Tuesday, February 28, 2017


from The Inquisitor :

Noam Chomsky, a distinguished professor of linguistics at MIT and a long-time political activist, has called for a “militant labor movement” in the United States to revitalize American politics and take on the Donald Trump administration and the rest of the corporate-owned political establishment.
In a recent Alternet interview, Noam Chomsky explains the rise of right-wing populist movements in Britain and the United States that led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as largely a reaction to the failures of neoliberal policies of the past several decades to improve the lives of working-class people. In fact, these policies have only served to concentrate wealth in the hands of the rich, increase inflation, and keep wages low. In this light, it’s no mystery why people are looking to new solutions.
Noam Chomsky told the interviewer that neoliberal programs “have just cast a huge number of people to the side. These programs have improved corporate profit, kept wages stagnant, and highly concentrated wealth and power. They’ve undermined democracy.”

2016 militant labor movement 2017
Striking workers in 2016. [Image by David McNew/Getty Images]

Chomsky goes on to explain that neoliberal policies in place since the late 1970s in the United States have created a situation where the extremely wealthy are reaping huge rewards while many in the working class are struggling to get ahead. Chomsky explains support for Trump as a function of resentment by certain segments of the population for policies they see as elevating those who haven’t worked as hard as they have while doing nothing to help them increase their quality of life.
“Trump supporters are not necessarily very poor—some of them are moderately well-off, they have jobs, but then, the image that’s been used, which is not a bad one, I think, is that they are people who see themselves as standing in line trying to get ahead. That they’ve worked hard, they’ve ‘done’ their place in line, and they’re stuck there. The people ahead of them are shooting off into the stratosphere, and the people behind them, in their view, are being pushed ahead in the line by the federal government. That’s what the federal government does [in their view]—it takes people who are behind them and who haven’t worked hard enough they way they have, and pushes them ahead by some supportive programs.”
According to the IndependentNoam Chomsky had previously discussed the failure of the Democratic Party to appeal to working class voters by highlighting a need for a “militant labor movement” in the United States, which could appeal to working-class voters let down by empty calls for “hope and change” from Barack Obama and other neoliberal Democrats. Speaking before the crowd at Democracy Now’s 20th-anniversary event in December of last year, Chomsky explained that the seeds of such a movement have already been planted in the movement to elect Bernie Sanders as President in 2016.
“Suppose people like you, the Sanders movement, offered an authentic, constructive program for real hope and change, it would win these people back,” Chomsky said.
“I think many of the Trump voters could have voted for Sanders if there had been the right kind of activism and organization. and those are possibilities. It’s been done in the past under much harsher circumstances.”
Noam Chomsky is correct in recognizing that it has historically been labor movements, and not power-players in the political establishment, who have been the most successful in advancing the interests of the American working-class.

labor movement strike
Striking auto workers in 2008. [Image by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images]

According to Worker’s Compass, the labor movement in the early 1950’s did not have a serious ally in Democratic President Harry Truman. Worker solidarity at the time played a large role in advancing the cause of worker’s rights, often in spite of efforts by Truman and the Democrats to counter the labor movement’s goals.
“In 1950 Democrat President Truman tried to smash a strike of 100,000 miners by invoking the Taft-Hartley Act (legislation that greatly restricted strikes),” the article says. “In protest, 270,000 additional miners joined the strike. Soon the mine owners backed down, and the miners won a substantial wage increase.”
Truman, who initially tried to veto the Taft-Hartley Act, nevertheless invoked the law a total of 61 times during his administration, and in 1951, President Truman raised taxes on working people by 12 percent while raising taxes on millionaires by only one percent. This type of duplicitous, anti-worker action continues to haunt the Democratic Party today, whose neoliberal Presidents Clinton and Obama don’t seem very much different from Ronald Reagan in terms of attitudes toward policies to strengthen the working poor and the middle class.
A militant labor movement in the United States, as Noam Chomsky advocates, could go a long way in challenging the pro-corporate neoliberalism that has dominated both parties in American government since the Reagan administration.

Monday, February 27, 2017

School of Life Monday: Why Introspection Matters

Most of our mistakes come down to one crucial error: our failure to understand ourselves well enough. That’s why we need to learn the art of introspection.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Frightened by Donald Trump? You don’t know the half of it - George Monbiot

from The Guardian

Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, like other members of Trump’s team, came from a group called Americans for Prosperity.
 Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, like other members of Trump’s team, came from a group called Americans for Prosperity. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Images
Yes, Donald Trump’s politics are incoherent. But those who surround him know just what they want, and his lack of clarity enhances their power. To understand what is coming, we need to understand who they are. I know all too well, because I have spent the past 15 years fighting them.
Over this time, I have watched as tobacco, coal, oil, chemicals and biotech companies have poured billions of dollars into an international misinformation machine composed of thinktanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Its purpose is to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.
I first encountered the machine when writing about climate change. The fury and loathing directed at climate scientists and campaigners seemed incomprehensible until I realised they were fake: the hatred had been paid for. The bloggers and institutes whipping up this anger were funded by oil and coal companies.
Among those I clashed with was Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI calls itself a thinktank, but looks to me like a corporate lobbying group. It is not transparent about its funding, but we now know it has received $2m from ExxonMobilmore than $4m from a group called the Donors Trust (which represents various corporations and billionaires), $800,000 from groups set up by the tycoons Charles and David Koch, and substantial sums from coal, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.
For years, Ebell and the CEI have attacked efforts to limit climate change, through lobbying, lawsuits and campaigns. An advertisement released by the institute had the punchline “Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution. We call it life.”
It has sought to eliminate funding for environmental education, lobbied against the Endangered Species Act, harried climate scientists and campaigned in favour of mountaintop removal by coal companies. In 2004, Ebell sent a memo to one of George W Bush’s staffers calling for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to be sacked. Where is Ebell now? Oh – leading Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Charles and David Koch – who for years have funded extreme pro-corporate politics – might not have been enthusiasts for Trump’s candidacy, but their people were all over his campaign. Until June, Trump’s campaign manager was Corey Lewandowski, who like other members of Trump’s team came from a group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP).
This purports to be a grassroots campaign, but it was founded and funded by the Koch brothers. It set up the first Tea Party Facebook page and organised the first Tea Party events. With a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, AFP has campaigned ferociously on issues that coincide with the Koch brothers’ commercial interests in oil, gas, minerals, timber and chemicals.
In Michigan, it helped force through the “right to work bill”, in pursuit of what AFP’s local director called “taking the unions out at the knees”. It has campaigned nationwide against action on climate change. It has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into unseating the politicians who won’t do its bidding and replacing them with those who will.
I could fill this newspaper with the names of Trump staffers who have emerged from such groups: people such as Doug Domenech, from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, funded among others by the Koch brothers, Exxon and the Donors Trust; Barry Bennett, whose Alliance for America’s Future (now called One Nation) refused to disclose its donors when challenged; and Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, funded by Exxon and others. This is to say nothing of Trump’s own crashing conflicts of interest. Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of the lobbyists and corporate stooges working in Washington. But it looks as if the only swamps he’ll drain will be real ones, as his team launches its war on the natural world.
Understandably, there has been plenty of coverage of the racists and white supremacists empowered by Trump’s victory. But, gruesome as they are, they’re peripheral to the policies his team will develop. It’s almost comforting, though, to focus on them, for at least we know who they are and what they stand for. By contrast, to penetrate the corporate misinformation machine is to enter a world of mirrors. Spend too long trying to understand it, and the hyporeality vortex will inflict serious damage on your state of mind.
Don’t imagine that other parts of the world are immune. Corporate-funded thinktanks and fake grassroots groups are now everywhere. The fake news we should be worried about is not stories invented by Macedonian teenagers about Hillary Clinton selling arms to Islamic State, but the constant feed of confected scares about unions, tax and regulation drummed up by groups that won’t reveal their interests.
The less transparent they are, the more airtime they receive. The organisation Transparify runs an annual survey of thinktanks. This year’s survey reveals that in the UK only four thinktanks – the Adam Smith Institute, Centre for Policy Studies, Institute of Economic Affairs and Policy Exchange – “still consider it acceptable to take money from hidden hands behind closed doors”. And these are the ones that are all over the media.
When the Institute of Economic Affairs, as it so often does, appears on the BBC to argue against regulating tobacco, shouldn’t we be told that it has been funded by tobacco companies since 1963There’s a similar pattern in the US: the most vocal groups tend to be the most opaque.
As usual, the left and centre (myself included) are beating ourselves up about where we went wrong. There are plenty of answers, but one of them is that we have simply been outspent. Not by a little, but by orders of magnitude. A few billion dollars spent on persuasion buys you all the politics you want. Genuine campaigners, working in their free time, simply cannot match a professional network staffed by thousands of well-paid, unscrupulous people.
You cannot confront a power until you know what it is. Our first task in this struggle is to understand what we face. Only then can we work out what to do.
 Twitter: @GeorgeMonbiot. A fully linked version of this column will be published at monbiot.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


from Dangerous Minds:


Well now, I suppose you could call it art out of chaos. That in a sequinned nutshell is the story behind Sweet‘s “The Ballrooom Blitz.” For glam rock’s catchiest trashiest most lovable song was inspired by a riot that saw the band bottled off the stage at the Grand Hall, Palace Theater, Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1973. Boys spat and hurled abuse while girls screamed their loudest to drown out the music. Hardly the kind of welcome one would expect for a pop group best known for their million selling singles “Little Willy,” “Wig-Wam Bam” and of course their number one smash “Block Buster.”
Why this literal teenage rampage (the title of another Sweet hit) ever occurred and what caused such unwarranted and let’s be frank unnecessary violence against such four lovable glam rockers has been the focus of much speculation over the years. 
One suggestion was the band’s androgynous nay effeminate appearance in figure-hugging clothes, eye-shadow, glitter, long hair and lipstick—in particular the gorgeous bass player Steve Priest—was all too much for the sexually binary lads and lassies o’ Killie.
Bass player Priest thinks so and has said as much in his autobiography Are You Ready Steve? But this does raise the question as to why an audience of teenage Sweet-haters would pay their hard-earned pocket money to go and see a bunch of overtly camp rockers they hated? 
Money was tight. After all this was 1973 when the country was beset by cash shortages, food shortages, strike action, power cuts and three-day work weeks. People couldn’t afford to waste their readies on some pseudo queer bashing.
Moreover, homosexuality was out and proud, Rocky Horror was on the stage, Bowie was the androgynous Ziggy Stardust, teen magazines were giving boys make-up tips, and the #1 youth program was the BBC’s music show Top of the Pops—on which Sweet appeared to have a weekly residency.
Another possible reason for such fury was the virulent rumor Sweet didn’t play their instruments and were just a “manufactured” band like The Monkees. This story gained credence as the famous song-writing duo of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who wrote and produced Sweet’s hit singles were well-known to prefer using session musicians to actual members of a given group. It was just easier and faster to leave it to the pros.
The sliver of truth in this well-known rumor was the fact Sweet only sang on their first three Chinn-Chapman singles “Funny, Funny”, “Co-Co” and “Poppa Joe”. It wasn’t until the fourth “Little Willy” that Chinn and Chapman realized Sweet were in fact waybetter musicians than any hired hand and so allowed the band to do what they did best—play their own instruments.

Give us a wink…

Chinn and Chapman may have blessed Sweet with their Midas hit-making skills but it came at a price. This unfortunately meant the band was dismissed by London’s snobbish music press as sugar-coated pop for the saccharine generation. A harsh and unfair assessment. But this may also have added to the audience’s ire.
In an effort to redefine themselves with the public Sweet also tended to avoid playing their best known teenybopper hits when on tour. Instead they liked to perform their own compositions—the lesser known album tracks—and a set of standard rock covers. A band veering from the songbook of hits (no matter how great the material) was asking for trouble. As Freddie Mercury once said after Queen made their comeback at Live Aid, “always give the audience what they want.”
But it was the album tracks that gave Sweet and glam rock itself its distinct sound. The credit for this must go to Andy Scott’s guitar playing (his six-string prowess was often favorably compared to the talents of Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), Steve Priest’s powerful bass and harmonizing vocals, and Mick Tucker’s inspirational drums (just listen to the way he references Sandy Nelson’s “Let There Be Drums” in “The Ballroom Blitz”). Add in Brian Connolly’s vocals and it is apparent Sweet were a band with talents greater than the sum of their bubble gum hits might indicate.


So what went wrong?
If ever there was a tale of a band making a pact with the Devil for some top ten hits then the rise and fall of Sweet is that story. A tale of talent, excess, fame, money, frustration and then the slow decline into alcohol, back-taxes, ill health, early death and disaster. 
Half of the band is now tragically dead. In the mid-seventies, Connolly was badly beaten-up outside a pub in Staines—an attack that permanently damaged his singing voice. He later survived fourteen heart attacks brought on by his alcoholism and drug use. He ended his days playing holiday camps with his version of Sweet. 
The hugely underrated drummer Tucker sadly succumbed to cancer in 2002.
The two remaining members Priest and Scott allegedly don’t speak to each other. They perform on two different continents with their own versions of The Sweet. Priestwho lives in California tours America. While Scott who still lives in England tours Europe—he is currently on his “Last Encore Tour.”
This is the real world of pop success.
Yet I doubt they would ever change a thing. And I doubt the fans would ever let them. 
But back to that night in a theater in Kilmarnock when the man at the back said everyone attack and the room turned into a ballroom blitz. Whatever the cause of the chaos it gave glam rock a work of art—and Sweet one of their finest ever songs.

Bonus: ‘All That Glitters’—24-hours in the day of the life Sweet filmed in 1973.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Welcome to dystopia –
George Orwell experts on Donald Trump

from The Guardian (UK)

George Orwell

 ‘In Orwell’s Animal Farm, Squealer the propagandist porker can ‘turn black into white’.’ Photograph: Mondadori/Getty Images
Jean Seaton: The seeds were sown during the George W Bush era
Jean Seaton.
Reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four again, now, hurts. And I’m not the only one to be revisiting it: sales of the book have soared in the past week. What you had previously thought you read at a cool, intellectual distance (a great book about “over there”, somewhere in the past or future) now feels intimate, bitter and shocking. Orwell is writing of now when he writes, “Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”
Of course, we all have to keep our heads (especially we have to keep our heads). The lies about the crowd size at Donald Trump’s inauguration by the hapless White House spokesman Sean Spicer at his first briefing were not earth-shattering. But any lie from this podium is deeply unsettling. Any hopes that Trump or his team were, underneath it all, “normal” rightwingers, have dissipated.
The post-truth era certainly shares aspects of the dystopian world of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Michael Gove’s infamous comment that Britain has had enough of experts is just one step away from 2+2 = 5. In the interrogation scene in 1984 this is the most appalling moment: before now we read it as a ludicrous indictment of the rejection of reality (surely, we conclude, the party itself must know that 2+2 = 4; science, machines all depend on it). In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the elite, personified by O’Brien, foster and control this willingness to believe one thing one day, and one thing another. Now, it seems, the party itself may believe the lie. As Orwell writes: “Science, in the old sense, had almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for science.”

Then there is privacy – Orwell puts the diary and the private self at the heart of his writing. In 1984, keeping a diary is Winston’s first act of transgression. Orwell knew that authoritarian regimes want the heart and soul of people. His two-way telescreens predict social media. And we have, perhaps unwittingly, wandered into a world where feelings have never been more easily swayed: Trump summons them up personally and directly. In the book, Winston is suddenly struck that his mother’s death, “had been tragic and sorrowful in a way that was no longer possible … She had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable.” It could no longer happen because “there were fear, hatred and pain but no dignity of emotion, no deep or complex sorrows”.
But this new world has been a while coming. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” were foreshadowed by the George W Bush adviser who said in 2002 that the new American empire was “creating [its] own reality”. As in the 1930s, war has been at the heart of the corrosion of trust in politicians. The lies over Iraq and the quagmire of Afghanistan were followed by the financial crash of 2008, and bankers’ bonuses – making people far more willing to disbelieve the remote metropolitan media and be drawn to the false dawn promised by Trump.
Yet these are the obvious big lies. There has been a long drift away from rational beliefs that we have watched too passively. Mistrust in facts was sown by the insistence on creationism and climate change denial by politicians and in many US churches. But it’s not just America – in India, government officials say that cows don’t contribute to global warming because they breathe out oxygen. Even universities with their “no platforms” have added yeast to the brew.
Trump is not O’Brien. He is more like a cut-price version of Big Brother himself. Instead of the elite of Nineteen Eighty-Four, who keep Big Brother’s identity a mystery while they keep total control, this Big Brother, with his direct Twitter relationship with his followers, is fully on show. And as Orwell foresaw, his slogan could be “Ignorance is strength

Tim Crook: Trump takes doublethink to a new extreme

Donald Trump and his staff
 ‘I imagine Trump would amuse and horrify him at the same time.’ Photograph: UPI / Bancroft Images

Trump’s first few days of office have been such an explosion of propagandist grapeshot, it’s little wonder many people have been reaching for copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four. His seminal essay Politics and the English Languageshould also go on the emergency reading list.
Orwell said political language can be “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote that this week’s reference by Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway to “alternative facts” means we have “come full Orwell”. But have we?
Orwell certainly would have appreciated how the eruption of populist demagoguery and the Brexit and Trump triumphs have generated a “post-truth” anxiety in the mainstream media. Journalism’s key institutions sense a crisis. Public sphere news and current affairs interpretation is supposed to represent reality to the audience. Orwell said that “realism” used to be called dishonesty, and wrote in his account of the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia, that bombs are impartial because they killed the man they were thrown at, and the man who threw them.
Orwell never set foot in America. But he was an avid critic of its literature and politics, and would have conceded that his attitude to the USA had elements of the very doublethink he dramatised in Nineteen Eighty-Four. While he resented how post-second world war US economic dominance frustrated the realisation of the British socialist dream, he chose the American side against the Soviet Union in the cold war.
After his death, his crystal-pane deconstruction of the corruption of revolution and the totalitarian game were adopted as propagandist weapons by the CIA against the Soviet Union. The early transfer of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four to film was even financed by the CIA with the endings changed.
But Trump takes doublethink to a new extreme, and if Orwell were alive today, I imagine Trump would amuse and horrify him at the same time. The key message in Nineteen Eighty-Four is that the purpose of propaganda is to narrow and limit human consciousness, confuse human conscience, and control and narrow the range of thinking. As all students of Orwellian literature will recall, Squealer, the propagandist porker in Animal Farm, can “turn black into white” and is expert in “new belief”.
If any Orwellian unmasking of Trump rhetoric begins to hurt him, I imagine the day will come when the president gestures with his characteristic shape-and-pinch hand movement and bellows, “Fake Orwell”.

DJ Taylor: The parallels are impossible to deny

It is just possible to feel a shred of sympathy with Kellyanne Conway. Stung by incontrovertible evidence that more people were keener on complaining about her boss than supporting him, took refuge in a form of words that would have been hilarious were they not at the same time horribly sinister. But it would be wrong to judge her too harshly for her defence of Sean Spicer’s “alternative facts”. She is a PR, operating in a world where all values are expedient.
It’s useless to pretend that this isn’t all sharply reminiscent of the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four (by coincidence, Orwell died 67 years ago to the day that the anti-Trumpites marched on Washington). Winston Smith, sitting in his cubby-hole at the Ministry of Truth falsifying back-numbers of the Times in accordance with the latest revisionist diktats from on high, deals in “alternative facts”, or rather with deliberate untruths that eventually become facts merely because the former versions of them are no longer around to disturb.
The same goes for the periodic “readjustments” (ie reductions) of the amount of rationed goods available to the cowed citizenry of Orwell’s Oceania. There, the impact of cuts can always be reduced by altering the words of the previous announcement.
Inevitably, much of this manipulation can be traced back to Orwell’s monitoring of the concealments and evasions of the second world war – the Katyn massacre, for example, when thousands of Poles were murdered by Soviet secret police and which some Russian history books omit altogether – but its roots lie in his experience of fighting against Franco in the Spanish civil war. It was here, he later wrote, that he first read newspaper accounts of battles that had not taken place and heard reports of soldiers charged with cowardice whom he knew had fought bravely.
None of which should obscure the fact that this defender of objective truth was also a propagandist (working for the BBC’s Eastern Service in the early 1940s, Orwell once complained that the fault of the government’s war-time propaganda was that it needed to do its job more effectively.) At the same time, he was confident that there were lines which neither right nor left in western democracies would cross. The Daily Telegraph, for instance, features near the top of a list he once compiled of newspapers which were reliable. He might not have agreed with the way it interpreted the news, but he believed the information it contained was accurate.
As for what Orwell might have thought of President Trump and his entourage, he would probably have drawn attention to the steady war of attrition fought by various political and corporate oligarchies over the past 50 years against the idea that it can be said that a particular event definitely happened, whether you approve of it or not. He might have pointed out, too, that these obfuscations are not merely a byproduct of total war – who could really complain about the RAF rigging the numbers of Nazi planes brought down in the Battle of Britain? – but part and parcel of the way in which a certain kind of contemporary autocrat and reality-twister faces up to the world.
Meanwhile, it is worth asking what the average person is supposed to do in a landscape where the leader of what used to be called the free world has such a wanton disregard for one of the principal tools of freedom. Even Big Brother, after all, brought a certain amount of guile to pretending what he said was true.