Posts Tagged ‘Sponsorship’

Lobster on Real Conspiracies Versus Conspiracy Theories: Part Two

March 18, 2018

Bale then goes to contrast the non-existent groups of the bogus conspiracy theories, with real conspiratorial groups, which have exerted a genuine influence, such as the Afrikaner Broederbond, the extremist Afrikaner nationalist group that was ultimately responsible for the adoption of apartheid. He writes

No Monolithic Conspiracy
There has never been, to be sure, a single, monolithic Communist Conspiracy of the sort postulated by the American John Birch Society in the 1950s and 1960s. Nor has there ever been an all-encompassing International Capitalist Conspiracy, a Jewish World Conspiracy, a Masonic Conspiracy, or a Universal Vatican Conspiracy. And nowadays, contrary to the apparent belief of millions, neither a vast Underground Satanist Conspiracy nor an Alien Abduction Conspiracy exists. This reassuring knowledge should not, however, prompt anyone to throw out the baby with the bath water, as many academics have been wont to do. For just as surely as none of the above mentioned Grand Conspiracies has ever existed, diverse groups of Communists, capitalists, Zionists, masons and Catholics have in fact secretly plotted, often against one another, to accomplish various specific but limited political objectives.

No sensible person would claim, for example, that the Soviet secret police has not been involved in a vast array of covert operations since the establishment of the Soviet Union, or that international front groups controlled by the Russian Communist Party have not systematically engage in worldwide penetration and propaganda campaigns. it is nonetheless true that scholars have often hastened to deny the existence of genuine conspiratorial plots, without making any effort to investigate them, simply because such schemes fall outside their own realm of knowledge and experience or – even worse – directly challenge their sometimes naïve conceptions about how the world functions.

They Do Exist
If someone were to say, for example, that a secret masonic lodge in Italy had infiltrated all of the state’s security agencies and was involved in promoting or exploiting acts of neo-fascist terrorism in order to condition the political system and strengthen its own hold over the levers of government, most newspaper readers would probably assume that they were joking or accuse them of having taken leave of their senses. Ten years ago I might have had the same reaction myself. Nevertheless, although the above statement oversimplifies a far more complex pattern of interaction between the public and private spheres, such a lodge in fact existed. It was known as Loggia Massonica Propaganda Due (P2), was affiliated with the Grand Orient branch of Italian masonry, and was headed by a former fascist militiaman named Licio Gelli. In all probability something like P2 still exists today in an altered form, even though the lodge was officially outlawed in 1982. Likewise, with the claim that an Afrikaner secret society, founded in the second decade of this century [the 20th], had played a key role in establishing the system of apartheid in South Africa, and in the process helped to ensure the preservation of ultra-conservative Afrikaner cultural values and Afrikaner political dominance until 199. (sic). Yet this organisation also existed. It was known as the Afrikaner Broederbond (AB), and it formed a powerful ‘state within a state’ in that country by virtue, among other things, of its unchallenged control over the security services. There is no doubt that specialists on contemporary Italian politics who fail to take account of the activities of P2, like experts on South Africa who ignore the AB, are missing an important dimension of political life there. Nevertheless, neither of these to important organisations has been thoroughly investigated by academics. In these instances, as is so often the case, investigative journalists have done most of the truly groundbreaking preliminary research.
(pp. 21-2).

He then goes on criticise the attitude of historians like David Hackett Fischer, who have identified those theories that attribute too much power to secret organisations as part of the ‘furtive fallacy’, but then go too far the other way in insisting that the only significant influences are those that are above board and public, and that nothing of any significance has ever been by clandestine groups. He writes

To accept these unstated proposition uncritically could induce a person, among other things, to overlook the bitter nineteenth century struggle between political secret societies for, at least, between revolutionaries using non-political secret societies as a ‘cover’ and the political police of powerful states like Austria and Russia, to minimise the role played by revolutionary vanguard parties in the Russian and communist Chinese revolutions, or to deny that powerful intelligence services like the CIA and the KGB have fomented coups and intervened massively in the internal affairs of other sovereign states since the end of World War II. In short, it might well lead to the misinterpretation or falsification of history on a grand scale.

It is easier to recognise such dangers when relatively well-known historical development like these are used as illustrative examples, but problems often arise when the possible role played by conspiratorial groups in more obscure event is brought up. It is above all in these cases, as well as in high-profile cases where a comforting ‘official’ version of events has been widely diffused, that commonplace academic prejudices against taking covert politics seriously come into play and can exert a potentially detrimental effect on historical judgements. (p. 21-2, my emphasis).

He concludes

There is probably no way to prevent this sort of unconscious reaction in the current intellectual climate, but the least that can be expected of serious scholars is that they carefully examine the available evidence before dismissing matters out of hand.

The proposals by YouTube, the Beeb and the Tory Party to set up monitoring groups to rebut ‘fake news’ go far beyond normal academic prejudice against taking real secret politics seriously. They are an attempt to present a very comforting official version of politics, which in the case of the Tory party means suppressing and falsifying the horrific assault their policies have had on British institutions, industry, and people since Maggie Thatcher. They are trying to shore up the decaying economic edifice of neoliberalism by presenting its opponents as wild-eyed radicals in the grip of loony conspiracies, producing ‘fake news’.

And the same is true of Israel lobby, which tries to hide its attempts to pervert British and American politics through lobbying and the sponsorship of leading politicians. It also uses the existence of malign, anti-Semitic conspiracies as a weapon to smear genuine historians and activists, who support the Palestinians in their struggle for dignity and equality, or simply want to correct their lies, as anti-Semites. People like Mike, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and so many, many others. They need to be stopped. Now.

The article is available at the magazine’s website. However, early issues, like 29 are behind a paywall. The editor, Robin Ramsay, has also written a book on conspiracies, where he makes the same distinction.

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Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka Wanted for Firearms Offences in Hungary

January 27, 2018

Remember Sebastian Gorka, who was one of Trump’s key advisers in government, before the Orange Buffoon lost his rag and sacked him, like he’s done to so many others? Gorka was of Hungarian extraction, and had strong links to the Hungarian Far Right. He wore the insignia of the Vitezi Rend, the Hungarian chivalric order set up by Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian dictator, who led the country into a pact with Nazi Germany and assisted them with the Holocaust and deportations of Jews in his country. Gorka has also been personally active in a number of Hungarian Far Right organisations, and was one of the founders of one of them.

Turns out Gorka’s a wanted man. In this clip from the David Pakman Show, host David Pakman and his producer discuss the news that Gorka is wanted for firearms offences in Hungary going back before he became a member of Trump’s cabinet. Gorka has responded to this by making a non-denial. He Tweeted that the warrant was put out after he moved to America, adding ‘moron’ for good, insulting effect. But as they point out, this isn’t actually a denial that he is wanted for these crimes. Pakman also draws parallels of moving to America from South America, where he grew up. It’s perfectly possible that Gorka committed the offences after he emigrated to the US. Just because his primary residence is now the USA, does not mean he hasn’t been back to his family’s old homeland from time to time. Just as it doesn’t mean that because someone lives in California they have never been out of that state.

Pakman and his producer also point out that this also has dire implications for Trump’s claims that he’s hard on immigration and stands for law and order. Well, no, clearly he doesn’t. He claimed he was going to be super-hard on vetting his staff. He clearly wasn’t, otherwise Gorka’s arrest warrant would have been flagged, noted, and he wouldn’t have got the job. On the other hand, perhaps he was, and the Generalissimo of Reality TV didn’t care. Pakman also contrasts Gorka with the Mexican and Hispanic immigrants, who enter America to do physical work, like labouring. This wasn’t the case of a normal immigrant, who actually does something useful, like put in windows, fix the plumbing or mow the lawn. No, Gorka was a criminal immigrant, whom Trump took into the White House itself.

The last minute or so of the clip is a piece of advertising for their sponsors. I’m sorry for this, but I realise that shows like Pakman will only survive by advertising, and need sponsorship. Because Google is desperately trying to close down any left-wing news sites on the spurious grounds of combatting fake news.

As far as Gorka’s unsavoury activities and connections go, I honestly don’t think that Trump cares. He’s surrounded himself with all kinds of deeply unpleasant characters with extreme right-wing views, like Richard Spencer and the Alt Right. A century ago Gorka’s own ethnicity would have been problem for American nativists. Back in the 1920 right-wing American ethnic nationalists really didn’t like immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, like Poles and Hungarians, because they were considered racially inferior. Hitler in his Table Talk remarks that Hungarians are ‘men of the Steppe’, which is sort-of true in that the Magyars had been steppe nomads before the entered the Pannonian March in the 9th/10th century. And the Nazis despised the Poles and other Slavs as racial inferiors. Millions of Poles and related peoples were imported into Nazi Germany to work as slave labour. However, the Nazis strictly outlawed any sexual contact between Germans and Poles as a threat to Aryan racial purity. And if you look at some of the diagrams showing the differences between peoples in Nazi texts, like the handbook given out to the Hitler Youth, they portray the Poles and the other Slavs – Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians and so on – as having very Asiatic features similar to those of the Chinese and other east Asian peoples.

This racist contempt for the Slavonic peoples was reversed after the War, when the Nazis turned their attention to Black and Asian nationalist movements, and non-White immigration. The Shoah had made anti-Semitism absolutely unacceptable to most people, although in Britain and America groups like the National Front, BNP and the American Nazi Party were still goose stepping around in Nazi uniforms as late as the 1970s. Then the White Nationalists decided that Magyars and particularly Slavs, weren’t subhuman after all, and started actively recruiting them. Hence the re-emergence in these countries of anti-Semitism, now allied with a vicious Islamophobia, amongst a plethora of Far Right parties. And Sebastian Gorka’s inclusion in Trump’s cabinet of horrors, along with other prominent leaders and spokespeople for the racist Right.

Hungarian workers, like the other varied immigrant groups in America and the new, Hispanic immigrants Trump and his supporters despise, contributed greatly to building the American economy. One of the heroes of working class folklore amongst the steelworkers of Pittsburgh, was Hungarian. He became a larger than life figure, similar to Paul Bunyan in the logging camps of the West, and was reputedly able to paddle and splash in superheated molten metal. This came at a time when working people had strong unions, which could demand respect and insist on their rights. All of which has been destroyed by pernicious Reaganomics and the neo-liberal assault on the working and lower middle classes that has followed it.

We need more working class heroes like the immigrant workers, Irish, Chinese, Italian, Slav, Hungarian, and oppressed domestic indigenous groups like Afro-Americans, who physically built America, toiling on its roads, railways and factories. And as Pakman points out, the Hispanic immigrants have proved themselves invaluable in doing dirty jobs no-one else wants to do. In fact, after one town kicked them all out, it then found it had a labour shortage and appealed for them to come back.

What we don’t need, is more far Right racists like Gorka and his domestic counterparts in the Alt-Right, Klan and various Nazi parties.

Rush Limbaugh: Evidence of Flowing Water on Mars Is Leftist NASA Plot

August 20, 2017

Here’s another right-wing gasbag, who should lose his radio show. In this clip from two years ago – 2015 – host Sam Seder of The Majority Report comments on Rush Limbaugh’s pronouncements about signs of flowing water on today’s Mars by NASA. NASA announced that they had found evidence that water still flows today on the Red Planet at the right season. The space agency states that this is a survivor from the period, 3 billion years ago, when the planet was much warmer and wetter than today, and a great ocean may have covered the entire northern hemisphere. The discovery is of immense importance in the search for possible life elsewhere in the solar system.

This is science, but it’s too much for Rush Limbaugh, who sees a conspiracy where there is none. NASA is part of the leftist plot to delude the world into believing in global warming, and this announcement, he goes on to suggest, may be part of it. He ridicules his producer, Sneedley, who was excited and enthusiastic about NASA’s announcement. Limbaugh then declares that he is a ‘big time science guy’ who gone past ‘science 101’. He then goes on to cast scorn and suspicion about the announcement. It’s part of some leftist plot being pursued by the agency, but he doesn’t quite know what yet. But it’s probably about global warming. Soon, he predicts, they’ll announce that they’ve found a graveyard.

Limbaugh’s a Republican broadcaster, who’s been a fixture of American right-wing radio since the 1980s, loudly applauding Ronald Reagan and ranting about how the ‘Leftists’ are trying to destroy his country. In the clip, Seder and his co-hosts and producers ridicule Limbaugh not only for his scientific ignorance – what, pray, is ‘Science 101?’, as well as the way he has openly sneered at and belittled his producer.

They then conclude the programme by further mocking him. They imitate Obama’s voice to declare that Islam is the one true religion. The Martians rejected this, which is why they were hit by a devastating drought. That’s why Obama is going to declare shariah law, and have a child from every White family in the mid-West sold into slavery in the Middle East.

This is to poke fun at Limbaugh, and the stupid, paranoid opinion amongst many American Republicans that Obama is a secret Muslim advancing the plans for an Islamic takeover of the US.

The clip shows much of what’s wrong with the American right’s attitude to science, their massive ignorance, which they think shows how perceptive they are, and their stupid paranoia about ‘leftists’. Which in this case, means anything and anyone, who isn’t as crazily right-wing as they are.

I’ve put up several pieces here about the possibility of life on Mars, and the use of certain genetically modified organisms to terraform the Red Planet. I know that several of the readers of this blog have science backgrounds and similar interests. I’ve put this up because I thought people might like to see just how stupid and ignorant Limbaugh, and by extension, his audience, is about this whole issue.

Firstly, as Seder points out, when NASA made the announcement they said it was about the state of Mars 3 billion years in the past. It’s nothing to do with global warming.

Absolutely correct. Planetary scientists now believe that there was a period during the early history of the solar system, when Mars was warm and wet. I think the National Geographical mentioned this when they did a piece on Mars in the 1980s or ’90s. It’s also discussed in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic SF novel about the colonization of Mars, Red Mars.

What killed Mars was not global warming, but global cooling. Mars has no tectonic plates, and so it is theorized that the planet’s atmosphere was not renewed through releases of gases released from its rocks through geological forces. Over millions or billions of years, the atmosphere evaporated into space. The surface pressure is about 5 milibars – that of a laboratory vacuum. Without an atmospheric blanket to focus and increase the sun’s light, the planet cooled. Without atmospheric pressure to sustain it, water rapidly sublimates into vapour on the Martian surface. What water has survived is locked up in the ice caps, and may be as permafrost below the Martian surface.

Mars has never been cited as a warning of the dangers of global warming. That’s always been Venus. Venus lies closer to the Sun than Earth, and so has suffered runaway global warming as ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide was released from its rocks. The result of this is that the planet is covered by a permanent cloud layer. Surface temperatures reach something like 400 degrees C, the rain is sulphuric acid, and its surface pressure is enough to squash a human flat. If you want an example of how different the histories of Mars and Venus are, go have a look, or read, the chapter ‘Blues for a Red Planet’ in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Sagan was a major believer in the threat of global warming, and in that episode of his epic science history blockbuster, explicitly drew a parallel between Mars’ fate and that of our own world, if we don’t cut carbon emissions.

As for finding a graveyard on Mars, some scientists have speculated on the possibility that we may find fossils of the creatures that may have lived on Mars, far back in ancient geologic time. There are also serious scientists, who have suggested that we should look for evidence of advanced extraterrestrial civilisations in the planets of our solar system. Our solar system lies in a part of the Galaxy, where the stars are an average of a single light year away from each other. That’s a short enough distance for an advanced civilization to make the difficult journey across interstellar space to another solar system. And the solar system is so old, about 4 billion years if not more, that it is statistically likely that intelligent life has arisen elsewhere in our Galaxy. And just as the Earth orbits the Sun, so the Sun orbits the centre of the Galaxy, taking 225 million years to complete one revolution. This is long enough for our Solar system to have come close to one of those other stars, harbouring alien life.

So signs of an extraterrestrial civilization may well exist on Mars. However, Mars has been dead for so long, that it’s unlikely that there exist any remains of an indigenous Martian civilization on the planet’s surface. In their entry ‘The Surface of Mars’, subtitled ‘Desert’, in their book Catalogue of the Universe, astronomers Paul Murdin and David A. Allen write

If once great cities stood here, they have crumbled to unrecognizable shapes. If trees bowed before moist zephyrs, they have returned to the dust whence they rose. If aircraft landed here, they too have vanished, or been buried beneath unknown depths of sand and rocks. (pp. 205-6).

Not all scientists are convinced that the features NASA suggested was evidence of flowing water were actually produced by it. Others believe that the marks on the surface may instead be produced by the release of other chemicals in liquid form from the underlying rock.

But if liquid water still flows on Mars, albeit it occasionally, not only does it augur well for the possible survival of some life, even if only primitive bacteria, but it also makes the planet more hospitable for possible colonization.

NASA’s claim to have found evidence of surface liquid water was therefore immensely exciting. And Limbaugh’s producer, Sneedley, was actually absolutely right to be excited about it. It’s his host, Limbaugh, who’s ignorant. And dangerously so.

No-one expects ordinary people to be experts on science. Science has advanced at such a rate that it’s too much for many ordinary people to keep update with scientific advances, some of which can be very arcane to laypeople.

But we do need people to be reasonable well-educated. And especially about threats to the planet, like global warming. It’s why there’s a need for good scientific writers and broadcasters to explain the issues clearly.

Limbaugh with his stupid denial of global warming, and his paranoid suspicion that NASA is part of some larger ‘left-wing’ plot, is actually doing the opposite. He’s disparaging real science and trying to keep people ignorant in order to promote his own, extreme right-wing views.

He’s also a danger on racial issues. A day or so ago I reported that Trump had cut funding for FBI and Department of Homeland Security initiatives against White racist terrorism. This included a charity, Life After Hate, that helps former Nazis leave these organisations without being attacked by their fellow stormtroopers. It’s a real danger. Matthew Collins, one of the founders and leaders of the anti-racist/ anti-religious extremism organization, Hope Not Hate, had to migrate to Australia in the 1990s after he appeared in a documentary exposing the violence of the NF and BNP. Obama had given $400,000 to the charity. He would have funded them sooner, but he was prevented from doing so by the ravings and possible denunciation by Limbaugh.

It’s debatable, however, how long Limbaugh will actually carry on. Far from being the influential Republican spokesman he thinks he is, his radio station in recent has been haemorrhaging sponsors and advertisers. His ratings have fallen to the point, where fewer people listen to him than to College radio stations with the range of only one or two miles. The only thing keeping him on air is money from Republican and similar extreme right-wing think tanks. If they pull out, he’s off the air.

Ha-Joon Chang on the Japanese Solution to Information-Sharing between Government and Business

May 19, 2016

Ha-Joon Chang Pic

Ha-Joon Chang also discusses in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, the Japanese solution about the tactics the Japanese have adopted to the problem of sharing information between the government and business. It’s in the chapter ‘Thing 12 Governments Can Pick Winners’. In this chapter, he explodes the myth that governments cannot run industries successfully by showing just how many extremely profitable and efficient industries have been set up by the state. Like the Korean steel mill. This was set up in the late 1950s and 1960s, when the only thing Korea exported was food, mainly fish, and cheap clothing, and when the country generally was one of the poorest in the world. Its first boss was an army general with extremely limited business experience. It looked to be such a risky venture, that the head of the IMF or World Bank refused to lend Korea money, and advised other potential investors not to do so. So no-one did. Korea now has the fourth largest steel industry in the world.

Chang states that the Neo-Libs could argue that Korea is somehow the exception to the rule, and that his countryfolk are somehow more intelligent than everyone else. He says while he finds this flattering as a Korean, it ain’t true, and lists the various other countries that have had similar successes with the state running of industry. He then goes on to tackle the underlying assumption behind the Neoliberal dismissal of governments’ ability to manage industry. They argue that government departments simply don’t have enough information to manage industry well. He argues that in fact, they do, and that quite often it is far better than those of the industrialists themselves. And he states that governments also draw on managers from industry for their information.

This is now part of the problem in Britain and America. It is now longer the case that industry supplies the government with information. In all too many cases, it guides government to its own advantage, and dominates government. The fact that the political parties’ conferences is sponsored by private industries, all seeking to get a cut of state action, is part of this. So the way the big accountancy firms sent their executives to assist the political parties in preparing their policies on taxation, which has led to the creation of the massive tax loopholes and offshore accounts, which have allowed people like Dodgy Dave Cameron to avoid paying his due whack of tax.

The way the Japanese have attempted to solve the problem is through ‘deliberative councils’. These are formal meetings between government officials and businessmen, which are covered by the media and have observers from academia.

I think this is an excellent idea. We desperately need to clear out the corporate corruption of parliament and the political system, so that government legislates for the people, and not to maximise the profits of the rich few at the expense of the rest of us. At the same time, information and experience from industry should be available to government. And that information, and the influence that it gives, should not be hidden, but be genuinely open and transparent.

At the moment, it certainly is not, despite Dave Cameron’s mendacious bill on lobbying. This is actually designed to do the opposite. His lobbying bill stops charities and trade unions from lobbying, while allowing the big corporate lobbyists to go on as normal. And as far as I’m aware, none of the newspapers regularly report on the influence of private enterprise on the parties. The only reports of it I can remember reading are those in Private Eye. This must change, and soon, in order to curtail the corporate corruption of British politics.

Dodgy Dave’s Offshore Tax Havens and the French Revolution

April 19, 2016

The big story last week was undoubtedly the public fury over the rich using offshore tax havens to avoid paying tax. And one of the offenders seeking to avoid paying his share of the tax burden was our own Prime Minister, Dave Cameron. I did very little blogging last week, as I was involved in other things. Also, I couldn’t think of much I could add to what was already being said by the protestors themselves, and to the comprehensive coverage being given to it by Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers.

This is a scandal that has been going on for decades. I think Microsoft was one of the first in the 1980s, when it went offshore to avoid paying corporation tax. And tax evasion both using offshore companies and more ordinary forms of the extremely rich trying to get away with paying the bare minimum, if at all, has also been going on for decades. Private Eye has been attacking the Tax Office since the days of New Labour, and possibly long before that, for the way in which its heads have had numerous lunches with the big industrialists and the major accountancy firms, all to sort out ways of allowing the corporate rich to minimise their tax contributions. There has also been an open ‘swing door’ between the tax office and treasury, and the accountancy firms, as they have sent people to assist the government in formulating its tax policy. It’s yet another example of the corporatist policies corrupting British politics.

As for dodgy Dave, he lied to parliament, used it to enrich himself through avoiding paying tax on money left to him by his father. And he probably genuinely doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. The attitude of the financial sector and in business generally is that you do what you can legally to avoid paying tax. I can remember when I worked very briefly – for all of three days – for a group of extremely dodgy independent financial consultants in Bristol’s Berkeley Square – we were taught some of the ruses. Like you make all your assets over to the business, and try to include everything that could possibly be considered an expense or a loss. When I objected, because somebody has to pay for the roads, police, armed forces, hospitals and so on, I was told, ‘You’re a real p*nis if you want to pay tax.’

Dave’s a member of the aristocracy, and the aristocracy have been doing this since before the days of the French Revolution. Indeed, one of the causes of the Revolution was that the aristos not only weren’t paying their taxes, they were shifting the tax burden onto the poor. And this has also been one of the major aims of the Tories. And yes, it also started under Thatcher. I can remember a book came out in the early 1980s that advocated all manner of Right-wing policies, and was very enthusiastically received by the books page of the Sunday Express. One of its suggestions was getting rid of income tax, and replacing it with indirect taxes – VAT. It was another way of giving tax cuts to the rich, and shifting the burden on to the poor.

Last week, dodgy Dave and a whole host of others got caught out by the release of the ‘Panama Papers’. It added further evidence that whatever Dave said, we weren’t all in this together. This was pretty obvious from the beginning, but the material from Mossack Fonseca made it pretty much incontrovertible. Or at least it did in the case of the Prime Minister.

Of course, the Tories were furious, though I don’t set much store by their rage. I’ve no doubt that many, perhaps even most of them, have done much the same. Something like 75% of British MPs are millionaires, and the Tory party has always considered itself the party of business, with a natural right to lead. My guess is that some of the rage is simply that Cameron got caught. Either way, it shows the absolute double standards used by the Prime Minister for himself and his rich friends. And Private Eye is right. The whole system of offshore tax havens should be closed down. And furthermore, the corporatist influence on politics should be cleaned out. The big accountancy firms should be debarred from sending their personnel to advise the tax office, along with the other big firms seeking to sponsor and donate to the parties in order to get a slice of state business later.

Empire Files: Saudi Arabia’s History of Thuggery

January 17, 2016

Yesterday I put up a number of posts criticising and attacking Saudi Arabia and its brutal use of the death penalty, following the complaint of the Saudi Foreign Minister, al-Jubair, that the kingdom had an image problem because of it, and moaning that people should respect their use of the death penalty ‘Because it’s the law’. This is another, very informative, and grimly fascinating video discussing Saudi Arabia’s long history of repression, violence and brutality from its very foundation. The video’s from Empire Files, which is another news agency specialising in criticising and documenting the corruption and political oppression committed by the American Empire.

Presented by Abby Martin, the video begins with shots of the western great and good meeting and praising various Saudi royals, mentioning the country’s election to the UN Human Rights Council. It then goes on to discuss the Saudi use of public executions. Among the crimes liable to the death penalty are atheism and adultery. 43% of all executions are for non-violent drug offences. It also discusses the execution of Ali al-Nimr, a democracy protester, by crucifixion and beheading. These cases are judged in secret courts, and other punishments include amputation and whipping.

The programme also goes on to examine the almost complete absence of rights for women in Saudi Arabia. Despite having been given the right to vote, women in Saudi Arabia require the permission of male relatives or guardians to go to school, work or even receive medical treatment. They may also be punished for their own sexual assault. The video cites a rape case, where the victim received more lashes than her attackers. Women constitute only 17% of the Saudi work force. 77% of female graduates are unemployed.

The kingdom has also been actively clamping down and suppressing protesters and activists campaigning for democracy. Many of these have been arrested and tried in secret courts. The punishments include execution, or transferral to re-education centres. The attacks on democracy campaigners escalated after 9/11. Before hundreds were being arrested. Now it’s thousands. Furthermore, no civil rights organisations are allowed in the country.

The programme then moves on to describe the history of the kingdom. It’s an absolute monarchy, ruled by a single dynasty. The current king’s personal wealth is estimated at $18 billion. Despite the obscene wealth of its rulers, 20% of its population live in abject poverty, with a youth unemployment rate of 30%.

Thirty per cent of the country’s population is composed of migrant workers, who are virtually slaves due to the system of kafala, sponsorship, through which they are imported. The programme describes their exploitation, with 15 – 20 hour working days, maltreatment, confiscation of passports on arrival, and adverts for runaway labourers and domestic workers, similar to those for de jure slaves in the American West.

Martin then talks to the Saudi dissident, Ali al-Ahmed, the head of the Gulf Institute. Al-Ahmed states that part of the problem is that the country’s vast wealth is confined to the king, his relatives and cronies. The present king can in no way be described as a great reformer. He imprisoned his four daughters for 14 years, and to this day no-one knows what happened to them. The king is an absolute monarch. The Saudi parliament is only partially elected. It is also partly appointed, and wields no power. As for the judicial system, al-Ahmed describes it as medieval and tribal. It deliberately excludes women, blacks, ordinary people and the Shi’a. It is similar to ISIS. And the bond between Saudi Arabia, America and the West is money. Bill Clinton and George Bush have both visited Saudi Arabia, probably secretly looking for Saudi sponsorship for their election campaigns. Al-Ahmed states that this should be investigated by the FBI. It appears to be a case of the Saudis trying to buy off prospective American presidents in the aftermath of 9/11.

The kingdom itself was founded after 20 years of warfare and campaigning by Ibn Saud, who declared himself king in 1925. Ibn Saud was aided in his rise to power by a religious militia. These later revolted, and so Ibn Saud had them massacred. The conquest of what is now Saudi Arabia was complete by 1932. Ibn Saud tried, and failed, to conquer and incorporate what is now Yemen.

The Saudi family struck oil after World War I, and invited the Americans in to exploit it. The Americans were only too pleased, after having been shut out of the rest of the oilfields of the Middle East by the triumphant European colonial powers. The American oil company, Chevron, staked its claim to the Saudi oilfields in 1933. This resulted in the formation of Arab-American Oil – Aramco. Despite the name, Aramco was 100 per cent owned by the Americans. It is the property of four American oil companies, including Chevron and Mobil. These oil companies paid a small proportion of their profits to the Saudi royal family as royalties.

Italian bombing during the Second World War severely disrupted oil supplies. In 1943 President Roosevelt declared that the defence of the Saudi oilfields was a national priority. Two years later, in 1945, Roosevelt signed a treaty with the Saudis giving them American protection in exchange for oil. This was the start of the network of American army and naval based in the country. In 1953 15,000 or so oil workers went on strike, demanding a union. The monarchy responded by assassinating the leaders and promulgating a royal decree banning working class organisations. In 1962 a left-wing revolution broke out in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UK responded by supporting the royalist counterrevolution.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West has not gone untroubled, however. There was a rift following the foundation of Israel. In response to Israeli victories during the Arab-Israeli wars, the Saudis launched their oil embargo, sparking the energy crisis of the 1970s. This did not, however, bother Nixon and Kissinger very much. If the worst came to the worst, they planned on bombing the kingdom in order to secure the vital supplies of oil. In the event, they didn’t need to take such drastic action. The Saudis were alarmed by the spread of Communism. So Nixon and Kissinger convinced the Saudis, along with the UAE, Qatar and Bahrein to back their war on Communism and specifically the conflict in Vietnam.

In the 1980s Saudi Arabia was the major backer of the Mujahideen. In 1979 there was a religious uprising in imitation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was suppressed, and the 60 leaders executed. Saudi Shi’a were also attacked for celebrating a Shi’a religious festival. Following the killing of a student, there were mass demonstrations by the Shi’a, women’s organisations, the Communist party and the religious community. In retaliation, the Saudis deployed 20,000 soldiers, strafing the Shi’a communities with helicopter gunships. And Ronald Reagan pledged his support in suppressing any revolution. Saudi Arabia was, of course, the major American base in 1990 for the Gulf War.

The Saudis’ response to the Arab Spring was, predictably, also harsh. The regime issued a ban on all journalism that dared to question or criticise the monarchy, and the internet was subject to even heavier censorship. Saudi troops helped to crush the Arab Spring in neighbouring Bahrein. Despite this, people are still fighting and dying for their right to freedom in the east of Saudi Arabia. There was another uprising in 2013 following the shooting of another young person. Saudi Arabia has also responded to the threat by making massive purchases of arms. It is the biggest customer for American weapons, having bought $5.5 billion of them c. 2012. The kingdom is also a major financier of al-Qaeda and ISIS. This was admitted by Hillary Clinton in documents revealed by Wikileaks. They are estimated to have given $100 billion to terrorists.

They also had strong links to the 9/11 hijackers. 28 pages of the official inquiry into 9/11 remain classified, but the leader of the inquiry has stated that the material points to Saudi Arabia as a major funder. Nevertheless, the current crisis in the Middle East has alarmed them so much, that the Saudis have held secret meetings with Israel. The Saudis have also been active trying to suppress the rebellion in Yemen. So far, half of those killed have been civilians. Saudi arms have levelled the ancient and historic city of Sanaa, and there are cases where civilians and rescue workers have been attacked and killed.

This is a brutal, authoritarian and cruel absolute monarchy, responsible for the savage suppression of human rights and democracy throughout the Middle East. It is scandalous that the West continues to support this murderous regime, although not surprising given the vast profits from and the dependence of the West on Saudi oil, while western arms manufacturers make money from selling to them.

African Update on Modern-Day Slavery in Saudi Arabia

January 16, 2016

Again, this is another piece I’m putting up in response to the Saudi’s foreign minister, al-Jubair, urging the rest of the world to respect Saudi Arabia’s death penalty, ‘because it’s the law’.

This isn’t about the Saudi death penalty, but another blemish on theirs and the world’s culture and history: slavery.

It’s a piece from the African news show, Africa Update, on present day slavery in Saudi Arabia. The presenter states that although slavery was officially banned in 1962, 300,000 slaves remained after its official abolition. And slavery continues today in the form of the Kafala system, or sponsorship, under which Saudi Arabia imports domestic servants and labourers. These are ruthlessly exploited. They typically work between 15-20 hours a day, with no rest days. If they run away, adverts are placed for their apprehension and return, as in the days of real, open slavery. If they complain or resist, they may suffer brutal maltreatment. Some of these domestic workers have even been killed. The Indonesians banned their people from working in Saudi Arabia after one or two Indonesian maids were killed by their masters. And just as shocking, a Saudi man placed an advert in one of the papers for a male slave he was selling, who had been castrated.

The presenter therefore urges her fellow Africans not to go to Saudi Arabia, unless they have a secure, well-paid job, where they will not be subject to such maltreatment, or have been given professorships at a Saudi university. She wonders how long the Saudis will continue to abuse Africans like this, and states that someone should complain to them.

Corporate Influence and Staffing of Government in Britain and Pre-Revolutionary Russia

April 28, 2014

One of the features of post-Thatcherite British government is the strong influence of big business on government policy and even the staffing of government departments. Government officials are frequently drawn from corporations, where they have directorships or occupy other positions in senior management. The conferences of all three main parties are sponsored by businesses hoping to influence government policy and win contracts or other business concessions from their political clients, once they are in government. The parties increasingly formulate their policies according to think-tanks, formed by and representing the views of particular industrial or corporate interests. Private Eye for years, since as far back as the ‘sleaze’ of John Major’s administration, has documented the way corporations and their employees have permeated government institutions. This has most often been done with the specific intentions of reducing or blunting government regulation of industry. Thus you can find the presence of various senior employees and directors of the big accountancy firms in the Inland Revenue, presenting the government with schemes on how the rich can become even richer by avoiding a tax. Officials drawn from the City have entered the various government bodies regulating the financial sector, to argue that the City should be less regulated. The result of this policy was the massive corruption and trading in toxic debt that created the present international financial crisis. And an extremely large number of the present government have links to private healthcare companies hoping to benefit from the privatisation of the NHS. One of these is Jeremy Hunt, the current Health Secretary, and IDS. I’ve blogged before about how the Nazis had a similar policy of co-opting leaders from business to staff the Reich industrial combines and organisations.

And it was exactly the same in Russia in the decade immediately preceding the Revolution. Big business deliberately set out to influence government policy. Business leaders entered the government, while ministers, senior civil servants and officers of the armed forces moved into posts in private industry. The regime was compromised and ultimately discredited by massive corruption. Kochan describes the situation in Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970).

Industrialists more and more put themselves at the service of the government in the economic development of the empire. An Association of Industry and Commerce, founded in 1906, and its journal Industry and Commerce, devoted themselves specifically to the purpose. The association was a federation of industrial organisations formed along geographic and functional principles, e.g. The mine owners of south Russia or the Baku oil producers. By the beginning of 1914 it embraced thirty-four banks and insurance companies, 251 industrial undertakings, eleven transport companies and nineteen trading concerns.

The association consistently advocated the further economic development of the empire through a policy of high entrepreneurial profits combined with austerity in consumption. It argued against free competition – ‘the anarchy of the market and a chaotic fluctuation of prices’ – and in favour of a five-, a ten- or even a fifteen-year plan, that would overcome Russian backwardness and free it from dependence on agriculture. It proposed cooperation between industry and the government in, for example, the irrigation of Turkestan for the cultivation of cotton, the construction of the Volga-Don canal, and the intensive exploitation of the Magnitogorsk iron deposits in conjunction with Siberian coal. … Planning from above, with the sympathetic stabilizing and regulatory intervention of the vast resources at the disposal of the Treasury would enable trade and industry to take their full share in industrial development, it was hoped. In the last resort, the association envisaged a type of corporate state in which industrial and commercial interests would play a co-determining role vis-à-vis the government in relation to economic policy.

For this reason the association scheduled its own congresses to take place during the Duma sessions – the membership overlapped in many cases – and ‘sometimes its debates were the more interesting and important of the two,’ noted one observer. The association functioned as a vast pressure group: ‘… Russian industry and commerce must, in the interests of self-preservation, ‘ declared an early initiator of the association, ‘express not only its broadly based views but also know how to present these views to those institutions and groups on whom will depend the putting into practice of this or that law or policy … Here lies the whole root and the whole meaning of the All-Empire congresses of the representatives of industry and commerce. (pp. 166-7)

What socio-economic influence was possessed by these conglomerates of power? This is not easy to analyse. It seems likely however, that they had a disintegrating influence in further corrupting and demoralising the Tsarist bureaucracy. An insider, V.I. Gurko, at one time assistant minister of the interior and member of the state council, avers that the integrity of the overwhelming majority of high officials was ‘beyond question’. But he must also admit that private concerns engaged prominent officials at ‘fabulous sums’ with a view to the man’s ‘official connexions and his knowledge of the methods necessary to obtain governmental backing … particularly to secure some state concession. ‘ The line between public and private interest became more and more difficult to draw. This applied particularly to the armament industry. Take Avdakov, for example, for some years the chairman of Produgol, then the Association of Industry and Trade and at the same time councillor in the ministry of industry and trade; or Lieutenant-General Brink, a former head of the department of naval construction and chief inspector of naval artillery, who became a director of the Putilov works; or Vice Admiral Bostrem, a former commander of the Black Sea fleet, who became president of the board of the Nikolaevsk naval construction company; or General Ivanov who joined the board of the same company; or General Miller, former head of the state-owned Obukhovo works, who became director of the Tsarizyn artillery plant.

Civilian official similarly moved between government posts and private industry, especially in they were engaged in the ministries of finance and trade and industry. There was Timryazev, for example, and Bark, Arandarenko, M.M. Fedorov, V.I. Kovalovsky, N.N. Pokrovsky, Langovoi, Litvinov-Falinsky – all these men moved at one time or another between their ministerial arm-chairs and an equally well-padded position in industry or industrial association. (p. 168).

This describes pretty much every government since Maggie Thatcher, including that of Cameron and Clegg today. And the Association’s policy of demanding high profits as well as austerity exactly describes the current government’s policies.

That all ended with the upheaval of the 1917 Revolution and the Bolshevik seizure of power. We don’t need a revolution with all its horror and bloodshed in Britain. But we do need proper government, where the public interest rules and where corporations are not allowed to corrupt, influence and direct government policy.

Jeremy Hardy at the Anti-Atos Demonstrations at the London Paralympics

February 23, 2014

I’ve reblogged Mike’s article from Vox Political stating very clearly that Atos’ complaints about the death threats endured by its staff are an insult compared to the thousands that have been killed by having their benefit removed by the company. Mike compares the company to a bully, which, having had his victims turn round and stand up to him, runs snivelling to an even bigger bully – the government. This is precisely the correct description of the tactics and mentality of the Coalition, the DWP and Atos towards the unemployed and disabled. Staff at the Jobcentres have similarly suffered death threats and physical attacks. I am not remotely surprised. There are some good, sympathetic people working at the Jobcentre. They are in the minority. As a rule, the staff bully and intimidate claimants with the explicit purpose of removing them from the dole as quickly as possible. It is no wonder then that the poor and desperate should resort in turn to abuse and violence. Despite Atos’ complaints, however, there have been no reported incidence of violence against their employees, despite the fact that their decisions may have resulted in as many as 38,000 deaths per year.

Looking through the Youtube videos of anti-Atos demonstrations, I found this one from 2012 with Jeremy Hardy. Hardy’s a left-wing comedian and a long-running panellist on Radio 4’s The News Quiz. He was interviewed by the Guardian as he had joined the protests’ against Atos’ sponsorship of the Paralympics. He states that he is well aware that sportsmen and women need sponsorship, but objects to the company sponsoring the Games. He explains he dislikes them because their strategy is aimed at getting people to have very little hate those who have even less. I’d say that was a common policy of the Conservatives, particularly in the ‘mid-market’ tabloids such as the Daily Fail and the Express. These are based on getting the working and lower middle class to fear and despise the less fortunate members of those classes as a danger to them. They see them as idle scroungers, who prey on and hold back hard-working people like themselves. While there is a violent and criminal underclass in some areas, the real forces holding back the working and lower middle classes have been the Coalition’s reforms and the economic structure and constraints of post Thatcherite capitalism. Hardy also points out that many of the paralympians are so furious at Atos’ sponsorship of the Games, that they are deliberately hiding their lanyards.

Here is the video itself

Vox Political on Cameron as Political Whore, and Political Parties as Corporation Power Brokers

July 29, 2013

My brother, Mike, has an interesting piece reporting on Michael Meacher’s description of Cameron as a corporate whore on his blog. Entitled, Cameron, Corrupt Corporate Whore, According to Meacher, it begins

It seems opponents of the Coalition have realised its degraded claim to be a government is worthless and have decided to pour contempt on it at every opportunity.

I mention this after seeing Michael Meacher’s excellent column on David Cameron. The fake Prime Minister’s instincts, according to Mr Meacher are “that there is no such thing as the rule of law, and that the only things that ultimately matter are power, fear and money”.

These words should come as hammer-blows to Cameron’s credibility. It is to his credit that Michael Meacher has written them – but also to the shame of the Labour front bench that none of them had the guts to come out with it first.

Mr Meacher supports his claims by laying out a wealth of evidence that, while the comedy PM crows on and on about Labour’s (non-existent) pandering to the unions, “there is almost nothing… that Cameron won’t do, no commercial interest he will disdain, no policy he will refuse to alter if it will ingratiate himself with the sources of money and power… He has prostrated himself before a wide range of commercial interests by changing government policy to suit them in order to recruit their money and power for himself and his party in the lead-up to 2015″.

Mike and Michael Meacher then provide the proof in various policies Cameron has adopted due to lobbying from different companies.

Now I have to say that I think political parties, through forging links with private industry and think tanks, are rapidly changing from institutions of government above the organisations, corporations and social groups they regulate, into power brokers, whose role is to allow these private interests access to governmental power. If you look at all three parties, including New Labour, their conferences are sponsored by industries and corporations. Their leading members frequently have careers in those corporations, or use staff on secondment from them, and the policies they enact have been drawn up by those very same companies. The only role the parties have is to choose which parties they will favour, and provide a democratic front for policies that have been formulated in private by private companies or associated think tanks in their own interest.

Now there has always been corruption and influence peddling in politics. American politics is notorious for the way a big corporation, which sponsor a politico’s election campaign all the while expecting him to return the favour once in office. Under New Labour and the Coalition, however, this type of corruption has become institutionalised. Private industry has supplied legions of Special Advisors, in opposition to the Civil Service, which traditionally had the duty to supply ministers with suggestions for future policy.

As for what can be done about, a good start would be listing, which MPs have connections to which companies, and how they have voted in these companies’ favour. Private Eye did this during Major’s government, when he did his best to put off any legislation against the tobacco and alcohol industries.