Posts Tagged ‘Fall of Communism’

Donald Trump Predicted in Stephen Baxter’s 1995 Novel ‘Titan’

July 16, 2017

I’ve been making my way through Stephen Baxter’s SF novel, Titan, these last few weeks. Baxter’s a British SF writer, with degrees in maths and engineering. He applied to be an astronaut on the Anglo-Soviet mission to Mir in the 1980s, which went to Helen Sharman. He’s probably best known for his Xelee-sequence books. These are set in a universe dominated by the extremely advanced, but mysterious Xelee, who are engaged in a war across the entire universe with the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures determined to age and extinguish the universe of ordinary matter. He has also written other novels about a variety of parthenogenic humans, descended from a lost troop of Romans, a catastrophic flood in the Bronze Age, and the books The Long Earth and The Long War, about parallel worlds, with the late, great Terry Pratchett. His novel, Voyage, an alternative history in which NASA launches a final manned expedition to Mars, was adapted for Radio 4 by Audio Movies in the 1990s. He was also the scientific advisor for the 1990s BBC SF series, Invasion Earth, about aliens from the higher physical dimensions invading the planet.

Titan is also about a last, crewed NASA mission. This time its put together by a team of astronauts, space scientists and ground control crew as the Agency’s last, great space expedition before it is closed down following a shuttle disaster. It’s set in what was then the near future – 2004 onwards – in America increasingly falling into right-wing extremism, irrationalism and Christian fundamentalism. The leading politician and subsequent president, is Xavier Maclachlan, a Texan with standing on an aggressively anti-science platform. Here’s the description of the man and his policies on pages 284-5.

Hadamard was in Washington during the inauguration of Xavier Maclachlan, after his wafer-thin win in the 2008 election.

Maclachlan called it a ‘liberation of the capital’.

Armed militia bands came in from Idaho and Arizona and Oklahoma and Montana, to fire off black-powder salutes to the nationalist-populist who promised to repeal all gun control laws. In the crowd, Hadamard saw a couple of Ku Klux Klan constumes, a sight he though had gone into an unholy past. Come to that, there was a rumour that a former Klan leader was being made ready to become a future White House chief of staff. And in his speech Maclachlan appealed to the people to end what he called the ‘Israeli occupation of Congress’…

And so on.

As soon as Maclachlan lifted his hand from the Bible, US peacekeeping troops in the Balkans and Africa started to board their planes to leave. Foreign aid stopped. The UN was being thrown out of New York, and there was a rumour that Maclachlan was planning some military adventure to take back the canal from Panama.

Army engineers – set in place during the handover from the last Administration – started to build a wall, two thousand miles of it, along the Mexican border, to exclude illegal immigrants. White it was being built, troops brought home from peacekeeping abroad were operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

There was chaos in the financial markets. Machlachlan had withdrawn the US from the North American Free Trade Treaty, from the World Trade Organisation, from GATT. Reviews of the country’s membership of the World Bank and the IMF had started – arms of an incipient world government, Maclachlan said, designed to let in the Russians. He had raised tariffs – ten per cent against Japan, fifty per cent against the Chinese – and world trade collapsed.

The Chinese, particularly, screamed. And so Maclachlan sent the Seventh Fleet to a new station just off the coast of Taiwan.

Meanwhile all the strategic arms treaties with Russia were torn up, as Maclachlan orderd his technicians to dig out the blueprints for Reagan’s old dream of SDI. In fact, Maclachlan wanted to go further. He was inviting ideas for what he called his ‘da Vinci brains trust’. The press was full of schemes for fantastic new weapons: smart remote sensors; dream mines that could shoot at passing traffic; smart armour that would use explosive tiles to deflect incoming projectiles; maybe even an electrical battlefield in which electricity-propelled shells would be zapped in by low-flying aircraft.

And back home, Machlachlan had cut off any remaining programs which benefited blacks and other minorities, and any funding that appeared to support abortion, which had been made illegal in any form.

Xavier Maclachlan was a busy man, and he was fulfilling his campaign promises.

Clearly, much of this is an extrapolation from the policies and attitudes of the Republican party and the American extreme Right in the 1980s and 1990s. Reagan had brought right-wing Christian fundamentalists into the Republican party, who had previously stood aloof from politics as part of a corrupt, fallen secular order. He had also begun to wind up government welfare programmes, particularly those aimed at benefiting minorities, such as Black Americans. Fears of an imminent apocalypse, social breakdown and Russian invasion, even after the collapse of Communism, had resulted in the emergence of the survivalist and then Militia movements, armed right-wing paramilitary groups. These had a bitter resentment of the federal government, which culminated in McViegh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. They also tended to be bitterly racist and anti-Semitic. They believed and still believe in stupid Nazi conspiracy theories that claim that the Jews are trying to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and that America is covertly controlled by the Jews through the ‘Zionist Occupation Government’, or ZOG. These groups and right-wing American fundamentalist organisations also believed that there was a secret, Illuminati conspiracy to create a one world Satanic superstate centred on the UN. Phyllis Schlafly, who was actually a Democrat, regularly denounced the UN as well as women’s rights. And one leading figure in the militias – I think it may have been Bo Gritz, who supposedly served as the model for ‘Rambo’ – stated that the way they would clear America’s international debt would be by minting a single coin with the legend ‘1 Trillion Dollars’. As for the Klan, there were a series of scandals in which senior Republican politicos were revealed as having links to or membership in the White racist terrorist group. The most notorious of these was David Duke in Louisiana, who is unfortunately still around and blaming the Jews for everything even today.

And political scientists and economists were predicting the rise of China and the other ‘tiger economies’, which would dominate the ‘Pacific Century’ even then.

Of course, there are things Baxter failed to predict, like 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also takes the conventional view that the various free trade agreements and UN organisations, like the IMF and the World Bank, are nice, liberal, benefificial institutions, rather than the way corporate America imposes its own neoliberal policies on the rest of the world, particularly the developing nations.

Not that the Democrats have been much different. Counterpunch has reported that Obama was considering removing the ‘No first strike’ policy towards a nuclear confrontation, and Killary has been every bit as aggressive in her stance towards Russia and China as the Republicans, perhaps even more so.

As for the White extremist and racist groups supporting the new president, all that’s different is that the Klan has been largely replaced, or subsumed, into the internet-based Alt Right. But the hysterical fear of gun legislation, promoted and lavishly funded by the gun manufacturers and the NRA, against the desires of the majority of Americans, and even the NRA’s own rank and file membership, remains strong.

It shows how long the attitudes held by the American right, and which led to the election of Donald Trump, have been around. Since his election, left-wing news sites such as The Young Turks, Secular Talk and the David Pakman Show have reported that Americans have become increasingly dissatisfied with Trump. Sixty per cent of the American public want him impeached. This dissatisfaction even extends to Republican voters.

Trump, however, in his racism, his isolationism, aggressive nationalism and hatred of the welfare state and women’s rights, is very much in line with the general political stance of post-Reaganite right-wing American politicians. Indeed, he’s so much a part of this political trend that, with caveats, his election – or rather, the election of someone like him – was predicted by Baxter over two decades ago.

No wonder an increasing number of young Americans are looking to progressive politicos like Bernie Sanders for leadership and the redemption of their country against a corrupt political elite and the military-industrial complex. And I fervently hope they win, and that humanity will continue to reach out to the cosmos in a spirit of genuine exploration and wonder, and not as another arena for warfare.

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The Influence of Metal Hurlant on Science Fiction Cinema

April 25, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece I found on YouTube about the influence French Science Fiction comics had on Star Wars. This short video by the same poster, Abstract Looper, explores the profound influence the artists of the French adult SF comic, Metal Hurlant, known to the Anglophone world as Heavy Metal, has had on modern Science Fiction cinema. Metal Hurlant was founded in 1974 by Les Humanoides Associees Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Dionnet and Philippe Druillet. The video shows the striking visual similarities between scenes and designs in the comic’s various strips, and the films Mad Max, Alien, Blade Runner, Nausicaa – Valley of the Wind, Avatar, the original 70s Battlestar Galactica TV series, Hellboy, Prometheus and the Matrix. There’s a clip of Ridley Scott saying that when he made Alien, he was influenced by the visual material produced by Moebius and the French magazine. Guillermo del Toro also confessed that he was influenced by Richard Corben, another of the magazine’s artists. Terry Gilliam also states that the magazine was an influence on him. As does James Cameron. Rutgar Hauer, who played Roy Batty in Blade Runner also appears, telling how the producers visualised the future as already old. In fact, the producers of Blade Runner based their vision of Los Angeles on the towering cityscapes of Philippe Druillet. As well as Druillet, Dionnet, Corben and Moebius, another of the comic’s creators, the Franco-Yugoslavian artist Enki Bilal, was also influential. Also making the point are the similarities between the comics’ art and the concept drawings produced for the Alien and Matrix movies.

You could also add the Judge Dredd movies to this list as well. 2000 AD’s creator, Pat Mills, hates superhero comics. When he launched the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic way back in the 1970s, he was influenced by the French SF comics. Which naturally includes Metal Hurlant. Judge Dredd’s look was created by Carlos Ezquerra, a Spanish artist living in London, who has an artistic style very similar to Moebius.

As an aside, I was also pleased that the interview with Ridley Scott also had Russian subtitles. This shows how much the world has changed since I was at school. This was the years of the new Cold War, created by Thatcher and Reagan, when there were real fears of nuclear Armageddon. I felt profoundly optimistic when the Berlin Wall fell, along with Communism. There seemed at last a real possibility of a genuine, lasting peace between eastern and western Europe. I believe very strongly that it has been a massive improvement in world affairs that the peoples of the former eastern bloc can come to Britain to live, work and raise families.

And I am appalled and angry that Trump and the Democrats are pushing a new Cold War with Putin, and thus endangering the world all over again.

Warning: Heavy Metal was an ‘adult’ comic, which means that there’s some cartoon nudity. This was the magazine that was filmed as The Heavy Metal Movie, and which became notorious for the female nudity of the ‘Taarna’ sequence, which in turn inspired the episode ‘Major B***age’ in South Park. This may have changed, however. In an interview in the comics press a few years ago, its British editor stated that the magazine was dropping the nudity, because it was irrelevant given the amount of real nudity on the Web. He promised that the magazine would still be sexy, however.

Steve Bannon Forecasts War with China in ‘Five to Ten Years’

February 4, 2017

Here’s another example of American militarism and belligerence to frighten you. In this clip from Majority Report, the host, Sam Seder, and his team discuss Steve Bannon’s prediction in March last year that in five years’ to a decades’ time, America would be at war with China. Bannon is a notorious alleged anti-Semite and White supremacist, who is now an important adviser to Trump. In March last year, he was talking to Lee Edwards of the right-wing Heritage Foundation on Breitbart Radio. The two were discussing the Fall of Communism before moving on to China’s increasingly aggressive stance regarding the islands in the South China Sea. The two stated that the 89 million members of the Chinese Communist party still adhered to Mao’s belief that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. This is why they were occupying and fortifying the islands under the pretext that these were ancient Chinese territories, actions Bannon considered to be a direct, ‘throw-down’ challenge to the US, when the Chinese come over here. It was then that Bannon predicted that war would break out within the next decade.

Unfortunately, this belligerence really isn’t confined to Trump and the Republicans. Counterpunch also published several articles about the way Hillary Clinton also seemed determined to start some kind of conflict with China over the same disputed territories. I don’t believe, however, that you have to go back to Chairman Mao or Communism to find the causes of China’s aggressive pursuit of its territorial claims to these islands. I gather that China still feels bitter resentment and humiliation, after all well over a century, to Britain and the West for our acquisition of Hong Kong during the Opium War, and the western conquest and domination of the country in the late 19th century. No matter what the ruling ideology is, China as a country is more or less a capitalist economy, and it’s determined to play a major role as a world power. This might be based partly on Mao’s ideas, but Maoism as an economic movement is highly respected, but more or less obsolete.

This is a terrifying prediction, as China also has nuclear arms, and any armed conflict with America could easily escalate into nuclear Armageddon. Let’s hope this prediction is utterly false, and that a more peaceful approach to solving these issues prevails.

More Military Tension between NATO and Russia; Pat Mills Right in ABC Warriors

October 9, 2016

Mike today put up a very chilling report about the escalation of military tensions between NATO and Russia. Russia has deployed Iskander missiles in its westernmost province of Kaliningrad. Formerly Koenigsberg, this is small Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, was formerly part of Pommerania under the old Reich. The missiles are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and are presumed capable of reaching Berlin, or the various Baltic states.

Russia is believed to be deploying these missiles in response to NATO manoeuvres in eastern Europe, and the stationing of four more NATO battalions in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. These were in response to Russia sending troops into Ukraine.

Mike states that he recalls either Gorbachev or possibly Yeltsin receiving a promise from NATO that it would not expand into the Russian’s back garden. He is correct. That promise was given. And broken. NATO’s borders are now right up to the very frontier with Russia. Mike asks us how we would feel if the roles were reversed?

That question has been asked by others in America. Left-wing and Libertarian critics of American military expansion have posed the rhetorical question how Americans would feel if Canada broke away and joined Russia. This is the parallel in the Anglophone world Ukraine, which has ties going back thousands of years to the very foundation of Russia, joining NATO.

Actually, it’s not hard to see how Americans would react, as there’s one section of the American conspiracist fringe which actually believed it. FOAFtale News, the journal of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research, in the 1990s report an urban legend then going round the paranoid American Right, that the Fall of Communism was all a ruse. The Soviets had established secret underground tank bases in Canada and Mexico. When everything had been properly prepared, and they were ready, the order would be given and the Soviet tanks would roll over the border to occupy America. You can bet given the paranoid, extreme-rightwing mindset of the kind of people, who voted for Trump, that if Canada ever had joined Russia in a close alliance, most Americans would believe exactly the same thing.

And Mike reported on Friday that it was feared that rising tensions over Syria could result in a nuclear war with Russia. Mike comments

And on it goes. And we all become a little more nervous every day. And that makes us a little more twitchy, and prone to jump to conclusions, and likely to make mistakes…

Everybody concerned needs to step back.

They all need to have a serious think – and maybe a couple of conversations – about what little they stand to gain by acting on accusations and suppositions.

And how much we all stand to lose.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/08/nuclear-missiles-deployed-in-russias-westernmost-area-as-fears-grow-over-syria/

I’ve blogged about this issue previously. In the case of Ukraine, it seems to me that it is actually the Russians, who are this time the injured party. The Orange Revolution which ousted the previous, pro-Russian president was staged with covert funding from the Americans. The new ruling coalition includes real, card-carrying Nazis from the Pravy Sektor – the Right Sector. Their uniforms are those of the auxiliary Ukrainian SS units, who were responsible for pogroms against the Jews, and participated in the Holocaust during the Second World War. During the Orange Revolution, a section of these thugs shot at left-wing protesters on their own side before chasing a group of trade unionists into a building. They were then savagely beaten, and one attempted to escape by jumping from a third-floor window. I’ve also seen footage alleging that the Ukrainian regime is responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east of the country.

The situation is made even more terrifying by the fact that a former NATO general has written a book, predicting that by May next year, 2017, Russia will have invaded Latvia and we will be at war. George Galloway in his speech the other year to the Stop the War Coalition described how he had taken the general to task for this, when he was on a panel with him at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. Counterpunch has also reported that Obama has stepped up the production of nuclear missiles, and is trying to develop short-range ‘battlefield’ nukes. This seems terrifyingly similar to an idea going round in the 1980s when I was growing up. This was part of the madness of the ‘New Cold War’ under Thatcher and Reagan, when these idiots believed that a limited nuclear war could be fought in Europe.

Looking at this site’s stats, a couple of people have been looking at a piece I wrote about a year or so ago discussing some of the very astute satirical comments Pat Mills had put in the ‘ABC Warriors’ strip in 2000 AD. This followed the adventures of Hammerstein, Blackblood, Mongrol, Deathlok, Zippo and co during the Volgan War, a conflict between America and Russia for possession of the latter’s oil.

This was clearly aimed at the real reasons behind Gulf War II and the invasion of Iraq. One of the chief war aims was to seize the country’s vast oil reserves, which are the largest outside Saudi Arabia.

And I’m very much afraid the same is true here. Russia possesses vast natural resources in Siberia, and exports much of it to Europe. Some of the former provinces of the Soviet Union – the Baltic states – are extremely dependent on it for their power supplies. When one of the Baltic states was accused by the Russians of persecuting their people, the Russians also cut off, or threatened to cut off, the oil supply to their country, which would have resulted in massive power cuts.

American politics is heavily driven by corporate interests, and particularly that of the oil industry, dominated by the Koch brothers. These two are supposedly worth over $300 billion. They donate to the Republican party, and to organisations which deny climate change, in order to keep those barrels pumping out of the ground. Just as the Iraq invasion was to steal that country’s oil, I can see Pat Mills, the creator of ‘ABC Warriors’ strip, being in this case literally correct about the real reason for the current tensions.

It’s disgusting. I can remember the feeling of relief I felt when Communism fell, and the Soviet empire collapsed. Despite the horrors of capitalism and the poverty caused by the mass privatisation of Russian industry, which wiped out the savings and pensions of millions of Russians, nevertheless it seemed the dawn of a better world. The threat of nuclear annihilation had been lifted just a little. People from both sides of the continent could travel to each other’s countries to work and open businesses. It’s why I don’t really have a problem with eastern European workers coming over here. Our peoples meeting in friendship and peace is far better than the fear and hatred that was whipped up when I was young in the 1980s.

Now our leaders seem to be determined to destroy this golden opportunity to create a truly peaceful co-existence between the West and Russia. And despite whatever nonsense Obama’s and Putin’s generals may be telling them, there is no way to survive a nuclear holocaust. As Sting sang, ‘It’s a lie that we don’t believe any more.’

He’s right. And so’s Mike: instead of preparing to launch attacks, everyone needs to step back a little. As one of 2000 AD’s other creations, Judge Dredd, also said: ‘War is sick. War is evil. War is hell.’

Let’s follow the ABC Warriors instead and ‘Increase the Peace!’

Secular Talk: Clip of Maggie Thatcher Praising Mujahideen in 1981

September 14, 2016

This is another sharp reminder of how much of the present mess the world’s in can be directly traced back to the policies of Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Despite the fact that both are great, molten gods against whom no word must be spoken amongst Conservatives over here and Republicans in the US. Kyle Kulinski begins the segment by showing a clip of Maggie Thatcher praising the mujahideen in Afghanistan in 1981, calling them freedom fighters, stating that they have the support of everyone who believes in freedom back in Britain, and promising another £2 million. In case viewers get confused, and believes that this is part of the kind of conspiracies Alex Jones regularly screams about on Infowars, that it’s all some kind of establishment plot with the Devil and UFO aliens to destroy and enslave the world, Kulinski supplies some context. This was a time when the USSR had invaded Afghanistan, and working on the assumption that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, America, Britain and the west started funding the militant Islamists to fight a proxy war.

Kulinski uses the clip to make the point that just as that error of judgement had disastrous consequences for decades after, so we’re making the same mistakes now. America and the west are still supporting hardline, intolerant Islam in the form of Saudi Arabia and Erdogan’s Turkey. Saudi Arabia is vehemently intolerant, and is responsible for the spread of the brutal Islamist ideology. And the US and the west are also supporting the Islamists, in the form of the al-Nusrah Front, which is another branch of al-Qaeda, in Syria. Why? Because Assad is allied with Iran, the West’s enemy, and also the Russians, who, despite the Fall of Communism, are still our enemy.

We haven’t learned anything. Kulinski points this out as a rejoinder for those right-wingers, who rant about the ‘regressive left’. No, it’s not the Left, who are making the same mistakes.

He also produces a few more embarrassing photos. One shows Ronald Reagan meeting members of the Mujahideen in the White House. The other is a newspaper article from 1983 praising Osama bin Laden as a religious warrior ‘on the road to peace’.

Kulinski responds to his critics, who have accused him of ignoring Islam as the source of this violence, by stating that he is very much aware that extremist, fundamentalist Islam is part of the problem. However, there are ways to counteract it, without bombing anyone. Like freezing the Islamists’ bank accounts, and not selling them arms. He illustrates this point with a newspaper headline about 90 per cent of people killed by drones being the wrong people.

Everything Kulinski says in this video is absolutely correct. But he could also have gone further. Reagan and the rest of his gang of New Cold War thugs at the time were told what would happen by the Russians. The Russian ambassador actually told one of Reagan’s team responsible for arming and funding the mujahideen that after they’d finished with the Russians, they’d come for the Americans. The Soviet ambassador was exactly right. This is precisely what happened with the attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the White House on 9/11. The Reagan’s hagiographers cannot say the old butcher wasn’t told.

And as Kulinski says, nothing’s changed in the meantime. The Tories are still following this murderous, stupid policy. The I newspaper today has reminded everyone that David Cameron is responsible for the current mess in Libya. But he was also one of those backing further airstrikes in Syria, though Private Eye has pointed out that he tended to send the planes in only at times when someone else, usually the Americans, had complained that Britain wasn’t doing enough.

And as Mike has pointed out in his critique of today’s report on Cameron’s legacy in Syria, that’s only one disaster for which he’s responsible. His whole administration was responsible for other persecution and suffering in Britain, amongst the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and the working class, who he has impoverished and exploited with welfare cuts and the imposition of highly exploitative working practices.

Which also follows a long Tory tradition, going all the way back to Maggie Thatcher and beyond.

It’s high time they were thrown out of power, and replaced with an administration genuinely determined to improve the lives of the unemployed, the sick and working people in Britain, and use peaceful means to stamp out the spread of murderous extremism abroad.

Media Attacks on Anti-Nuclear Protests: The Same Now as in the ’80s

September 11, 2016

bending-reality-pic

Some things never change. The current attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, with the Blairites doing their level best to engineer expulsions or a split in the Labour party, in many ways are almost like a re-run of the attacks on the Labour party under Michael Foot in the 1980s, and the mass defection of the Labour Right to form the SDP. On Friday I managed to pick up a copy of another book published in the 1980s, which critically examined the media bias against a variety of left-wing issues and causes, in one of the secondhand shops in Cheltenham. This was Bending Reality: The State of the Media, edited by James Curran, Jake Ecclestone, Giles Oakley and Alan Richardson (London: Pluto Press and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom 1986). The has the following chapters in its three sections devoted to ‘Whose Reality?’, ‘The Politics of the Media’ and ‘Campaigning for Press Freedom’. They are

1. Media power and class power;
2. In whose image?
3. Sexual stereotyping in the media?
4. Racism in broadcasting
5. Portraying the peace movement
6. British broadcasting and Ireland
7. Living with the media – A landscape of lies, and Union World
8. The media and the state.
9. The different approaches to media reform
10. Selling the paper? Socialism and cultural diversity
11. Reconstructing broadcasting
12. Pornography annoys.
13. Campaigning against pornography.
14. The new communications revolution.
15. Media freedom and the CPBF
16. The aims of the campaign
17. Right of Reply
18. Freedom of information.
19. Media bias and future policy.
This last chapter is particularly interesting, as it’s by Tony Benn.

I was particular struck by how little difference there is between the today’s attacks on Corbyn and those against the Left in the 1980s by the chapter on the campaign against the peace movement, written by Richard Kebble. Kebble amongst his other points, Kebble points out how scepticism towards nuclear weapons was widespread throughout society, including a sizable chunk of the Tories. It wasn’t confined to Labour, but the media and Tory leadership nevertheless acted as though it were. He also argued that the difference between multilateralism and unilateral disarmament was actually blurred but this was also ignored by the media in its campaign to present a simplified message to the public. The media also presented Michael Foot’s decision to abandon nuclear weapons as a policy that would leave Britain defenceless. He also states very clearly that a quote, used by the Navy as part of its recruiting campaign about the threat of the Russian Navy was a lie.

All this is being repeated with Corbyn stance against Trident. Some of the verbiage used has changed a little, but the overall stance and argument is so close that you could easily believe that the last thirty years have been merely a dream, and that Corbyn and Foot are the same person, despite the difference in appearance and name. Corbyn is being hysterically attacked for not supporting Trident. The Groaniad accused him of not being willing to defend a NATO partner, if it was attacked by Russia – a lie which Mike exposed on his blog. And the media lied to use about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the political establishment now seems to be sabre-rattling once more about a renewed threat from Russia. It’s almost as though the Fall of Communism and the Soviet Empire never happened. We were lied to then. We’re being lied to now. This screams that the mendacity of the British press and media hasn’t changed one bit in the last thirty years.

May, Smith, Trident and the Continuing Relevance of 80s Pop

July 23, 2016

In the debate over Trident the other day, both Theresa May and Owen Smith showed their utter willingness to incinerate hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in a nuclear war. Michelle, one of the great commenters on this blog, was particularly chilled by their readiness to do so without any apparent qualms or pangs of conscience. She wrote

It would seem there’s something dangerous in the water at Westminster! I couldn’t sleep after seeing the clip when May said “yes” without hesitation to the question of whether she would be willing to kill 100,000’s of INNOCENT men women and children! If anyone hasn’t seen this: https://youtu.be/zK4Z5ZF3jsshttps://youtu.be/zK4Z5ZF3jss

Then there is Owen willing to do so even if the count is in the millions and with a small smile on his face: https://youtu.be/o86kjk15j4E?t=22shttps://youtu.be/o86kjk15j4E?t=22s

It would seem the cackle of madness is drumming out most rational thought in the power house.

Absolutely. After he and Kennedy nearly destroyed the world in the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev was very serious about the threat posed by nuclear Armageddon. On his goodwill visit to the West afterwards, someone made a joke about it. They were told by Khrushchev that the destruction of humanity was ‘no laughing matter’. The Soviet president also didn’t get on with Chairman Mao. Some of this was due to differences over geopolitical strategies, and attitudes to Communist doctrine. But Khrushchev was also appalled by Mao’s attitude to the nuclear stand-off. Mao really couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had pulled back, and felt that he should have nuked America when he had the chance. It’s an attitude to the extermination of the human race, or at least a sizable part of it, which shows what a genocidal maniac Mao was.

May’s and Smith’s comments are particularly frightening in the present climate, when prominent NATO generals are claiming that by May next year, Putin will have invaded Latvia and the Atlantic Alliance and Russia will be at war. I can remember the threat of nuclear incineration in the New Cold War of the early ’80s. That was terrifying, but it also called forth some of the greatest and most beautiful pop songs of that period, as our musicians added their voices to the call for peace and sanity.

One of them was Sting, and his piece ‘Russians’. Based on a piece by the great Russian composer Prokofiev, it has the lines ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ and is a condemnation of the militaristic posturing by both America and the Soviet Union, and an eloquent plea for peace. The Soviet Union has passed, but unfortunately the song and its message still remain very relevant. I found this piece on YouTube of the great man singing it on Russian TV. The fact that the Fall of Communism has led to a thaw between the West and the former Soviet bloc is, to my mind, one of the greatest and most optimistic events of the post-War era. The fact that British bands were able to travel to Russia and perform, beginning with groups like the Clash and UB40, shows that military confrontation, sabre-rattling and posturing is far from the only foreign policy option. East and West can and do still meet in peace and friendship. Let’s hope our leaders don’t waste this situation, and annihilate humanity for the sake of military status. Here’s the video.

The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills

July 16, 2016

Body Economic Pic

By David Stuckler, MPH, PhD, and Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD (New York: Basic Books 2013)

This is another book I picked up in the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street the other day. Written by two American health researchers, it examines the way economic recessions and austerity affect people’s health from the Great Recession of the 1930s, the Fall of Communism, Greece and Iceland, and today’s recession, which began with the banking collapse in 2008. The authors are medical researchers, whose own experience of poverty and ill health has led them to examine its effect on entire societies. They conclude that while recessions often lead to high – frequently devastatingly high outbreaks of disease and mortality, what is really crucial is the state’s handling of them. In countries which have a strong welfare state, and are determined to invest into getting their citizens back into work, such as Denmark in the 1990s, public health may actually improve. And as public health improves, the economy begins to pick up. In countries where the opposite is true – where the state just cuts, and is intent on dismantling the welfare infrastructure, like Greece and Cameron’s (and May’s) Britain, the result is higher disease and mortality.

As well as giving the impersonal stats, they also illustrate the damaging effects of austerity on public health through personal case studies. These include ‘Olivia’, a little girl, who suffered terrible burns when her unemployed father tried to burn their house down in a drunken rage, and an elderly Greek man, Dimitris Christoulas. Unable to see any way out of his poverty, he publicly shot himself outside the Greek parliament building.

One of the victims of austerity mentioned in the very first pages of the book is Brian McArdle, a severely disabled man, who was nevertheless declared ‘fit for work by ATOS. Basu and Stuckler write

‘”I will never forgive them,” wrote thirteen-year-old Kieran McArdle to the Daily Record, a national newspaper based in Glasgow. “I won’t be able to come to terms with my dad’s death until I get justice for him.”

Kieran’s father, fifty-seven-year-old Brian, had worked as a security guard in Lanarkshire, near Glasgow. The day after Christmas 2011, Brian had a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his left side, blind in one eye, and unable to speak. He could no longer continue working to support his family, so he signed up for disability income from the British government.

That government, in the hands of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron since the 2010 elections, would prove no friend to the McArdles. Cameron claimed that hundreds of thousands of Britons were cheating the government’s disability system. The Department for Work and Pensions begged to differ. It estimated that less than 1 percent of disability benefit funds went to people who were not genuinely disabled.

Still, Cameron proceeded to cut billions of pounds from welfare benefits including support for the disabled. To try to meet Cameron’s targets, the Department for Work and Pensions hired Atos, a private French “systems integration” firm. Atos billed the government £400 million to carry out medical evaluations of people receiving disability benefits.

Kieran’s father was scheduled for an appointment to complete Atos’ battery of “fitness for work” tests. He was nervous. Since his stroke, he had trouble walking, and was worried about how his motorized wheelchair would get up the stairs to his appointment, as he had learned that about a quarter of Atos’s disability evaluations took place in buildings that were not wheelchair accessible. “Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go,” said Kieran. “He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man.”

Brian did manage to reach Atos’s evaluation site, and after the evaluation, made his way home. A few weeks later, his family received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions. The family’s Employment and Support Allowance benefits were being stopped. Atos had found Brian “fit for work”. The next day he collapsed and died.

It was hard for us, as public health researchers, to understand the government’s position. The Department for Work and Pensions, after all, considered cheating a relative minor issue. The total sum of disability fraud for “conditions of entitlement” was £2 million, far less than the contract to hire Atos, and the department estimated that greater harm resulted from the accidental underpayment of £70 million each year. But the government’s fiscal ideology had created the impetus for radical cuts. (Pp. 3-4).

I don’t know whether Mr McArdle was one of those, whose deaths has been commemorated by Stilloaks on his blog, or whether his case was one of those which Cameron and aIDS laughed at when they were read out in parliament. But is notable that such cases are coming to the attention of health researchers and medical doctors, and are a cause of serious academic and medical concern.

Stilloaks, Mike, DPAC, the Angry Yorkshireman and very many other disability activists have covered individual cases, and the way the ‘fitness for work’ tests have been fiddled by Atos and now their successors, Maximus, in order to provide the pretext for throwing the vulnerable off benefits. Mike’s called it ‘Chequebook Genocide’. Jeff3, one of the great long-term commenters on this blog, refers to it as the Tories’ Aktion T4 – the Nazi’s extermination of the disabled during the Third Reich. There have been about 490 cases in which people have died of starvation, neglect and despair thanks to be thrown off welfare. And according to mental health profession, about 290,000 or so people have seen their mental health deteriorate – sometimes very severely – due to the stress of these tests.

Books like this show how counterproductive such austerity policies are, as well as their purely destructive effects on human life. But this will not be heeded by the Tories, nor by the baying, right-wing rabble who blindly follow them. They want to grind the poor even further into the dirt, to create an impoverished, desperate working class willing to take on any kind of work, no matter how low-paid, not-paid – think of all the unpaid ‘internships’ – and degrading. All so they cut taxes and give more power to the rich, the bankers, big business and particularly the hedge funds and vulture capitalists.

And so the many are killed, all for the privileged few represented by Theresa May.

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

July 14, 2016

Anti-Nato Headline

Russian anti-US Cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counterpunch on NATO’s Preparations for War with Russia

July 9, 2016

Okay, I’ve already blogged about one Counterpunch article today, by Garikai Chengu tracing the history of British imperial domination in Iraq. This is another article from the same magazine that needs to be read. It’s about the NATO conference yesterday and today, and the continuing build up of NATO forces along the borders with Russia. NATO troops, including British squaddies, are being sent to reinforce Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, against possible Russian aggression.

The 1980s Cold War

This was on the BBC news yesterday, which reported that there were fears about a possible Russian threat following Russian attempts to fly military aircraft over Estonian airspace. This is all extremely frightening, as it is all too much like the Cold War those of us, who are now middle aged, grew up under in the 1980s. It was a time when Thatcher and Reagan were ranting about the Soviet Union being ‘the evil empire’, and the world really was on the edge of nuclear war. It dam’ well nearly broke out too, on at least three occasions. On one of these, it was only through the very clear thinking of a Russian officer, who insisted on visual confirmation of a nuclear attack after the Soviet defence computers malfunctioned and signalled a false alarm, that we’re all here, alive today.

Reagan himself nearly started another nuclear showdown with a stupid joke. He opened a Republican rally with the quip that ‘Congress has passed legislation against the Soviet Union. Bombing begins in ten minutes’. While the Republican faithful cheered wildly, a Soviet nuclear missile base in Siberia went on red alert for half an hour. Some people should really know when to keep their gobs shut. And another nuclear incident was started by a technician dropping his spanner down a missile silo. And there no doubt have been others, too many others.

The children of my generation were left traumatised with the threat that any second we could be vaporised and our planet reduced to dead, smouldering ash, just as our parents’ had been during the Cuban missile crisis. We hoped, prayed and rejoiced that everything might be different when Communism fell. The Soviet Empire dissolved, nations threw off the yoke of tyranny, and people from the east and west could finally meet and mix, to work and set up businesses in each others’ countries. The Iron Curtain Churchill described was gone. And the spectre of nuclear holocaust was lifted from that part of the Eurasian landmass.

Now it all looks like it’s all coming back.

Cloughley on the Failure of the Campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya

Brian Cloughley, the author of the Counterpunch piece, is a former NATO soldier, whose duties included serving with an NATO atomic missile regiment. He discusses the irony of Poland hosting the NATO conference just when the Chilcot report had condemned Tony Blair for his lies and crimes in the Iraq invasion. The article describes the failures of the NATO invasions and actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all of which are now in a worse state than before. And despite the overwhelming numerical and technological superiority of NATO forces in Afghanistan, we still have not subdued the Taliban, who are little more than a bunch of tribesmen with only the most basic equipment. As well as increased instability and conflict in all of these conflicts, and the growth of Islamism and massive human rights abuses, the attack on Libya has also worsened the migrant crisis, as hundreds of thousands from elsewhere in Africa flood into the country, seeking a better life across the Med in Europe.

Russia No Threat

Cloughley also talks about the bloated financial nature of NATO, as it consumes a large part of its member countries’ taxes in expenditure on American arms and support that they can often ill afford. Its lavish expenditure can be seen in the fact that it has just opened a new palace in Brussels, the cost of which has escalated to $2 billion. And now NATO is strengthening its forces on its eastern borders against a supposed Russian threat, using terms like ‘forward presence’, which, despite official denials, suggest that they are preparing for a war. However, General Petr Pavel, Chairman of NATO’s military committee, has stated that Russian “aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing.”

The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier has also warned against exacerbating the situation with further military posturing. He has said “What we should not do now is inflame the situation with saber-rattling and warmongering. Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken. We are well-advised not to create pretexts to renew an old confrontation.” This comes from someone, whose country for over four decades was on the very front line of any possible war between NATO and the Warsaw pact.

Putin himself has told his diplomatic corps that this is all about western aggression, about NATO trying to justify itself. He said “NATO seems to be making a show of its anti-Russian stance. NATO not only seeks to find in Russia’s actions pretexts to affirm its own legitimacy and the need for its existence, but is also taking genuinely confrontational steps.”

Cloughley is convinced that there is no military threat from Russia, and this is really just the West and NATO preparing for yet another unprovoked war, selling it to its peoples on the lies that intelligence really has shown the Russians are building up their forces to invade.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/08/nato-prepares-for-war-confrontation-and-insanity/

Russian Threat in 1980s and Now Non-Existent

This is terrifying, and, frankly, a damning indictment of the Continent’s leaders. It looked for a few decades that the spectre of nuclear war between Russia and the West had gone forever. Now it’s come back. I really am not sure how much of a military threat Russia is. The Beeb reports mention overflights of Estonia by Russian planes. But they attempt to do that to Britain, and have done since the 1980s and possibly long before. What usually happens is that we send up a few RAF planes just as they’re approaching Scotland, at which point they scarper back to Russia. It’s been going on for decades. My guess is that the Russians are trying something similar in Estonia. It is a deliberate attempt to intimidate, to prod us, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Russian spends vast amounts on its arms, but even then, it’s much less than American military expenditure. And Lobster has published more than one article taking apart the lies my generation were told about the military threat from the Warsaw Pact in the ’70s and ’80s. We were told that the Soviet forces were massive, their troops eager and well-trained, and well equipped. They were poised to invade Europe at any moment. They weren’t. Their military equipment, including tanks, were inferior to the West. And more importantly, by the 1970s, the USSR simply wasn’t interested. Rather than dedicated Cold Warriors bent on exported Communism, the Nomenklatura – Communist party functionaries and officials – at home were to busy enjoying their own privileges, and trying to get abroad to buy good quality western goods they could sell on the black market back home.

Ukrainian Government and Nazis; Persecution of Russians and Democrats

As for the Russian threat to the Ukraine, from what I’ve seen and reblogged here, everything suggests that rather than being the aggressors, the Russian minority is the victims. They are being persecuted, subject to nationalist violence, and prevented by physical force from exercising their right to vote. Rather than being genuine democrats, the Ukrainian government looks like your bog-standard set of post-Soviet oligarchs, and corporate stooges, comparable to their counterparts in Britain and the US. The government also contains genuine, unreconstructed Nazis from the ‘pravy sektor’ – the Right Sector. These are groups which wear the insignia and uniforms of the auxiliary SS units which collaborated with the Nazis in their invasion of the US, and truly horrific pogroms against Soviet Jews. They are ultra-violent thugs, who have carried out horrific attacks on genuine Ukrainian democrats and trade unionists. In the demonstrations that overthrew the pro-Soviet government a few years ago, they shot at and attacked the peaceful demonstrators on their own side, while trying to make it look like it came from the Russians.

I’ve also seen footage on YouTube in which Russian soldiers capture a masked soldier, who then announces that he’s an America. I don’t know whether this is propaganda, or footage of a genuine event. Either is possible. But I certainly don’t discount the possibility that some of the supposedly Ukrainian troops include American special ops forces.

Europe Pushed to Brink of War for Corporate Profit

Putin is a thug. His assassination of his political opponents in Russia and beating and intimidation of journos, who refused to follow his line, is ample proof of that. But I don’t believe he is planning to invade Poland or the Baltic States. I am most dreadfully afraid that this time, Europe is being pushed into war with Russia on false pretexts, for the corporate profit of international capital. And it will be us proles, from America, England, France, Germany, and right across Europe into Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic and Russia, who will pay the bloody price.