Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

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.

Cartoon – Thatcher and Von Hayek as Monstrous Idols

July 3, 2017

Welcome to the latest instalment in my series of cartoons attacking the Tories, the right-wing press, and the ideologues and economists responsible for today’s misery and exploitation.

Two of the cartoons I’ve previously posted up have shown Maggie Thatcher and various other Tories as malign pagan idols, and this is another portrayal of her in the same vein. The inspiration for it was a photograph of a place in Turkey where the statues of ancient gods from Greece, Rome and perhaps elsewhere from that country’s long history emerge from the hillside.

In this picture, the deities of the ancient Graeco-Roman world have been replaced by Maggie Thatcher on the left, and von Hayek on the right. Von Hayek was one of the founders of the Libertarian free market economics that Thatcher embraced as her official policy. He was another bitter opponent of Socialism, which he attacked in his book, The Road to Serfdom. He served the Austrian government in the 1920s formulating an anti-Socialist economic policy based on classical Liberalism. After embracing the free market economists of Von Mises and others in the 1920s, he fled to Britain in 1931, where he taught at the LSE. He wasn’t quite the worst of the leaders of the New Right free market economists, as he still believed in some minimal kind of welfare state. But he was highly influential in the Libertarian attacks on state intervention and the welfare state.

And Thatcher was a big fan. The Financial Times over a decade ago carried an article on him, which attempted to argue that some of his ideas can still be embraced by those on the Left. For example, he stressed the importance of central institutions for a country’s political and economic life. These were the fundamental parts of its political constitution. In Britain’s case, these would include the monarchy and parliament. That both of these are of major importance to the British constitution is unquestionable, but I don’t think you need to be any kind of Libertarian to recognise this. And of these two institutions, the monarchy isn’t indispensable to orderly government by any means. It’s extremely popular, and there is a very good argument for retaining a head of state, who is above politics. But at the same time, there’s also a sizable minority of people in Britain, who would prefer a republic as a far more democratic, and less expensive alternative.

As for parliament, constitutional theorists have also pointed out the importance of middle level associations, such as professional associations, trade unions, employers’ organisations and so on to act as checks on the centralisation of political power and defend the rights and liberties of the rest of the population.

Standing between them, if you can make it out, is a statue of a demon dating from Celtic Gaul, from a photograph of a sculpture in the Musee Nationale in Paris. The ancient Celts were head hunters, keeping and displaying the heads of their victims after death. This demon appeared to have been part of a temple or shrine displaying severed heads taken in battle. The monster has two human heads beneath its two front paws, and the space between the creature’s legs held circular depressions. These appear to have been the places were real human heads were placed for veneration or display.

Again, I thought this creature was a very fitting metaphor for Thatcher and von Hayek. Their economic policies have proven to be a dreadful failure. Rather than bringing prosperity and freedom, they have only brought poverty, misery and death. As I’ve mentioned over and again before, there are a hundred people forced to use food banks to keep themselves from starving. There are 7 million more people, living in ‘food insecure’ household. In 2015, 30,000 people were killed by austerity.

And instead of peace and security, we live in an age of seemingly endless war, as our government joins the Americans in military campaigns in the Middle East. These are supposedly against Islamist terror and brutal despotisms, but the reality is that it’s just more western imperialism with a very thin humanitarian guise.

At home, the government and the press are whipping up hysteria and hatred against immigrants, including refugees fleeing from the very wars and dictators the West has begun and installed in power around the world. Muslims are particularly singled out because of atrocities committed by Salafist terrorists, despite the fact that time and again the majority of British Muslims have shown they don’t support such outrages. The real responsibility for these terror attack does not lie with ordinary British Muslims. It lies with our government, who used radical Islamist groups as soldiers in the proxy war against Communism, the Soviet Union and secular, Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East, and the Saudis, who are backing them to export their brutally intolerant brand of Islam. These Islamist groups have killed far more Muslims, as they attempt to carve out their wretched caliphate, in attacks and massacres across the Dar al-Islam than other religious groups.

And whatever the Libertarians have said about shrinking the state to expand the sphere of personal liberty, in practice nearly four decades of Thatcherite regimes, including Blair’s New Labour, have done the exact opposite. The power of the security services to intrude and monitor our private communications has been ruthlessly expanded under the pretext of keeping us safe from terror. There’s a real danger of Britain becoming a surveillance state, exactly like 1984. And Blair’s New Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition under Cameron and Clegg passed legislation providing for secret courts. These are Kafkaesque courts, where a man or woman can be tried in secret, with critical evidence against him or her and his/her lawyer and even the identity of the person accusing them withheld, if it is considered necessary for reasons of national security. Which was exactly like the travesties of justice in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

But Thatcher and von Hayek still remain idols on the right. The Daily Mail, Scum and other right-wing rags fly into paroxysms of rage if anyone dares to insult her memory, or point out that the terrible state of the country today, with a deliberately failing health service, mass poverty, poor and exploitative public services and utility industries, and the erosion of civil liberties are ultimately all the products of her policies and ideas.

And so Thatcher and von Hayek stand, like Ozymandias, on a desolate hillside, surveying the ruins they have created. While their followers kill and maim, offering terrible human sacrifices to them and their failed doctrines.

It’s long past time they were swept away, and replaced by a decent government, that would renationalise the NHS, nationalise the railway and parts of the electricity infrastructure, prevent the privatisation of schools, and reverse the benefit cuts and sanctions that are killing tens of thousands and forcing millions into poverty.

It’s about time May was forced out, along with the rest of the Tories, and replaced with Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour administration.

Cartoon of Tories as Demons; Ian Duncan Smith as Pinhead from Hellraiser

June 25, 2017

Earlier this week I posted up a cartoon I drew of Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP, as a ‘leatherface’ style serial killer. The sanctions system, introduced by New Labour but massively expanded by Cameron and the Tories, have been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. After much struggle with the DWP, which really, really didn’t want to release the figures, might managed to get hold of a set of stats. These showed that within the period Mike requested, 13-14,000 people had died after being found fit for work, and so had their benefits removed. Researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015, austerity had killed 30,000 people. Assuming these figures are constant year by year, and adding the number Mike revealed, this means that the Tories have so far killed 87-88,000 people. And that’s a minimum.

Mike, Johnny Void, DPAC and Stilloaks have also produced lists of disabled individuals, who have died, and the circumstances in which their lives ended in misery, poverty and starvation thanks to the DWP.

Mike and Jeffrey Davies, one of the great commenters on this blog, have described this massacre as what it is: murder, and the genocide of the disabled.

After I put up the cartoon, Jeffrey commented

‘hmm that doesn’t do him credit hes a devil full stop’.

Funny you should say that, Jeff, because that’s exactly what I drew him as, along with David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and their mistress, Maggie Thatcher.

I tried to draw IDS himself as Pinhead, the main cenobite from the film Hellraiser. This was a 1980s movie, written and directed by the horror novelist Clive Barker, and adapted from his book, The Hellbound Heart. The movie features an ancient puzzle box, the Lament Configuration, which if you solve it, opens a door to hell. The cenobites, led by Pinhead, then come through to drag you off to an eternity of sadomasochistic torture.

I drew IDS as Pinhead because of the sheer sadism built in the DWP, a sadism that comes from its leaders, firstly in New Labour, and then the Tories. The clerks interviewing jobseekers seem to delight in humiliating them, demanding to know why they haven’t looked for certain jobs, or not used the job hunting site created by Iain Duncan Smith, so they could see what jobs you’ve applied for online. As well as these interviews, jobseekers could also be tormented at home. The DWP set up a series of ‘job coaches’, who, as far as I can see, offer no practical advice for finding a job whatsoever. They just badger benefit claimants, subjecting them to more harangues about them not doing all they should to find a job.

The humiliation and belittlement is quite deliberate. It’s part of the principle of ‘less eligibility’ that Margaret Thatcher took over from the 19th century workhouses. For the poor and unemployment, the life on state aid is to be made as degrading and harsh as possible, in order to dissuade them from taking it up unless it is absolutely necessary.

Hence the sadism with which claimants are treated.

And it has worked. Many people don’t go into job centres to claim benefits until their private sources of money – borrowing from friends, or the savings they have in their bank accounts – run out, because of the ill-treatment and disrespect they receive there.

And for the Tories, this is a good scam. The fewer people sign on, the more they can claim that they have been successful in getting more people into work. The reality is that they probably haven’t got more people into work. They’ve just got fewer people signing on. And tens of thousands of those are dying.

And so you get scenes, like the one reported by Mike a couple of years ago, where ordinary people in the street comforted a young man, who came out of the jobcentre literally in tears, because he was desperate and the DWP would not give him any money. And this guy is just one example.

Not that the staff of the DWP appears to be treated any better. Former workers in the DWP have said that the department is keen to cut staff numbers, and so the clerks are terrified for their own jobs, while their superiors belittle and humiliate them. And whistleblowers also report that in order to motivate them to through more people off benefits, some Jobcentres ran competitions, giving out gold stars, sheriff’s badges and other prizes to the clerk, who got the most claimants off their books.

This system has to come from the twisted psychology of those, who set it up right at the very top in government. Remember the Russian proverb, ‘A fish rots from the neck down?’ Organisations frequently take on aspects of their leaders’ personalities. The Soviet Union under Stalin, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were all brutal, oppressive regimes that murdered millions, because they were headed by brutal, murderous people – Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. And so the British state has become brutal and murderous, because it has been led by sadists like Thatcher, IDS, Clegg and Cameron.

I’m not saying that Thatcher, Cameron, Clegg and aIDS are personally murderous or violent. They may well have been perfectly genial people in private. But they clearly had a sadistic need to inflict pain and suffering on the various poorest, simply for being poor, and incorporated that attitude into their policies and the management of the DWP.

There are, however, some psychological differences between IDS and Hellraiser’s Pinhead. Pinhead, as played by Doug Bradey, had far more dignity and personal gravitas than Ian Duncan Smith. Smith, by contrast, comes across as vain, and actually rather petulant. This was shown quite clearly in an edition of Question Time a few years ago, when he angrily rounded on another panellist to lambast them, as he saw it, for not doing anything to tackle the mythical generations of families, who have never worked.

He has tried to pose as a compassionate individual. In a documentary Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, made about poverty and state support, IDS wept on camera. He had, he claimed, met a young woman, who didn’t believe she’d ever have a job. ‘She could have been my daughter!’ he cried.

All fake, crocodile tears. Earlier he and his master, Dodgy Dave, had been film having a right old guffaw on the green benches in parliament when one speaker was describing the personal hardships a particular claimant had suffered due to Cameron’s and IDS’ system. The two obviously found the suffering of this disabled person hilariously funny, and didn’t bother to disguise it. It was caught by the Beeb on the Parliament channel, and Mike posted a clip of it on his blog.

Never mind the tears, that’s how IDS and Cameron really see the poor. They’re just plebs and proles, who are there to be laughed at and humiliated for the pleasure of the upper classes.

End Workfare Now! Part 2

June 20, 2017

Arguments for Workfare

The arguments trotted out to support the workfare policies are these.

1. Everyone has a duty to work. Those who take money from the state have a reciprocal obligation to work for the support they have received.

2. Following Moynihan in America, it’s argued that part of the problem of poverty in society is communities, where there are families, which have not worked for generations. In order to break the cycle of poverty, these people must be forced into work.

3. It’s also argued that many individuals have also been unemployed for so long that they, too, have lost the habit of working. These people must also be forced to work.

4. The unemployed are also socially marginalised and excluded. Workfare helps them, its supporters argue, become integrated into society and so become productive members of the community once again.

5. It is also claimed that workfare allows people to acquire new skills. In 2012 a report was published on the exploitation of the people forced to work for free as security guards for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A spokesman for the ConDem coalition responded to the claim by stating: ‘The work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable.’ As Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols sang back in 1977 ‘God save the Queen and the Fascist regime.’

6. Workfare somehow reduces government spending on welfare programmes. Liam Byrne, New Labour’s advocate for workfare, who was quoted in the first part of this article, said ‘The best way to save money is to get people back into work.’

In fact there are serious arguments against just about all of these points, and some of them simply aren’t factually true. Let’s deal with each of these arguments in turn.

The Duty to Work

If people have a duty to perform free work for the goods and services that are provided freely by the state, then the middle classes and the elite should particularly be targeted for workfare, because they use the state infrastructure and its services more than the proles and those at the bottom of society. But the middle and upper classes most definitely are not required to perform these services. One of the worst policies of Mao’s China during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of the 1960s and ’70s was the policy of taking skilled workers, intellectuals and artists away from their work to perform manual work elsewhere in that vast nation. It was bitterly resented, although at the time it was in line with the idea of creating a classless ‘workers’ state’. The respected TV critic and broadcaster, Clive James, in his column for the Observer, reviewed a programme that exposed this aspect of Chinese Communism. James was horrified at the effect this had had on breaking the health and skills of those sent to labour in the fields, such as a dancer for the state ballet. But if such forced labour is unacceptable for the middle and upper classes, it should also be so for those, whose only crime is to be without a job.

Furthermore there are also strong objections to performing workfare for a profit-making company. Those who do so, like those poor souls working free of charge for the big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, are helping to make these companies even more profitable. It isn’t society that profits from their work, but extremely wealthy individuals like David Sainsbury and his shareholders, and the people running his competitors, for example. This parallels the exploitative nature of Stalin’s gulags and the Nazis’ use of skilled Jewish workers by the SS. The gulags were the immense archipelago of forced labour camps used to punish political prisoners and other victims of Stalin’s regime. Over 30 million Soviet citizens are estimated to have been imprisoned in them at the height of the terror. The vast majority were totally innocent. The system was used to industrialise the country, whose economy had formerly been dominated by agriculture. Under Stalin, the heads of state enterprises would supply lists of the types of workers they needed to the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, the state secret police. The NKVD would then arrest workers with those skills, and supply them to the businesses as requested. In Nazi Germany, the SS also formed an enterprise to exploited the skilled Jewish workers, such as jewelers, they had imprisoned. They were put to work producing luxury goods, which were then sold by the SS. They even produced a catalogue of the products made by these slave artisans.

This claim also implies that low income people have a duty to work in an inferior position for the benefit of their social or economic superiors in a master-servant relationship. This is a distortion of the concept of duty. The same idea also leads to the view that if you are unsuccessful in the labour market, you therefore have a duty to work for nothing, a view of society that is both regressive – harking back to some of the worst aspects of the Victorian era – and alienating. On the other hand, if you are performing work that is unprofitable, then there should be no duty to perform it. If it is genuine, valuable work, then the people performing it should be paid the current market rate, not simply provided with unemployment relief.

Standing also makes the point that the concept of duty has led to the belief that people should be forced to find work. But the use of coercion is divisive and actually undermines the commitment to work. He also argues that it actually amoral, because it takes away from workers their ability to choose for themselves whether to be moral. Plus the fact that workfare is not levied on the idle rich, or the friends and relatives of the politicians forcing it on others

Multigenerational Families of the Unemployed

The number of families that actually fit this description is so small as to be negligible, both in America and over here in Blighty. The academics T. Shildrick, R. MacDonald, C. Webster, and K. Garthwaite examined this issue in their Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low Pay, No Pay Britain (Bristol: Policy Press 2012). Their research revealed that only 1 per cent fitted the description of a family in which two generations were unemployed. Official attempts to find these pockets of intergenerational unemployment have similarly turned up next to zilch. The whole idea is rubbish, but that hasn’t stopped papers like the Daily Fail claiming it’s true.

Getting People out of the Habit of Not Having a Job

Researchers have also looked at this one, too, and guess what? Yup, it’s similarly rubbish. There are very few people like this. But rather than acting as an incentive to find work, actually being forced to work unpaid in poor conditions may actually act as a deterrent. The Anarchist activist and writer, Alexander Berkman, made this point about work generally in his 1929, What Is Anarchist Communism? He made the point that much poor work was caused by forcing unwilling workers to perform jobs that they did not want and weren’t interested in. He pointed to the experience of prison labour, as an illustration. In prison, those workers, who were forced to perform such jobs did so badly. However, if they were given a job they enjoyed, then their work rapidly improved. He also made the point that Standing also makes about poorly paid but necessary work, that instead of forcing people to do it, wages should be increased to encourage workers to do them, and increase the social respect for those, who did those jobs. In a very stretched comparison, he described how both road sweepers and surgeons both helped keep people health. Surgeons, however, were given respect, while road sweepers are looked down upon. He felt this was simply a question of money, and that the social stigma attached to cleaning the streets would be removed, and the two professions given equal respect, if road sweepers were paid the same amount. This is too simplistic, as the surgeon is far more skilled than the road sweeper. But sweeping the streets and related dirty jobs would undoubtedly be more attractive if they were better paid.

Integrating the Jobless Back into Society

Far from being calculated to help the long-term unemployed back into society, the type of work that they are forced to do under workfare is humiliating. In many cases, this is quite deliberate as part of the government’s ideology of ‘less eligibility’ and dissuading people from going on benefits. And studies by the researchers and the DWP itself have also found that workfare makes absolutely no difference to whether a claimant gets a job afterwards.

Enabling the Unemployed to Acquire New Skills

This is also rubbish, as the type of menial work people are giving under workfare, in which they sweep the streets or stack shelves, are by their nature unskilled. And if a skilled worker is forced to perform them for months on end, this type of work is actually like to make them lose their skills.
Workfare Cuts Government Spending

This is also rubbish. In fact, workfare increases government expenditure on the unemployed, as the government has to pay subsidies to the firms employing them, and pay the costs of administration, which are actually quite heavy. And the work those on the programme actually perform doesn’t produce much in the way of taxable income, so money doesn’t come back to the government. Furthermore, most of the people on benefits are actually working, which makes Liam Byrne’s statement that the best way to save money is to get people back into work’ a barefaced lie.

In addition to demolishing the government’s arguments in favour of workfare, Standing also provides a series of further arguments against it. These are that the jobs created through workfare aren’t real jobs; workfare is unjust in its treatment of the unemployed; it stops the unemployed actually looking for jobs for themselves; it lowers their income over their lifetime; it also acts to keep wages down; it keeps the people, who should be working at those jobs out of work; it’s a dangerous extension of the power of the state; and finally, it’s a gigantic scam which only benefits the welfare-to-work firms.

Workfare and Real Jobs

According to the ideas of the market economy developed by the pioneer of free trade, the 18th century philosopher Adam Smith, workfare jobs don’t actually constitute real jobs. Smith believed that the market would actually produce higher wages to entice people into performing unpleasant jobs. On this reasoning, if workfare jobs were real jobs, then they would have a definite economic value. They would be created through the operation of the market, and the workers in them would also be paid proper wages for performing them.

There are also moral problems in the definition of what constitutes a ‘real job’ that someone on workfare should have to perform. If it is defined as one paying the minimum wage, then workfare is immoral as it puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of the people already performing those jobs, forcing them into poverty. If those ‘real jobs’ are defined as those which are dirty, dangerous, undignified or stigmatizing, and so unpopular, they would have the opposite effect of what the advocates of workfare claim – that they are encouraging people to find work.

The solution for progressives is to make the labour market act like it is supposed to act, rather than it actually does in practice. Adam Smith was quite wrong about wages adjusting upwards for unpopular jobs in a market economy. The wages provided for work should match both supply and demand, and people should not be made into commodities as workers. They should have enough economic support to be able to refuse jobs they don’t want. Instead of assuming that people need to be forced to work, there should be the presumption instead that most people actually do. It is arbitrary and ultimately demeaning for all concerned to try to identify people who are somehow ‘undeserving’. Genuine supporters of equality should want the wages in unpleasant jobs to rise, until there is a genuine supply of willing labour.

Ismahil Blagrove Criticises Mainstream Media

June 17, 2017

This is another short video showing the sheer anger of the community affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. It’s a short clip of Ismahil Blagrove telling the mainstream media exactly what he thinks of them for constructing the narrative that Jeremy Corbyn was ‘unelectable’. He states very clearly that he wants a revolution, and believes that one would break out if this horror occurred in any other country.

Warning: Contains very strong language.

I don’t believe we should have a revolution, as revolutions with very few exceptions result in mass bloodshed. And more often than not, they result in oppressive dictatorships which rule through terror and mass death. Think of the French Revolution, which promised liberte, egalite and fraternite, and which ended with the despotism of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, and the reactionary monarchy of Napoleon. Or the Russian Revolution, which swiftly degenerated into the autocratic rule of Lenin, and the brutal, genocidal dictatorship of Stalin, under which 30 million + soviet citizens ended their lives in forced labour camps.

But Blagrove is right to criticise the mass media. They did everything they could to smear and demonise Corbyn. And they’ve started demonising and smearing the crowds of people, who have spontaneously gathered to protest against the way people’s lives and property have been destroyed by Kensington council and the Tory government.

Mike in one of his posts yesterday reported that the Beeb has been describing the protesting crowds as ‘a mob’. They also falsely claimed that they were ‘rioting’. Mike reports that the opposite is true. You can see from footage taken by ordinary people, who were actually there, that no rioting is going on. They’ve also been claiming that the crowds are demanding money – they aren’t. And one of Mike’s commenters, NMac has also posted that the Torygraph claimed the protests had been taken over by ‘extremists’.

This is going to be absolute rubbish. It’s possible that the Socialist Workers Party are there, along with other far left groups. They’re there trying to pick up recruits wherever there’s even a vaguely left-wing issue. But they’ve always been a minority, and I’ve no doubt they’re a minority here.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/16/vox-political-was-wrong-britain-didnt-need-an-ignorant-toffs-comment-to-rise-against-the-tories-over-grenfelltower/

And the Beeb are the broadcasting establishment, a department of the British state. They’ve been cowed into line by threats of privatisation by the Tories and New Labour. But there’s also always been a right-wing bias in the domestic news. Academics at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff universities have found that the Beeb is more likely to interview businessmen and Conservatives over the state of the economy than trade unionists and Labour politicians. The authors Saville and Barry Kushner also made the point in their anti-Austerity book, Who Needs the Cuts, that the Beeb also swallowed and promoted absolutely uncritically the garbage that the slashing cuts made by the Tory party were necessary. Those who tried to refute this were simply not allowed on air. If, by some mischance, they did appear, they were cut off or sharply contradicted.

And the establishment has always feared the masses, and especially large public protests, as sources of disorder. You can see it in the legislation passed by monarchs and parliament down the ages. It started to change about the time of the Great Exhibition, when the respectable middle classes were surprised to find that the working class visitors to the displays, although poor, were not fanatics intent on overthrowing the established order.

But that suspicion and fear obviously hasn’t gone away. And so the Beeb and the Torygraph are busy spouting the propaganda that their very middle class masters, and in the case of the Torygraph, readers and advertisers, want to hear: that the crowds of people, who burst in on Kensington council to demand answers were the Great Unwashed of angry, criminal oiks and plebs, a threat to morality and public order.

They aren’t. They are angry, frightened and bewildered people, whose lives have been devastated by a terrible tragedy and who have every right to feel that way. And the media that smears them is a total disgrace.

Does the ‘I’ Really Believe People Hate May Because of her Gender?

June 7, 2017

On the front page of the I, the paper boasted that it had an article by novelist Philippa Gregory on the eight prejudices that have historically been levelled against women rulers.

Is this supposed to imply that opponents of Theresa May are motivated solely by sexism?

It wouldn’t surprise me. After all, the paper gave a lot of support to the various female Blairites, who claimed that voting for Jeremy Corbyn and not for his female rivals in the Labour leadership elections was very, very sexist indeed. Despite the fact that Corbyn had far better policies for women, while the Harriet Harman and Angela Eagle had all been Blairite neoliberals, who had backed the failed economic and social policies that have actively harmed women.

If this is what the newspaper intends, then I have got news for them.

May’s gender is completely irrelevant to me.

I would loathe and despair her, even if she was a bloke called Terry. Just as I despised her male predecessors, the unfunny comedy double act David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

I despise May because she has

* Cut and done everything she could to privatise the NHS, running it into the ground.

* Cut and done everything she could to privatise the education system.

* Maintained the current system of tuition fees, which are loading students with mountains of debt.

* Carried on with Cameron and Clegg’s policies of massive welfare cuts, including the Bedroom tax and the humiliating and murderous Work Capability Tests, which have thrown thousands off benefits and into misery and starvation.

* Cut the numbers of police, armed services, border guards and other services back so that Britain was left dangerously vulnerable. A policy that ultimately allowed the Manchester and London terrorists to commit their horrendous crimes.

* Lied about her intention to put British workers in the boardroom, while she’s done just about everything in her power to get rid of workers’ rights.

* Her policies have also resulted in stagnant wages and maintained high levels of unemployment, to the point where most of the people on benefit are those ‘hard-working’ folk she and the Tories have patronised with their condescending rhetoric.

* Shown that she is completely incompetent to negotiate a fair deal for Brexit, which will enable British firms and other organisations contact with the EU and access to their markets.

* Done everything in her power to support the erosion of our precious civil liberties begun by Major, Blair, Cameron and Clegg. This means the massive expansion of the surveillance state and the malignant system of secret courts, in which you may be tried without knowing the crime, the evidence against you, who your accuser is, and behind closed doors. Like Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.

* Cut taxes for the rich, while transferring the burden to the poor. Which, incidentally, was one of the reasons behind the French Revolution.

* Repealed legislation protecting our environment, so she can sell off Britain’s forests and trash our green and pleasant land with fracking for the profit of her friends in the oil industry.

* Supported Tory policies that have, instead of drawing the peoples of our great island nation together, have instead caused even further division by supporting islamophobia, fear and resentment of immigrants, and general racial intolerance.

* Not that she’s simply worked up racial intolerance. She and the Tory press have also done their utmost to whip up prejudice against the disabled to justify cuts in their benefits. The result has been a massive increase in hate crime against people with disabilities.

* Carried on with policies which will result in the break-up of the United Kingdom after three hundred years in the case of Scotland and England, and two hundred in the case of Britain and Northern Ireland.

The ‘Celtic Fringe’ – Scotland, Wales and Ulster don’t want Brexit. The Welsh and Scots Nationalist leaders want their nations and Ulster to be part of the Brexit negotiations. And all of the Northern Irish parties want to keep the open border with Eire. But all this is in jeopardy through May’s high-handed attitude to the nations, and her determination to promote only ‘Leave’ supporters to manage Britain’s departure from the EU.

And I could probably carry with more. Much more.

This is why I despise Theresa May and want her voted out, along with the party that chose her and has done so much serious harm to this country and its people for seven years.

I therefore urge everyone to vote Labour tomorrow to get her and them thrown out.

Despite the Jokes, HIGNFY Is Fake News

April 20, 2017

Okay, the BBC have started running trailers for the new series of Have I Got News For You that’s due to begin on Friday. The trailer jokes about how the programme won’t be dominated by fake news, before going into a series of clips in which the panellists are dubbed over by a voice with a Russian accent, going on about how wonderful Putin’s Russia is.

Ho ho! We all know how corrupt the Russian media is, ever since the days of the Soviet Union, if not the Tsar. So all good fun and fair comment, eh?

Well, no. I stopped watching the show last year, because I got sick and tired of the way it retailed fake news, cleverly masked as fair comment on the news stories of the week, and wrote a post about it. Jokes like that are dangerous, because they promote a very false image of what Russia is doing in Ukraine, as well as ramping up international tensions, which could all too easily lead to war. Remember, last year a NATO general wrote a whole book about how, by next month, we would be at war with Russia. Considering the stupid actions of Trump and the American military-industrial complex and its poodles in the media, I don’t know if that was a genuine prediction or a prepared script that has been laid down for NATO to follow.

But let’s take the connection between Russia and ‘fake news’. This has been heavily promoted by the Democrats to excuse their defeat in the American presidential elections. They lost, not because they had no policies that would really benefit the poor, not because Hillary Clinton is a corporatist hawk, who has been paid obscene amounts by the Wall Street banks for making sure they can get away with wrecking the economy and impoverishing the country’s working people. Or the way she sneered at implementing single-payer healthcare, and has worked for companies like Wallmart, which stamped on trade unions. No! It was all because the Russians hacked into the Democrats’ computer and handed all the incriminating evidence of their crooked deals with industry and to rig the nominations to keep Bernie Sanders out, and then gave it to WikiLeaks. Except that there’s no evidence of this, and WikiLeaks itself has denied this, saying instead that they were given the material in a Chicago park by a Democratic insider, who was annoyed at the way the party was being run.

And there’s more, much more. Since then the Democrats and their corporate shills, like Rachel Maddow, have been not only banging on about this, but also about how they supposedly hacked into Trump, and have some kind of hold over him, blackmailing him to support their interests. There’s no evidence for that, but nevertheless, that’s what’s being sold the American public. There are two videos from the Jimmy Dore show where he reports on the finding by an American media monitoring organisation that stories about Russian hacking now comprise over 50 per cent of the stories covered by Maddow on her show. Despite the fact that figures from the FBI and CIA have said that it’s all rubbish.

Dore points out how McCarthyite this all is, and how it is dangerously ratcheting up tensions with Putin in a new ‘Red Scare’.

Added to this already volatile situation is the current war in Ukraine. If you believe the media, including Private Eye, Putin doing the same thing as Hitler did to Czechoslovakia. He using the supposed persecution of his people in that country to invade and overthrow its democratically elected government and annex the entire nation.

Except that Putin isn’t. He is in Ukraine to protect the ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking Ukrainian population, who are genuinely being persecuted by the Ukrainian government. However, Crimea was never historically part of Ukraine, is overwhelmingly Russian, and was only given to Ukraine in 1950 or so. And its people voted, perfectly constitutionally, to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

As for the current Ukrainian government, they are anything but nice, western-style democrats. The Orange Revolution was not a spontaneous revolution at all, but a carefully funded astroturf coup staged by George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy, which is the American government’s quango in charge of fomenting coups against governments the American state doesn’t like. Which means, in practice, those countries that try to stop American corporations exploiting them and treating their people as slaves.

The Ukrainian government also contains genuine Nazis from the Pravy – ‘Right’ – Sektor. These organisations dress in the costume and use the regalia – the flags, signs and insignia – of the Ukrainian SS auxiliaries during the Second World War. These organisations, and the leaders they revere, where responsible for some of the pogroms and actively aided the Holocaust during the Nazi invasion. And they are still bitterly anti-Semitic today.

But from Reagan onwards, the American government has supported elements of the Ukrainian far right, and its leaders, like Vladimir Stetso, as freedom fighters.

None of this is being reported in Private Eye, or mentioned on the BBC, not even on Have I Got News For You. Indeed, Private Eye, in their ‘Letter from Ukraine’, actively retailed the narrative that democratic Ukraine is under attack from Putin’s Russia. This is all to serve British, and indeed, western, corporate and military interests.

And so Have I Got News For You, and its hosts, are actively feeding us fake news, all the while pretending to be acting as a kind of humorous check, holding politicians accountable through satire and humour. But there are limits to the joking, beyond which they clearly don’t want to go. And the jolly irreverence then becomes actively dangerous, as it adds an entirely spurious verisimilitude to the lies they are telling about Russia, Ukraine and the former eastern bloc.

I had enough of this a couple of years ago, and have stopped watching it. I am not saying it doesn’t do some good, and that the team and panellists don’t genuinely hold some politicos to account. I’m just saying that it’s also peddling fake news, and that, if you watch it, you need to be very careful about what Hislop, Merton and the guest presenter for that week say.

Soviet SF Synthesiser Music: Monolith 14

April 19, 2017

This is another piece of Russian space culture I found over on YouTube. The YouTube channel it’s on simply describes it as ‘Monolith 14’ with the addition of ‘CCCP 1974’, which presumably means it was made in the Soviet Union in 1974. And it’s very, very strange. I don’t know if the accompanying video was a promotional film specially made for the music, or is simply bits of an old Russian SF flick, which the band has recycled. It shows Soviet cosmonauts travelling to an alien planet, and getting shot at, bald android people, who are dead white, with bit sparse fur growing on their bonces and goggles walking around menacingly; a woman with eight eyes, four in each eye socket, examining a human couple, who are placed in man- and woman-shaped receptacles above which is some strange machinery ready to do, well, something or other to them; and a human bald bloke in a black tracksuit being pulled by invisible forces down a long corridor to be seized by the white android baldies. All while standing in a trough filled with dry ice. it looks a bit – but only a bit – as though the makers were influenced by THX 1138. I have no idea what’s going on, and I can’t find a film with the title in John Clute’s Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Dorling Kindersley 1995).

If the video is from a genuine Soviet SF film, then I’d like to see it. It looks fun and more than a little mind-blowing. It’s another window into the alternative universe that was Soviet SF. The best known Soviet SF films are Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, adapted from the novels by Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky Brothers respectively. This shows there’s much more out there, which needs to be rediscovered.

Soviet Space Art and Music

April 19, 2017

This is another fascinating space video I found on YouTube. Russia had a very strong space culture, possibly because it was the one area where they were undoubtedly in front of the Americans and the rest of the world for so long, arguably right up to the Moon landings. At one point there was a regular spot on Soviet television, where schoolchildren spoke to the cosmonauts on board the Salyut space stations.

The paintings in the video come from a magazine called Tekhnika-Molodezhi, which I think translates into English as ‘Technical Youth’. It shows how the Soviets imagined a future in which the Soviet Union, and by implication, the rest of the Communist bloc, were conquering space, landing on the Moon and colonising Mars. Back on Earth, they were pioneering new forms of transport technology, including giant walking robots, trains powered by magnetic levitation and futuristic cars. Many of these illustrations seem to have come from the 1950s. This was an optimistic decade for the Soviet Union. Stalin was dead, and Khrushchev had pledged himself to destroying the old b*stard’s ‘cult of personality’ in his 1953 Secret Speech. Living standards were rising, and consumer products were being developed and becoming more widespread. Something like an ‘affluent society’ was developing in the Soviet Union. At one point it looked like the Soviet Union was going to realise its potential and overtake the West as the most developed, progressive economy, a prospect that terrified the Americans. For more information on this, see the book Red Plenty.

The music’s electronica from 1984, according to the website. It’s interesting looking through some of the videos on the site, which also show that Russia produced some very interesting electronic/ synthesizer ‘pop’ music. The impression we always had when I was at school was that in popular music, the Russians were way behind us in the West. It’s fair to say that the Soviet authorities did distrust ‘decadent’ western music – Boney M’s ‘Ra-Ra Rasputin’ was banned because it was all about the Mad Monk, who was a non-person to the Soviet censor and official history. But it also shows that there was also a thriving youth musical culture as well, something I only found about at College.

Andre Vltchek’s Pictures and Plea for Understanding for Syria

April 13, 2017

On Wednesday, Counterpunch contributor Andre Vltchek published some of the pictures and comments about Syria from Yayoi Segi, a foreigner, who has been living and working there for three years, and is passionate about the country and its people. Segi states

“Syria is not what the mainstream media wants us to believe it is. One has to see it, to understand. Seeing is believing! It is an extraordinarily exceptional country. All that we have been told about Syria and its people is a lie.”

She talks about how the Syrian people are decent, warm people trying to get on with their lives despite the horrors and inconveniences of the war. She is also impressed by their manners and respect for education and culture.

“Syrians are the most hospitable, gentle people. When we meet, we never talk about the war, the conflict. It is a tremendous civilization… They always talk about their life, the future. They discuss their poets and their thinkers. People in Syria are very well educated. They know what is going on, on our Planet. Despite what some parts of the world have done to them, they are extremely respectful and polite to everybody. I never heard them speaking ill of others. They appreciate that you come and work with them, and they are confident.”

She also remarks that all of the international conferences and debates about the situation in Syria have carried on without reference to the wishes or ideas of the Syrians themselves.

“There have been so many seminars, conferences and meetings on Syria, yet the Syrian people are very rarely invited. All these events are ‘about them’ but without even inviting them, and without listening to them.”

Segi works for the national education system, and describes the system’s resilience and high quality compared to other nations.

“On the education front, the system was one of the best in the region, before the crisis began. Now, despite more than 6 years of horrendous war, the system is still standing and strong. Syrians know exactly what they want, and they have the capacity to implement their aspirations. Like in Aleppo; after the victory, the government immediately moved in and began opening schools.”

Her photographs show the devastation caused by war. But they also show people enjoying themselves in cafes and restaurants, as well as one of the great medieval fortresses and a sculpture, which looks like it may well come from the ancient past. Several of the photos are of schoolchildren. These show a mixed class of little boys and girls, smiling and dressed in western style clothing. There’s also what looks like a crowd of sports fans – football? – heading towards a match, and a sign with spells out in coloured letters ‘I heart Damascus’.

There is much that Vltchek writes with which I disagree. He’s of Czech-Russian ancestry, and is a film maker specialising in the Developing World. His fierce attacks on western exploitation of the undeveloped world is well meant, but sometimes he goes too far in attacking the Developed World and the needs and desires of its ordinary citizens. It’s also struck me several times that he has a far too optimistic view of the Soviet past. Russia and the eastern bloc did make some truly vast, impressive achievements under Communism, but this was at the cost of a vicious political repression which under Stalin resulted in deportations, massacres and a system of forced labour, which claimed tens of millions of lives. The Soviet Union also dominated and exploited the satellite countries conquered by Stalin from the Nazis during World War II.

But Vltchek’s article is in this case exactly right, necessary and welcome. Syria is a repressive state. Even in the 1980s it had something like eight different secret police agencies. But under the Ba’ath party it is a modern, secular state, where Christians and Muslims live in peace. As for its education system, a few years ago the BBC screened a documentary about the Syrian school system, following the pupils in one particular school through a school day. At the end of the documentary the Beeb informed viewers how they could join a scheme that would link schools in this country with those in Syria.

As for the high regard for its poets and intellectuals, several of the books I’ve read on Islam and the Arabs have said that poetry has a very high status in the Arab world, to the point where newspapers may be written in a distinct, half-poetic style. As for its antiquities, you can still walk down the Street called Straight, mentioned in St. Paul’s Epistles in the Bible. The country has monuments from a succession of ancient civilisations, such as Palmyra, going all the way back to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The tombs of some of the kings mentioned in the Bible have even been found.

It’s people are not monsters, and while Assad is a dictator, his government is surely better than the Islamist regime, which the rebels – al-Qaeda and ISIS – hope to impose. This would mean the destruction of ancient monuments, as has happened in Iraq and those parts of Syria, which fell under ISIS’ rule. Women’s rights would be attacked and withdrawn, the secular education system and rule of law swiftly dismantled. The country isn’t quite as tolerant in the religious sphere as it could be. From what I’ve heard on programmes about the country and its history on the Beeb, the Sunni Muslim majority is oppressed. But the Ba’ath party in Syria was founded as a secular, Arab nationalist party, which included both Christians and Muslims. If it is overthrown, the country’s tolerance of peoples of different sects and religions will also go, to be replaced by the type of vicious, genocidal persecution ISIS carried out in Iraq. Dan Snow’s programme on the country, broadcast by the Beeb, featured chilling footage of a foaming rant by an Islamist mullah calling for the genocide of the Alawis, the ruling Muslim sect. And as we’ve seen in Iraq, the Islamists not only persecute non-Muslims, they also viciously terrorise and butcher other Muslims for their religious beliefs. Historic mosques as well as Christian churches were destroyed and desecrated by ISIS in Iraq, and ordinary Muslims, whose only desire was to live in peace with their fellow Iraqis, were also murdered for not being what the Islamists considered proper Muslims.

I and many other bloggers have said repeatedly that the American regime and its western allies and lackeys aren’t interested in punishing Assad for his war crimes. This is all about geopolitics. It’s about making sure a Qatari oil pipeline goes through Syria, not one built by the Russians, and about removing a key ally of Russia and Iran. The American military-industrial complex has done its level best to overthrow secular Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East from the 1950s, as they were seen as being too close to Communism. Quite apart from the challenge they posed to western imperialism and its attempts to dominate and exploit the Middle East and its oil.

I therefore urge anyone, who has doubts about the justice of Trump’s attack on Syria, and the sabre-rattling of the western political class demanding regime change, to go and read Vltchek’s article and look at the pictures of Syria and its people. And look at the faces of the people, who will suffer if the oil lobby and the military-industrial complex have their way, and send American troops in. These are ordinary, decent people, who will be massacred by the hundreds of thousands, just like the people of Iraq.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/12/reflecting-on-syria/