Posts Tagged ‘The Elderly’

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Austerity

January 9, 2019

One of the other massively failing right-wing economic policies the Australian economist John Quibbin tackles in his book Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010) is expansionary austerity. This is the full name for the theory of economic austerity foisted upon Europeans and Americans since the collapse of the banks in 2008. It’s also the term used to describe the policy generally of cutting government expenditure in order to reduce inflation. Quiggin shows how, whenever this policy was adopted by governments like the American, British, European and Japanese from the 1920s onwards, the result has always been recession, massive unemployment and poverty.

He notes that after the big bank bail-out of 2008, most economists returned to Keynesianism. However, the present system of austerity was introduced in Europe due to need to bail out the big European banks following the economic collapse of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, and the consequent fall in government tax revenue. Quiggin then goes on to comment on how austerity was then presented to the public as being ultimately beneficial to the public, despite its obvious social injustice, before going on to describe how it was implemented, and its failure. He writes

The injustice of making hospital workers, police, and old age pensioners pay for the crisis, while the bankers who caused it are receiving even bigger bonuses than before, is glaringly obvious. So, just as with trickle-down economics, it was necessary to claim that everyone would be better off in the long run.

It was here that the Zombie idea of expansionary austerity emerged from the grave. Alesina and Ardagna, citing their dubious work from the 1990s, argued that the path to recovery lay in reducing public spending. They attracted the support of central bankers, ratings agencies, and financial markets, all of whom wanted to disclaim responsibility for the crisis they had created and get back to a system where they ruled the roost and profited handsomely as a result.

The shift to austerity was politically convenient for market liberals. Despite the fact that it was their own policies of financial deregulation that had produced the crisis, they used the pretext of austerity to push these policies even further. The Conservative government of David Cameron in Britain has been particularly active in this respect. Cameron has advanced the idea of a “Big Society”, meaning that voluntary groups are expected to take over core functions of the social welfare system. The Big Society has been a failure and has been largely laughed off the stage, but it has not stopped the government from pursuing a radical market liberal agenda, symbolized by measures such as the imposition of minimum income requirements on people seeking immigrant visas for their spouses.

Although the term expansionary austerity has not been much used in the United States, the swing to austerity policies began even earlier than elsewhere. After introducing a substantial, but still inadequate fiscal stimulus early in 2009, the Obama administration withdrew from the economic policy debate, preferring to focus on health policy and wait for the economy to recover.

Meanwhile the Republican Party, and particularly the Tea Party faction that emerged in 2009, embraced the idea, though not the terminology, of expansionary austerity and in particular the claim that reducing government spending is the way to prosperity. In the absence of any effective pushback from the Obama administration, the Tea Party was successful in discrediting Keynesian economic ideas.

Following Republican victories in the 2010 congressional elections, the administration accepted the case for austerity and sought a “grand bargain” with the Republicans. It was only after the Republicans brought the government to the brink of default on its debt in mid-2011 that Obama returned to the economic debate with his proposed American Jobs Act. While rhetorically effective, Obama’s proposals were, predictably, rejected by the Republicans in Congress.

At the state and local government level, austerity policies were in force from the beginning of the crisis. Because they are subject to balanced-budged requirements, state and local governments were forced to respond to declining tax revenues with cuts in expenditure. Initially, they received some support from the stimulus package, but as this source of funding ran out, they were forced to make cuts across the board, including scaling back vital services such as police, schools, and social welfare.

The theory of expansionary austerity has faced the test of experience and has failed. Wherever austerity policies have been applied, recovery from the crisis has been halted. At the end of 2011, the unemployment rate was above 8 percent in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the eurozone. In Britain, where the switch from stimulus to austerity began with the election of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government in 2010, unemployment rose rapidly to its highest rate in seventeen years. In Europe, the risk of a new recession, or worse, remains severe at the time of writing.

Although the U.S. economy currently shows some superficial signs of recovery, the underlying reality is arguably even worse than it now is in Europe. Unemployment rates have fallen somewhat, but this mainly reflects the fact that millions of workers have given up the search for work altogether. The most important measure of labour market performance, the unemployment-population ration (that is, the proportion of the adult population who have jobs) fell sharply at the beginning of the cris and has never recovered. On the other hand, the forecast for Europe in the future looks even bleaker as the consequences of austerity begins to bite.

The reanimation of expansionary austerity represents zombie economics at its worst. Having failed utterly to deliver the promised benefits, the financial and political elite raised to power by market liberalism has pushed ahead with even greater intensity. In the wake of a crisis caused entirely by financial markets and the central banks and regulators that were supposed to control them, the burden of fixing the problem has been placed on ordinary workers, public services, the old, and the sick.

With their main theoretical claims, such as the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and Real Business Cycle in ruins, the advocates of market liberalism have fallen back on long-exploded claims, backed by shoddy research. Yet, in the absence of a coherent alternative, the policy program of expansionary austerity is being implemented, with disastrous results. (pp. 229-32, emphasis mine).

As for Alesina and Ardagna, the two economists responsible for contemporary expansionary austerity, Quiggin shows how their research was seriously flawed, giving some of their biggest factual mistakes and accuracies on pages 225 and 226.

Earlier in the chapter he discusses the reasons why Keynes was ignored in the decades before the Second World War. The British treasury was terrified that adoption of government intervention in some areas would lead to further interventions in others. He also quotes the Polish economist, Michal Kalecki, who stated that market liberals were afraid of Keynsianism because it allowed governments to ignore the financial sector and empowered working people. He writes

Underlying the Treasury’s opposition to fiscal stimulus, however, was a fear, entirely justified in terms of the consequences for market liberal ideology, that a successful interventionist macroeconomic policy would pave the way for intervening in other areas and for the end of the liberal economic order based on the gold standard, unregulated financial markets, and a minimal state.

As the great Polish economist Michal Kalecki observed in 1943, market liberal fear the success of stimulatory fiscal policy more than its failure. If governments can maintain full employment through appropriate macroeconomic policies, they no longer need to worry about “business confidence” and can undertake policies without regard to the fluctuations of the financial markets. Moreover, workers cannot be kept in line if they are confident they can always find a new job. As far as the advocates of austerity are concerned, chronic, or at least periodic, high unemployment is a necessary part of a liberal economic order.

The fears of the Treasury were to be realized in the decades after 1945, when the combination of full employment and Keynsian macro-economic management provided support for the expansion of the welfare state, right control of the financial sector, and extensive government intervention in the economy, which produced the most broadly distributed prosperity of any period in economic history. (p. 14).

So the welfare state is being dismantled, the health service privatized and a high unemployment and mass poverty created simply to maintain the importance and power of the financial sector and private industry, and create a cowed workforce for industry. As an economic theory, austerity is thoroughly discredited, but is maintained as it was not by a right-wing media and political establishment. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, said in one of his columns that when he studied economics in the 1970s, monetarism was so discredited that it was regarded as a joke by his lecturers. He then suggested that the reason it was supported and implemented by Thatcher and her successors was simply because it offered a pretext for their real aims: to attack state intervention and the welfare state. It looks like he was right.

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Mike Scoops Private Eye on McVey’s Departure from Government

December 12, 2018

Last fortnight’s issue of Private Eye, for the 30th November – 13th December, carried a story suggesting that Esther McVey’s resignation from the cabinet may have been for reasons other than a concern over Brexit. Instead, the satirical magazine suggested, Iain Duncan Smith’s collaborator in the murder and starvation of the old, homeless, unemployed and disabled was due to her wishing to avoid having to answer questions about whether her department has tried to cover up the stats on the deaths on disabled people. The piece, in the ‘HP Sauce’ column on page 10 ran:

<strong>Esther McVey’s sudden cabinet resignation over Brexit does have a silver lining for the former work and pensions secretary. It means she avoids having to answer tricky questions about whether her erstwhile department tried to cover up links between its controversial “fitness for work” tests and the deaths of benefit claimants.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, and Stephen Lloyd, the Lib Dem’s work and pensions spokesman, wants to establish whether inquest rulings linking the so-called work capability assessment to the deaths of at least two mentally ill claimants were passed to the independent expert tasked with annual reviews of the test. They also want to know whether the results of internal investigations into the deaths of other claimants were passed on.

If they were, they certainly did not feature in Dr Paul Litchfield’s reviews in 2013 and 2014 – and he himself is keeping schtum. A recent Freedom of Information request from Disability News Service also failed to elicit an answer, with the Department for Work and Pensions simply saying it did not hold the information – and it clearly wasn’t prepared to find out.

Let’s see if the two crusading MPs fare any better with McVey’s successor at the DWP, the returning Remainer Amber Rudd, who in her early defence of universal credit looks every bit as evasive as McVey.

This is very much in Mike’s particular sphere of interest over at Vox Political. As a carer, Mike is very concerned about the Tories’ attacks on the disabled and the lethal consequences of their sanctions regime and the Fitness for Work tests. Followers of his blog will recall the struggle Mike had to get the DWP under IDS to release the stats on the number of people, who’d died under their reforms of the benefits system.

On Friday, 23rd November 2018, Mike ran this story speculating that the Minister for the Genocide of the Disabled had resigned because she wanted to avoid being questioned about the number of deaths Tory policies have caused:

Remember when Esther McVey quit the government last week, claiming it was because of Brexit, and I suggested she was running to avoid having to answer the criticisms of the Department for Work and Pensions raised by UN inspector Philip Alston?

It turned out that she had already exchanged words with the special rapporteur on poverty – but now it seems I was not wrong after all, as Ms McVey’s departure allowed her to avoid answering questions on a possible link between the hated Work Capability Assessment carried out by private contractors on behalf of the DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants.

This issue is whether the government showed key documents linking the deaths of claimants with the work capability assessment (WCA) to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

Dr Litchfield carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown two letters written by coroners and a number of secret DWP “peer reviews”.

In the light of recent revelations, it seems reasonable to ask whether this is because he was asked to sign a ‘gagging order’ – a non-disclosure agreement requiring him not to say anything embarrassing or critical about the Conservative government or its minister.

Dr Litchfield published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

Disability News Service raised the issue in July, prompting Opposition spokespeople to send official letters demanding an explanation. Labour shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova’s was written on July 25, and Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Stephen Lloyd’s followed on August 2.

Neither had received a response by the time Ms McVey walked out, as DNS reported.

I think we can safely conclude that the four-month delay – so far – indicates Ms McVey intended never to respond. The disagreement over Brexit provided a handy excuse to do a runner.

Will Amber Rudd be more forthcoming?

The evidence of her time at the Home Office suggests the opposite.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/23/did-mcvey-quit-the-government-to-avoid-questions-on-disability-deaths-cover-up/

Mike’s report of the affair covered the same points as that in the Eye, but adds details about Dr Litchfield’s reports and speculates that he may not have given details of the numbers of deaths because he had been forced to sign a gagging order, as very many of the charities and other organisations working with Tweezer’s gang of cutthroats have been forced to do.

One of the problems facing modern print journalism is that by the time they’ve put a story into the paper, everyone’s already read about it on the Net. This is the reason why newspapers have increasingly become similar to magazines with celebrities interviews, media stories and articles on subjects that are of interest, but not necessarily particularly topical.

I went back to reading Private Eye after a hiatus, when I was sick and tired of the magazine’s constant attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. This seems to have calmed down recently, but I’ve no doubt that it’s still bubbling away somewhere underneath. It does carry much excellent information on the shabby deals going on behind the scenes, in politics, local government, business and the press, which isn’t reported in the rest of the media. It’s that which still makes the magazine worth reading.

However, the mainstream media has shown to a rapidly increasing number of people that it is deeply biased and untrustworthy. And it has plenty of competitors from the various left-wing news organisations on the web. Like the Disability News Service, the Canary, the Skwawkbox and very many others. Left-wing bloggers and vloggers are also increasingly turning to them, rather than rely on the viciously biased, mendacious British press. Gordon Dimmack announced on one of his videos a few weeks ago that he wasn’t going to rely on the mainstream media for his stories any longer. This was on a video in which he took apart the lies in a story in the Groaniad about Julian Assange.

The British media, including the Beeb, is feeling threatened. Very threatened. A week or so ago the Radio Times published an article lamenting the polarization in political opinion due to people no longer trusting mainstream news sources, and turning instead to others which conformed to their own views. Thus the political consensus was breaking down. They also ran another article celebrating Question Time and its presenter, Dimbleby. Well, the consensus opinion pushed by the media is largely right-wing, pro-Tory and anti-Corbyn, with the Corporation’s news as massively bias as the Tory papers, from whom some of their journos have come. And Question Time has also angered many people, because of this pro-Tory bias and the way it has packed both panels and audience with Tories and Tory supporters.

It’s entirely right that people are turning away from the lamestream media with its bias and lies to the left-wing blogs, vlogs and other news outlets on the web. They aren’t Tory propaganda outlets, and are increasingly getting the stories before the mainstream papers and broadcasters.

And as this article from Private Eye shows, one of those blogs, which is getting the news to people first, before the mainstream press, is Vox Political.

The Operation of Worker-Owned Companies in Martian SF

December 9, 2018

A week or so ago I put up a few passages from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars (London: HarperCollins 1996), a science fiction book about the colonization and terraformation of the Red Planet. In Robinson’s book, on breaking away from terrestrial domination the Martians establish a constitution which makes all the companies not owned by the global Martian state or its constituent cities worker-owned cooperatives, partly modelled on the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain. On page 301 Robinson describes how Nadia, the new Martian president in the capital, Sheffield, works to transform the planet’s industries, including those formerly owned by terrestrial metanats – vast multinationals that now dominate the industries of whole countries – into the new system. Robinson writes

Nadia, however, never made it to this conference. She got caught up by affairs in Sheffield instead, mostly instituting the new economic system, which she thought important enough to keep her there. The legislature was passing the law of eco-economics, fleshing out the bones drawn up in the constitution. They directed co-ops that had existed before the revolution to help the newly independent metanat local subsidiaries to transform themselves into similar co-operative organisations. This process, called horizontalization, had very wide support, especially from the young natives, and so it was proceeding fairly smoothly. Every Martian business now had to be owned by its employees only. No co-op could exceed one thousand people; larger enterprises had to be made of co-op associations, working together. For their internal structures most of the firms chose variants of the Bogdanovist models, which themselves were based on the co-operative Basque community of Mondragon, Spain. In these firms all employees were co-owners, and they bought into their positions by paying the equivalent of about a year’s wages to the firms equity fund. This became the starter of their share in the firm, which grew every year they stayed, until it was given back to them as pension or departure payment. Councils elected from the work-force hired management, usually from outside, and this management then had the power to make executive decisions, but was subject to a yearly review by the councils. Credit and capital were obtained from central co-operative banks, or the global government’s start-up fund, or helper organisations such as Praxis and the Swiss. On the next level up, co-ops in the same industries or services wer associating for larger projects, and also sending representatives to industry guilds, which established professional practice boards, arbitration and mediation centres, and trade associations.

I can’t say I’m happy about the idea of worker managers buying their share of management with the equivalent of a year’s pay. This seems far too easy for someone to exploit to me. And I’m also not sure how practical it would be to turn all companies into co-operatives. However, we do need industrial democracy, if only to overturn the massive exploitation of working people that has gone on under Thatcherism. Under the current Thatcherite orthodoxy, wages are frozen, jobs insecure and the welfare system undermined and destroyed. A quarter of a million people have been forced to use foodbanks to save themselves from starvation, and 330,000-odd people are homeless. And the number of people dying on our streets, and the elderly in their homes due to Tory cuts in the cold weather payments, has shot up. And this has all been to give the rich tax cuts and provide employers with a cheap, cowed workforce.

Enough’s enough. We need a proper government with a proper vision that treats working people decently, with proper wages and rights at work, invigorates trade unions, restores a strong and health welfare state, builds properly affordable homes and reverses the privatization of the NHS. Only Corbyn’s Labour promises all that. And part of this promise is to put workers on the boards of all firms with over a certain number of employees.

Corbyn is the person we need to have in No.10. Not Tweezer and her gang of crooks and profiteers. Get them out, and Labour in.

Chunky Mark Celebrates Labour Victories in the Council Elections

May 4, 2018

After all the miserable news of the Tories’ continuing persecution of the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and ethnic minorities, here’s some positive news: Labour gained massively during Thursday’s council elections. And Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver, is here sharing his joyous laughter.

He begins the video by stating that Labour now has 1,353 councils, while the Tories only have 800. Plymouth has gone Labour, as has old Trafford. This was a Tory stronghold, and now there are absolutely no Tories in Manchester. In Liverpool, they’re down to only two. ‘What!’ say Mark, ‘the government is dictating to Liverpool! Liverpool should be a republic!’ He also discusses how the Lib Dems have shown themselves to be Tory-enablers once again, by attacking Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit. He makes the point that if they were serious about undermining the Tories over Brexit and smashing them, they’d back Corbyn. He goes on to looking forward to a general election, which would result in a Labour victory. He describes how this country is suffering under the Tories, with services cut, people living in immense poverty, the decimation of social care resulting in the elderly living in nappies. People are turning against them, and the parasitical industrial elite who are benefiting from their policies. He ends with ‘Bring on the next general election! Labour would storm it!’

It’s really optimistic news, but we’ve a long way to go before the next general election. And I don’t trust the Tories not to pull some stunt that’ll get them re-elected, no matter how much people suffer in the meantime. Labour has done well, but the response to their victories from the Tories will be that governments always do badly in council elections, especially those in the mid-term. As for general elections, it seems to me that the Tories always wait until nearly the last minute, and then announce tax cuts and a new period of prosperity. They also claim that, perhaps they went too far with the cuts, and promise to reverse them. They then get voted back in, and immediately throw all their election promises out the window, and go right back to cutting and privatising.

But the elections yesterday, if all went as Chunky Mark describes, do offer some hope of throwing them out.

First Windrush, Next Ugandan Asians?

April 25, 2018

If this is true, then it’s utterly despicable and really shows that no-one is safe from the Tories’ programme of racist deportations.

Mike in another of his posts reporting and commenting on the unjust deportation of Windrush migrants, at https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/04/24/nothing-has-changed-despite-their-claims-tory-racism-remains-in-place-for-everyone-apart-from-commonwealth-migrants/, included a tweet from Carole Hawkins. She posted

Ugandan Asians are next for deportation as reported on the Westminster Hour on R4 22/4/18. How far are the Tories going to take this?
Voting all Tory councillors out on May 3rd tells Tess her policies are cruel & her power base erodes, something Tories can’t stand. https://twitter.com/bassmadman/status/988329689885310977

Mike checked her source, and found that what she said was correct, at least according to the Beeb. He states

Carole Hawkins is absolutely correct. Listen to that evening’s edition of Westminster Hour and around 18 minutes into the programme you will hear: “The next group to be snared in this will be Ugandan Asians; people who were allowed to come here by Ted Heath when they were fleeing Idi Amin. And that is going to be another painful moment in the life of the government.”

It continues: “They arrived in 71-72 so we can expect to get that problem for the government in 2019-2020… This problem is not going to go away.”

Mike’s article is worth reading in total as it comments on the institutional racism behind May’s immigration policies. It’s not just the discrimination against the children of Windrush migrants. This includes the story of two brothers, who have had their lives wrecked by May’s decision that they, and others like them, aren’t British citizens but foreign residents, who should be deported. It’s also the very high rates of racism and racist abuse in the Border Control Force and aggressive policing by officers looking for Asian men with foreign passports.

But the possibility that the government has been thinking about doing the same to the Ugandan Asians is a new, particularly vile low, even by the Tories’ abysmal standards.

As Mike points out in his piece, the Ugandan Asians were expelled from their homeland by the country’s vicious dictator, Idi Amin. They were given sanctuary in Britain in 1971-2 by Ted Heath, after many other nations, including India, refused to take them in. Immigration was a very hot topic, I’ve read since then that many Tories thought Heath was risking electoral disaster by allowing them to come to Britain. But he did, and it’s undoubtedly to his credit, despite everything else he stood for as a Tory.

Way back in the 1990s our mother helped to run a small day centre for the elderly here in south Bristol. One of the guest speakers, who came in to talk to the seniors using the club was a member of Bristol’s Asian community. The man was also a Ugandan Asian. He told of his people’s expulsion by Amin. They were forced out of their homes and businesses and made to leave. And along the route out of the country, to the airport or wherever, there were roadblocks, the soldiers on which took the opportunity to rob the expellees of whatever they could. I think he said that you would have wept if you saw how they robbed and abused people. And I’ve no doubt he’s right. But, he continued, Ugandan Asians are grateful to Britain for taking them in.

I believe that the community also has its own museum, or at least a museum gallery devoted to them in one of the northern towns. I think I saw it featured a year or so ago on Bargain Hunt or one of the other related antiques programmes put out by the Beeb. That part of the programme and the gallery itself also covered the community’s expulsion and their arrival in Britain.

Now it seems that May and her vile crew have decided that they want to deny citizenship and expel the children of people, who have already endured one traumatic expulsion by a vicious dictator.

The Ugandan Asian community included professionals and businesspeople, and Britain has benefited from their hard work and skills. Now the Tories want to repay them and their gratitude towards Britain for giving them refuge, by throwing them out.

Absolutely disgraceful. As is the treatment of the Windrush generation. I’d even call it a national disgrace, because of how badly it reflects on Britain.

And for all her huffing and puffing, trying to put the blame on Labour, this all comes down to Cameron and Tweezer. May took the decision to destroy the landing permits, which would have allowed the Windrush children to prove their citizenship. She also secretly removed the legislation that protected them.

She’s a racist bully, picking on those members of the Black and Asian community she thinks she can brutalise and throw out without anyone noticing or complaining. Well, she’s wrong. And people are rightly outraged.

She should resign. Now. No ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. And if she doesn’t, parliament should work until she does. Because she has shown by her actions that she regards British citizenship not as a right, but as a gift that can be withdrawn at the whim of herself and the other racist monsters in her party. And until she goes, and proper regulations are put in place to correct this and stop it being inflicted on anyone else, no-one in this country is safe.

Get her out.

Vox Political Points Out that the Advisory Boards of the Samaritans and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism Are Stuffed Full of Tories

February 2, 2018

Mike published this very important article today, which throws the witch-hunt against the critics of Israel and the Israel lobby in the Labour party in a very harsh light. The Disability News Service revealed over a month ago in December that the Department of Health had refused to recognise that disabled benefit claimants were one of the groups at high risk of committing suicide. When this was pointed out to the Samaritans, the charity flatly refused to condemn the government.

Now the charity is facing controversy, not only for its failure to do so, but because of the probable reason why. Its board of management is stuffed full of Tories. Seven of its eleven members belong to the wretched party.
And it’s very likely the board of the faux anti-racist organisation, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, is the same. He hasn’t been able to find out who their board members are, but their patrons include the following true blue members of the corporate elite anti-working class hate squad: Eric Pickles, Matthew Offord, Mike Freer, Bob Blackman and Baron Ahmad. The others include a couple of Labour members and a crossbench peer.

This explains, no doubt, why the woefully misnamed organisation has attacked 40 Labour MPs, and only two Tories.

And Mike goes on to ask the question how many other charities have been similarly infiltrated by the Nasty Party. This is going to be a problem, as for an organisation to have charitable status, it has to be apolitical. And the Samaritans and the Campaign Against Anti-Israelism, sorry, Anti-Semitism, are all too political with the make-up of their governing organs.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/02/02/samaritans-advisory-board-crammed-with-tories-so-is-the-campaign-against-antisemitism-who-else/

This issue – of Tory, or corporate domination of charities, has been raised before. A few years ago Johnny Void posted on his blog how one mental health charity was vigorously promoting the mendacious, unscientific rubbish that work is good for those with psychological problems – take the advice of someone who’s been there: it ain’t – not least because their directors included a corporate shill, who was behind the policy and who looked forward to the charity getting lots of government contracts to administer their scheme.

It doesn’t surprise me one iota that the Tories dominate the Samaritans. I dare say that the gentlemen involved genuinely wish to stop people taking their own lives. As do very many others not connected with the Tory party. But they get on the board, because they’re the establishment, and establishment contacts are always good for private organisations, whether industry or charities.

Way back in the 1990s I worked for a few weeks for a charity for elderly in Bristol as a voluntary worker. I walked out one Wednesday evening and handed in my resignation because I didn’t like the way my supervisor spoke to me as if I was a mere underling and incompetent. I was later told by a friend that a lot of ordinary charity workers were doing exactly what I did. The charities have a policy of recruiting their management from industry. And these managers are used to kicking around paid staff. They don’t know how to treat ordinary people, who are devoting their time and energy gratis. And so they have a high staff turnover, because people are sick of getting abuse from management for work they’re doing literally out of the kindness of their hearts.

As for the Campaign Against Anti-Israelism, sorry, Ant-Semitism, this has never been against anti-Semitism per se. As Mike’s pointed out very many times on his blog, citing Jewish academic experts on anti-Semitism, that it is about hatred of Jews as Jews. That’s how the ant-Semites, who coined the word themselves defined it in the 19th century. The word was invented by Wilhelm Marr, the founder of the Bund Antisemiten in late 19th century Germany. And he made it clear it was hatred of Jews for biological, racial reasons. It didn’t matter to him whether they were observant, religious Jews, or members of another faith, or whatever. What mattered to these proto-Nazis was that they were racially Jews.

But it does matter to the Israelis and their supporters and puppets in fake organisations against anti-Semitism, like the Campaign and the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Paole Zion. They’ve tried to expand the definition of anti-Semitism so that it specifically includes criticism of Israel. In the case of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, it’s because the charity was set up in 2014 after its founder was shocked to discover that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was reviled and condemned by the majority of severely normal Brits. The standard Israeli response ever since the 1970s and no doubt many decades before that, is to smear any critic of Israel as an anti-Semite. They have to be, ’cause it’s the only Jewish state. Thus very decent gentiles have been smeared, who have campaign ardently against racism, including the abuse and maltreatment of Jews. And Jews have been particularly singled out for such smears, in terms which would be anti-Semitic themselves if they were uttered by non-Jews. It’s because Zionism was always a minority position amongst most Jews, and the last thing these bigots and race hucksters want is for more people to wake up and see that an increasing number of Jews, including young people, who’ve suffered anti-Semitic abuse and violence themselves, despise Israel for its maltreatment and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

The Blairites were keen to make those accusations, because Tony Blair received much of his funding from the Israel lobby through Lord Levy. They’re now worried because Momentum and the real Labour moderates are in the ascendant, and so are trying to use any stick to beat them. And the Tories have been madly pro-Israel since Thatcher.

Lurking somewhere in the Tory support for Israel there’s a nasty whiff of bog-standard British imperialism. Whatever the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, AIPAC or the other pro-Israel groups say to the contrary, Israel is a White settler society. Its leader stated very clearly that this was the case, before decolonisation made imperialism unacceptable. Then they started lying about how it was movement of national liberation against the occupying Arabs. The vast majority of Zionist settlers were Jews from Europe and America. Ashkenazi Jews are still the dominant class in Israel today. And they despised the Mizrahim, Jewish Arabs, or Arab Jews, as racially and culturally inferior. They were segregated in different schools, in case their oriental manners and attitudes contaminated respectable White settlers, and given the dirtiest, poorest paid work to do. Discrimination against them was and is widespread.

While the British Empire is very much a thing of the past, some Tories seem to hanker for the days when Britain could and did conquer and colonise other nations. Way back when the war in Afghanistan was just starting, there was an article by right-wing historian Niall Ferguson in the Heil which made this very clear. It started reasonably enough by defending the Allied invasion as a response to 9/11, but ended with Ferguson looking forward to the Americans settling the country. It was, at least to this reader, a naked apologia for imperialism. Sheer undisguised imperialism, not dressed up as nation building, or the neo-colonialism of the trade tariffs and IMF recommendations to struggling developing nations. But real colonialism.

Mike’s right. It’s time to bring the curtain down on the Tory domination of charities. The Tory connection to the Samaritans has done disabled people immense harm and injustice by preventing the organisation recognising and condemning the way Tory welfare policies are driving disabled people to suicide.

And the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is strongly political. As well as not condemning the Tories, it also has little to say about the real Fascist groups, who do want to exterminate or harm Jewish Brits. But that’s not why it was set up. It was set up to defend Israel from criticism. And it’s frightened of Corbyn because he’s pro-Palestinian. But not, as I understand, anti-Israel, though you will never hear that from this pack of liars, bigots and frauds. They’re part of the true-blue, official, Conservative Jewish establishment.

And woe betide anyone one, no matter how anti-racist, whether Jew or non-Jew, who dares to break their party line. It won’t matter how many scars their victims have had fighting the storm troopers of the BNP or National Action. It doesn’t matter if the Jews they pick on are Torah-observant or secular, but self-respecting. Nor if they themselves have been abused and beaten by the real anti-Semitic thugs. Simply for condemning Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians automatically means that they’re all anti-Semites in the twisted thinking of these frauds and their political allies.

It’s time to end this charade. Get the Tories out of charities, and get the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’s charitable status revoked. They aren’t a charity: they’re a party-political pressure group, and should be condemned as such.

Coughlan Tears into the Embittered Snowflakes of the Daily Heil’s ‘Comments’

December 20, 2017

Perhaps this is another way of dealing with the Daily Mail and its pernicious influence on our politics and culture. As well as refuting its lies and scare stories, perhaps we should also mock its readership when they write in to express resentful, envious and sneering views about those they deem not to be as deserving as themselves. As in the comments Coughlan reads out here, which seem to be all by members of the older generation attacking the younger for not grinning and putting up with snow and cold weather like they had to in their youth.

Coughlan’s a stand-up comedian, who has put up a lot of really great stuff on his YouTube channel tearing the Far Right into gory chunks, and defending anti-racism and anti-sexism from the manosphere and, well, people pretty much like these. He starts out by noting how the various figures on the extreme right have been moaning about how hard done by they are. Like Milo Yiannopolis losing his job, Nigel Farage complaining that he’s ‘dirt poor’ despite earning £90,000 a year, and Anne Coulter that she’s single. As Coulter is viciously critical of anyone even slightly to her left, and so right-wing that she thinks that women shouldn’t have the vote, it’s probably no surprise that eligible men aren’t queuing up at her door. Be warned – Coughlan’s language is colourful – he’s an edgy, modern comedian – and he makes some coarse jokes at Coulter’s and Farage’s expense.

In this video he tackles the comments posted on the Daily Mail’s site on the subject of schools having to close because of the snow. The Mail stated hysterically that ‘hundreds’ of schools had been forced to close. He rightly points out that this is nothing. There are thousand upon thousands of schools in the UK, so it’s hardly the mass chaos the Heil is trying to paint it. And then come the comments. They all seem to come from older readers, disgusted at the wimpishness of today’s generation, and harking back to their youth when they still had to go to school in the snow, to endure unheated, literally freezing classrooms and outdoor urinals(!). Oh yes, and one of them complains that the reason the schools are close is because otherwise the children will be able to sue them for accidents. So we’re back to the old, right-wing canard about health and safety legislation.

Coughlan observes that these embittered curmudgeons sound very much like the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch from Monty Python. You remember the one: four Yorkshiremen in very elegant dinner suits, smoking cigars and drinking brandy, compete with each other to make the most extreme claims of the poverty they suffered when they were children. So he goes on to read out the comments in a spoof ‘northern’/’Yorkshire’ accent.

He also points out occasionally where these poor, resentful souls are wrong and haven’t remembered things properly. For example, one of them claims that schools never closed for snow when he was young. Wrong. Coughlan remembers when they did. I went to school in the ’70s and ’80s, and they certainly closed when we had very severe weather round about 81, 82-ish. And like Coughlan, I remember listening to the radio to see if our school would be one of those, which would not be opening that day. In this particular instance, school was open and we had to go in as normal. But not for long. After waiting in our coats in class while the staff debated what to do, we were all finally sent home. Trudging through town to the bus stop, I can remember one of the workers from one of the firms we passed asking us we weren’t in school, clearly thinking we were bunking off. So we told him the truth – that school had been cancelled. He simply replied with ‘Oh, all right,’ and got back to work.

Back to the Daily Mail, the comments here show something of the ugly attitude of the Mail’s readers. They clearly see themselves as unfairly treated by history or circumstances, and resent young people for apparently enjoying better treatment or conditions than themselves. And they very definitely see themselves as more deserving. They come across very much like the sneering elderly Harry Enfield used to lampoon on his show. ‘These young people, they don’t know they’re born’. ‘No’. ‘I say to them, ‘Do you know you’re born”. That was one of Enfield’s comments about this type of sad old soul.

Most of the older people I’ve met have expressed the exact opposite views to these people. I’ve been told by retired people, that they wouldn’t like to be young today for various reasons. A few years ago this was because of the threat of drugs. Or the dangers of the Net, and paedophiles and bullying on social media. I’d also include the terrible unemployment rate, the mass poverty created by the wage freeze and exploitative working conditions, like zero hours contracts. As well as the crushing weight of student debt and the housing crisis, which means that many will never get to own their own home. At very many levels, young people today are worse off, sometimes very much worse off, than their predecessors.

And most of the older generation know this, and are sympathetic. Most people, I think, actually want their children and grandchildren to enjoy a higher standard of living than them, and not to have to suffer the same awful conditions they had. Like grotty, freezing toilets.

Except the Daily Mail. They seem to see themselves as being so much more worthy than everyone else, and bitterly jealous of any indulgent or simply better treatment of the younger generation. Hence the sneering at them as ‘snowflakes’. Not that this attitude is confined merely to this subject. It runs through the Mail’s readership as a whole, and the people they attack and sneer at for being supposedly more privileged than they are include public sector workers, trade unionists, teachers, single parents, those on benefits, and Blacks and Asians. Because ‘political correctness’. It’s a seething mass of right-wing resentment, stirred up against anyone the Tories and the Mail decide should be the next target to keep ordinary people divided and fighting against each other, rather than wake up and realise that the people, who are really keeping them poor, are the Tories. The Tories stir up and use this jealousy and resentment in order to garner support for destroying more of the welfare state, and passing more legislation making jobs even more precarious.

The Mail’s a disgrace. It promotes nothing but hatred, ignorance and bigotry, for a corrupt, exploitative party. A party that should have been voted out of power long ago, and whose lies and threadbare excuses are becoming even more evident by the day.

More Fearmongering from the Murdoch Press: Times Names British Politicians Appearing on RT as ‘Helpers of Putin’

October 12, 2017

You can really feel the fear coming off the mainstream press in waves now, and with this story Murdoch appears to be the most frightened and desperate. This short clip from RT reports and comments on two pieces in the Times today, which named the British politicians, who had appeared on RT. Most of these were from the Labour party, but there were also a select number of Conservatives. One of the pieces was entitled ‘Helping Putin’, and claimed that the politicos going on the Russian-owned station were guilty of helping the Russian president interfere in British politics. Not only did the Times name the individual politicians, it also gave details of how many times they had appeared on RT, and the amounts they’d been paid. Among those outed are the Shadow Energy Secretary, Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, the Welsh MP David Davies, the MP Nigel Evans, and the Shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon.

The RT’s own Polly Boiko remarks that traditionally in Britain, speaking to the media was seen one of our democratic freedoms. She then walks into the studio of RT’s ‘Going Underground’ to talk to the programme’s host, Afshin Rattansi. Rattansi remarks that the story’s ‘pretty shoddy stuff’, and the Times has not come to RT for their comment on this story. He also says that they’ve had not just Labour politicians on the programme, but also Tories as well as those from other parties. They come on the programme as they know they will be listened to. As for ‘helping Putin’, this is an attempt to scare people off the broadcaster by connecting them to Jeremy Corbyn. Boiko asks him if he believes that this will make it difficult for RT to get politicians on to his show. Rattansi states that it was initially difficult, but it has now become much easier as they’ve become established and known for listening to their speakers.

The Russian embassy have also given their response to the accusation, asking if that means that the Russian politicos, who have appeared on the BBC, have been helping the British government.

This looks to me like the Murdoch press doing what it has so often done in the past: kick up a ‘Red Scare’ in order to stop people voting Labour. The Times is copying the attacks on RT America over the other side of the Pond by the Republicans and Corporatist Democrats, who are terrified because increasingly more severely normal Americans are preferring to get their news from alternative media outlets, like RT, rather than believe anything from the biased and compromised mainstream broadcasters. Like Fox News, which is solidly Republican to the core, and whose main host, Bill O’Reilly, and one of its chief executives, Roger Ailes, were both sacked as serial sexual harassers. Obama’s election victory in 2008 was credited to a campaign for him on social media, and it has been social media that’s played a very large part in the massive growth in popularity for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, in opposition to a barrage of lies and smears from the mainstream press and broadcasters.

And Murdoch in particular is threatened by this. Fox News audience is very largely in their late 60s. I think the average age is 68, which means that it is signally failing to attract and influence the younger folks, who are turning instead to Bernie Sanders over in America and Corbyn in Britain. As for the Times, the paper is actually losing money hand over fist, to the point where Private Eye remarked that it would have been closed down long ago if it were not the British ‘paper of record’. Murdoch keeps it propped up so that he has a place at the table influencing our politicians.

Lobster and other commenters have observed that over the past decades, Murdoch has used his power in the British press to make deals with various governments. His papers support them and give them popularity as an a kind of unofficial official press, while in return they give in to Murdoch’s own agenda. This means that they grant him important business concessions, such as purchasing rival satellite and cable networks and generally expanding his squalid little empire. At the same time, they also listen very carefully to his wider political agenda, which has always consisted of smashing workers’ rights, and deregulating and privatising the economy. And that includes the NHS.

Clearly, with this story, Murdoch’s starting to become afraid that time’s running out for this scam. People are turning away from the mainstream media, including and particularly the Murdoch press, which has always had a reputation for sensationalist trash and gross rightwing political bias. And if nobody reads his papers, or watches Sky News, not only is Murdoch’s empire failing in itself, but so is his power to influence British and American politics.

He’s panicking, and it’s clear he’s panicking.

Of course, this isn’t the first time he’s attempted to smear respectable politicos as traitors and agents of Moscow. He’s done that many times before. Way back in the 1990s or early part of this century, the Times under its editor, David Leppard, printed a completely bogus story that Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, had been a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’. This was a highly credible story, as shown by the way Private Eye sent it up on their front page. This showed Foot walking his dog, which was cocking its leg on a tree. The tree, in turn, was attempting to contact Foot in code. Not surprisingly, Foot sued for libel and won.

Then there was the Scum’s attempt to smear various Labour politicians as Commies in the 1987 general election. Among those targeted were Labour politicians, who had spoken to or written for the Marxist press. Shock! Horror! Except that the politicos they tried to smear in this way weren’t actually Communists, nor even necessarily Marxists. They were largely mainstream Labour politicians, who had just written for the Marxist press on a particular issue. They also smeared Red Ken as a Marxist, when those, who knew him, said he wasn’t, though he wasn’t averse to using them and sounding like them on occasion. They also claimed that Peter Tatchell was a member of the Trotskyite entryist group, Militant Tendency, when he was no such thing. As well as making other spurious claims based on his homosexuality.

This is all the kind of stuff the right-wing British press has been doing since the infamous ‘Zinoviev Letter’ of the 1920s. This was an attempt by one of the newspapers to scare people away from voting Labour by publishing a letter from the head of the Comintern, Zionviev, to the Labour party, which purported to show that they were going to collaborate with Russia and turn the country into a Communist dictatorship. Except that the letter was a fake, a forgery, probably cooked up by MI5.

I’ve reposted a number of stories from RT, simply because the broadcaster is doing an excellent job of covering stories that the mainstream British media, including the Beeb, aren’t. This doesn’t mean I support Putin. I don’t. He’s an extremely authoritarian thug, and I don’t doubt that the stories of his own massive corruption are true. But that doesn’t mean that the stories reported by RT are false, or that RT isn’t doing proper journalism when it reveals them. In fact, it seems to me that RT is very much doing this, and it is precisely this that has got Murdoch and the Republicans and Clintonite Democrats in America running scared.

The Russian word for newspaper is ‘Gazeta’. The Russian word for the type of journalism practised by the Murdoch empire is ‘govno’. Which is Russian for ‘Sh*t’.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

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

July 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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