Hi tech, the hyper-meritocracy and the rest

A lot of people think that investment in hi-tech will get the world out of the economic doldrums. Under the current system of distributing wealth I very much doubt it. Recently I read an April 2014 edition Prospect article by John McDermott titled You’re next. Will technology make professional jobs redundant? (behind a paywall) which reminded me that not only do I doubt it but I expect the opposite. It reminded me to leave myself a note here about the several things I’ve come across recently which point most persuasively and ominously in this direction.

From the aforementioned McDermott:

“Behind the voguish discussion about technology is perhaps a more important trend: the declining share of income going to labour than capital. And without a political response, the type of technological change discussed by [techno-optimists] Brynjolfsson and McAfee would only further such a divergence.”

McDermott speculates that “new machine age continues to regard capital at the expense of labour”. Because of what I’ll euphemistically call a distribution problem, that capital is concentrated in the hands of a few. For this reason he doubts that education can address the inequalities inherent in a hyper-meritocracy – even with the indignity of ‘venture-philanthropy’. I was reminded of the My Teacher is an App episode I wrote about recently – the Waldorf school in silicon valley where the Google and Yahoo employees send their kids to keep those creative little minds far, far away from the operation of a computer.

I often argue with one of my closest work colleagues. I think that, because of the way this society is organised, computers will take away jobs from more humans than they create jobs for. He is skeptical. Here is a concrete example of my being right. April 2nd was Autism Awareness Day. I’ve twice been thrown into the company of a student at work I’m almost certain is on the spectrum, and I’ve become quite interested in what I understand his challenges to be (and many others – autism is one-in-a-hundred), so I listened to an RSA recording titled Autism at Work: Releasing Talent and Harnessing Creativity. From it I discovered that people with autism tend to be punctual, like routine, are content to do the repetitive tasks their colleagues dislike – and, in passing, that they are losing precisely those jobs to computerised labour. Most people with autism would like to be employed but, squeezed out by machines and misunderstandings, most are not.

Certainly Luddites were right about the problem of machines. Why is technology so attractive to employers that they would prefer to render vast tracts of their potential custom without the disposable income to actually buy their product? Humans, as variable capital, are unreliable. When they go wrong, the employer pays twice – once for their sustenance as workers (their food, fuel, shelter i.e. their wage) and once for their replacement while they take their compassionate leave, maternity, sickness, industrial dispute, resignation or whatever. Machines only need maintenance and phased replacement. Philosopher of education David Blacker devotes quite a lot of the early part of his book The Falling Rate of Learning (sorry, it’s Zero Books – I received it as a gift otherwise I would have hesitated because of at least one of Zero’s authors) to this matter. Citing the economist Tyler Cowen (as does John McDermott above – she must be worth reading. Oh. He’s not a she.) Blacker doubts that hi-tech can sustain education beyond a basic level.

“The trouble is that once those initial large productivity gains have been reaped, the return on the human capital investment levels off – perhaps to the point of unfeasibility. Ironically, while technological development made human universal education possible, those same technological developments and subsequent productivity increases render further education for the masses mostly a waste.”

But surely workers are needed to actually make and run the machines? And here it gets very dark, but very plausible, and I will quote at length (pp47-47 of the 2014 Kindle Edition),

“As the machines get better, however, by definition even a smaller percentage of the machine-maintainers are ultimately needed. This level of expensive educational investment simply does not “pay” with regard to most people, because more and more of us are not exactly needed for much of anything. No longer needed as workers, the domestic masses are needed as open mouths into which to force feed as much consumption as possible, an irrational strategy that purchases short-term overconsumption at the price of long-term underconsumption (due to the inevitable ensuing debt overload) and hence is defeating of its very purpose. Domestically at least, neoliberalism really needs consumers and otherwise neutralized types (e.g. the incarcerated) rather than the industrial era of capitalism’s skilled and semi-skilled labor. For the dirty little secret of the high tech economy is that, despite incessant boosterism to the contrary, it does not need widespread technical competence; most jobs in the high tech environment demand stultifying activities that require nothing beyond basic literacy – if that. … For every “high tech, high wage” worker enjoying a cool workplace at google.com, there are many, many more who are “enjoying” the inverse proportion between high tech and their job demands: the higher the tech, the dumber the worker can be and, ultimately, in the best case neoliberal scenario, phased out altogether where possible (via outsourcing and/ or further automation).”

But even though so many of the biggest companies in the world are involved in peddling consumables (Google is primarily an advertising company, for example) nobody thinks a consumer economy is a good idea. In Blacker’s world very few people get paid sufficiently to consume, so his expectation is that they will be allowed to perish. Which reminds me of the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which temporarily sobered up the establishment for a week or so.

In the book Blacker distinguishes between old kinds of capitalists – upstanding, patrician, enlightened sorts – and new, socially useless kinds who avoid paying tax and when faced with healthy competition, instead, blob-like, attempt to absorb their competitors. He mentions in passing that Henry Ford, one of the old kind, decided to pay his workers $5 per day to create a blue collar middle class which could afford to buy his cars. For the first time I thought of him fondly. Then a bum note crept in – could this even work in a profitable industry? Apparently not – I read a right-winger insisting that Ford paid over the going rate simply to retain a particularly skilled workforce which was very costly to replace at a time – 1913 – when demand for labour outstripped supply.

Not like now. Even if there is growth, it doesn’t have much of a chance to touch the majority of us.

Bonus links:

  • On BBC Radio 4′s The Bottom Line, 29th March, Evan Davies interviews a panel of entrepreneurs who service the super-rich. I found them craven, venal, and generally revolting, and I had the impression that they even embarrassed their host.
  • And spitting in the eye of that, The Austerity Delusion, a May 2013 talk at the RSA by political economist Mark Blyth, who in answer to an audience question points out that, no, the world’s richest can’t buy enough services to flush a stagnant economy – (also available as audio only – but if you don’t really grasp Ivy League economics you may need his slides).

 

 

 

Hey Euan Sutherland, how about I take my Co-operative bonus now?

I bank with the Co-op, shop with the Co-op and have a Co-op mortgage.

As a member of staff in a UK higher education institution (not this example, though) I’m entitled to an NUS Extra card which gives me an astonishing range of discounts at a number of major retailers. This includes 10% off at the Co-op. Until today I had only claimed a discount once. On that one occasion I didn’t feel great about it and decided that I’d rather give the Co-op the money than save it for myself.

Today, though, I got to the till and remembered the morning’s news that

“The embattled Co-operative Group, still reeling from a banking scandal and preparing to lay off up to 5,000 employees, faces a new storm over plans to pay its chief executive more than £3.5m in his first year in the job, while massively boosting the salaries and bonuses of other senior staff.”

and

“Salary consultants brought in by the Co-op based the proposed remuneration packages on comparisons with FTSE 30 and FTSE 100-listed companies of a similar size to the mutualised group that is owned by its 8 million members. But the huge salary increases are likely to be seen by some as at odds with the history of the co-operative movement and its traditionally egalitarian ethos.

“Under the proposals, Sutherland will be paid a base salary of £1.5m this year, plus a £1.5m retention payment. With pension contributions and other extras, such as compensation for buying him out of his previous contract, Sutherland will receive £3.66m this year. His predecessor, Peter Marks, received just over £1.3m last year.

“Richard Pennycook, the chief operating officer, will receive a £900,000 salary and a retention payment of £900,000. Six other executives will be paid salaries between £500,000 and £650,000 – and the same amount in retention. In the past, senior executives of the Co-op received between £200,000 and £400,000.

“It has also emerged that Rebecca Skitt, the Co-op’s chief human resources officer, who joined in February 2013, left last month with a proposed pay-off totalling more than £2m.”

at which point I got out my card and claimed my paltry £1.24.

Nobody – least of all a Co-op employee – should be getting that kind of money. The Co-op should shun that level of inequality. They should see through this kind of financial exsanguination – especially when they’re laying off the people who work at their farms and pharmacies.

And did I mention that I am not an effing charity?

I’m not dumping the Co-op but I do feel that they dumped me some time ago. My discount is going to make quite a lot of difference to me in the coming months and years. I should think the Co-op would be glad to have it, but it’s money they won’t get because they hired consultants from a financial tradition that has already got this country in trouble several times over, and then followed their recommendations to fleece me.

They badly need to get back to their mutual roots. They need to recognise the difference between greed and motivation.

Sorry Vova, they choose differently.

Russia sneaked its military into Ukraine without insignia and established a military occupation in Crimea. Putin seems to be trying to provoke retaliation from Ukraine’s caretaker government, using the newly deposed and discredited puppet president Viktor Yanukovich as a pretext.

Sorry Vova, they choose differentlyPutin has done this for a number of reasons. One is because, as a fossil fuel bully, Russia can do what it likes in a world which refuses to green. Another is because he reckons its Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol has a crucial strategic role in protecting Russia’s South Western border – indeed its admiral has said Russia will never give it up. Which is related to the fact that he hopes to buffer Russia from the European Union and establish a rival to the Eurozone called the Eurasian Economic Zone; this determination to limit the European Union is a reason, if not the main reason, why he had Russian troops invade Georgia at the earliest opportunity. Another reason is that Crimea – the south-eastern peninsula that Russia is occupying – is the part that Catherine the Great conquered in 1813 and Khrushchev ‘gave’ to Ukraine in 1954, which consequently has (according to Russia Today, so perhaps a generous estimate) an ethnic Russian, Russian-speaking bare majority of 58% in the 2001 census, who make up by far the largest ethnic group, many of whom have dual Ukrainian and Russian citizenship. As an autonomous republic Crimea is far more inclined to Russia than the west of Ukraine (which looks to Europe), and in 2009 rejected a US diplomatic post which the Ukrainian government had been encouraging.

But it’s not that simple Vova, my dear nationalist. According to the sadly late Natalia Panina, a researcher at Ukraine’s Institute of Sociology, the Russians who number over 8 million or 17.3% of Ukraine’s population in the 2001 census (she among them) have not faced significant discrimination (question e2, p48) or social distance in Ukraine. In fact, they were part of the overwhelming majority of 90% who voted for Ukrainian independence when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.

On the ‘Western’ front, there are many theoretically possible actions nobody wants to take for fear of inflaming the situation (note that Russia has no such worries itself) and this means that Russia will grab Crimea. On the diplomatic front, Russia is chairing the G8, so Foreign Secretary Hague and other members will refuse to attend some imminent meetings. Somebody had better take diplomatic measures to reduce social distance between ethic Russians and other ethnic Ukrainians, including reinstating Russian as an official minority language (a big mistake on the part of the acting government because it has been both widely supported and also considered of low importance). In the UK it’s long been time to pursue a reversal of increased dependence on Russian coal in recent years (without mindlessly transferring it to authoritarian states like Qatar, where we get a chunk of our gas or narc-fuelled states like Colombia). Ukraine’s south is hot and sunny. Ukraine needs an economic boost – perhaps it would be a good idea to fund renewables like solar in the dry sunny south of Ukraine, along with the infrastructure to export it. This could help in at least two ways, I think. The UK government is actively considering withdrawing some Russian visas and freezing assets.

A bit more from other places and positions:

  • I’ve been worrying about China partnering with Russia and coming for Europe, but on Channel4 blogs, ex-AWL Paul Mason considers whether a Russian invasion of Ukraine will push the west into an economic war. He doesn’t anticipate World War 3 but the end of globalisation if (big if) China decides to get involved and sides with Russia. Perhaps then this country can stop outsourcing low wages and climate change to other people’s countries.
  • If the end of globalisation happens, then perhaps the Stop the War Coalition (London-based pro-Baathist/Islamist/Communist, anti-UK/US/EU campaign group masquerading as an anti-war group) will disband, job done. I checked by its site to confirm that they still have wildly erring priorities. Put it this way, they won’t be participating in any ‘Hands off Ukraine campaign’ unless the hands in question are ‘Western’. It’s ironic that if Stop the War were anti-Russian dissidents in Russia they’d be in prison by now. They invariably remind me how much I like the UK.
  • Yanukovich falls. Back the left! – Alliance for Workers Liberty. “Our solidarity should be with left-wing and working-class forces in Ukraine which will fight to open up democracy, to push back the far right, and to help working people in Ukraine defend themselves against the neo-liberal “reforms” now demanded by the EU and the IMF in return for loans to enable Ukraine to manage payment deadlines.”

All for now.

Update: Timothy Snyder writes authoritatively on the spurious claims from Putin about protecting Russian compatriots. Via Bob From Brockley on Twitter.

My teacher is an app

Did you know that Rupert Murdoch has a Head of Education? My Teacher is an App just finished on BBC Radio 4. Thanks to a colleague I didn’t miss it.

The brain-based learning side of things is really promising but the big business ‘vultures’ (as Sarah Montague called them) are frankly disturbing. This is one example of what another colleague and I often debate – I tend to argue (too vaguely) that in societies like ours technology, unless open, is prone to replace people because it is cheaper (doesn’t need holidays, benefits, sick leave, etc). My Teacher is an App provided a good example in the Rocketship school (charter school run by a business, a bit like a Free School in the UK)  in a poor part of San Jose which was experimenting with classes of 100 students, 3 teachers and many computers.

It’s a basic Marxist* tenet that people, being ‘variable capital’, are always vulnerable to being replaced with ‘fixed capital’. Software is more predictable than people and doesn’t require sleep, weekends, compassionate leave or holiday.  This displacement has happened ever since the industrial revolution and is always very hard for the cottage workers or equivalent – this is why workers campaigned for and won a welfare state.

Now though I’m wondering (not for the first time, but more so in this credit crunch time) where on earth, in a capitalist society, is the ‘added value’ of educating a society in geometry if that kind of knowledge can be replaced by machine knowledge? My neighbour has just returned from Gujarat where the state education system there doesn’t even nearly accommodate all the kids – education is a luxury outside a skills-based or knowledge economy. So are pensions, incidentally. For a long time the UK has been among the few knowledge economies – but what about now in this newly multi-polar world? Are we moving into a post knowledge economy? What will work look like? And if we don’t have jobs in a world where only big business owners and their few workers have money, then will we become a non-working non-class?

Watch the Google and Yahoo workers closely and you soon pick up that the best start you can give their kids will by by rationing computers. You can bet the Waldorf school where those same Google and Yahoo workers send their kids – the school without a single computer – was a private school.

*Don’t be alarmed – think of Marx as a knowledgeable and firmly establishment commentator.

Vote in the UCU elections or kiss your Ts&Cs goodbye. But not for UCU Left.

I figure that if you are a UCU member who hasn’t posted their ballot papers yet, you may be somebody who is considering not voting at all. The deadline is February 28th – if you want to use your 2nd class freepost envelope you need to move fast.

Here is the case for voting at all, followed by a caution against voting for UCU Left. This is far from the best case that could be made, because it relies on my assertions as a long-time member, observer at first hand, but ultimately a common or garden member far from the inner circles of the union. As such I have a few very simple principles: this union is weak; it is weak because it is small; more and more active members will not mean a worse union; the most important thing UCU can do is grow an active membership; UCU Left is antithetical to this.

First, why vote?

Basically it’s about whether you think higher education should belong to its citizens or to a few wealthy owners of corporations. Are we going to collectively give it away and then as individuals buy it back, or is it ours to apportion according to principles other than whether or not you are rich and confident or hard-up and debt-averse?

I’d say that just a few recent issues of the Times Higher Education Supplement – a solidly establishment publication – contain all the indications necessary to convince you that a trade union is a necessity for a healthy sector. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has just appointed Peter Houillon from the for-profit provider Kaplan to the board. Nick Hillman, the new director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and special advisor to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovations and Skills, explicitly acknowledges that the proportion of student loans will never be repaid is larger than the government estimated. HEPI always said that privatisation of undergraduate education was more likely to cost the state money than save it. The implication was that its largest change would be to reposition higher education from a public good to a private investment.

If you’re still feeling lucky, and therefore grateful to be working in higher education (and maybe slightly guilty about your good fortune?) then look a bit further into the future. It’s not about you, so much as it’s about the wellbeing of a workforce and a sector. It’s likely that there will be an attack on terms and conditions for all UK employees – we need to understand this erosion on our own behalves and campaign against it jointly. The privatisation of higher education doesn’t end at allowing commercial ventures like Kaplan to compete for students. Those like the outsourced cleaners of the 3cosas campaign will know that privatisation brings an intensified downward pressure on wages and conditions towards the statutory minimum. The statutory minimum itself is increasingly meagre, a victim of the social cuts agenda. Holidays, sick pay, flexible working, pensions, paid annual leave, hours worked – in fact all the things the labour movement won for all workers over the past 100 years or so – are likely to be strategically scaled back by university managers who, impossible to forget, awarded themselves up to 12% in pay rises this year.

Trade unionism shouldn’t be taken as an attempt to gain exemptions from austerity for one group of employees – it needs to be understood as a defence against austerity itself. What belonged to us all collectively has been, and continues to be, taken from us and given to private citizens with money already. Creeping privatisation looks just like this: funding university teaching through the highest fees of any public university system; outsourcing university services such as cleaning, back office functions, language teaching; performance related pay; the sale of student loans, startling inequality of pay within a workforce. And all this in the context of a massive, status-quo-sustaining bank bailout. I am very angry and if I could only understand this technocracy, I think I’d only be angrier.

Second, how to vote

Firstly stay alert. UCU Left candidates dominate the ballot papers. Who are UCU Left? The first thing to say is that the political right does not exist in any meaningful way in UCU. I cannot confirm this, but I’m fairly sure that Labour supporters are by far the majority in UCU. At any rate all the candidates are progressive. For this reason I think we should consider UCU Left as UCU far Left.

Think twice about UCU Left for the following reasons.

UCU Left passes union cash to Socialist Worker Party front organisations. UCU Left’s website doesn’t say who they are but we know they were initiated by the SWP, a small ferociously well-organised revolutionary group with a very poor reputation for democracy and minority rights, along with Respect, an alliance with SWP and Islamist origins fronted (if not actually led) by the End Violence Against Women’s Sexist of the Year, George Galloway MP. Look back through your branch minutes. If your branch resolved to donate your subs to Unite Against Fascism or the Stop the War Coaltion, then that’s where the money has gone. The SWP is murky about the overlap between its own membership and that of UCU Left, but it’s widely thought to be high. As I have tried to explain in an earlier post, Unite Against Fascism is not what it says on the tin. Stop the War Coalition is not anti-war but – invariablypartisan and its alliance with Islamist groups has made it tolerate homophobia, misogyny and antisemitism.  This organisation is a disgrace – but UCU Left tables and votes for motions to affiliate with it. How much have they stripped from our already meagre funds for this? I am not sure but I’ve witnessed motions for £250 or more. It may stretch to many thousands.

UCU Left is not transparent. I take for granted close political party involvement in trade unions. What I object to is that  Socialist Worker Party and Respect candidates don’t declare their interests – they aren’t open about their affiliations. It’s not that I want or expect unaffiliated officers or committee members – on the contrary, the expertise and encouragement that outside groups can give trade union reps is very sustaining. The trouble is that the SWP is so famously authoritarian that I assume (in the absence of the aforementioned transparency it has to be an assumption) that any of its candidates are firmly briefed and disciplined to represent the SWP, and if representing the SWP conflicts with the interests of UCU members I have no confidence that those UCU members’ interests would win out. This should be recognised as a conflict of interest – though I can’t see the SWP acknowledging any such thing.

UCU Left is scared of a strong active UCU membership. Why is turnout so low? Why are meetings so rarely quorate? And how come so many motions are passed anyway? Once they gain officer positions, they tend towards a highly didactic, polemic, rhetorical, top-table style of engagement with other members. You get the impression they are frightened of democracy. They seem to think the main job of members is to vote in a strong leadership and after that shut up and do what you’re told. Themselves comfortable in authoritarian settings, they more or less mirror management – if anything they are less enlightened. Non-officer members mutter that they feel talked down to, not consulted, uninvolved. Sometimes it seems as if the worst threat for UCU Left is that members might come together under their own steam, unsupervised. UCU Left goes to some lengths to disrupt these egalitarian gatherings. If they can’t disrupt them, they join in and gradually crowd out other members with their own contributions. This leaves a membership used to being fed propaganda, but unused to actual debates with other colleagues. Quite simply, UCU Left ideas are left untested in a distinctly unacademic way.

UCU Left repels potential and actual members. If you go to a meeting where UCU Left assume they are in a majority, it soon becomes apparent that they operate in a bubble. In their bubble non-left members don’t exist or are discouraged. So if you are not on the left, you’re probably at the bottom of the UCU Left priorities – solidarity will only be extended to you if UCU Left decides it is useful to do so. If you try to get involved to change their balance of power you will have to work all the harder. You are only welcome insofar as you pipe down, keep still, cough up, and let UCU Left objectify you into a member they can turn into a statistic, and count on to do what they say. They do not care about your kind – they want to occupy your union and enlist it, bodies and monies, into their political movement, and they aren’t keen to hear your opinion about it..

UCU Left gives us a “fighting union” in the wrong sense of the word. To the aforementioned authoritarianism, add aggression. The bizarre and singular campaign to boycott Israel – which affected me deeply – was national news and extremely divisive. This is very much a modus operandi for the SWP, which is notorious for splits and have legions of disaffected former members. Although it’s quiet on that front now, UCU Left members still create a nasty atmosphere. At a recent meeting an SWP member called fellow UCU NEC members whose views he opposes ‘bastards’. I didn’t like the aggressive language in several of the candidate statements. It is not taken seriously by the employers and it tips hatred of social stratification into hatred of individuals. My supposition that those were UCU Left candidates was correct.

To sum up

I don’t want to be in a sect and I don’t want to occupy an officer position in order to keep a UCU Left candidate out. I am grateful to individual UCU Left candidates for their hard work and dedication – particularly their casework. But this does not entitle them to rope their branches into campaigns which are not in UCU’s interests, or to suppose that they know better what is good for their members than the members themselves. I do want an inclusive, active trade union and that starts with representatives whose message to their members is “You can make a difference” rather than “Hear me and do as I say”.

So, in this Single Transferable Vote election who gets your votes? All the other candidates are progressive, so look at the descriptions and vote for people who say they are interested in recruiting, engaging, representing all members. Think twice or more about these candidates.

Interested in climate change yet?

The world belongs to the next generation. Yet, according to the behavioural economist Dan Ariely, the issue of climate change seems almost designed to dampen the motivation to address it on the part of the humans living in the global north who cause it.

“… if you kind of search the whole globe for the one problem that would maximize human apathy you would come up with global warming, right? It is, as you said, it is long in the future, it will happen to other people first, we do not see it progressing, it does not have a face. And anything we would do is a drop in the bucket, right. And you could contrast it with, what happens when one guy gets on one plane with a small bomb in his shoe, right? It is clearly terrible, but since then we all take our shoes off every time we go on a flight, right? Clearly taking an action. Global warming, if you believe the science, is a much bigger risk than one person going on the plane with a small bomb in his shoe, but we do not react to it. It does not have the same emotional reaction.”

In 2012, Cameron sacked a green energy minister, Charles Hendry, and appointed a climate change sceptic, Owen Paterson, as environment secretary. Has flooding in Somerset, which has followed the pattern predicted by climate change scientists, helped our scientists convince the politicians to use the media to urge the public to give them a mandate for change? Or persuaded the media to help the scientists push the fossil-fuel lobbyists away from the politicians ears? Or whichever way round it is?

Here’s Conservative Community Secretary of State Eric Pickles in The Telegraph defending the aid budget with loose reference to helping to alleviate the effects of global warming in Somerset (I’m not so convinced by the way the Telegraph spun that, actually). Cheering.

Not good: this week The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 gave a lot of airtime to pro-fossil fuel lobbyist and anti-scientist Lord Nigel Lawson. From Transition Network co-founder Rob Hopkins’ complaint:

“I usually enjoy the Today Programme, but today I could quite happily have hurled my radio from the window into the unseasonal hail storm lashing the windows outside. There is no need for “balance” in pieces about climate change. Does the BBC now feel compelled to have someone who thinks that smoking is good for you every time smoking is discussed? Are we now to expect a member of Occupy to be offered the right of reply every time Robert Peston discusses the economy? The BBC has a duty to reflect reality, rather than allowing dinosaurs like Lord Lawson to fill the airwaves with unscientific and deeply-irresponsible views.”

The Conservative defence secretary Philip Hammond is kind of echoing former Labour Secretary of State for the Environment and current Labour leader Ed Miliband who said,

“The problem is that either denial or dither on climate change will damage the country. Denial is damaging because it means you won’t take the steps necessary, but dither is damaging, too, because it means you are half-hearted about taking the necessary measures.

“The science is clear. The public know there is a problem. But, because of political division in Westminster, we are sleepwalking into a national security crisis on climate change.”

Their economic policies contradict this, though, and will continue to until braver leaders – or leaders who become brave – steer us clear of this moribund consumption-driven global business model. Though I have little faith in the Green Party, here is the Green Party’s 10 Step Plan on flood resilience.

Finally, a nod to my long-held cause, people who are serious greenhouse gas emissions stop eating animal because – among all the other good reasons like suffering, water abuse and biodiversity loss – animal farming contributes a huge share of greenhouse gas emissions and is calculated to grow 70% by 2050.

Extending the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism

I recently read an anti-Zionist inveighing against Zionist Jews who accuse non-Zionist Jews of “ethnoreligious treason”. He asked why the people who react badly when critics of Israel invoke Jewish identity to tell other Jews what to do, don’t react similarly badly when supporters of Israel use the same strategy. Although he should understand that equal treatment would protect those he hates – progressive Zionists or non-Zionists who are not antisemitic – as much as it would protect him, I think this is a good question.

One example – back around 2010 the EDL’s former (miniscule) Jewish Arm leader Roberta Moore was calling the Jewish Community Security Trust, not to mention Binyamin Netanyahu, the Chief Rabbi of the time, and many other Jews ‘kapos’. Here’s an example:

“I am talking to YOU, you pathetic anti-Zionist Jewish twats out there!! You shall deserve the end that you get, because I will not fight for you if you will not fight for yourself. I would defend you if you are fighting with me, but if you are leaving this dirty work for us, I will NOT even forgive you. Cowards deserve my contempt.

If you think that appeasing Islamo-fascists will keep the beast at bay, you have learnt NOTHING from Nazi Germany, you bloody KAPOS!!!!

I am very very angry with the Jewish community for being so weak and so pathetically afraid of such vermin which we ourselves, even in small numbers can bring down!!”

Kapos were Jewish concentration camp inmates who gained preferment by taking roles as camp enforcers for the Nazis. Roberta Moore calls latterday Jews ‘kapos’ for being insufficiently militant in defending Israel. I realise that not everybody would agree with me that calling a Jew a kapo is antisemitic – indeed it seems to be something that some Jewish people of earlier generations do occasionally to make a point about Jewish self-interest. But times change – or should. In Roberta Moore we got a far right demagogue who, in her use of the word ‘kapo’, verbally attacked Jews as Jews, accused them of siding with Nazis to save themselves, called them inferior as Jews – in fact as bad or worse than Nazis – questioned their loyalty as Jews, and blamed them for violence against Jews. This is what ‘kapo’ means – it is a Holocaust-minimising term, a dog whistle, and almost always a smear against progressive Jews. Surely that is antisemitic.

At the time I invoked the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism to call this antisemitic, and tried to shoehorn what Roberta Moore had said into the example “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. However I arranged it though, it was as awkward as a kitten in a bonnet. Though I support everything in the EUMC WD, the Roberta Moore example reveals gaps which leave far right Israel supporters (on the rise) much freer to make tribal demands on Jewish people with as-a-Jew stereotypes.

I’d say that the WD comprehends most kinds of antisemitism adequately (and with restraint), but insufficiently comprehends antisemitism in the name of Israel. I think antisemitism in the name of Israel might push idealised notions of Jewishness with respect to Israel,  seek to impose Jewish loyalty tests in support of Israel, or call Jews who are critical of Israel inferior Jews. At a population level I doubt this kind of antisemitism is ever going to be a massive problem. Being antisemitism from the ‘inside’ it will be perceived differently, perhaps more complacently, than that from the outside. But it does exist, it will acutely harm those it targets, and it will also harm those who take risks to build bridges for peace. Since I expect hate-fuelled simpletons to prevail in their polarisation of left and right, and views on Israel to be taken, like it or not, as a prominent marker of which pole you lean towards, I think it’s worth giving this some attention.

Here is the original EUMC WD, and below are my small changes. I’ve marked them with italics or strike-throughs but Diffchecker lets you compare if you care to.

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Working definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In addition, such manifestations could also centre on or target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing, or harming, or limiting of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

  • Accusing Stating that Jewish citizens of being are more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations, or that they are inferior as Jews for being insufficiently loyal.

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel, or accusing Jews of being insufficiently active for the welfare of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

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I can’t see these small changes criminalising anything that isn’t already criminal. It doesn’t remove anything from the original WD, either. And it doesn’t make anti-Zionism any less hare-brained. What it does achieve is recognition of antisemitism from the authoritarian pro-Israeli right, whether religious or statist. It allows us to refer to the EUMC when calling statements like Roberta Moore’s antisemitic.

Does that work?

Brave, principled Scarlett Johansson and the boycott bullies

The bottom line is Sodastream is not profiting from the occupation and is not exploiting Palestinian workers. Workers in occupied Palestine do not support the boycott of Sodastream and until they call for and lead a boycott, and UK boycott campaigns in the name of solidarity should be scrutinised carefully. I doubt Scarlett Johansson needs this Sodastream deal. She’s probably taken it because her career success has freed her from having to curry favour. At any rate, she’s done something that perhaps only a few people will grasp, because hardly anybody stands up so directly and magnificently to the bullying tactics of boycott activists.

That’s it really. Read on, or not.

Nobody likes being pushed around. Certainly the Israeli occupation of the West Bank requires people with guns and state power saying where other people will or will not go, and when. The occupation pursues a building project which expropriates land to populate with anybody but Palestinians. Israeli society is hardening towards Palestinians and among Palestinians a militant, nationalistic Islam is growing. These feed each other and peace recedes. On other blogs I have argued that boycotting produce from the occupied West Bank may be the right thing to do, but it depends. More below.

There’s a solidarity movement of boycott activists with which I’m familiar. It takes a little while to grasp that in fact they aren’t for Palestinians but are using them as a pretext. Most boycott activists know and care little for Palestinians, to the extent that they give every impression of depending on Palestinian civil society to remain as weak, riven, corrupt and lacking in governance as it currently is. An astonishing number of them have something against Jews, to whom they attribute great power and malevolence. The anti-Jewish character unites a broad political spectrum in the boycott cause. Many boycotters are also extremely aggressive, attempting to push people around by banding together in intimidating campaigns of character assassination.

Scarlett Johansson was a target of one of these campaigns. She was an Oxfam ambassador who also took on a role as brand ambassador for the soft drinks company Sodastream. Sodastream has a factory in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in occupied Palestine, and so its vendors and faces have come under attack from boycotters.

One of the ways to tell that boycott activists aren’t interested in Palestinian emancipation is that they aren’t working with the Palestinian or Israeli labour movement. These local organisations, which should be leading any solidarity movement, are completely sidelined. This is ludicrous, given that trade unions are the parts of both societies who are furthest to the political left And more bizarre – several big UK trade unions actually formally boycott their Israeli counterparts and all but ignore Palestinian trade unions. The will to boycott Israel comes first – and if you don’t fall in with that, then you’d better be prepared to fight. Boycott activists are usually vicious.

With some brave exceptions from Kristin Davies, Editors, Jethro Tull and Madonna, targets of the boycott campaign capitulate. Perhaps they don’t have the knowledge to understand the principles at stake, or perhaps they don’t have the stomach to go against them. At any rate, they usually cancel on Israel and it’s hard not to. But instead of rolling over, Scarlett Johansson says,

“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”

and

“SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’aleh Adumim factory every working day.”

And Sodastream’s CEO says they wouldn’t mind moving out of the territories if anybody could demonstrate how it would help Palestinians. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda”.

So, when is it right to boycott produce from the West Bank? I’d say it has to be instigated and led by the Palestinian labour movement – the trade unions. I want to look for precedents but I’ve run out of time.

I may buy a Sodastream out of gratitude and admiration for Johansson. This is very odd of me, but it’s strength of feeling talking here. As for Oxfam, I wonder if their board has been hijacked as Amnesty’s was. For now my direct debit to Oxfam stands but it’s not unconditional. I will investigate further remind them that there are other humanitarian charities, and try to monitor them.

People like Scarlett Johansson who don’t let themselves get pushed around get respect – even from their enemies.

British Broadcasted 2 – RAMFEL and The Hidden World of Britain’s Immigrants

It was the Go Home Vans which first prodded RAMFEL (Refugee Migrants forum of Essex and London) into media engagement,

“RAMFEL didn’t really do media work. Media outlets very rarely knocked on its door; it seemed that they would rather ask suited intermediaries than engage with the complexity of the lives and opinions of migrants themselves.  But on this occasion RAMFEL carried on doing media interviews. We gave voice to our anger, and productively. We kept being quoted in newspapers, blogging on what was happening and why Go Home was so bad…and then it happened.

“A man came to the door and said he was from the BBC. RAMFEL thought they were there to talk about Go Home vans. RAMFEL was tired and was about to tell the man to go away, (especially as he didn’t have an appointment) and then the man said ‘No, I’m here about something different. I’m here because we are making a documentary about the other side of immigration, not the politicians the human story. Can we talk to you about it?’”

So RAMFEL’s Rita Chadha featured strongly in last night’s touching BBC1 documentary The Hidden World of Britain’s Imigrants. In the light of that, RAMFEL now feels the need to step out from behind the documentary production and editing and tell their story in their own way.

Proud to be British Broadcasted

BBC Radio 4 was magnificent this evening. I switched on to The World Tonight and was substantially informed about the response to rape by the Indian authorities, British attitudes to immigration, and corruption in Turkey, among other things. Of personal interest was some lucid analysis of the Jew-baiting French comic Dieudonne which I may try and transcribe.

That was followed by Book at Bedtime, The Lonely Londoners by Trinidadian London sojourner Sam Selvon. It’s about the experience of Caribbean immigrants in the 1950s – the pallid sunshine, smog, gas fires, job-seeking, cold, reserved racism.

Then the piece de resistance. Tonight’s Andrew Maxwell’s Public Enemies was nationalism, starting with the delicate subject of Scotland, taking in Cornwall, and wondering whether we should consider New Zealand or Turkey more European.

All this at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment among the UK general public is apparently running at 8 out of 10 (and based on local knowledge a good proportion of those will be first, second, third generation immigrants themselves. Misunderstandings and disinformation are ripe for exploitation.

This is why we treasure the BBC – not least its controller Gwynneth Williams. Continue reading