Friday 29 May 2020

The Endless Trench


At a time when many of us are confined to our homes, I can recommend a Netflix film that will put a stop to any complaints or feelings of self-pity.

The Endless Trench is a Spanish film which tells the story of Higinio (played by Antonio de la Torre) hiding in his own home for thirty years, and successfully evading his Francoist enemies with heroic help from his wife Rosa (Belén Cuestas).

The film begins in 1936 at the start of the Spanish Civil War. Living in an Andalusian village, the newlyweds are forced to make a temporary subterranean living space beneath the floor of their living room. Higinio had been a Republican village councillor and must hide from a fascist execution squad who had assassinated the other Republicans in his village.

Aided by Rosa, his hiding continues for 33 years. After amnesty was granted in 1969 to these topos (moles), Higinio emerges into the light.

The Endless Trench directors, Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga were encouraged to make the movie with the rise of the far right and the Vox Party in Spain. They wanted their film, released last year, to contribute to the political debate there. Areggi said, “Our film proposes that everyone hides things from each other, and that these conflicts are always there, even if they’re beneath the surface as its message—its warning—is universal.”

Fascism does not arrive politely. Its weapons are subterfuge, violence and fear. Its practitioners, like General Franco, are ‘career psychopaths’. And it’s worth noting that Higinio was not a communist or a revolutionary. He had been a Social Democrat. 


Wednesday 27 May 2020

We are inside 'Catch 22'

We are living in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Set inside a US Air Force unit in World War II Italy, Heller's novel sets out a devastating critique of the rackets carried out, ostensibly, as part of a nation’s war policy.

“I distribute my plum tomatoes under an assumed name,” said Milo, “so that Colonel Cathcart can buy them up from me under his assumed name at four cents apiece and sell them back to me the next day for the syndicate at five cents apiece. They make a profit of one cent apiece. I make a profit of three and a half cents apiece, and everybody comes out ahead." “Everybody but the syndicate,” said Yossarian. “The syndicate is paying five cents apiece for plum tomatoes that cost you only half a cent apiece. How does the syndicate benefit?” “The syndicate benefits when I benefit,” Milo explained.

Dominic Cummings is our Milo, Boris Johnson is Squadron Commander Major Major Major, always in when he's out and out when he's in. The long-suffering Yossarian is you and me.

Here is George Monbiot in today's Guardian: "When the government did at last seek to mobilise the system, crucial bits of the machine immediately fell off. There is a consistent reason for the multiple, systemic failures the pandemic has exposed: the intrusion of corporate power into public policy. Privatisation, commercialisation, outsourcing, and offshoring have severely compromised the UK’s ability to respond to a crisis ….at the end of the chains are manufacturing companies, some of which have mysteriously been granted monopolies on the supply of essential equipment. These private monopolies have either failed to meet their contracts, or provided defective gear to the entire NHS, like the 15 million protective gloves and the planeload of useless surgical gowns that had to be recalled.”


Friday 22 May 2020

Clarity, Pride and Principle?


David Milliband has praised Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party: “I am proud to be Labour again. He's brought back clarity, pride, principle to the work of opposition and I think it's been really good to see." He went on to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as years of ‘vacillation’ and “betrayal’.

His father Ralph Milliband would not have agreed and could have been referring to his son when he wrote “ The Labour Party have always conceived their proposals and policies as a means, not of eroding— let alone supplanting— the capitalist system, but of ensuring its greater strength and stability … Far from seeking to surround themselves with men ardent for reform and eager for change in radical directions (They) have been content to be served by men much more likely to exercise a restraining influence upon their own reforming propensities … Pious references to the Labour Party being a ‘broad church’ which has always incorporated many different strands of thought fail to take account of a crucial fact, namely that the ‘broad church’ of Labour only functioned effectively in the past because one side – the Right and Centre – determined the nature of the services that were to be held, and excluded or threatened with exclusion any clergy too deviant in its dissent.”

Now that Jeremy Corbyn has been summarily excluded and put back in the church pews, David has hinted at a return to UK politics (he was Foreign Sec, pro-war and responsible for collaborating with the US on renditions) At the moment he is in New York as CEO of the International Rescue Committee. Mind you with his $1 million salary he will have to take a pay cut.






Thursday 21 May 2020

Purging the Left

The UK Labour Party has launched a new purge of the left and the Palestine Solidarity movement.


Professor David Miller of Bristol University, as well as Becky Massey and Pam Page of Brighton PSC received suspension letters from the party within hours of each other.



Prof Miller is quoted as having said, "We are obviously not going to get a proper investigation of this by Comrade Starmer or by Lisa Nandy – who have been in receipt of money from the Zionist movement, from Trevor Chinn.”


It has been revealed that Trevor Chinn donated £50,000 to Keir Starmer and that he had earlier supported Tom Watson. He then dabbled with the Lib Dems before returning to financial support for the Labour Party.

PrivateEye ran an interesting account of his political history which all started with the £1/2 million he gave to Tony Blair ‘back in the day’. Well we seem to be well and truly 'back in the day'.

The LP still send me messages from the new/old leadership even though I resigned from the Party two months ago. I guess it takes time to sort themselves out – Bless ‘em.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

A Long Drop Into Hell


I recently spoke to my friend, Oha Maslo, in Mostar. I would be there now with him and his family, but am stuck here ‘self-isolating’.

My blogs are my way of breathing out my anger against what is supposed to be our government.

Until recently, they gave no figures for Covid-19 death rates in care homes. Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland,` admitted the government "chose" not to test people for coronavirus in these homes while the pandemic spread. "We needed to make a choice about what to do with the capacity the government had back in March.”

Boris Johnson has said he "bitterly regrets" the coronavirus crisis in care homes and that the government was "working very hard" to tackle it. A "huge effort" was going on and that there had been a "palpable improvement" in recent days. He added that "it has been enraging to see the difficulties we've had in supplying PPE to those who need it, but we are now engaged in a massive plan to ramp up domestic supply”.

Meanwhile Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that testing for all care workers and residents would now be available, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms of coronavirus. He went on to claim “the performance on testing has been unbelievably positive”.

Matthew Nutt, managing director of Accurocare which runs homes in Oxford and Basingstoke, takes a different view. “The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing,” he said. “It has been a complete system failure … We don’t know when we are going to get test kits … How many more people have to die?”

Meanwhile, workers in care homes and hospitals who are trying to keep us all safe and alive could face “deportation” if the Home Office decides to withdraw their right to remain.

This is getting very personal. My brain surgeon was Nigerian, my heart surgeon Egyptian, the nurse who visited me most days, even when off-duty, Filipino.

I hope Johnson and his ministers take a long drop into Hell and with no NHS there to ease their fall.

It is very hard to calculate the coronavirus death rate in the UK because of government lies and prevarications. This is as accurate as I can be and would welcome other peoples investigative and math skills.

It seems to me that, to date, the coronavirus death rate in the UK is one death for every 1,330 people.*

Compare this to Greece which stands at one death in every 68,000 and Oha’s country, Bosnia Herzegovina, at one death in every 11,000.

This is the result of Boris Johnson’s ‘huge effort’.

Cabinet minister, George Eustice, insisted, "We don’t accept the caricature that we took an approach that was wrong. I think now we've got to focus on the here and now."

I dare him to say that loudly over the graves of the unnecessarily dead.

* I have taken the ONS' figure of 50,000 Covid-19 deaths in UK to date.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Pregnant Pause

Pregnant Pause, remarks on the Corona Crisis by Ken Knabb, can be found in full here. But we are still living in the ADG (Attention Deficient Generation) so here is an abbreviated version. By all means read the original. I guess many of you have time on your hands!

"If this Coronavirus crisis had taken place fifty years ago, we would have been reading about it in newspapers or sitting in front of the TV with scarcely any opportunity to respond.

Although the mass media remain powerful, their impact has been weakened.


 It’s the first time in history that such a momentous event has taken place with virtually everyone on earth aware of it at the same time. And it is playing out while much of humanity is obliged to stay at home, where they can share their reflections with others.

Since the usual “market solutions” are incapable of solving this crisis, governments are now feeling obliged to resort to implementation of solutions previously scorned as “unrealistic” or “utopian.”

Rich or poor, native or foreign, anyone can spread this disease, so anything less than free healthcare for all is idiotic.

When businesses are closed and millions of people are thrown out of work the usual unemployment benefits are inadequate and policies like universal basic income become unavoidable.

The usual suspects are still in charge, particularly in the United States, where the first to be rescued were the banks and corporations, with several trillion dollars pumped into the financial markets. 


The point of corporate bailouts is that certain industries are supposedly essential. But the fossil fuel industries need to be phased out as soon as possible. And there’s no reason to save the airlines. They could be restarted with the same workers, with the losses being borne by the previous owners.

The corona crisis has exposed many governments as criminally negligent, but most of them have attempted to deal with it in a serious manner once they realized the urgency of the situation.

This has unfortunately not been the case in the United States, where Trump first declared that the whole thing was just a hoax that would soon blow over and that the death count would be “close to zero,” and then, after doing virtually nothing for more than a month, he was forced to admit that it was actually a serious crisis, announced that thanks to his brilliant leadership “only” around 100,000 or 200,000 Americans would die.

But months into the pandemic there is still no national stay-at-home order, no national testing plan, no national procurement and distribution of life-saving medical supplies, and Trump continues to downplay the crisis in a frantic effort to open things up soon enough to revive his reelection chances.

Many of the most creative responses have been carried out by ordinary people on their own initiative — young people doing shopping for vulnerable neighbors, people making and donating protective masks that the governments neglected to stockpile, health professionals offering safety tips, tech-savvy people helping others to set up virtual meetings, parents sharing activities for kids, others donating to food banks, crowdfunding to support small businesses, or forming support networks for prisoners and immigrants.

The crisis has vividly demonstrated the interconnectedness of people all over the world.

As always, those at the bottom bear the brunt — people in prisons or immigrant detention centers or living in crowded slums, people who can’t practice social distancing and who may not even have facilities to effectively wash their hands. While many of us are able to stay at home with only mild inconvenience, others are unable to remain at home (if they even have a home) or to share so many things via social media (if they even have a computer or a smartphone) because they are forced to continue working at “essential jobs,” under dangerous conditions and often for minimum wage in order to provide food, utilities, deliveries, and other services for the people who are staying home.

But because essential is ‘essential’ these workers now have powerful leverage and are starting to use it. As the dangers and stresses build up, their patience has given way, beginning with wildcat strikes in Italy.


In the United States protests and strikes have broken out among workers at Amazon, Instacart, Walmart, McDonald’s, Uber, Fedex, grocery workers, garbage workers, auto workers, nursing home workers, agricultural workers, meat packers, bus and truck drivers.

Nurses and other healthcare workers have protested medical equipment shortages; workers at GE have demanded repurposing jet engine factories to make ventilators; homeless families have occupied vacant buildings; rent strikes have been launched in several cities; and prisoners and detained immigrants are hunger-striking to expose their particularly unsafe conditions.

People are  starting to see the economic system for what it actually is (a con game that enables a tiny number of people to control everyone else in the world through their possession of magic pieces of paper).

We have a chance to see our lives and our society in a fresh light. We come to realize how much we miss certain things, but also that there are things we don’t miss. Many people have noted it’s much quieter, the skies are clearer, there’s scarcely any traffic, fish are returning to formerly polluted waterways, in some cities wild animals are venturing into the empty streets. Those who like quiet contemplative living are hardly noticing any difference. People are getting a crash course in cloistered living, with repeated daily schedules almost like monks in a monastery.

I suspect that our political leaders sense that the longer this goes on, the more people will become detached from addictive consumer pursuits and the more they will be open to exploring new possibilities.

One of the first things that many people have noticed is that the social distancing, however frustrating it may be in some regards, is ironically bringing people closer together in spirit. As people get a new appreciation of what others mean to them, they are sharing their thoughts and feelings — personally via phone calls and emails, collectively via social media.

People are also coming up with memes, jokes, essays, poems, songs, satires, skits. It is interesting to compare these memes with the popular expressions of another crisis just over fifty years ago — the May 68 Graffiti in France - a marvelous mix of humor and insight, anger and irony, outrage and imagination.

The 1968 crisis  was a series of protests and street fights by thousands of young people in Paris and other French cities inspired by a wildcat general strike in which more than ten million workers occupied factories and workplaces, shutting down the country. When you look at the graffiti, you can sense that these people were making their own history. They were not merely protesting, they were exploring and experimenting and celebrating, and those graffiti were expressions of the joy and exuberance of their actions.

People are using this pause to investigate and critique the system’s fiascos, and they are doing this at a time when practically everyone else in the world is obsessively focused on the same issues.

Anyone can take part whenever they wish. They can post their own ideas, or if they see some other idea or article they agree with, they can email the link to their network of friends or share it on Facebook or other social media, and if other people agree that it is pertinent, they may in turn share it with their friends, and so on.

The International Labor Organization has reported that nearly half of the global workforce is now at risk of losing its livelihoods - a level of social disruption far more extreme than the Great Depression of the 1930s. I have no idea what will come of this, but something is going to give.

Organizing a different kind of society - a creative, cooperative global community based on fulfilling the needs of everyone rather than protecting the exorbitant wealth and power of a tiny minority - is now a necessity.

This is an opportunity for a new beginning. We may one day look back and see it as the wake-up call that managed to bring humanity to its senses before it was too late.



Monday 18 May 2020

Coronavirus - catapulting bodies


I have been watching an interview with David Simon, creator of HBO's, “The Wire”. Set in the US city of Baltimore, it is a powerful indictment of US capitalism at the turn of the 21st century. In Simon’s own words, “We have a system indifferent to people, to their morality. Instead of Olympian Gods throwing lightning bolts at people for the fun of it, our institutions – the police, the schools, the elections and so on – are the Gods with Capitalism as the ultimate God. Capitalism is Zeus.”

Simon argues that the series, which ran from 2002 – 2008, exposed a war against the underclass fought by the people who have against the people who have not.” In this world, he said, there is rising indifference to the growing numbers of those who are “increasingly worthless.”

The Baltimore of The Wire exposes an economic model that doesn’t need as many people as it once did for the 1% to accumulate their huge wealth. “Our institutions”, Simon argues, “have become utterly unfeeling to the people they are supposed to serve.”

Moving from mythical Greece to the 14th Century and on to today, a London cardiologist told Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor of The Daily Telegraph, that every mistake that could have been made about Covid-19 was made. He likened the care home policy to the 1346 Siege of Caffa when the Mongol army catapulted plague-ridden bodies over the walls of that Crimean city.

Drawing on this analogy, Evans-Pritchard says government policy was to let the virus rip and then "cocoon the elderly". “You don’t know whether to laugh or cry when you contrast that with what we actually did. We discharged known, suspected, and unknown cases into care homes which were unprepared, with no formal warning that the patients were infected, no testing available, and no PPE to prevent transmission. We actively seeded this into the very population that was most vulnerable. We let these people die without palliation. The official policy was not to visit care homes – and they didn’t (and still don’t). So, after infecting them with a disease that causes an unpleasant ending, we denied our elders access to a doctor – denied GP visits – and denied admission to hospital. Simple things like fluids, withheld. Effective palliation ... withheld.”

While this was going on, Boris Johnson and his ministers told us that there was no danger of outbreaks of coronavirus in care homes. Hospitals were bullied into releasing patients into these homes. Tens of thousands of elderly people have died as a result of this calamitous policy.

Now we are being told there is no danger of outbreaks of coronavirus in schools and the government is bullying teachers and parents into sending their children back to school.

Young and old, rich and poor – everyone is at risk of catching, spreading and potentially succumbing to the coronavirus. But just as in Baltimore, the risk of ill health is highest for the elderly and for the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

Of course, the government cannot admit to their role in what Simon called a "war against the underclass". They are not going to stand before the TV cameras and say, "We don’t care a toss about you." In place of that, they move on to the next convenient lie.

Meanwhile, the perjuring politicians continue to work from home having been gifted their generous bonus, and Boris Johnson’s old school, Eton, remains closed until the autumn. Their indifference towards human life is not total. They look after their own.