Fergal Keane (2005) All of these people

I know this man. He is one of us. All of these people are people I know. Good and bad, flawed humans. Fergal Keane is much the same age as me. His father was a well-known actor and his mother a school teacher. Ireland was a generation behind us when he was born, in a different times zone, gripped by a dangerous nostalgia of what could have been, a different kind of Ireland, one that was ruled by priests and hypocrisy. Fergal’s father was an alcoholic, the disease of the Irish and handed down from father to son. His mother a miracle worker as his father follows his star from stage to stage from Southern Ireland to London and back again just in time to put the kettle on for the Troubles and the Celtic economic miracle.

Fergal dreamed of Africa and being the kind of hero that changes the world as we all do. He dreamed of writing and with his mum and dad’s connections got started in the reporting business and on the right track for the writing business in general. His Uncle John B Keane was holding forth about writing and writers as they walked. And here is the way it is, ‘If I couldn’t write,’ he said, ‘I’d go stone fucking mad.’

There’s no guarantee of course you won’t go stone fucking mad even if you can write. Fergal’s dad’s pals, politicians, playwrights and poets such as Brendan Behan and Fran O’Brien were professional drinkers and dreamers. His father a greatly loved story teller of some renown, who brought the written word alive, but the drink pulled him under, pulled them under. Fergal is honest enough to declare he too fought on that front, but the war never finished, a waiting game, until the next skirmish.

He makes the leaps from boy to man from Cork to Limerick junior reporter  on the Leader – 17th September 1979— to reporting on Northern Ireland and the Troubles to world stage and lead report for the BBC telling the word about  South Africa before and after Mandela’s release, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in Serbia and Syria. His dreams had become reality with the added glitter of a loving wife and child to give him ballast.

Look into the Nietzchean pit long enough and the pit will look back at you. Sectarian violence in Ireland, in South Africa, in Serbia and in Rwanda had a common feature. Hatred of others in their midst no different from the Nazi ideology of hatred of the Jews. The dehumanising effect of ideology no different from which we’re spoon fed today when people cheers when ships carrying immigrants sink in the Mediterranean or border guards beat men to death, or guards separate children from their mothers and put them in cages as they do in Trump’s America.

In Rwanda Keane saw men and women running with children in their arms, pleading to be let into the reporter’s cars to escape their attackers, only to be hacked to death in front of them. Keane admits he’s not a brave man. The car did not stop. He did not step out, his white face a passport to be treated differently, he wanted to live. He left the others behind. The reporter’s job is to report, not intervene, as a mantra.

How do you find peace within yourself after what you have seen, lived through? That’s a question that runs through this book. A question we all should ask ourselves. Honesty allows Keane to admit—as  I would too—the Nazi guard, that could have been me. Caught up in forces and ideologies that perpetuate hate and give one a choice of either for them or against them, most folk, myself included, take the easy by-line and easy life.  From the Milgram Shock Experiment to the Stanford Prison Experiments authority figures telling us what to do frees us from the restraint of morality, unleashes the evil within us.

Initially, Keane naively asks why the Tutus never ran from the Hutus when the genocide began. The answer was staring him in the face. Murderers, rapists and child killers weren’t some foreign body but people’s neighbours and friends, people that went to the same places you went to, that knew the back roads and side roads you would take and where there waiting. And when places of sanctuary like a Catholic church was filled with those without hope, they rounded themselves up, encircled on all sides.

One of the stupidest things I’ve read, comes from the mouth of a heroic character in The Librarian of Auschwitz in which he declares the Jews had no army, or the Germans wouldn’t have defeated them. Sectarian and ethnic violence is premised on that argument. Trump supporters carrying make America great again. Franco’s fascist supporters carrying placards calling to make Spain great again.  Le Pen’s right-wing army calling for the deportation of immigrants to make France great again. Or Farage’s cull on the immigrants, with the pictorial smiling face of Boris Johnson with a Union Jack, send them back motif behind him.

Hatred has many flags and many faces, a cancerous growth Keane recognises runs through us. He’s paid the price with his reporting life. And like pastor Martin Niemöller he witnessed the politics of hate from Cork to the whole of our creation which brings nothing but corpses,

  First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Friday the 13th, Vae Victis -woe to the vanquished.

I am left wing. Let me explain what that means. The term comes from a reference to the French National Assembly (1789-91) where the nobles sat on the president’s right and the commons (commoners) to the left.

I am also part of the proletariat, Proletarri in Ancient Rome, Roman citizens who owned little or no property.

I am working class and allowed to put an X on a piece of paper every four or five years and told this is called democracy. My seat in the French National Assembly would be as far to the left as I could get from Boris Johnson.

Our democracy has given his class a mandate to rule for five years. I see that as an expression of the collective misery of our lives.   

Scotland, as a nation, once again, has overwhelmingly rejected the right wingers, but to little or no avail.

Vae victis – woe to the vanquished, for much shall be given to those that have much and what little we have will be taken away.  

Too difficult for Boris

As you get older the spring of optimism gives way to the winter of pessimism. You know that no matter how hard you try you will never play for Celtic, especially given the fact that you couldn’t get a game for your pub team. Surplus to requirements.

Your bullshit detector, however, gets more refined with age. The charlatan that is Boris Johnson gets short-shrift for everything he says and everything he stands for, for being Boris Johnson, basically.

Boris Johnson is like a Buddhist sutra there are always aspects of his bullshit waiting to be discovered.

His reluctance, for example, to commit to bringing a handful of British children back from Syria because it was too difficult.

We all know about the Kindertransport that saved mainly Jewish, middle-class, children from the Nazi state prior to the beginning of the second world war. That didn’t seem too difficult. We put children on a train and then we put them on a ship.  Around 10 000 of them arrived safely.

Taking soil samples from the surface of Mars needs a larger commitment and to be more organised.

  1. Sending a rocket up into the Earth’s atmosphere to circle our planet.
  2. Sending it on a trajectory to Mars.
  3. Orbit Mars
  4. Land on the Syritis Major region.
  5. Send a robotic vehicle from the hold of the spaceship to collect soil samples
  6. Collect samples of soil from the surface of Mars put it in a metal tube and seal them.
  7. Leave sealed metal tubes on the surface of Mars.
  8. Send a second spaceship to Mars and land it near to the metal tubes.
  9. Send a second robotic-rover across the surface to pick up the metal tubes and bring them back to the craft.
  10. Use a specially designed rocket to send the metal tubes into orbit around Mars.
  11. Send a third spaceship to intercept the orbiter with soil samples on board.
  12. Bring the spaceship back to Earth.
  13. Break through the Earth’s atmosphere.
  14. Release the capsule by parachute to a spot on the Utah desert.

Not really that difficult is it? Now imagine for a minute that you are Boris Johnson and somebody asks you how difficult it would be to bring a handful of children from camps in Syria.

Storyville: Inside Lehman Brothers, BB4, BBC IPlayer, Director Jennifer Deschamps.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0009tpx/storyville-inside-lehman-brothers-the-whistleblowers

Lehman Brothers was one of the first dominoes to fall in the 2008 crash which brought down the world’s financial systems. Debts for Lehman Brothers were around $630 billion. Take a little time to think about that. It’s like the idea of infinity. Your mind shies away from how much money that is. Physicists like to simplify things. If your typical hospital, such as the one in Glasgow or Edinburgh cost £100 million, how many hospitals could you build? Boris Johnson proposes 26 new hospital, but he wasn’t very good at sums, someone quietly mentioned that he really meant six, which doesn’t have the same oomph, but he did throw in 20 000 new police officers in a great big tax giveaway before the next election.  Think of the Laurel and Hardy of British politics, Cameron and Osborne, forever telling us there was no money, while quietly shifting money from the poor to the rich. The United Kingdom and London, in particular, the money-laundering capital of the world.  Lehman Brothers isn’t the rogue bank, the cautionary tale that taught us a valuable lesson. As the billions of pounds and dollars levelled in fines show, all the banks were at it. Lehman brothers were offered up to the gods of finance because they were small enough to go under.

Winners and losers. Richard S. Fuld Jr, who was essentially Lehman Brothers, in all but corporate name and whose pitiful salary in 2007 was around $22 million and after appearing before a Congressional Committee and declaring it was a bull market and it ‘wasn’t me’. A common cry from uncommonly wealthy men.  Fuld walks away with $406 million in bonuses and is exonerated.

The sheriff’s department in finance, The Security and Exchange Commission, (SEC) which is meant to step in when financial irregularities occur, in theory, self regulates. What that means in practice is a representative from Morgan Stanley, for example, investigates Lehmann Brothers. Whistle blower at executive level, Matthew Lee, for example, informed the SEC that Lehmann Brothers were running a carousel in which they took around $50 billion off the audited books in America and sent them to Lehmann Brothers in London, then brought the money back, after the audit had taken place, to hide the subprime losses they were making. Trading followed a very basic principle if it wasn’t illegal, do it. If it was illegal still do it, as long as you make money, but don’t get caught. Lee had handed the SEC a smoking gun in a file called ‘Repo 105’.

After six months the SEC hadn’t got back to Matthew Lee but he had been fired by Lehman Brothers.

Self-regulation of the SEC was, in essence, like sending Harvey Weinstein to investigate Jeffrey Epstein.   

In 2018, the moron’s moron, Vietnam dodger, multiple bankrupt and other well-known sex pest, who also happens to be President of the United States, repealed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was set up after the financial crash 2008. Like the Glass-Steagall legislation it was seen as being overly bureaucratic, making the United States less competitive than its counterparts. In other words, let’s fill our boots again and don’t worry about consequences because little people don’t count.

Not only are banks and regulatory bodies for sale, as we’ve seen the position of President of the United States is too. Gearing up for the next election, Mark Zuckerberg, who did so much to get Trump elected has changed Facebook policy to allow politicians to publish alternative truth, ‘deceptive, false, or misleading content’.

Donald Trump was of course elected to ‘drain the swamp’. In 2017 there’s another bull market and bonuses once again reach 2007 level, running around $30 billion for traders. Algorithmic trading follow the crowd meaning a Lehman type crash will happen faster with greater fallout.

When we’re talking about money, put a face to it. There’s not all them here, not all of them are buffoons, but all of them are millionaires, some of them billionaires. Can another Lehman Brother’s crash happen?  Absolutely.

Rise of the Nazis, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, directed and produced by Julian Jones

rise of the nazis.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00084tb/rise-of-the-nazis-series-1-1-politics

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0008c79/rise-of-the-nazis-series-1-2-the-first-six-months-in-power

I wasn’t sure about the three-part series Rise of the Nazis. Documentary-dramas rarely rise above mediocrity. I was brought up on the gold standard, World at War series, shown on BBC.  Then, of course, we’ve got Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Hitler, cut and pasted and ad-libbed on the internet to sell everything from books to 1000 years of the Third Reich. That got me thinking what happened to the other two Reichs? Where they like those buses that come one after the other? Well, it seems, one was the Holy Roman Reich, which at least gets marks for originality. The Second Reich was really the Bismark era, before the First World War (we no longer use capitals for world wars now, downgraded, first world war). You probably remember it from history lessons as the time when the Germans invaded and occupied France, 1872, post- Les Miserables Paris, if my memory serves. Bismark helped unite Germany. He advocated a Kulterkamf against Catholics. Germany had a bit of previous here.

I’m also reading Friedrich Kellner’s Diary, A German against the Third Reich. He pretty much nails it. Hitler’s support was until 1930, largely rural, peasant farmer with a long history of hating Jews. In Laubach, were Kellner was working as justice inspector, for example, Jews often acted as the middle-man in cattle trading, and advanced farmers credit in lieu of goods.   Here we have the beginnings of ideology, the death of German democracy and rise of the Nazi dictatorship. Kellner shows how quickly this happened. ‘Heil Hitler’ became the enforced greeting of 80 million Germans. Discovery of his diary would have meant his death and that of his wife.

In the Rise of the Nazi’s  we look at one of the few who did resist Hitler. I guess that’s to add a bit of lop-sided balance. Josef Hartinger was one of the righteous. A public prosecutor who challenged official versions of death in custody and the legitimacy of the Nazi Party apparatus.

But most Germans were supporters of the ideology of Aryan Supermen and inferior races having little more than use value. That’s what Kellner lived through. He suggests less than one-percent of Germans offered any kind of resistance.  As early as 1941, Kellner also reports it was also common knowledge that Jews and Russians, men, women and children, were being exterminated in the East. The I-didn’t-know, post-war, lie of amnesiac German citizens was fake news, before fake news existed.

Rise of the Nazis isn’t fake news, or revisionist history. Boris Johnston’s attempt to prorogue British Parliament is not Herman Goring giving orders to burn the Reichstag and blame the Brexiter Communists. But it is an attempt to thwart Parliamentary democracy by an unelected British Prime Minister claiming he’s acting on the will of the people.

Paul Von Hindenburg was dismissive of the little Austrian colonel in the same way we can be dismissive of Johnston. President von Hindenberg had been a decorated general during the first world war, Hitler as Chancellor, was a pawn in the great game of state politics, ensuring the right-wing aristocracy and rich businessmen kept the Communists in check. Hitler’s allies put von Hindenberg in checkmate.

Rather than cut through bureaucracy, in Goring and Himmler, we see layer and layer added  and the spoils of German office going to Nazi sympathisers. German Jews were less than one-percent of the population, but in the East, genocide, mass murder and the Final Solution were played out. Dachau, here, is shown as the first of Himmler’s concentration camps. Capacity 5000. Cancerous growths spread quickly.

Watch these programmes and learn how easily it all slips away. A belligerent and successful foreign policy and double-downing on enemies at home sounds familiar.  George Santayana’s quote: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it is beginning to sound more and more relevant. Heil Trump. Heil little-fart Trumpter, Johnston. History is on a loop. Make Germany great again. Remember that old line?

Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, directed by Ursula Macfarlane.

harvey weinstein.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p07hbyjc/untouchable-the-rise-and-fall-of-harvey-weinstein

I watched this with interest. For those of you that don’t know the story, Bob and Harvey Weinstein came from rags to riches, rent-controlled housing, worked hard and lived the American dream. They created a media monster, Miramax, named after their mum and dad, which was gobbled up by an even bigger player, Disney. And they went on to live happily ever after in La La land.

Harvey never really had any friends. What he had a genius for was bullying and marketing. Deterrence did not deter him. No doesn’t mean no.

Paz de la Huerta, ‘You put on a happy face, but inside your dying. I wanted to take back what he stole from me.’

Hope d’Amore, ‘Nobody would have believed anything I said. He used to say he owned the cops in Buffalo.’

Journalist Andrew Goldman was a minor causality when he was put into a headlock and punched in the head by Harvey Weinstein. His girlfriend got a quote that sums up Weinstein (and Donald J Trump). ‘I’m glad I’m the sheriff of this shit ass fucking town’. Partygoers took plenty of pictures of this altercation, but none emerged to support the reporter’s claims.

Untouchable, appeasement is not just between nations but begins at home and is a come-on for the bully boy.  Wars break out not because a country becomes reckless. Countries go to war because they continue to do what they’ve always done. Weinstein’s brute strength wasn’t in his obese frame overwhelming a hundred pounds of female flesh, but in the economic strength he projected.

We know the story of how he worked. Like Michael Jackson it’s told here again and again. Pattern recognition: An invitation of a lift home. The offer of a part in movies. The sore neck that needed massaged. The locked door. The penetration. It wasn’t a secret. It wasn’t a lie. People knew, but most weren’t talking.

One of his victims summed it up by saying she was a nothing, he was a ten. But Weinstein was no longer a ten when he voluntarily placed himself in custody. He was no longer, like the pussy-grabber and moron’s moron in the Whitehouse, king of the hill. Disney had let Miramax go, and after spectacular early success, Bob and Harvey had blown $1.2 billion of other people’s money on film flops. They were vulnerable. Harvey was especially vulnerable. Sure they still had millions of dollars to throw around intimidating victim with smear campaigns, litigation and phone calls in the middle of the night, but he was no longer ‘the sheriff’, in the way that the moron’s moron is still President.

Those of us that stood around whistling and waiting with foreboding for the latter’s impeachment are gloomy. The floppy haired grabbers just keep going on grabbing to fill their oversized egos. Women are fair game, the weaker sex.

Benito Mussolini and his fascist troops occupied Ethiopia and a bit of France. There’s a sense of national histrionics and entitlement recognisable in that other caricature of humanity this side of the Atlantic in Boris Johnston. No ideology but self. The strong man. No coherent plan. Waiting to see what way the wind blows and humanity be damned. Women be fucked.

Weinstein is the lesser monster of our imagination. One that is behind bars is never that threatening. If he was up for re-election, we’d have something to fear. Stupidity is contagious, appeasement continues and it’s not too early to say the future of the world is at stake. If I’m still alive in ten years I hope and pray there’s an outbreak of common sense and a documentary about the women the moron’s moron has raped and his ever-growing, multiple, abuses of power. Trump’s still at ten in his power base, eleven even. Few sitting Presidents up for re-election lose. We need to wait for the fall.  Weinstein be damned. Weinstein is history.

 

Selina Todd (2015) The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class.

selina todd.jpg

I liked this book, it’s about us, the working class often portrayed standing outside history books adding a bit of colour to the stories of kings and governors, quietly happy to die for their country, or the working class portrayed as a Lemuel Gulliver lying down in the long grass and falling asleep and being tied down by Lilliputians who make theatrical speeches he doesn’t understand but he does what the little men, the 1% of the population want him to do, anyway. That’s not the case. If the working class were Gulliver he’s prone to poke himself in the eye. Tie down one foot and chop off a leg and dance the hornpipe. As Selina Todd makes clear the working class are not a uniform body. What they have in common, what we have in common is our relationship to the means of production. The working man needs to work to survive. Elite groups do not. Class is about who is holding the stick, how big is it and how hard are they going to hit us?

If you look at relationships this way things become a lot clearer. Take Teresa May, for example, a sluggish economy, just over 1% growth, because of the managed industrial decline of industry in the last fifty years we have non-jobs and the highest personal-debt ratio in Europe, common people are struggling,   Britain is dependent on selling its goods and services to the largest trading block in the world and if the EEC doesn’t want them, well, what stick is she going to hit them with? We import more than we export. We are a debtor nation.  Withdrawal, the longest suicide note in history springs to mind.

In the Afterword, Selina Todd quotes John Maynard Keynes, on the 2008 crisis applies equally here. Capitalism relies on ‘the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.’

She could equally well have quoted Owen the narrator of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist from almost 100 years ago:

The question is, what is the cause of the lifelong poverty of those who are not drunkards and who DO work? Why, if all the drunkards and wont-works and unskilled or inefficient workers who could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would, under the present conditions, be so much worse for us, because there isn’t enough work NOW, and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably cause a reduction in wages and greater scarcity of employment. The theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selflessly interested in maintaining the present state of affairs, for the purposes of discovering the real causes of our present condition.

Todd charts the high points of the People, the working class after the Second World War up to around 1970 and the advent of neoliberal policies designed ostensibly to revive the economy but took money from the poor and gave it to the rich. Trickle-down-economics and the ideology or Thatcherism, everyman for themselves finds expression in quixotic Think tanks like The Centre for Social Justice which is the kind of sham that had Boris Johnson standing beside a bus and promising to spend £150 million a week on the NHS when we left the European Union. The sham of The Taxpayers Alliance, which demands value for money, which sounds laudable, but they don’t mean their money, they mean poor people’s money. The working class won the Second World War, but lost the ideological war and are now paying for that failure, but which is marketed as a success. We know, of course, right-wing neoliberals with double-barrel names don’t read books like this, but they do write government policy.

Here are some common myths Todd deals with.

Myth 1: The economic crisis was caused the welfare state.

What history reminds us is that targeting welfare at the poorest is not the answer. Instead we need wealth to be redistributed more equally.

Myth 2: We can only solve the economic crisis by all working very hard.

‘Hard work has never solved poverty. If it did, then no one would have been poor during the three decades after 1945, when work was more plentiful than before or since.’

‘Rather than dividing people between those who are and aren’t members of “hardworking families” we should ask why anyone should have to work at all.’

What Todd is saying here isn’t that much different from those on the far right, charting the rise of the robots and the mass unemployment which will ensure in the next ten years and whose talk once more turns to citizens being allocated an allowance.

Myth 3: Working-class people’s opportunities are blocked by women and immigrants.

‘By focusing on migrants, we move our gaze from the real culprits: employees and politicians, who turn migrant workers into cheap and exploitable wage slaves.’

‘If migrants are wrongly blamed for the economic crisis, so too are women…Far from “choosing” to go out and earn [pin] money rather than have babies, many women go out to work to support children, unemployed husbands or partners, and parents who, in old age, face poverty. In 1996, 67% of mothers with dependent children went out to work, by 2013, 72% of them were doing so.’

Myth 4: Social mobility, promoted by selective and private education, can solve inequlity.

‘It’s ironic that a political consensus exists that post-war Britain was a meritocratic society, given how clearly erroneous that claim is.’

‘A society as technologically advanced as ours, as rich in natural resources and wealth, could and should be committed to providing all children with the best possible start in life, not just a handpicked few.’

‘Since 2010 spending of education has fallen at the fastest rate since the 1950s.’

Myth 5: People’s greed and selfishness prevent us from creating a different sort of society.

‘What we have to do now is to start working out the first steps towards revealing an alternative way to live better than neoliberalism…class testifies to inequality and inequality has not worked or any of us.’

‘economic growth does not improve quality of life, but economic redistribution can and will. Britain was healthier and happier place in the post-war years because there was some re-distribution.’

We need to trust ourselves to find a more democratic and transparent way of creating an equal society.

We can do this because we’ve done it before.

We need to question why work is at the centre of our lives. There is no reason why so many of us should have to spend most of our lives working in jobs that achieve little or nothing…no reason why we should not be able to undertake meaningful work, organized for the benefit of society and not the 1 percent who live off profit.

Class, as a relationship of unequal power, shapes British society.’

The important thing is to recognise the shared experiences and build on it, not quibble over semantics.

If the past teaches us anything it is this: if the people want a better future, we can, and must, create it, ourselves.’