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A Word of Encouragement after Esther McVile Returns to the DWP

Like everyone else, who really cares about what happens to the poor and disabled in this country, I am angered and dismayed by the return of Esther McVey to the cabinet in charge of the DWP. When she was in charge of disability, McVey presided over a system that saw tens, if not hundreds of thousands of severely ill people declared ‘fit for work’, and left without any means of support after their benefits were cut off. People like Mike, DPAC and other disability rights activists and campaigners have accused her of pursuing a murderous, genocidal policy against the disabled. For them, it’s eugenics by the back door. The disabled are being culled, but unlike the Nazis and their infamous Aktion T4 programme, with which Tory policy has been compared, they aren’t dragging the disabled away to be gassed in a hospital run by murderous doctors and uniformed, military thugs like the SS. No, they’re simply told their fit for work, and have their benefit cut off, so that they starve to death, or take their own lives through misery and hunger. Stilloaks has compiled a list of the victims, as have various other left-wing bloggers and activists. One artist even made a picture composed of the faces of all those the Tories had murdered through their welfare reforms.

If you want to know just how nasty McVile is, take a look at some of the recent articles Mike has written about her return over at Vox Political. And some indication of the depth of feeling against her is shown by the fact that someone altered her Wikipedia page a few years ago, so that it read that she was in charge of the genocide of the disabled.

It’s an utter disgrace that this woman, who was nicknamed ‘the wicked witch of the Wirral’ by her constituents, and who lost her seat at the last election, should come back into front bench politics.

And her return has resulted in very vulnerable people feeling afraid. Florence, one of the great commenters on this blog, said here in a response to a previous post, that she knew disability activists, who worked hard for 48 hours solid after her return, trying to stop frightened and distressed disabled people from committing suicide. That alone shows how disgraceful the Conservative party and their attitude to the disabled is. The Tories consistently deny that there is any link between their murderous and pitiless ‘welfare reforms’, and the suicides that have already occurred. Even though some of the victims have written suicide notes explicitly stating that it is. All you get is May, IDS, McVile or some other Tory spokesperson coming out with a flat denial, and then assertions that these reforms are helping people into work – they aren’t, but the Tories don’t worry about the truth when a lie is so much better. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail and the rest of the pestilential right-wing press tries to tell us all that everyone claiming sickness benefit, ESA or whatever, is a malingerer sponging off the British taxpayer. Florence said that she’d been abused when she’s had occasion to use her wheelchair. I’ve a friend in Cheltenham, whose wife is severely disabled, and similarly has to use a wheelchair if she goes out. He told me that they’ve been abused.

This shows how low this country has sunk under the Tories and the Blairites. One of our uncles, with whom our family used to go on holiday when Mike and I were young, had Parkinson’s Disease. This is a deterioration of part of the brain governing movement, and it leaves sufferers paralysed. There are drugs that can treat it, the best known being L-Dopa. Despite this many sufferers, including our uncle, was confined to a wheelchair. I can remember Mike and myself pushing him along esplanades on holiday with the rest of our family, and no-one made any adverse comments. In fact, I don’t recall my aunt telling us that there had been any problems when she had gone out with him, though she was embarrassed about going into cafes. But here again, I don’t recall anyone else saying anything at the time.

Britain has, thanks to four decades of Thatcherism, become more hate-filled and prejudiced.

But I don’t think people need despair just yet. McVey is a vile piece of work, as is Tweezer for appointing her. But she must surely be aware of how much she’s hated, and this will take its toll. Remember when the Gentleman Ranker, IDS, wanted to leave the DWP? He was whining about how everyone was blaming him for food banks, when it was Blair who introduced them. Well, it was, but only in a limited way for asylum seekers. Which is bad enough, but it wasn’t the wholesale replacement for state aid that it’s become under David Cameron and Tweezer. IDS was held in contempt by everyone concerned with disability issues and poverty, and it clearly got to him. Just like the outcry against Toby Young’s appointment to the university’s legislative panel clearly got to him, and forced him to resign. Even though Tweezer had given her backing to this far-right, eugenicist clown.

The Tories are vulnerable. Even those like IDS, who was boasting how he’d been a major in the army. Despite the fact that no-one can find any record of him actually being one.

People know McVile, and massively and collectively hate her. She isn’t going to have it easy, by any means. She may well be tougher than IDS – this is, after all, a man, who came into a parliamentary inquiry with armed bodyguards, just in case the peeps in wheelchairs and their carers in the public gallery turned violent. And who hid from demonstrators in Scotland in a hotel laundry basket. But enough people complain, criticise and attack her, it should make her feel uncomfortable, and hopefully bring her down.

And people are going to do just that. Just like they did when she was in charge of disability the first time round.

So don’t despair.
Get mad.
Get even.
And get her out!

Proud Haitians Defend Country as Free Black Republic after Trump’s ‘Sh*thole Countries’ Comments

Yesterday there were mass demonstrations in America, and expressions of outrage around the rest of the world at Trump’s grotesque comments about immigrants to America from ‘sh*thole countries’. As Mike put up on his blog, one of the countries that was most definitely not impressed was Botswana in Africa. This tiny African state, with a population of 2 million, has, as Mike pointed out, the highest growth rate in Africa, and a tradition of stable democratic government. It’s a developing nation, but definitely not a ‘sh*thole’. And the country’s authorities seemed determined to make that point when they called the American ambassador in to explain if their nation was one of the countries Trump was sneering at.

I was particularly impressed by a young Haitian woman, who appeared on the BBC news yesterday when the Corporation covered a demonstration against Trump and his racist comments in Florida. She stated that Haitians were a proud people, and that their country became the first Black republic, where the slaves overthrew their masters. She’s absolutely right. Modern Haiti was created by the ‘Black Jacobins’ under Toussaint Louverture, who organised a slave revolt inspired by the Revolution in France. Haiti had been a French colony, but they toppled colonial rule, and threw the French out. Louverture then renamed the country ‘Haiti’, rather than continue using the old French/ European colonial name, justifying the change by claiming that this was the indigenous name for it.

Lourverture’s revolution sent a shock wave throughout the Caribbean and America. It was an inspiration to Blacks struggling for their freedom, and alarmed the colonial authorities. The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a series of slave revolts break out in the Caribbean, by enslaved people impatient for their freedom. These were ruthlessly and brutally suppressed, as the colonial authorities feared the influence of Haiti upon their enslaved subjects, and that the slaves would be in contact with the Haitian revolutionaries. And some free Black Americans moved to Haiti after they obtained their freedom. Major Moody, a British army officer, who was sent to the Caribbean in the 1820s to produce a report on whether the enslaved people of the British colonies were ready for emancipation, includes in his report correspondence between a Black American, who had done this, and his former mistress in America, who had freed him.

Haiti is a desperately poor country, as has been shown by the suffering and destruction it has sustained in recent years through a series of disasters. But much of this poverty and deprivation comes from American imperial intervention. The Americans invaded in the 1920s as part of their campaign to assert their dominance over the Caribbean, and defend their economic interests. And they’ve done the same thing at various intervals throughout the 20th and now the 21st century. A little while ago I found a piece on YouTube – I think it might have been by Abby Martin of TeleSur English’s The Empire Files, or it could have been the Real News people, which made the point that when the Americans invaded again a few years ago to overthrow the latest dictator, it wasn’t because of his human rights record. Rather, it was because he was redistributing wealth, which threatened American corporate interests once again. And the dictator’s left-wing opponent was kept from standing and taking over office through armed soldiers posted outside his house. It was the same pattern of invasion and coup that has been repeated over and over again, around the world, whenever a smaller, weaker country elects anyone remotely left-wing, or otherwise threatens the dominance of the big American corporations in their country’s economy. Just like Hillary Clinton five years ago in 2012 gave her backing to the Fascist coup which overthrew the liberal regime in Honduras.

One peculiar consequence of the American invasion of Haiti has been the rise of the zombie movie. The first of these appeared shortly after the 1920s American invasion, and left-wing, anti-colonial critics have argued that the movies represent an attempt by the country’s new colonial masters to present a picture of it as a terrifying land, steeped in superstition and black magic. Since then the zombie movie has moved away from Haiti to America itself, and under George A. Romero also developed satirical overtones criticising contemporary American society and capitalism. Like in one of his movies, the survivors seeks refuge in a mall.

Trump’s comments were offensive, and they clearly stung the pride of migrants to America, who nevertheless still felt strong bonds with their countries of origin, as well as the other peoples in the Developing World. But the young Haitian woman speaking up for her mother country made a very good point about how important it was for Black history. And if many of these countries are poor, ruled over by brutal, corrupt governments responsible for human rights abuses, one of the reasons is because the Americans have assisted these thugs into power to stop any redistribution of wealth or growth of democracy. All under the guise of protecting the world from the threat of Communism, and upholding American corporate interests. People around the world have been demanding that Trump apologise for his comments. They’re right, but it’s not just his comments that need to be critically analysed and opposed. It’s American imperialism itself, and the underlying cynical contempt for the nations of the Developing World and their people, who are there to be abused and sneered at in the interests of American corporate capitalism.

Chunky Mark on Toby Young’s Attendance at a Eugenics Conference

In this short clip, Chunky Mark, the artist taxi driver, expresses his absolute disgust at a report that Toby Young, the grotty right-wing hack Theresa May put on the regulatory board for the universities, attended a secret eugenics conference recently at University College London. What, he asks pointedly, does this say about the Tory party? He points out that Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jo Johnson, Fraser Nelson and Andrew Neil all defended Young, despite knowing about his foul and dangerous views on this subject.

Up to this video, I was prepared to give Young the benefit of the doubt on eugenics. Yes, he’s an obnoxious, right-wing snob, who’s published pieces sneering at the working class, disabled people and a variety of left-wing issues and causes. This includes the Welsh. I can remember him appearing on one of the TV shows a few years ago describing how he had to sneak out the back way when he appeared on Welsh radio in Cardiff. Young had previously described the Welsh as ‘swarthy, stunted trolls’ or something similar, and one of the station’s listeners had decided that he wasn’t going to put up with it, and had come in to sort the wretched hack out. So Young was forced to scurry down the back stairs to avoid him and a good hiding.

I knew from the various articles on Young, including those put up by Mike over at Vox Political, that he had published a piece arguing for eugenics. This is the pseudoscientific doctrine that some people are biologically unfit, and to maintain the purity and fitness of the race should be prevented from breeding. It was a part of Nazi policy during the Third Reich, when recidivist criminals and the congenitally disabled were sterilised, in order to prevent them passing on their bad biological heritage. It was also the rationale behind the murder of the disabled under Aktion T4, in which the mentally handicapped were taken to special hospitals and gassed by Nazi doctors under the direction of the SS. The Nazis based much of their eugenics legislation on contemporary laws governing biological heredity and disability in America, which provided for the forcible sterilisation of those considered ‘unfit’. Indeed, the Nazis boasted that in this regard, they had not invented anything. Similar views were held by a number of people over this side of the Pond, where eugenics was, in the early part of the 20th century, one of the popular topics among the chattering classes. The Nazis’ crimes against humanity and their mass sterilisation and murder of the disabled, as well as their attempted genocide of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other ethnic groups they considered subhuman, were no doubt powerful influences that turned popular and elite opinion against eugenics. Nevertheless, the subject continued to survive amongst a group of supporters. The ‘societies and clubs’ section of Whitaker’s Almanac for 1987 includes the Francis Galton Society, named after Darwin’s cousin, who first promoted the idea, and which existed to promote eugenics.
I’d assumed, however, that when he published the article, Young may not have been entirely serious.

I was wrong.

Young strikes me as little more than a troll, adopting deliberately offensive views and language, in order to upset people. Sort of like Milo Yiannopolis, but heterosexual and without the Jewish heritage. I did wonder if he was one of those Tories, who admire Auberon Waugh, who used to publish similar articles in Private Eye and then the Torygraph sneering at the left, in what was seen by his admirers as some kind of wit. In fact, precious little of what Waugh seemed to me to be at all witty. It mostly seemed to be just abuse. I particularly remember his sneers at teachers in the Torygraph, which in retrospect just followed the Tory line of blaming teachers for everything wrong with British education while screaming loudly about progressive education, left-wing indoctrination and the need to bring back grammar schools. He also appeared on Wogan’s chat show, where he also spewed hate at the Greenham Common female peace protesters, decrying them as ‘lesbians’. Which wasn’t even the most original insult, as just about everyone on the right was claiming they were. Some may well have been, but certainly not all. Especially as some of the early news reports described how many of the women had children, whom they were missing terribly, and so presumably also male partners. I’d assumed Young had adopted eugenics as just another extreme, right-wing pose in order to cause the upset and anger that he appears to thrive on.

But it’s clearly not the case. If he attended this conference, then he really does believe it. Which makes him a positive danger. From the article as it appears in the video, it seems that the report comes from Private Eye, and Chunky Mark states that he can’t even read about some of the things that went on at the conference. But Young was there, along with Nazis and other horrors. As for what it says about the Tory party and its leadership, there always has been a current of extreme right-wing attitudes and policies within the Tory party, and it’s certainly been no barrier to advancement in the Tory ranks. Way back in the 1970s Thatcher’s mentor, Keith Joseph, caused outrage when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’, using the language and attitudes of eugenics. And there has been a fringe of the Tory party that admires and has had links with the Fascist right. Way back in the 1980s one of the Libertarian groups within the Tory party held an annual dinner at which the guest of honour was the head of one of the death squads then exterminating left-wingers in Central America. One of the members of that group, if I recall correctly, was Paul Staines, the founder of the Guido Fawkes blog.

Young has since resigned from his position on the universities’ board, despite being loudly supported by Theresa May. His appointment was, in any case, a calculated insult to students. Young was put in because he favours the privatisation of education, as shown by his promotion of free schools. As for his other, obnoxious views, I’ve no doubt that they appeal to the type of grassroots Tory, including those on the backbenches, who regularly cause a scandal by blaming crime on Blacks and immigration, and rant on about how wonderful Enoch Powell was. At a time when students are worried about paying off tens of thousands in debts and tuition fees, Young and his grotesque opinions were a calculated insult. They showed the Tory faithful the absolute contempt the party really had for these pesky students and their concerns over the quality of the education they were receiving, and the determination of May’s government to continue privatising education and stamping out any trace of perceived left-wing bias, regardless of the wishes of students, lecturers and educationalists themselves. All done so that universities, like schools, would indoctrinate students with the required Tory view of history and politics, as demanded by Michael Gove, amongst others.

Young’s appointment was met with a barrage of complaints and opposition, leading to his resignation. It’s significant that he was not replaced by Theresa May, despite considerable pressure to do so. Some of this may have been weakness on her part. Young was supported by Gove and Johnson, and she may have been afraid that if she sacked Young, those two would move against her, just as they intrigued against Cameron. But it also shows that May, and the rest of the Tory front bench, really don’t see anything wrong with Young’s opinions, even when they include such an inflammatory, dangerous ideology as eugenics.

Chunky Mark ends his video by stating that they should all resign. He’s quite right. This is a brutal, murderous government anyway. It’s policies of stripping away workers rights, enforcing low pay, and zero hours contracts, have forced millions in work into poverty. At the same time, their expansion of the sanctions system have resulted in nearly a quarter of a million people relying on food banks for their next meal, and has led to the deaths of almost a thousand or so disabled people, deprived of benefits after being declared ‘fit for work’. Left-wing commenters like Mike, and the commenters on his and my blogs have called the deaths ‘the genocide of the disabled’, and suggested that it does indeed come from a conscious eugenics policy by the Tories, targeting the disabled for death. But done quietly, so as not to alarm the general public. After reading about Young’s very real support for eugenics, you could be forgiven for wondering if this isn’t, after all, the literal truth.

The Tories are a danger to the working people of Britain, and particularly to the poor and disabled. They should be removed as quickly as possible, and never let back into power.

Fred Argy: RIP

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/01/2018 - 5:28pm in

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I was rung yesterday by Ida Argy, wife of Fred Argy and she told me that Fred had recently had a stroke from which he did not recover. Fred was rather like my Dad Fred. A Jewish immigrant – Dad was from Austria (via England) and Fred was Egyptian, though I think both were non practicing.

Fred Argy was a lovely guy. Affable, generous both publicly and privately, selfless and self-effacing.

When Fred officially retired he proceeded to write two books on Australian public policy. And he posted 117 posts with various thoughts here on Troppo.

On being told the news I asked Ida to convey my condolences to Stephen his son whom I also knew, though not well, at the PC (then Industry Commission). I was told to my shock that Stephen had died over two years ago in a horrible accident at home. He fell from a ladder, never regaining consciousness. He left his happy marriage and three children. I think it was my (non-Jewish) mother who told me of a Jewish saying that when a child dies before its parents, even God weeps.

My heart goes out to Fred and Stephen’s family.

Below the fold I’ve reproduced a bio I requested from Ida which his daughter Janet recently sent me.

Sadly missed. RIP Fred Argy. 

Freddy (“Fred”) Argy was born on the 13th June, 1931 in Alexandria, Egypt, the third son of Elie and Lina (née Levy) Argy. After his early French cultural upbringing, Fred attended a British school, Victoria College, where he played cricket and came to love British institutions. Fred worked for his father in his cotton futures business before joining his older brothers in Sydney in 1951. Fred, like his brother Victor, worked at the Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance (MLC) during the day and studied as an evening student at Sydney University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (first class honours) in 1956 and a Master of Economics in 1960. While his brother Victor became one of Australia’s most eminent academic economists, Fred pursued a distinguished career in the Commonwealth Public Service as a policy advisor to the federal government.

Senior positions he held included that of Secretary to the influential Campbell Inquiry into the Financial System (1979-81), Deputy Secretary (Labour Economics) of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations (1985-86) and Director of the Office of the Economic Planning Advisory Commission (1986-91). Fred also served as Australian Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris between 1983 and 1985.

After retiring from the Public Service in 1991, Fred continued in a number of public roles. He served as a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission (1991-96), the President of the Economic Society of Australia (1991-93), Project Director of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) (1992-95), a Director of Legal and General Australia (1992-96) and as a member of the government task force on private sector involvement in public infrastructure (1995-96). He was also a Principal Adviser to the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific (1997-98) and a consultant to the Evatt Commission on Government Revenue chaired by Bernie Fraser (1997-98). Fred was Chairman of the Transport Industry Superannuation Fund (2000-01) and a Visiting Fellow in the Graduate Program in Public Policy, Crawford School, Australian National University.

Fred was also the author of a number of influential books and papers, strongly arguing the case for a more equitable and fair Australia while demonstrating that this need not be at the expense of economic efficiency.

Fred’s achievements were recognized with a number of awards. In 1982 he was invested as a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and in 1992 as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). Fred received an Honorary Doctor of Science in Economics, from the University of Sydney in 2003 and was an honorary life member of CEDA and the Economic Society of Australia.

Fred is survived by his wife of 60 years Ida, and their children, grandchildren and great grandchild.

Selected publications

Books:

A long-term economic strategy for Australia, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1992

An Australia that Works: a Vision for the future, CEDA, 1995

Australia at the Crossroads – radical free market or progressive liberalism? Allen & Unwin, Sydney 1998

Where to from here? Australian Egalitarianism under threat, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2003

Book chapters:

Arm’s Length Policy-Making: the Privatization of Economic Policy, in Keating, M., Wanna, J. and P. Waller (eds.) Institutions on the Edge, Allen & Unwin, Sydney 2001.

Liberalism and Economic Policy in Nieuwenhuysen, J., Lloyd, P. and M. Mead (eds.) Reshaping Australia’s economy: growth with equity and sustainability, Cambridge University Press, Victoria, 2001

Economic Governance and National Institutional Dynamics in Stephen Bell (ed.) Economic Governance, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 2002

Journal and other publications:

Presidential address to 1993 Conference of Economists, Economic Papers 13(1): 97-103, 1994

Financial Deregulation: Past Promise, Future Realities, CEDA 1995

The Integration of World Capital Markets: some economic and social implications, Economic Papers, 15(2): 1-19, 1996

Distributional effects of structural change: some policy implications, in Productivity Commission Structural Adjustment: Exploring the Policy Issues, Workshop Proceedings, AusInfo, Canberra, 1999

Infrastructure and Economic Development, CEDA Information Paper no. 60, April.1999

The Liberal Economic Reforms of the last two decades: a review, Australian Journal of Public Administration, 60(3): 66-77, 2001

Economic rationalism in Australia – Survey of members of the Economic Society of Australia, ACT Branch, Economic Papers, 20(1): 1-14, 2001.

Structural fiscal targeting, Graduate program public policy, ANU, Discussion paper 2001.

National Competition Policy: Some issues, Agenda – A Journal of Policy Analysis and Reform, 9(1): 33-46, 2002

The public borrowing straightjacket: does it make sense? Australian Quarterly 75(6): 4-12, 2003

The divisions between contemporary social democrats, Dissent, April 2004

Balancing conflicting goals: the big challenges for governments, Australian Journal of Public Administration, 63(4): 22-28, 2004.

An analysis of joblessness in Australia, Economic Papers 24(1): 75-96, 2005

 

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 08/01/2018 - 12:00am in

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6 Things From The 80s That Are Making A Comeback!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/01/2018 - 1:06am in

THEY say some things never go out of fashion, they just take a break for a while, and that’s certainly true for many of the things we loved from the incredible decade that was the 80s! Fashions, trends and dreads from the 80s are back with a bang… keep an eye out for these 6... Read more »

Declassified Irish Documents: MI5 Tried to Get UVF to Assassinate Charles Haughey

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/01/2018 - 2:43am in

There’s an interesting article in Counterpunch today by John Wight, which might add a new dimension to the government losing around 2,000 files from the National Archives last week. The files were supposed to have been taken out by Home Office civil servants, and covered a range of very sensitive incidents, from the notorious Zinoviev Letter, through to the assassination in the 1970s of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, and the dirty war in Northern Ireland. Human Rights campaigners were alarmed in case this was an attempt to cover up human rights violations by the British state in Ulster in the long campaign against the IRA and related terror groups. The Zinoviev Letter, you will remember, was the forged letter by the British security services, which purported to be from Zinoviev, the head of Stalin’s Comintern, congratulating the Labour party on preparing to take over Britain in a revolution.

A number of Labour MPs have already made their feeling about the disappearance of the files clear, stating that this is another Orwellian attempt by the Tories to rewrite or obscure history.

It is, and this isn’t the first time the Tories have borrowed sensitive files to make sure they’re out of circulation. Anyone remember a similar incident a few years ago, when government documents similarly went missing from the archives, only for the minister responsible to claim that he had just ‘innocently’ taken them away to help him with a book he was writing? I didn’t believe that story then. The Tories have offered no excuse now, which does make you wonder what they’re trying to hide.

Some clue to this comes from Irish government documents from the 1980s that have been released under their 30-year rule. This includes a letter from the Protestant terrorist group, the UVF, to Charles Haughey, informing him that they were approached by an MI5 officer, who wished them to assassinate the Irish president. John Wight in his article about this in today’s Counterpunch writes

Said papers confirm that in 1987 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), one of the oldest and most notorious of the various loyalist/Protestant paramilitary organizations that were engaged in sectarian violence in the province during the Troubles, wrote to the then Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey in Dublin, informing him that in 1985 they were approached by Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, with a request to assassinate him.

We learn that in the letter the UVF told Mr Haughey, “In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and based in Lisburn, AlexJones was his supposed name. He asked us to execute you.” The letter subsequently goes on to allege that Britain’s MI5 supplied the group with information such as pictures of Haughey’s home, his private yacht, and details of the vehicles he travelled in.

The UVF refused follow through on MI5’s request, telling Mr Haughey, “We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/03/britains-dirty-war-in-ireland-revisited/

In fact, MI5 and the British government probably weren’t the only ones making covert plans to overthrow the opposite side. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s, Lobster covered a piece in the Irish Republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, which claimed that there had been a scheme during Haughey’s premiership to stir up sectarian violence in order to provide a pretext for an invasion of Ulster from the Republic. The plan was that after rioting and sectarian violence, armed forces from the south would enter the Six Countries as a peace-keeping force. If this is also true, then nobody, on either side of the Irish border, ends up looking good. Or anything other than deeply duplicitous and murderous.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the British state was supplying intelligence to the loyalist terror gangs, so that they could assassinate leading Republicans, as Wight’s article goes on to discuss. And there is also evidence that secret SAS units were being embedded within regular army units in Northern Ireland to act as death squads. All of which makes it very clear that there’s much in the files that this Tory government would very, very much want to hide.

Mike has already suggested that a way to stop files going missing in the future would be for the National Archives to be run like a proper library: those borrowing books have a ticket, and it is known who has borrowed what, and that they must return it on time. I completely agree, but this is too efficient, and would prevent the government from having a convenient pretext with which to lose files when their contents prove inconvenient.

And the government’s behaviour in this respect is very much like the Russian authorities during the old Communist system. Foreign researchers were at liberty to use files in the Soviet archives. However, if you wanted something sensitive or incriminating, you’d be told that those files were out. Which sounds exactly like what has been going on here.

Torquemada: 2000 AD’s ‘Ultimate Fascist’ and a Prediction of the Rise of the Brextremists, Kippers and Trump

As you’ve probably gather from reading my previous posts about art robot Kevin O’Neill, I was and am a big fan of the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip that ran in 2000 AD from 1980 through the 1990s. The villain of the piece was Torquemada, the former chief of the Tube police on an Earth thousands of years in the future. Outraged by the interbreeding between humans and their alien subjects, Torquemada overthrew the last, debauched emperor, founding an order of viciously genocidal knights, the Terminators. The construction of the linked White and Black Hole bypasses, giving Earth instant access to the Galaxy, also created terrible temporal catastrophes, resulting in creatures from even further into the future appearing in the present. These included the terrible gooney birds, giant predatory Concorde aircraft, which fed on the trains and anything else that travelled over Earth’s devastated surface. Torquemada and his Terminators blamed these disasters on aliens, killed human scientists and engineers, leading humanity into a new Dark Age. The Human race retreated underground, where the Terminators told them they would be safe from the terrible aliens threatening them. Terra was renamed ‘Termight’ – ‘Mighty Terra’, though Mills also gave it the name because the underground society resembled a massive termites’ nest. And Torquemada set up a corrupt, Fascistic, quasi-feudal society, which also included Orwellian elements from the classic 1984.

Pitched against Torquemada was the hero, Nemesis, an alien warlock. Horned and hooved, with magical powers, he resembled the Devil, and at one point, in conversation with his mad, cruel uncle Baal, he explicitly states that his powers are satanic. Nemesis is also the head of Credo, a human resistance movement dedicated to overthrowing Torquemada and restoring freedom and interspecies tolerance to Earth. Also resisting humanity’s aggressive expansion and extermination of other intelligent races were the Cabal, an alliance of various alien worlds.

The strip was possibly one of the weirdest 2000 AD had run, and was too weird for editor Kevin Gosnell, who hated it. But it was massively popular, at one point even rivalling the mighty Judge Dredd. Torquemada became British comics’ most popular villain, winning that category in the Eagle Award four years in a row. He was so popular that in the end I heard that they stopped submitting or accepting the character, in order to let others have a chance.

Torquemada speaks on the radio, in the strip that launched the character and Nemesis, ‘Going Underground’.

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about the strip. I still like it, but I’m not entirely comfortable with a hero, who has explicitly satanic characteristics, nor the villains, who are very much in the style of medieval Christian crusaders. Mills and O’Neill had had the misfortune to suffer brutal Roman Catholic education, and Mills states that where he grew up, everyone involved in the Roman Catholic establishment was corrupt. Everyone. They poured everything they hated about the bigotry and cruelty they had seen and experienced into the strip.

From a historians’ perspective, it’s not actually fair on the Roman Catholic church. Yes, medieval Christianity persecuted Jews, heretics and witches, and warred against Islam. But the great age of witch-hunting was in the 17th century, and cut across faith boundaries. Prof. Ronald Hutton, a History lecturer at Bristol Uni, who has studied the history of witchcraft and its modern revival – see his book Triumph of the Moon – has pointed out that the German Protestant states killed more witches than the Roman Catholics. And those accused of witchcraft in Italy had far better legal protection in the 16th century than those in Henry VIII’s England. You had a right to a lawyer and proper legal representation. If you couldn’t afford one, the court would appoint one for you. Torture was either outlawed, or very strictly regulated. There was a period of 50 years when the Holy Office was actually shut, because there were so few heretics and witches to hunt down.

As for the equation between medieval Roman Catholicism and Fascism, a graduate student, who taught medieval studies got annoyed at this glib stereotype. it kept being repeated by their students, and was historically wrong. This student came from a Protestant background, but was more or less a secular atheist, although one who appreciated the best of medieval Christian literature.

Underneath the personal experiences of Mills and O’Neill, the strip’s depiction of a future feudal society was also influenced by Protestant anti-Catholic polemic, and the theories of the 19th century French liberal, anti-Christian writer, Charles Michelet. It was Michelet, who first proposed that the witch-hunts were an attempt by patriarchal Christianity to wipe out an indigenous, matriarchal folk paganism. It’s a view that has strongly influenced feminist ecopaganism, although academic scholars like Hutton, and very many pagans have now rejected it as historically untrue.

The robes and masks worn by the Terminators recalled not only those worn by Spanish Catholic penitents during the Easter Day processions, but also the Klan, who are an Protestant organisation, which hates Roman Catholics as well Jews and Blacks.

There’s also the influence of John Wyndham’s classic SF novel, The Chrysalids. This is set in Labrador centuries in the future, after a nuclear war has devastated much of the world, except for a few isolated spots of civilisation. Society has regressed to that of 17th century Puritanism. The survivors are waging a war to restore and maintain the original form of their crops, animals and themselves. Mutants, including humans, are examined and destroyed at birth. As with the Terminators, their clothing is embroidered with religious symbols. In this case a cross. Just as Torquemada denounces aliens as ‘deviants’, so do the leaders of this puritanical regime describe human mutants. And like the pro-alien humans in Nemesis, a woman bearing a mutant child is suspected and punished for her perceived sexual deviancy.

In fact, the underlying anti-religious, anti-Christian elements in the strip didn’t bother me at the time. Mike and myself went to an Anglican church school here in Bristol, though the teaching staff also included people from other Christian denominations such as Methodism and Roman Catholicism. They had a real horror of sectarian bigotry and violence, sharpened by the war in Northern Ireland, and were keenly aware that Christians had done terrible things in the name of religion. I can remember hearing a poem on this subject, The Devil Carried a Crucifix, regularly being recited at school assembly, and the headmaster and school chaplain preaching explicitly against bigotry. At the same time, racial prejudice was also condemned. I can remember one poem, which denounced the colour bar in one of its lines, repeatedly turning up in the end of year services held at the church to which the school was attached.

I also have Roman Catholic relatives and neighbours, who were great people. They were committed to their face, but also bitterly opposed to sectarian bigotry and violence. And the Roman Catholic clergy serving my bit of Bristol were decent men and women, though some of those in other areas were much more sectarian. I’ve Protestant friends, who went on to study RE at a Roman Catholic college. Their experience was not Mills’ and O’Neill’s, though I also had relatives, who were estranged from the Church because they had suffered the same kind of strict, and violently repressive Roman Catholic education that they had.

But Torquemada and the Terminators were far from being a veiled comment on atrocities committed by medieval Roman Catholicism. Torquemada modelled himself on Tomas de Torquemada, the leader of the Spanish Inquisition, whose bloody work he so much admired. But he also explicitly styled himself as the supreme Fascist. By fostering humanity’s hatred of aliens, he hoped to unite the human race so that they didn’t fight each other over differences in colour. But the character was also supposed to be the reincarnation of every persecuting bigot in European and American history. In one story, Torquemada becomes seriously ill, breaking out in vast, festering boils, because Nemesis’ lost son, Thoth, has used the tunnels dug by the Tube engineers to channel away the destructive energies of the White and Black Hole bypasses, to travel backwards in time to kill Torquemada’s previous incarnations. These include Adolf Hitler, natch, one of the notoriously murderous American cavalry officers, responsible for the butchery of innocent indigenous Americans in the Indian Wars, and finally Torquemada himself. Torquemada therefore travelled back in time to confront his former incarnation, and save himself from Thoth.

This was followed by another story, in which Torquemada himself travelled forward to the 20th century. Infected with time energy, Torquemada caused temporal disruptions and catastrophes in the London of the present. He found himself a job as a rack-renting landlord, before founding a Fascist political party. Using Brits’ fears that these disasters were caused by aliens, he became a successful politician and was elected to Number 10.

And one of Torque’s previous incarnations, recovered by Brother Mikron, his pet superscientist, using advanced technological hypnotic regression, was very familiar to British readers with an awareness of the history of Fascism in their country.

Torquemada as Hitler, and very Mosley-esque British Far Right politician. From Prog 524, 30th May 1987.

In the above page, Brother Mikron recovers Torquemada’s past incarnation as Hitler, but only after encountering a later incarnation, in which Torquemada was Sir Edwin Munday, the British prime minister, and leader of the New Empire Party. Munday/Torquemada goes off an a rant on public television, shouting

‘I’ll solve the youth problem! We’ll make our children respectable again! – with compulsory short back and sides! The return of National Service! Order and discipline’.

His name clearly recalls that of the far right, anti-immigration Monday Club in the Tory party, which was at the centre of continuing scandals during the 70s and 80s over the racism of some of its members, the most notorious of whom was Thatcher’s cabinet minister, Norman Tebbit. As a member of the aristocracy, Munday also draws on Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists and later Fascist movements.

Mosley unfurling his Fascist banner in the ’30s.

The rhetoric about youth is also very much that of the Tories around Maggie Thatcher, who really didn’t like long-haired liberals, hippies, punks and the other youth movements, who had sprung up at the time. They were calling for the return of National Service to stop the rise in youth crime and delinquency.

And this is now very much the attitude of the Kippers and Brextremists over here, who really do hanker after the old days of the British Empire, with all its pomp and authoritarianism. The last thing that incarnation of Torquemada says is

‘We’ll make our country great again!’

This is also based on the rhetoric of the Tories at the time, in which Thatcher was credited with turning around Britain’s decline and restoring her to her glory. In the general election that year, the Tory party election broadcasts showed old footage of Spitfires and Hurricanes racing around the sky shooting down Nazi planes, while an overexcited actor exclaimed ‘It’s great – to be great again!’

No, she didn’t make us great. She wrecked our economy and welfare state, and sold everything off to foreign firms, all the while ranting hypocritically about how she represented true British patriotism.

But it also recalls Trump’s rhetoric last year, during his election campaign. When he announced ‘We’ll make America great again!’ And he’s gone on to use the same neoliberalism as Reagan, Thatcher, and successive Democrat and New Labour leaders, backed with racist rhetoric and legislation supported by White supremacists.

Torquemada was one of 2000 AD’s greatest comments on sectarian bigotry and racism, with Torquemada as its very explicit symbol. Even after three decades, it’s central message about the nature of Fascism, imperialism and colonialism, and the western hankering for its return, remains acutely relevant.

RT Shows Clip of Triple Suns Seen in China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/12/2017 - 7:17pm in

This is a bit of fun and Fortean weirdness to cheer people up after the gloom and chaos of the seasonal weather and the continuing Tory destruction of the NHS, the economy, and everything decent in our society. A couple of days ago, RT put up this very short video of the triple suns seen in the sky over Hailun City. The blurb for the video states that it mesmerised the residents, and appeared at about half eight in the morning.

It’s an illusion, of course, which the RT blurb duly mentions. I think these type of illusions are called Sundogs, or parhelion. The large, middle sun is the real sun, whose light is refracted by ice or water crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus creating the illusion that there are two smaller suns either side of it. It’s been seen several times in history. I think one appearance is recorded in one of the medieval chronicles for the 12/13th centuries, where three suns were seen by the people of one particular county in England.

I have read attempts to explain the strange creatures seen by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel as sundogs. When these appeared in the sky before him, they were travelling in strange vehicles like wheels, which also had other wheels revolving within them. This doesn’t actually sound like a sundog to me, and I think the incident is far better explained as a visionary experience. Of course, the UFO crowd have also tried to claim that what Ezekiel saw were really visiting extraterrestrials in their spaceships, following the theories of Von Daniken and the like. I really don’t believe that explanation either. Von Daniken’s ideas have been massively influential in promoting the ‘ancient astronaut’ hypothesis – that Earth has been visited throughout its history by aliens. But it’s also been extensively critiqued itself. Von Daniken got much of his facts wrong, and misinterpreted the archaeological and anthropological evidence he used to support his ideas.

But whatever your view of visiting aliens and UFOs, I think we can all enjoy this strange and weirdly beautiful spectacle.

The terrible price of austerity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/12/2017 - 1:55pm in


In August 2014, I wrote this post arguing that harsh austerity during the Depression caused Hitler's rise to power. At the time, my argument seemed controversial, at least in Germany. There, it is not the austerity of 1930-32 that is blamed, but the debt-driven hyperinflation of a decade earlier. Germans remain terrified of both inflation and debt to this day.

I am certainly not the only person to identify a causative link between austerity and Hitler. Here is Paul Krugman slapping down Eduardo Porter in 2015, for example:

Yes, there was a hyperinflation in 1923, which may have helped radicalize German politics. But the proximate factor in Hitler's rise to power was the great deflation of the 1930s, brought on by a disastrous attempt to stay on gold. 

Disastrously staying on gold might of course have been due to the recent experience of hyperinflation. In 2014, when Bulgaria was unable to pay insured depositors for six months after a bank failure, the central bank refused to relax the Euro peg so that the necessary money could be created. When I asked why, my Bulgarian friends reminded me that Bulgaria had suffered hyperinflation in 1996. "If the central bank printed money, there would be riots in the streets," they said. The scars of hyperinflation can take a very long time to heal.

But Chancellor Brüning's austerity policies went far beyond keeping interest rates high to stay on the gold standard and stem capital flight. A series of draconian fiscal budgets imposed severe spending cuts and tax rises:


The degree of fiscal consolidation achieved by these decrees, and the speed of the adjustment, was remarkable:

But there was an ulterior motive for this harsh austerity programme. Embedded in the "Second Emergency Fiscal and Economic Decree" of 5th June 1931 is a "reparations proclamation" that announced that "the limits of what the German people can tolerate have been reached". Brüning, it seems, wanted to engender desperate hardship among the German population in order to persuade the Allied powers to cancel the WWI reparations. And he succeeded. The reparations were suspended in 1931 and cancelled in the Lausanne conference of June-July 1932. Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933. Contrary to popular opinion, therefore, neither the 1923 hyperinflation nor the WWI reparations were the direct cause of Hitler's rise to power.

So what was? Well, unemployment was shockingly high, touching 30% in 1932:


chart from Willi Albers, 'Handwörterbuch der Wirtschaftswissenschaft, Band 9, 1982, ISBN 3-525-10260-7, p. 85, CC BY 1.0, via Wikipedia

Maybe the German people, sick of unemployment and poverty, voted for Hitler because he promised relief from austerity?

According to a new research paper (pdf, gated) that's exactly what happened:

With dashed hopes and a loss of faith in the Weimar Republic, fury and despair were channelled into the ranks of populists and demagogues, with the Nazi party campaigning against austerity and offering promises for a new era of prosperity. 

But wait. It wasn't the poor and the unemployed who voted for Hitler:

In fact, much of the growth in support for the Nazi party came from the middle classes, who were fearful of the Communists. The Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD) had achieved 16.9% of the vote by November 1932 (about 100 seats out of 584 in the Reichstag). The Nazis also received support from elites. During the 1920s, those with the highest incomes lost income more quickly than those at the bottom (Adena et al. 2015; Piketty 2014; Satyanath et al. 2017; Schreiner 1932). It was not that Hitler did not try to appeal to the unemployed masses, but rather that the Communist Party was perceived as the party that traditionally represented workers’ interests. Ultimately, Hitler’s attempts to attract the unemployed were ineffective (King et al. 2008; Petzina 1977).

The Nazis were a party of the middle and upper classes.

This was a surprise to me. I thought that unemployment was the principal reason why people turned to the Nazis. But the researchers found that unemployment growth was negatively correlated with support for the Nazis. In other words, Nazi support grew when unemployment was falling.

It seems that the real driver was the sharp fiscal consolidation imposed by Chancellor Brüning. Draconian spending cuts, tax rises and deliberately deflationary policies in a severely depressed economy had dramatic political effects (my emphasis):

We find that austerity measures are correlated with the rise of the Nazi party in interwar Germany, offering econometric support for the argument that austerity created polarization and radicalisation of the German electorate. Each 1 standard deviation increase in fiscal consolidation was associated with between 2 and 5 percentage point increase in votes to the Nazis or up to one quarter or one half of one standard deviation of the dependent variable.

Yes, I know - correlation isn't causation, and all that. But it clearly isn't possible for causation to be the other way round, and although there could be other drivers, the hurt caused by austerity is a rational explanation for rising Nazi votes. "Austerity caused the rise of Hitler" is a reasonable working hypothesis.

But we know that fiscal consolidation tends to affect the poor the most. So why did it cause better-off Germans to vote for extremists?

Better-off they may have been, compared to the poor and the unemployed, but they didn't see it that way. They resented government policies that cut their wages, raised their taxes and reduced their pensions and benefits when they were already suffering because of the economic depression. And they also resented those who were poorer than them, because the really poor received some government support, while they got nothing:

.....austerity measures contributed to votes for the Nazi party among middle- and upper-classes who, despite the depth of the Depression (i.e., after controlling for the level of output and employment) still had something to lose and may have resented government austerity in the face of Depression (a pocket book motive) and while other segments of society received benefits from relief or automatic stabilizers. 

They were what Theresa May dubbed the "Just About Managing", and I have called the "in-betweeners".  They bore the full brunt of tax rises, spending cuts, the deliberate wage-price deflation imposed by Brüning, the extremely tight monetary policy needed to maintain the gold standard and the effects of the Depression itself. They weren't wealthy enough to weather the storm unscathed, but they were too well-off to receive any support. And the public services on which they relied were being cut to the bone. They saw no future for themselves or those they loved. They became angry and desperate - and desperate people are cannon fodder for extremists.

Perceptive as ever, John Maynard Keynes warned in 1932 (emphasis in original):

....many people in Germany have nothing to look forward to – nothing except a ‘change’, something wholly vague and wholly undefined, but a change.

Now where have we heard something very like this recently?

The Nazi party certainly offered a change. It campaigned on an anti-austerity manifesto, promising generous pensions, infrastructure investment (notably roads) and restoration of welfare benefits. The Communist party had a similar manifesto, of course, but the German middle classes were frightened of the Communists. So they fled to the Nazis in droves. By the time Brüning was replaced with a less austerity-minded Von Papen in 1932, it was already too late to save the Weimar republic - and the lives of 60 million people.

Of course, the researchers warn that there may also be other reasons why better-off Germans turned to the Nazis, including anti-semitism. Humans are complex creatures: there is seldom one single reason for the rise of a populist movement. But the terrible folly of imposing austerity in a deeply depressed economy seems clear.

And therein lies the warning for today. Austerity policies in a depressed economy cause political crisis:

....even when the particular history of a country precludes a populist extreme-right option, austerity policies are likely to produce an intense rejection of the established political parties, with the subsequent dramatic alteration of the political order.

In the UK, years of foolish, harmful and wholly unnecessary austerity policies - about which I and many others repeatedly warned - have already plunged the country into deep political crisis. Brexit is no accident: a straight line can be traced from the financial crisis, through the years of stagnation and austerity, to the rise of UKIP and ultimately to the Brexit vote. A deep fault line has opened up, fracturing the political system and undermining the UK's system of representative parliamentary democracy.Today's politics is driven not by Left versus Right, but by Leave versus Remain, or as David Goodhart would have it, the "somewheres" versus the "anywheres". And the damage to the social fabric of the UK is already evident. Families are split, friends lost, relationships broken. Where will this end? I do not know.

The US, too, is in political crisis. There, the fracture is more external than internal. The world's hegemon is threatening to abandon globalisation and adopt 1930s-style protectionist trade practices. The consequences for world trade, and indeed for world peace, could be serious indeed.

The EU has yet to suffer its political crisis. But it will come. The researchers observe that the EU appears to be repeating the mistakes of the 1930s. And they warn:

The case of Weimar Germany explored in this article provides a timely example that imposing much austerity and too many punitive conditions can not only be self-defeating, but can also unleash a series of unintended political consequences, with truly unpredictable and potentially tragic results. 

Learn from your history, Europe, before it is too late. Unless there is radical loosening of the fiscal straitjacket into which too many countries have been tied, your political crisis, when it comes, will be terrible indeed.

Related reading:

The Worst Political Storm In Years
Austerity and the rise of populism
Anti-nationalism
When the world turns dark
What have we learned from history?
Study: austerity helped the Nazis to come to power - Vox
The chilling irony of German austerity - The Week

Image is from The Week. 

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