europe, Breitbart has focused on promoting and playing on this fear. Breitbart’s audience is mainly angry White men, and the organisation’s audience figures shot up from 8 million to 18 million after the election of Donald Trump.

Martin discusses how Bannon has also attacked traditional Conservativism, stating that he wants to destroy the traditional Republican party as well as everything left of it. He is a populist, but only defends and promotes the White working class. He rejects ‘globalism’ in favour of economic nationalism. She states how this has been used by extreme right-wing regimes since Nazi Germany to divert attention away from capitalism as the cause of systemic economic crises. Bannon is happy to describe himself as an economic nationalist, but vigorously rejects the accusation that he is a White Nationalist, despite his attacks on non-White immigrants as a threat to Judeo-Christian civilisation, particularly Muslims. His views on Islamic immigration are even more extreme than Trump’s. If he was in charge of government, then not a single Muslim would be allowed into America. He has made documentaries showing American border towns as under siege from immigrants. Unlike Trump, he also does not want legal, well-educated and productive immigrants to stay in the country. There exists a tape, which shows him arguing against Trump on this point, when Trump protested about an Indian man, who was deported back to his homeland, where he set up a successful company employing thousands of people. Breitbart also runs stories portraying Black Americans as violent criminals and welfare scroungers. Bannon also claims that the Alt Right’s appeal to racism is entirely coincidental. He looks back to the 1950s as a golden age, whose stability and prosperity has been destroyed by the decline of Judeo-Christian civilisation. She notes that he does identify correctly some of the current problems, such as the increasing lack of upward mobility and the poverty caused by neoliberalism, and also points out that the 1950s were definitely not an era of prosperity for Black Americans and others, who were exploited and brutalised. In his view, the civil rights and other protest movements of 50s and 60s destroyed the working class and small businesses, and allowed big business and big government to collude against working Americans. She states that in his hatred of the civil rights and other movements, he attacks the very people, who have been hurt the most by globalisation. The video includes a clip from one of his wretched documentaries in which he criticises ‘White guilt’ for encouraging the belief that ‘everyone should have a house’. She then moves on to discuss another of his tawdry epics, in which he attacks the Occupy Wall Street movement. He tries to portray organic popular protest movements as vehicles for Communists, Democrats or George Soros, and attacks millennials for supposedly undermining American culture and values with the vapidity and materialism of popular culture. He even goes as far as to blame this for the rise of ISIS.

Martin makes the point that Bannon’s message was extremely effective during the 2016 election campaign, because it addressed issues that the Democrats did not want to confront. She credits Bannon with formulating the most extreme elements of Trump’s Muslim ban and his harsh hostility to the media, as well as showing how Trump’s proposal to publish a list of crimes committed by immigrants is also strongly similar to Breitbart’s strategy. She also points out that Bannon’s militarism may, as a Chinese army officer observed, make Bannon’s prediction that in five to ten years America and the Chinese will be at war a reality. Bannon has said several times that Islam and China are expanding because they believe the Judeo-Christian West is in retreat. And Trump has also appointed more generals to his cabinet than previous administrations.

Martin concludes the piece by stating that Bannon’s rise shows how corrupt and illegitimate the system is, and that the Democrats, who wish to fight the same wars and are in debt and the pockets of their own corporate donors, are unable to fight him. He can only be fought by a united, multicultural progressive movement on the streets.

The Young Turks on the Real, Anti-Capitalist Radical Martin Luther King

February 4, 2017

In my last post, I talked about how contemporary scholars were re-examining MLK’s life and political thought to show that far from being a moderate, Dr Luther King was a radical who opposed not just racism, but the capitalist exploitation of the poor, the Developing World and the Vietnam War. These aspects of the man have been airbrushed out of his to make him more palatable to the right-wing mainstream.

In this video from The Young Turks’ ‘Aggressive Progressives’, Jimmy Dore, Steve Oh and Malcolm Fleschner discuss a recent article by Zaid Jilani in the Intercept, in which he tears apart what Dr Cornel West has called ‘the santaclausification’ of MLK. In one of his speeches, Dr Luther King refuted the lie that America was built on the Puritan values of hard work. He said

“Again, we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of Black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both Black and White, both here and abroad.”

Steve Oh talks about how Cenk Uygur, himself and others go on trips during MLK weekend. One trip they made was to Charleston, South Carolina. This was the richest city in America in 1850, and its economy was built on slavery – through slave produced cotton, rice farming and the sale of human beings. He makes the point that although chattel slavery has vanished from America, it is in a sense still with us in the form of the economic slavery, which now affects all poor Americans. He mentions one of the White people they interviewed, who talked about the destruction of his community by the anti-working class, anti-welfare policies and the elite. These policies affect Blacks and Latinos disproportionately, but all poor Americans, regardless of their colour, are suffering.

Oh makes the point that while King now is seen as a consensus builder and fighter for racial justice in the Segregated South, he was a radical like Malcolm X, although his approach differed from the other Civil Rights leader. He talks about how MLK’s teachings were beautiful, and for all Americans, and how he spent the last year of his life, before his assassination in 1968 battling against the Democratic party. Other Civil Rights leaders had warned King not to alienate the Democrats with his condemnation of the Vietnam War. MLK responded to this by giving a speech at Riverside Church in New York City, in which he denounced the American government as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, the napalm bombing of cities and its support for the puppet government in South Vietnam. He called for a complete re-examination of American foreign policy, including the capitalist exploitation of the Developing World.

Dore makes the point that the same problems affect American radicals now. Bernie Sanders is also fighting for economic justice for the American working man and woman. But he’s also being opposed by a corporate, Democrat elite, who want to privatise schools, parks, education and definitely the healthcare system, as the state system is so much better.

There’s much more that could be said here. I know many people, who don’t like MLK because they see him as being too much of an ‘Uncle Tom’. This presents the opposite view, and with luck should help encourage more people to rediscover MLK’s legacy of radicalism and anti-capitalist protest.

Trump Opens Black History Month, But Doesn’t Know Who Frederick Douglass Was

February 4, 2017

I think this month over in the US is Black History Month, which is when teachers, historians and educationalists try to bring to mainstream attention the numerous Black figures, who have contributed to the shaping of modern America. Trump went on TV to announce it this week, and paid tribute to great figures of the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movement Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. However, he didn’t seem to know quite who Douglass was. He described him as someone, who has done great work, and is increasingly being recognised. Which makes it sound as though Drumpf thought he was an historian of the Black contribution to America. Douglass wasn’t. He was one of the major figures of the 19th century Abolitionist movement. His autobiography is one of the classics of Abolitionist and Black American literature. One of his most controversial and inspiring speeches was ‘What To The Slave Is the Fourth of July?’, in which he pointed out how hollow and meaningless the rhetoric surrounding Independence Day, with its talk of resisting tyrants and slavery, for America’s Black people, who were still held in servitude.

In this clip from The Young Turks, John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian discuss Trump’s apparent ignorance. They give him due credit for recognising the contribution of the above Black leaders, and the millions of other Black people in business and politics, which Trump also mentions. They make the point that his apparent ignorance shows the need for Black History Month, as Douglass was an obscure figure until Black scholars rediscovered him. They take issue with the opposition some people have to the Month. Some object to it on the grounds that a separate period for Black history shouldn’t be necessary, and historically marginalised figures like Tubman, Parks, Douglass, MLK et al should be incorporated in general history. They don’t dispute this. They do attack the claim that there simply shouldn’t be Black history month, or there should also be a White History Month, on the grounds that White history is taught every year, throughout the year, from January to December. And they point out too that teaching Black history is necessary, as some schools in very right-wing states have deliberately removed Black leaders and figures like MLK from the curriculum, in order to teach right-wing political figures like Phyllis Schlafly. In an earlier video, The Young Turks reported, if I recall correctly, how the schoolboard in Arizona had stopped teaching the pupils there about slavery, and replaced that part of the school curriculum with Reagan’s speeches. Which very much bears out their point. As for Phyllis Schlafly, she was a Conservative activist, who was anti-feminist and very much anti-UN.

Trump in his speech also takes the time to correct the rumour that he does not treasure the bust of Martin Luther King and had it removed from his office. This, he says, is wrong. He states that it is his most treasured object. This is interesting, as it shows how MLK has been ‘whitewashed’ so that even a Conservative like Trump can approve of him. Those, who’ve studied MLK and his work have pointed out that the man was much more radical than is commonly recognised. He’s seen now simply as standing up for Black equality and racial reconciliation between White and Black. Which is true. But he also bitterly hated capitalism for its exploitation of the poor, whether Black or White, denounced the US’ attacks on Cuba and was very firmly opposed to the Vietnam War, for exactly the same reasons Mohammed Ali did. I dare say Trump would have been shocked to know any of that. It definitely wouldn’t have made MLK one of his favourite Black leaders, as the great man would have despised everything that Drumpf, and indeed recent American presidents, including Obama, stand for regarding the bombing and wars in the Middle East.

Trump also pays due to tribute to his Black staff members and co-workers, especially for taking him into areas, he didn’t know anything about and had not visited before. Iadarola and Kasparian give Trump credit for not going on about the problems of Black inner city ghettoes, which is the prism through which Drumpf usually views the Black community. They also note at one point, Trump characteristically turns it around so that he is, once again, talking about himself and his campaigning, rather than the issue at hand.

If you’re interested in following up Frederick Douglass’ life and work, his autobiography most certainly has been republished. I think it’s in print both individually, as a part of anthologies of American slave writings. There are very many history of slavery and the slave trade. One that’s particularly useful for American history is Harry Harmer’s, The Longman Companion to Slavery, Emancipation and Civil Rights (Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd 2002). This has separate chapters on slavery in different regions and periods, such as in South America, North America and so on. It also presents the most important points as bulleted facts, and as its title says, continues the story into the Civil Rights period.

Barack Obama and the Corporatist Democrats Attack Free Speech

December 5, 2016

It’s very clear that in the next few years under Trump, the treasured freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution and the civil rights women and people of colour have fought so hard for are going to come under sustained attack. In many ways, Trump will just be continuing the rise of an exclusive nationalism and an all-pervasive surveillance state that began under George Dubya as he launched his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, it seems that the corporatist wing of the Democrat party, led by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, also wants to close down Americans’ freedom of speech and information by singling out dissenting journalists, news organisations and demanding a greater role for the state in telling you what information you should believe on the Web.

There were a couple of very important articles about threat to freedom of thought in last weekend’s Counterpunch. This followed an article on Thanksgiving by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post that claimed, on the authority of a group of media researchers, Propornot, that there were about 200 or so journalists, magazines, websites and organisations disseminating fake news intended to serve the Russians’ nefarious interests. Renee Parsons in her article discusses how the 200 websites identified by Timberg as outlets for Russian propaganda don’t actually show any evidence that they are acting on false information provided by Russian state media outlets like RT or Sputnik. And a careful reading of Timberg’s article also shows that, actually, RT and Sputnik haven’t invented any stories either. What they have done instead is identify items that the rest of the media ignored or paid little attention to, and made them more prominent. Or, to put it another way, they scooped the rest of the media.

As for Propornot itself, the organisation’s website states that it is “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!” And the only person identified with it is the satirist and comedian Samantha Bee, who is the anchor on the news comedy show Full Frontal. Propornot are frightening, as they call on Barack Obama and Congress to investigate how the Russians manipulated information sources to upset the American political process. Which shows that it’s a body of Clintonian Democrats desperately trying to find suitable media scapegoats with the new, anti-Russian McCarthyism for her defeat by Donald Trump.

The site is even more malign, in that it appeals to the American public to identify not only those individuals and organisers echoing Russian propaganda, but also ‘sympathisers’. She states

If there is any doubt whether the Timberg article and Propornot itself is a partisan effort, the YYY implication is that anyone “echoing a Russian propaganda line” such as those who speak “how wonderful, powerful, innocent and righteous Russia and Russia’s friends are: Putin, Donald Trump, al-Bashar Assad, Syria, Iran, China, radical political parties” will be considered tools of Russia as compared with those who speak “how terrible, weak, aggressive, and corrupt the opponents of Russia are: the US, Obama, HRC, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, US allies, MSM and Democrats” will be considered enemies of the State. Anyone with such information is encouraged to ‘come tell us at Propornot about it.”

This came nearly two months after Obama made a speech to a political organisation about the internet, in which he made it clear that he wanted to set up some kind of official body to manage what they trust on the Web. She states

During a visit to the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh on October 13th, the President, known for his smooth, glib reassurances so successful at placating the public, suggested that “we are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to” and that “democracy requires citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions” and further that “those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.” The President continued that “there has to be some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests.”

The President’s statement does not adequately capture what democracy requires of its citizens and reads more like what George Orwell epitomized as ‘political speech’ deliberately meant to confuse and demean citizen awareness. What Obama failed to acknowledge is that every American has a right, an obligation as an engaged citizen to determine for themselves what is a lie, distortion or truth; that ‘fake news’ is in the eye of the beholder and what a citizen believes and what they do not believe is their business and requires no justification to the government or anyone else. Most importantly, it was the President’s obligation to say that with a tremendous divergence of opinion on the www, some of it wacky, some of it conspiratorial, some of it incredibly incisive and intelligent and important – all of it is protected by the First Amendment.

To briefly parse the President’s words, most of which are painfully obvious,

suggestions of a “curating function” as in some official government entity assigned for the purpose of “protecting” (“ added) the public interest and “some sort of way…sort through information that passes some truthiness test” are presented in the President’s usual folksy, innocuous dialectic used to serve the public pablum while a further shredding of their Constitutional rights slips by under their nose.

She states that this is a further attack on American’s Constitutional freedoms by Obama. Despite his election promises, Obama has not ended surveillance without warrant, restored habeas corpus and the prohibition against detention without trial, torture, and excessive secrecy of government branches. Moreover, the Constitution also explicitly forbids presidents from starting wars without the approval of Congress. This has also been violated by successive administrations, and Obama hasn’t restored this Constitutional provision either.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/obama-and-propornot/

Further information on Timberg and his witch-hunt is provided in the same issue by Pam and Russ Martens. They discuss the possible reasons for this article, including that discussed by Parsons, and first put forward by Max Blumenthal of AlterNet, that it’s the Democrats trying to blame the Russians for Killary losing the election. Other theories are that the mainstream media is also trying to ensure its survival in the age of the internet and alternative media by smearing its new media competitors. Glen Ford, the editor of the Black Agenda Report, one of the organisations smeared as a Russian propaganda outlet, has suggested that the corporatist Democrats are very close to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, and that had Hillary won the election, she would also have launched a similar attack on alternative news sources on the Net. The Martens also state that during his career, Timberg was the National Security deputy editor for the Washington Post, before taking up his current position as the paper’s technology editor. He has also made speeches about the facial recognition technology used for law enforcement, and interviewed the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, on the information revealed on the NSA’s programme of mass surveillance. This latter interview was done at the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank, that was secretly part-owned for several decades by the Koch brothers.

The Martens themselves believe that this latest McCarthyite smear is an attack on the news organisations that ran stories from the WikiLeaks materials exposing the massive corporate corruption in the Democrat party. Both the Washington Post and New York Times did report that information from WikiLeaks revealed that a Citigroup executive, had made the decisions on who Obama should hire as key personnel during his first term. Citigroup was one of the massive banks that had to be bailed out during the 2008 crash. And both the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards supported Killary’s presidential campaign.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/timbergs-tale-washington-post-reporter-spreads-blacklist-of-independent-journalist-sites/

Fortunately, Timberg’s article has met with widespread derision and ridicule, with many of the commenters on the online version of the article criticising it as a piece of shoddy, McCarthyite journalism. Regardless of the precise motives for the attack – and the various theories put forward above aren’t mutually exclusive – it’s clear that the Clintonite wing of the Democrats are just as keen as the Republicans to subvert the Constitution for their own backers in big business and the surveillance state. Obama and Clinton have shown that they are determined to maintain the infringements on the Constitution introduced by George Dubya, and, indeed, expand them to smear their own enemies.

And unfortunately, this mindset appears to be spreading to the Blairites over here. Mike last week reported that Tom Watson had made a rant, attacking websites producing false information. By which he meant the pro-Corbyn site, The Canary. Tony Blair modelled New Labour on Bill Clinton’s New Democrats. Watson’s comments seem to show that the Blairites in the Labour party also want to crack down on British websites that don’t follow the required New Labour line. Just as Blair himself used to organise ‘negative briefings’ against ministers, who were deemed ‘off-message’.

If America and Britain are to have healthy, functioning democracies, where the people genuinely have power and not a narrow clique of politicos acting for the benefit of the corporate elite, it will mean purging the Democrats in the US of the Clintonites, and the Blairites in the Labour party over here, as well as defeating the Republicans and Conservatives.

Vox Political on Blair’s Proposed New Institute for Centre Ground Politics

December 2, 2016

Mike today put up a piece, which asked rhetorically how we should receive Tony Blair’s statement that he is setting up a new institute to promote centre-ground policies. Blair, apparently, is concerned about the resurgence of left- and right-wing populism. The new institute will be launched in the New Year, but will not be party political.

Mike in his comment to the story makes the point that Blair is a creature of the reactionary right. Margaret Thatcher, who began the decades-long destruction of this country, its institutions and industries, and the impoverishment and immiseration of its working people, considered Blair and New Labour her greatest achievement. And when Cameron came to power, he began by consciously modelling himself on Tony Blair’s mixture of neoliberalism and social reform.

Mike comments that the best reaction to the news is probably that put out on Twitter by Matt Turner. This shows Jeremy Corbyn having a dam’ good laugh.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/02/how-should-we-react-as-tony-blair-announces-new-institute-for-centre-ground-politics/

Actually, you could go a bit further than Mike in the characterisation of Tony Blair. He is indeed a creature of the reactionary Right. He is also a crook of almost Reaganite dimensions. Reagan, remember, implemented Thatcher’s policies in America as a reaction to the liberalism of the 1960s. He was a thug who supported right-wing Fascist death squads all over south and central America, who committed appalling atrocities in order to keep the peoples of that continent in thrall to their upper classes and American corporate and political interests. Just as Tony Blair fully and heartily cooperated with Bush in launching an illegal invasion of Iraq, an invasion that has similarly seen the rise of death squads armed and supported by our allies in Washington.

Reagan and Blair also deregulated the financial sector. In Reagan’s case, this was the savings and loans societies – the American equivalent of our building societies. And the results were identical. Massive greed and mismanaged by the financial whizzkids resulted in financial crashes in which some of the very poorest lost their money. This included the cowboys, the remaining agricultural workers on America’s ranches, who Reagan’s supporter, Clint Eastwood, claimed symbolised sturdy Republican values – self-reliance, and having a piece of land of your own. Thanks to Reagan in America, millions of Americans had the opportunity to own a piece of property of their own taken away from them. Just as, decades later, Tony Blair did it to the working people over here.

And then there’s the whole process of the mass privatisation of industry. Reagan started that off, along with the attacks on the American welfare system, using arguments that were also repeated over here by the Blairites in the Labour party. He also flagrantly violated the American Constitution with the Iran-Contra affair, although he managed to escape and it was Oliver North who ended up going to the slammer. Blair’s backing of the Iraq invasion was similarly illegal, but under international law, as our country doesn’t have a written constitution like the US. He was also responsible for some of the policies that are chipping away at our liberties as free citizens. Like Major, Blair was a fan of the surveillance state, wishing to introduce mandatory identity cards, for which we, the ordinary citizens, would have to pay for the privilege of having. He also wanted to expand the powers of the surveillance state and introduce secret courts. These have also been taken over by the Tories and Lib Dems. Blair was also a liar, in that his government was determined to privatise the NHS, but like Thatcher, knew that actually telling people they were doing so would lose them the election. And so, like the Tories before and afterwards, he carefully hid what he was doing.

And then there’s the man’s personal character. He and his wife, Cherie, were massively greedy. They took money from businessmen in a series of sleaze scandals of the type that disgraced John Major’s administration. Corporate donors were given favours and places on government committees and quangos. Cherie Blair, who tried to pass herself off as a human rights lawyer, was quite prepared to work for some of the most brutal and reactionary nations and dictators the world over, if the money was right.

And what kind of left-winger, never mind Socialist, spends his holidays enjoying the hospitality of Berlusconi, whose ruling right-wing coalition included the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale, and the Northern League. The latter were so right-wing, they despised the Italian south as foreigners, sneeringly referring to it as ‘Egypt’. Their dream was an independent state in the north of Italy. And the core of their supporters were Fascists. There’s a documentary on YouTube by an Italian journalist, who went in search of the Northern League in his home country. He found them, and they’re very scary. They were, as you’d expect, militantly anti-immigrant. And there’s one scene where he filmed them in a café singing the old Fascist squadristi songs, and reminiscing about the old days under Il Duce. The documentary’s in English, so there’s no problem for Anglophone viewers seeing for themselves how unpleasant these rightists were.
And Blair’s greed was so much that the Italians nicknamed him ‘the scrounger’.

He then followed this up a year or so ago, by being George Dubya’s guest at a Republican Convention, though he wouldn’t say whether or not he was a Republican.

As for being aghast at the rise of populism on both right and left, Blair’s neoliberalism, his attacks on the welfare state and wars in the Middle East are directly responsible for this. His destruction of Iraq, which subsequent regimes have expanded into Syria and Libya, have displaced millions, who can see no future in their home countries. Hence they try to get into western Europe, where they believe they will have safety, jobs and prosperity. At the same time, Blair attacked the welfare state over here, as well as trying to destroy the unions further, and reduced employment rights and working conditions. The result is that millions of Brits are now plunged in precarity, making a meagre living from insecure, low-paid, and often temporary jobs, and saddled with debt. Their scared, and resentful of a corporatist elite, which only offered sanctimonious platitudes about civil rights and racial and gender equality, while making living conditions for ordinary people much worse. And people frightened for their jobs, and acutely afraid that they are being denied welfare payments, are going to be resentful of the immigrants they fear may take those things away from them. Hence the massive xenophobia that has spread alarmingly across Britain in the wake of Brexit.

Blair’s responsible for all that. But he stupidly believes that the answer to this fear and poverty is going to be, well, more of what he stood for: more neoliberalism, more rationed welfare services, more privatised healthcare, more tax cuts for the obscenely right. But somehow made palatable by mellifluous verbiage and lies about increasing opportunity, personal choice, and greater opportunities for women and minorities.

But working people, women and minorities ain’t buying it. There’s an long article in Counterpunch by two of their female columnists discussing why a very large number of American women voted for Trump against Hillary. This was even after it had become abundantly clear that The Donald was a boorish misogynist, who had no qualms about sexual assault. These two women, who both were staunch feminists, made the point that American women were largely unimpressed with Killary’s claim that they should vote for her, because it was about time a woman was in the White House. This didn’t impress the female electorate, who reasoned that Killary’s victory would not be a triumph for all women, but only entitled, rich women. Ordinary, middle class and blue collar women, were still faced with the fear of keeping their jobs and providing for their families in an economic regime in which they could be laid off and their jobs moved halfway around the world. They were faced with the harsh realities of paying the bills and finding affordable medical care when wages hadn’t risen in decades. The two authors made the point that the kind liberalism promoted by Clinton’s establishment Democrats, and Tony Blair and his ilk in Britain, doesn’t actually care about looking after the poor. They care about making sure a fair proportion of those enjoying the top jobs and position are women and members of ethnic minorities, while doing their level best to make sure the majority of people remain in poverty and insecurity for the benefit of the corporate elite.

The reason why Trump and Farage are on the rise on the Right, and Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn on the Left, is for the simple reason that ordinary people have got sick and tired of the lies uttered by people like Blair and the Clintons, that provide an egalitarian cloak for a harshly unequal and exploitative system.

Blair’s intention to launch this new institute also reveals something else about him as well: not only did he take over Thatcher’s politics, he also shares her egotism. Thatcher couldn’t accept that her time was over either when the Tories ditched her in favour of John Major. She kept trying to come back, interfering like a back seat driver. Private Eye made this point on one of their covers, where they showed Thatcher apparently trying to get her way once more by twisting Major’s hand. Plus all the sketches on the latter series of Spitting Image, which showed her as a sad, embittered old woman, constantly saying, ‘I used to be Prime Minister, you know.’

The same thing’s now happened to Blair. He can get used to the fact that he is now politically irrelevant, if not actually a liability.

So let’s treat him like one, and give his institute the derision it deserves.