Posts Tagged ‘IMF’

‘1990’ – The BBC’s anti-Socialist 1970s SF Drama

July 27, 2017

Looking through the chapter on British television in John Clute’s Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Dorling Kindersley 1995), I found this entry for the forgotten SF drama 1990. Produced by Prudence Fitzgerald, with scripts mainly written by Wilfred Greatorex, this ran for 16 episodes from 1977 to 1978. Clute writes

In 1990s totalitarian Britain the welfare state is all-powerful. A maverick journalist helps infiltrators from the freedom-loving United States, and assists British rebels in fleeing there. Intended as a dire warning of trade-union socialism, the series’ caricatures in fact make the venture risible. (P. 101).

The Wikipedia entry for the series also adds the following details along with other information on its plot, characters, cast and crew:

The series is set in a dystopian future in which Britain is under the grip of the Home Office’s Public Control Department (PCD), a tyrannically oppressive bureaucracy riding roughshod over the population’s civil liberties.

Dubbed “Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six” by its creator, Wilfred Greatorex, 1990 stars Edward Woodward as journalist Jim Kyle, Robert Lang as the powerful PCD Controller Herbert Skardon, Barbara Kellerman as Deputy PCD Controller Delly Lomas, John Savident, Yvonne Mitchell (in her last role), Lisa Harrow, Tony Doyle, Michael Napier Brown and Clive Swift.Two series, of eight episodes each, were produced and broadcast on BBC2 in 1977 and 1978. The series was never repeated but was released on DVD in 2017. Two novelisations based on the scripts were released in paperback by the publisher Sphere; Wilfred Greatorex’s 1990, and Wilfred Greatorex’s 1990 Book Two.

and includes this description of the show’s fictional background to its vision of a totalitarian Britain:

Exposition in this series was mainly performed by facts occasionally dropped into dialogue requiring the viewer to piece together the basic scenario.

This state of affairs was precipitated by an irrecoverable national bankruptcy in 1981, triggering martial law. In the general election, only 2% voted. The economy (and imports) drastically contracted forcing stringent rationing of housing, goods and services. These are distributed according to a person’s LifeScore as determined (and constantly reviewed) by the PCD on behalf of the union-dominated socialist government. As a consequence, the higher-status individuals appear to be civil servants and union leaders. An exception to this are import/export agents, which appear to be immune to state control due to their importance to the remnants of the economy. The House of Lords has been abolished and turned into an exclusive dining club. State ownership of businesses appears to be near-total and prohibition of wealth and income appears to be very high. The reigning monarch is male due to the unfortunate death of the previous monarch (queen Elizabeth the 2nd) but his identity is never made clear. The currency is the Anglodollar (replaced the pound sterling in 1982 due to economic collapse) which appears to have little value overseas due to the international boycott of British exports. The armed forces have been run down to the extent that they are little more than an internal security force. This is made clear in one episode where the RAF is depicted as consisting of little more than a handful of Harrier Jump Jets and a few dozen counter-insurgency helicopters. Despite this National Service has been re-introduced (via the Youth Behaviour Control Act 1984 which enforces conscription and Genetic Crimes Act 1985, which makes sexual offences punishable by hanging). It is said that in 1986 two Army Generals and a retired Air Chief Marshal attempted a coup against the government, but it failed.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_(TV_series)

There’s also a Wikipedia entry for Greatorex, the show’s creator, which states

Wilfred Greatorex (27 May 1921–14 October 2002)[1] was an English television and film writer, script editor and producer. He was creator of such series as Secret Army, 1990, Plane Makers and its sequel The Power Game, Hine, Brett, Man At The Top, Man From Haven and The Inheritors.[2] He also wrote the screenplay for the 1969 film Battle of Britain.[1] He was described by The Guardian newspaper as “one of the most prolific and assured of television script-writers and editors from the 1960s into the 1980s”.[3] Starting off as a journalist, he got his big break as a TV writer on Lew Grade’s ATV service writing dramas about journalism, such as Deadline Midnight and Front Page Story.[3]

As a TV script editor he also worked on series such as Danger Man[1] and was also creator/producer of The Inheritors, Hine and The Power Game.[1] Papers discovered at a Norfolk auction house in 2011 reveal that ‘Hine’ had a budget of £84,000, the equivalent of close to £1m some forty years later.

In 1977, he came up with the dystopian drama series 1990 for BBC2, starring Edward Woodward. Greatorex dubbed the series “Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six”.[4] Over its two series it portrayed “a Britain in which the rights of the individual had been replaced by the concept of the common good – or, as I put it more brutally, a consensus tyranny.”[3] The same year he also devised (with Gerard Glaister) the BBC1 wartime drama Secret Army. The show later inspired the sitcom parody ‘Allo ‘Allo!.[5]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Greatorex

The show’s clearly a product of the extreme paranoia that gripped the Tories in Britain during the mid-1970s. The total collapse of the economy seems to have been inspired by the country’s bankruptcy in the mid to late 1970s, when the country was forced to go to the IMF. It also shows the fears that the Labour party was planning some kind of extreme left-wing coup. This was the decade when the Times was urging the formation of a national government, and various figures in intelligence and politics were considering organizing a military coup against the minority Labour government. Ken Livingstone also states in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, that MI5 had also compiled a list of subversives, including journalists, politicians and trade unionists, who were to be rounded up and interned in a camp somewhere in the Hebrides. Behind much of this paranoia was the belief, held by James Jesus Angleton, the head of the CIA, and many others in the Tory party, including Maggie Thatcher, that Harold Wilson was a KGB spy.

The series has long been forgotten. I can’t remember ever hearing or reading about it, apart from the entry in Clute’s Encyclopedia and the Wikipedia pages. The show was clearly quite successful at the time, as it lasted two seasons, but I can’t remember anyone I knew having watched it, or even mentioning it in the school playground.

Nevertheless, this is interesting, as the series was clearly written from an extreme right-wing stance, albeit one of that was shared by much of the Tory media during the 1970s. It definitely shows the alarm the Tories and a large section of the middle class clearly felt at trade union militancy and the Labour left’s desire to extend nationalization, as well as the experiments with worker’s control under Tony Benn. In fact, despite the accusation often heard during the ’70s and ’80s that Labour wanted to nationalize everything, the party only wished to take into public ownership 25 more companies. This is far from complete nationalization. As for worker’s control, this was confined to three firms, which were failing anyway. These eventually collapsed, but many of the workers involved in these projects felt that the experiments had been worthwhile and had shown that workers could run businesses.

And it also shows how blatantly biased the BBC could be against the Left.

There’s been considerable discussion on blog’s like mine and Mike’s about the Beeb’s bias against the Labour party and especially Jeremy Corbyn. Mike’s put a number of articles commenting on this bias. The BBC claims it is impartial, and whenever anybody complains about the bias in its programmes, as Guy Debord’s Cat did recently, they receive a bland, and slightly pompous reply telling them that they’re wrong. Researchers at Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities have found, however, that the Corporation is far more likely to interview, and treat respectfully the opinions offered by Conservative MPs and experts from the financial sector, than trade unionists and members of the Labour party. Barry and Saville Kushner have commented on how the Beeb uncritically accepts and promotes the idea of austerity in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, to the point of shouting down anyone, who dares to disagree. There’s even been a book published exposing the Corporation’s bias, The BBC and the Myth of Public Service Broadcasting.

The existence of this explicitly anti-Socialist SF drama shows how far back this bias goes. In many ways, I’m not surprised. The corporation is largely staffed by members of the upper middle class. It’s one of the country’s central institutions, and so reflects the views of the established political, business and media elites. Hence it shared the British right’s groundless fears of some kind of radical socialist takeover in the 1970s, and their bitter hatred the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn today.

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The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/17/uc-gives-disabled-people-just-two-years-to-find-a-job-or-lose-everything/

This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/disabled-mp-accuses-tories-of-eugenics-is-that-why-they-wont-let-him-take-a-seat/

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.

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.

The Young Turks on Corporate Coup against Brazilian President

May 14, 2016

The leftist Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, has been impeached and removed from office on charges of corruption and breaking electoral rules on expenditure. In this piece from The Young Turks, their anchor, Cenk Uygur, argues strongly that the charges are merely a specious pretext for what is essentially a coup against the Left by Brazil’s rich and corporate elite.

Rousseff was in a coalition with a centrist party, led by Michel Temer. After her removal, Temer took over the reins of power. But unlike Rousseff, Temer is massively unpopular. In polls, he has a popularity rating of 1 per cent. Which is probably as low as you can get for someone in government. Even Jeremy Hunt hasn’t reached that nadir yet, though he’s still going. And he’s hardly Mr Clean either. Temer is embroiled in a series of massive corruption scandals, far more than Rousseff. However, he’s been put in place because the elites love him.

Uygur argues that the coup has been arranged by the country’s financial backers. The big corporate media has been running campaigns against Rousseff. Those investing in the country include Goldman Sachs and the IMF, who are now demanding that the Brazilian government embarks on a programme of austerity – meaning more welfare cuts and tax reform, which will no doubt mean that the tax burden is once more transferred away from the rich to the poor. Oh yes, and they also want greater ‘labour fluidity’, which is corporate-speak for cuts to workers’ rights to make it easier to sack people. This was also a big favourite of Bliar and Broon.

As for the substance of the allegations against Rousseff, Uygur states that there may well be something there. But she’s nowhere near as corrupt or as unpopular as Temer. He quotes the very conservative magazine, the Economist, as saying that the allegations are unwarranted. Even Temer himself scoffed at the idea that she should be impeached.

Uygur concludes that this is how the corporate elite and the rich move against left-wingers once they’re in power. As soon as they start doing things for the poor, they find some arrangement to remove them, and replace them with the people, who will do what they want.

It’s not hard to see the reflection of what’s going on in American politics in this as well. Bernie Sanders was massively more popular with ordinary voters than Shrillary, but Bernie was for the blue-collar Joes and Joannas and against the corporate elite that fund the political machine. So the superdelegates, the party heavyweights, whose votes count for many more than the ordinary Democrat voters, back Shrillery instead. Who doesn’t represent anyone except Wall St. You can also see the same machinations in the EU with the Troika and their demands for the austerity regime in Greece and Italy and so on. Or in Honduras, where the Corporate elite, including Shrillary, backed a military coup that overthrew the president, Manuel Zelaya. Why? Zelaya had made terrible attacks on western capitalism by providing the poor with a minimum wage, and free education and electricity, amongst other things. The country’s corporate elite and Shrillary couldn’t permit this, and so once again, America backed a coup. Brazil’s coup is different, because it’s basically a peaceful change of government personnel, rather than a military takeover. But it’s a coup, nonetheless.

It shows the power of the transnational corporate elites, and how much they really despise lower classes, genuine working people, and just how far they will go to keep them from power.

Private Eye on the Western Firms Seeking to Grasp the Iraqi Oil Fields

March 3, 2016

Private Eye in their issue of 9th 22nd December 2005 also ran an article on the ‘Production Sharing Agreements’ issued to British and other western firms, which effectively handed control of the Iraqi oil fields to them, taking millions from the Iraqis themselves. All under the pretext that it’s helping to rebuild the economy of the invasion.

Rebuilding Iraq
I’m Oil Right, Jack

Good to see that Britain is doing its bit to “assist” Iraq – and help private western oil companies bolster their already massive profits at the same time.

As is well known, the United States is putting pressure on Iraq’s fragile government to accept “production sharing agreements”, or PSAs, to develop the Iraqi oil fields. These PSAs, previously unknown in the big middle eastern oilfields, will mean vast profits for western oil giants. Indeed, according to a report from the campaign group Platform, War on Want and the New Economics Foundation, western companies could make returns on investment of between 42 percent and 162 percent, while Iraq itself could lose some $100 bn by agreeing to the PSAs.

While the pressure from the US for PSAs is well known, it now emerges that Britain’s own Foreign Office is equally involved in lobbying the Iraqis. It is doing so through a little known but powerful business group called the International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC). Originally formed to help business get the right laws to “encourage” investment in the former Soviet Union, ITIC is now central to the oil industry’s efforts in Iraq. An Anglo-American outfit jointly chaired by a senior US businessman and the former Tory trade minister Lord Walker, it is funded by the likes of BP, Shell and Exxon.

ITIC began its “Iraq project” in July 2003 and claims it did so “following several requests from advisors from western governments and international organizations for private sector input as they prepare their technical assistance programs for Iraq”. Among those keen to hear ITIC’s advice were the World Bank and the British government.

Iraqi ministers were presented with an ITIC report recommending that their oil industry entre into PSAs with western firms at meetings organized by the IMF and World Bank in Beirut earlier this year. At the same time ITIC reported a “meeting held with UK Treasury and Foreign Office to discuss coordination and cooperation of Full Report presentation”. In other words, two British government departments became agents for ITIC, helping it persuade the Iraqis to accept PSAs.

The Foreign Office denies it has been involved in specific lobbying on Iraqi oil, but documents released to Platform under the Freedom of Information Act show the true extent to which the British government has represented ITIC. The Foreign Office presented Iraqi oil ministers with a ‘code of practice for the Iraqi oil industry” last autumn. This code was supposed to persuade the oil ministers they needed to have open, transparent deals to avoid corruption. However, the FO documents quoted extensively from ITIC’s own Iraq report – before it was published and without acknowledging that the report was itself funded by western oil firms.

The FO document also goes beyond its brief and says that “Iraq would need to engage with the international oil companies to provide appropriate levels of foreign direct investment” to develop its oil. Other solutions that do not hand such profits to western oil firms – like borrowing money and directing its own oil exploitation – are for some reason not discussed.

In addition the British government has, via the Foreign Office, paid £147,700 to fund advisers to the Iraqi oil ministry, including two BP executive, Terry Adams and Bob Morgan.

This adds more evidence to the revelations that the invasion of Iraq was never about protecting us from al-Qaeda or terrorism, but simply a cynical strategy to steal that nation’s oil.

Financial Times Review of Book on Origins of American Financial Imperialism

October 27, 2015

Also looking through the pile of past newspaper clippings I’ve collected, I found this review by David Honigmann of Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy 1900-1930, by Emily S. Rosenberg, published by Harvard, in the FT’s weekend supplement for 11th/12th March 2000.

The Real Costs of an Empire on Loan

At the end of the 19th century, the US was acquiring an empire by default, picking up colonial possessions and exerting a sphere of influence it did not quite know how to handle. When the 1896 selection turned on the question of currency reform and the gold-standard advocates won, the next step to export the gold standard to the scattered territories under US control. It spread from Puerto Rico to the Philippines, then Panama, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico. Eventually, US financial advisers would by plying their trade as far afield as China, Germany and Persia.

Dollar diplomacy was the term coined for an arrangement under which struggling economies would receive loans from US banks in return for accepting “supervision” from American economic advisers. The story of the public-private partnership that tried to bring this about is the subject of Emily Rosenberg’s meticulously researched book.

She traces the three parties involved in pushing dollar diplomacy. Investment banks, anxious for new markets, provided the loans. Academics made, in some cases, small fortunes from providing the advice: Edwin Kemmerer, who became the high priest of dollar diplomacy, made many times his already generous Princeton salary from grateful client governments. (Rosenberg cites personal correspondence to show that Kemmerer was obsessed with the inadequacy of his salary and what this meant for his manliness.

The third party underpinning all this was the US State Department, which played an ambiguous role in approving the loans. Each loan went to the State Department for approval, and when approval was granted there was at least a tacit expectation by lenders that the US government was backing it, protection which could take any form from ambassadorial murmurings to the dispatch of the Marines.

Banking was a contested area at the time. The gold standard, with its tendency to deflation, was inimical to small farmers and small businessmen. Marxists condemned it as materialism in action, and opposition to it also drew on a strain of populist anti-Semitism. (In the 1896 election, the Democrats warned against “crucifying mankind upon a Cross of Gold”.)

Attitudes to dollar diplomacy did not split evenly along political lines, however. When President (Theodore) Roosevelt, in 1905, halted the Dominican Republic’s slide towards bankruptcy by turning it into a US fiscal protectorate, and then built it into a model of dollar diplomacy, there was little anti-imperialist protest. The plan was seen essentially as extending “assistance without annexation”.

It was only as client countries began to rebel against the conditions and policies imposed to accompany loans (the Sandino rebellion in Nicaragua in the late 1920s being the most visible) that progressive domestic opposition and the Comintern rallied to denounce it.

Rosenberg dives deepest into the professional advisers and their search for respectability. this was the foundation of the whole system: the professionalism of the advisers reduced the perceived risk of the loans, lowering their price and making them affordable for the client countries. The advisers presented themselves as impartial third parties, aloof from both US governmental interests and the banks, responsible only to client governments. In fact, they received considerable support behind the scenes from the State Department, and Kemmerer was also kept on a secret annual retainer by Dillon Read, one of the investment banks: not so much Chinese walls as Hall of Mirrors.

Despite the technocratic claims of the advisers, dollar diplomacy was not a clean, value-free exercise. Rosenberg locates its roots in the cultural debates of the early 20th century. The Tarzan books and films were only one example of the ways in which other nations and peoples were framed as “primitive” and in need of western assistance.

Dollar diplomacy even became the subject of poplar entertainment, as in Edison’s 1917 film Billy and the Big Stick, whose hero was an American customs officer in Haiti, denied his salary by the Haitian president until he threatens the dispatch of gunboats. All very explicit, it might seem; in fact, as Rosenberg notes, it was the US financial adviser in Haiti who sopped the wages of Haitian officials until they agreed to his proposals.

The crux of Rosenberg’s argument is that dollar diplomacy cloaked geo-politics in the guise of market contracts, but with the iron first ill-concealed in the velvet glove. She draws a parallel with Victorian marriage contracts: “the dominant (male) party promised monetary support (loans) and supervision in return for obedience and acceptance of regulation. Yet, also like marriage, the status inequalities were embedded in the controlled loan contracts of dollar diplomacy, even as the contracts tended to be culturally presented as freely negotiated and based on mutual attraction.”

Financial Missionaries to the World is not easy reading. It is full enough of fiscal minutiae that even fairly central concepts, such as financing currency conversion through seniorage, go unexplained. There is no argument that is not a discourse, no assumption that is not a paradigm, no subordination that is not a “feminization”.

But it works well in explaining how this policy of arm’s length financial administration arose, how it was sustained by cultural pressures in the teeth of growing opposition from both isolationist Right and anti-colonialist Left, and how it eventually collapsed in the gale of the 1929 Crash and a series of armed rebellions.

Rosenberg does briefly trace the evolution of dollar diplomacy through Bretton Woods and the rise of the IMF, although a less scholarly book might have drawn even more explicit parallels with the financial regimens imposed by today’s multinational institutions. But perhaps the warnings are all too clear.

That last paragraph is important. The IMF and the World Bank certainly do act as instruments of American economic imperialism. When countries go for them for loan, these are given with a set prescribed conditions to rectify those nations’ ailing economies: they are to private the state industries and cut down on state expenditure generally, including removing or cutting back on any welfare support they may provide their citizens. The privatised industries are to be sold to American companies.

And the Americans haven’t just tried this with Developing Nations. They’ve done it to us as well. The British Empire was dismembered partly due to pressure from the Americans for their help during the Second World War, as they wanted to open up the closed imperial trading bloc to American companies. And they’ve continued interfering in our economic affairs afterwards. According to Lobster, one of the chiefs and head executives at the Bank of England under Bliar was Deanne Julius, a high ranking official within the American banking system. She believed that Britain should abandon its role as a manufacturer and concentrate instead on servicing American global financial interests.

Lobster on the Ukraine as Monsanto Trojan Horse

February 2, 2015

Robin Ramsay, writing in the ‘View from the Bridge’ column in Lobster 68, has some very interesting things to say about the current civil war in Ukraine. Ramsay considers that the American-EU attempt to detach the country from Russia made about as much sense as the Russians trying to form a trade and military alliance with Canada or Mexico. It doesn’t make much sense, considering these nations’ historic and geographic connections to the US, and would only serve to frighten and annoy their larger neighbour to the south.

His analysis of the real purpose of the IMF loan to Ukraine is interesting. It was made with the usual demands for restructuring. In other words, in return for the loan, the Ukraine would have to substantially wreck large parts of its economy by selling off its agricultural and industrial infrastructure to foreign investors. He also notes that the loan was so large it could never really be repaid. He suggests that this was deliberate, with the intention of handing over large parts of Ukraine’s immensely fertile chernozem agricultural land to Monsanto. They would then seed it with their GM crops as part of an attempt to do an end-run on the EU legislation banning them. Once Ukraine became part of the EU, Monsanto could claim that the ban was a dead letter, because they were already growing them there.

Unfortunately for the Americans the plan was scuppered as the Russians made the Ukrainians a better off. Hence the coup. The ‘View from the Bridge’ section of Lobster 68 is available on the web as a free download at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster68/lob68-view-from-the-bridge.pdf. This section is entitled ‘Ukraine and the Major Media’, and it’s on pages 3-4.

And Greece?

This weekend Mike over at Vox Political published a piece by Tsipras, the new Greek president. Tsipras is the head of the anti-austerity Syriza party, now frightening the Neo-libs all over Europe. It was part of a speech Tsipras gave in Germany trying to explain to the German financiers why his country was abandoning the austerity foisted on them by the troika. He also mentioned that he objected to the IMF loan to his country, not because it was too little, but because it was too much. The Greek couldn’t pay it off, and the further loan given to the Greeks to service the debt simply made it worse and prolonged it even further.

Which sounds very similar to what Robin Ramsay proposes was done to the Ukraine.

It makes me wonder whether the purpose of these loans is really to bail out these countries’ economies, or wreck them, and make them poor, dependent economic colonies of America and the more prosperous EU nations to their north and west.

Vox Political and Tax Research: Greek Debt Excuse to Destroy Syriza

January 29, 2015

Mike has a little piece over at Vox Political commenting on a guest post over at Tax Research UK. This begins by stating that the current concerns about Greek debt

is, quite simply, a device to wreck the Syriza government as quickly as possible, and to make sure that what happens can be laid at the feet of that government, and not blamed on the ECB, IMF, EC, or any other EU country, or – and this is most important – global capital (by which I primarily mean multi-national corporations, the 1% and their agents and supporters).

The articles warn that the leaders of multinational capital are alarmed at the fact that for the first time in decades a government has been elected that has rejected Neoliberalism. They predict that over the coming three months, Greece will be subjected to increasing attack and pressure, all to undermine their new government.

The Tax Research UK article further states that the Syriza government is also uncomfortable and unwelcome to the Social Democratic parties in Europe, such as New Labour in Britain, that bought into Neoliberalism, and lobbied hard for the interests of big business, telling their supporter there was no other way.

Syriza is a threat because if it succeeds, it will embolden other, non-Neoliberal parties like the Podremos in Spain. And after strengthening them, it will then spread elsewhere in Europe, most probably first to France. The Neoliberals and their multinational corporate paymasters are on the defensive. And they will do their utmost to bring down Syriza.

Mike comments that it is to be hoped the new Greek president, Mr Tsipras, now has the strength, determination and statesmanlike qualities that so determined Britain’s Churchill in our struggle against Nazism. ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man.’

Vox Political’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/29/why-debt-is-an-excuse-in-the-case-of-greece-tax-research-uk/.

Tax Research UK’s article is at http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2015/01/28/why-debt-is-an-excuse-in-the-case-of-greece-guest-post/

Lobster on Neoliberalism’s Trashing of the Land of the Kiwi

March 29, 2014

lange-celebrating

David Lange, the Labour leader, who introduced Neoliberal economics into New Zealand, celebrating 1984 election victory.

Early this week in the post ‘Letter from Australia’ I republished Gathering Swallows comments on the way Abbott, the current premier of Australia, was introducing the same policies Down Under that are being used to destroy the welfare state over here, and attack the poor and working class. The same Neoliberal programme of privatisation and cuts to the health service and the welfare state was also carried out about two decades ago in New Zealand. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, no. 31, for June 1996, pp. 34-5, carried a review of Economic Fundamentalism: A Laboratory Experiment by Jane Kelsey, a New Zealand law professor (Pluto Press: London 1996). It was an account of how a handful of bureaucrats and their supporters in New Zealand big business took control of the nation’s economic policies and imposed a mixture of Neoliberalism, Thatcherite privatisation of state assets at rock-bottom prices, and the type of restructuring schemes imposed by the IMF on developing nations.

The review describes just how bizarre these policies were, considering their background in American economic imperialism:

The oddity of what they did can’t be exaggerated. IMF restructuring programmes traditionally have been implemented at gun-point, imposed by the US-dominated IMF on developing countries with the ever-present threat of political action – from economic sanctions, through CIA subversion, up to full-blown coup in the background. They have to be imposed by force because they are simply schemes whereby the imperialist powers (until recently usually America) extract wealth from the Third World. Loan-sharking or extortion would describe them. In New Zealand, a bunch of true believers imposed this catastrophic nonsense on their own country.

Like Blair’s administration in Britain, this occurred under a Labour government. The review states that it was allowed to go on, because Labour politicians didn’t know enough about economics and opposition to these policies were divided. As in Britain, the Left was more concerned with opposition to nuclear weapons and feminism, while the unions failed to combat these policies. The policies also succeeded because the media, who really don’t know a thing about economics, absolutely believed everything that the businessmen and their economists told them, and then marginalised the opposition to them.

Lobster states

The result has been entirely predictable: less economic activity and/or depression, unemployment; massive redistribution from poor to rich, from manufacturing to money-lenders; massive rip-offs; destruction of unions, welfare state and health service; export of NZ capital, purchasing of NZ companies and former government assets by foreign capital.

Ramsay suspects there was a strong American influence controlling this somewhere. He notes that at the time there was a major effort by the Americans to counter the anti-nuclear stance of the New Zealand Labour Party and the trade unions at the time. Part of the programme of mass privatisation and destruction of the welfare state involved US-sponsored trips to America for New Zealand personnel. Again, there’s a parallel here in the way the British American Project and similar schemes has operated to influence and train up aspiring British political and industrial leaders, like Tony Blair.

The real responsibility for inflicting these policies on New Zealand lies not secret diplomacy by the US, but the uncritical adoption of Neoliberalism by New Zealand Labour politicians themselves. The review cites Bryan Gould’s description of meeting them in 1987 in his 1995 book, Goodbye to All That:

I recall a stimulating evening over dinner with [Labour Finance Minister] Roger Douglas and a group of “young Turks” from the Treasury. They had all the conviction of religious zealots. They were convinced they had found the Holy Grail and were seemingly unaware that their prescriptions had been tried and largely abandoned elsewhere.

Gould had been a British Labour politician, but was side-lined by New Labour, and as a result left politics to become a vice-chancellor at one of New Zealand’s Unis.

Throughout the world the same Neoliberal economic policies are being ruthlessly pursued, resulting in the destruction of welfare provision, massive unemployment and poverty amongst the lower middle and working classes, and the further, colossal enrichment of an extremely wealthy elite. This has happened not just because of Conservative administrations like Thatcher’s in the UK, but also through nominally left-wing parties, such as New Labour under Blair.

It’s high time this was stopped. It needs people across the world to learn from each other, and formulate a truly global campaign of resistance. For what’s being done elsewhere now, will be done here today.

From 2003: IMF Admits Policies Don’t Work

March 27, 2014

I also found this little piece in Lobster 45 for Summer 2003, reporting on a piece in the Independent for the 20th March that year. According to the Indie, the IMF had just published a report concluding that their policies mostly didn’t work. Instead of helping countries with failing economies, the IMF actually made the situation much worse. The article stated

In a paper that will be seized on by IMF critics across the political spectrum, leading officials reveal they can find little evidence of the their own success. Countries that follow IMF suggestions often suffer a ‘collapse in growth rates and significant financial crises’, with open currency markets merely serving to ‘amplify the effects of various shocks.’ Kenneth Rogoff, the IMF chief economist who is one of the report’s authors, called the findings ‘sobering’.

A recent study by the United Nations reported that the 47 poorest countries in the world – the biggest recipients of loans from the IMF and the World Bank – are poorer now than they were when the IMF was founded in 1944. The report says that ‘financial integration’ has often led to an ‘increased vulnerability in crises’ because foreign speculators pull out as soon as trouble emerges.

‘Mea Maxima Culpa?’, p. 25.

The IMF’s policies generally seem to consist of recommending the countries receiving their loans to privatise their economies, savagely cut back on any welfare expenditure, and rationalise the remaining industry, leading to massive unemployment. They also force the countries to open up to private investors from the rest of the world. In the case of at least one Central American country, this consisted of a stipulation to sell their state industries to American companies. Ramsay thus commented that

On the other hand might we not say that the report demonstrates in spades that the IMF’s policies are working splendidly? For is the American-dominated financial system not intended to enable America in particular and the ‘the West’ in general to bleed the Third World dry?

This piece demonstrates that the free trade policies of international financial capitalism really don’t work, except in the respect that they’re intended to make the lenders of the Developed World richer.