Remembering Ella

May 27, 2017 at 7:59 am (jazz, Jim D, song)

Ella Fitzgerald was born just over 100 years ago on 19 April 1917, and died  on 15 June 1996. Mid-way between these two anniversaries seems like a good time to remember possibly the greatest of all jazz singers. Come to that, not just the greatest jazz singer: no one interpreted the ‘Great American Songbook’ as effectively as Ella; and no singer in any genre could equal her for sheer beauty of sound.

And yet Ella has had something of a bum deal in terms of reputation – particularly from jazz purists, who almost to a man (and I chose that expression carefully), will compare her unfavourably to her near-contemporary Billie Holiday. Billie (goes the Jazz Party Line) may have had a limited voice, but she exuded passion, sincerity, true jazz feeling and a natural affinity with the blues. Ella, on the other hand, (this is still the Party Line, you understand) was all vocal technique, but had little or no feeling, no blues sensibility and – if you want the bald truth – was scarcely a jazz singer at all!

All of which is not just unfair to Ella: it’s complete rubbish that owes more to ignorant mythology than it does to any serious musical appreciation. The idea that Billie was an authentic “jazz singer”, whose every note was suffused with passion, sincerity and suffering, is a nonsense that owes more to her ghosted (and highly unreliable) ‘autobiography’ Lady Sings the Blues (and the awful Diana Ross film based upon it), than to any boring old facts.  In reality, Billie -given the opportunity- demanded lush strings and ‘commercial’ arrangements on her later recording sessions (on which her voice was often dire). And Ella could sing with sincerity and passion (try Ill Wind from her Harold Arlen album, or Do Nothing till You Hear from Me from her Ellington album – both on ‘Verve’), in addition to simply swinging like the clappers.

Jazz has always been very male. It was one of the first art forms to insist upon racial equality: how could it not, when all (excepting a few whites like Beiderbecke, Gooodman and Teagarden) its leading practitioners were black Americans? But the fact remains that, for all its racial equality, jazz was always seriously sexist.

Women were allowed in jazz as vocalists, provided they were pretty. Mary Lou Williams was the exception and even she had the advantage of being “the Pretty Gal Who Swings the Band”; she played the piano better than most men, and also arranged for Andy Kirk’s band. Ella Fitzgerald, who could never have been called a “Pretty Gal” started singing in the 1930’s, copying the white New Orleansian Connie Boswell: Ella , nervous as she alwys would be, won a talent competition at the Apollo Ballroom , and wasn’t pretty – but had the most fabulous voice. Benny Carter heard her there and recommended her to bandleader Chick Webb. From then on her career took off, first with Chick Webb’s band (which she took over for two years when he died in 1939), and then as a soloist.

She adapted to bebop with ease; almost every record she made from the late 1940’s through to the mid 1950’s is a lesson in bop phrasing. She could also scat-sing with a facility and wit unmatched by anyone except Louis Armstrong or Leo Watson. Then, Norman Granz (of Verve records) came up with the “Song Book” idea: give Ella the task of recording all the significant songs of – say- Gershwin, Porter, or Mercer, and give her the lush backing of Nelson Riddle, or the brassy drive of Billy May, and you have a series of classics. No serious music lover (even if you’re not particularly into jazz) should be without them.

But Ella, despite her success, was never really happy. She wasn’t obviously unhappy the way Billie Holiday was (although Billie’s reputation as a tragic victim is at least in part the result of her own “successful exploitation of her (own) personal life” in the words of one commentator). Ella’s unhappiness was, apparently, that she simply felt unloved and felt unattractive to men. Sarah Vaughan – another wonderful vocalist – felt the same way. Ella was married to the bass player Ray Brown for a while in the 1950’s, but that didn’t work out (nor did a second marriage), possibly because of her inferiority complex. Her friend, Marian Logan, at the time of a 1950 European tour with Norman Granz’s ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ described her thus;

“She was shy and she was very insecure about her looks. She used to tell me, ‘You’re so beautiful’. It was hard on Ella. Everyone around her was so young and slim and she was young and fat, and she thought of herself, I guess, as kind of ordinary. Nobody ever made her realise that she had a beauty that was a lot different and a lot more lasting than the beauty of those ‘look pretty and the next day look like a raggedy-bose-of yacka-may’. Nobody ever made her feel valuable even for her talents. Nobody made much over her. She was always a very lonely person”.

The jazz world is -rightly- proud of its organic anti-racism; it has little to be proud of in its treatment of women. The reason for Ella’s underappreciation in jazz circles has, I suspect, a lot to do with her looks. She was – to put it bluntly – “matronly”(“homely” is another frequently used description) in a world where female singers were judged as much by their looks as by their voice. Billie Holiday was not exactly a conventional beauty, but even in her declining years she remained a striking, handsome woman. Ella just had that voice.

She ended up as the elder stateswoman of jazz: honoured and acknowledged by all, but lonely. Her performances never moved me in quite the the way Billie Holiday’s do. But she kept the “Great American Songbook” alive the way no-one else could. For that – if nothing else- she deserves to be remembered.

Yes, Ella had real beauty, and not just in her voice (although that was -quite simply- the most gorgeous vocal sound ever produced in jazz or anywhere else): she was a lovely, loving, modest and strangely child-like talent who never quite believed in her own ability. In fact, she seems to have seriously doubted herself throughout her career. Her life strikes me as more tragic than that of Billie Holiday, who may have made bad choices in men and in many other matters, but did so voluntarily (it has even been suggested that she -Billie- was a masochist). Ella was lonely, insecure and never realised how good and important she was. The sexism and superficiality of the jazz/showbiz world, and the wider society it existed within, was, in large part, to blame. But that voice

(NB: Fortunately, Ella’s geatest recordings are widely and easily available: I recommend ‘The Best of the Song Books’, Verve 519 804-2 and ‘The Best of the Song Books: The Ballads’, Verve 521 867-2)

Permalink 1 Comment

Corbyn on foreign policy: the pros and cons

May 26, 2017 at 7:58 pm (Clive Bradley, Human rights, immigration, imperialism, internationalism, iraq war, labour party, Middle East, posted by JD, Stop The War, Syria, terror, war)


Above: Corbyn’s speech today

This piece was written by Clive before Corbyn’s speech today (26/05/2017) on foreign policy. In this speech, Corbyn – whilst making it clear that the terrorist perpetrators are the ones guilty of the acts they perpetrate – seemed to reiterate the simplisticblow-back” view of foreign policy held by his friends in the pro-Taliban/Putin/Assad Stop The War Coalition. Clive – characteristically – is scrupulously fair to Corbyn: I, personally, think he’s too fair:

The limits of Labour’s multilateralism

By Clive Bradley

There has been some recent media attention on Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged past links to the IRA and the claim that he is a “pacifist” — meaning, he is opposed to any and every kind of military intervention, even around “humanitarian” issues.

Corbyn does have a record of support for the Republican movement in Ireland (that is, not the IRA as such, but the nationalists fighting for a united Ireland), and he was long involved with the Stop the War Coalition, which did indeed oppose — sometimes, in Workers’ Liberty’s view, with terrible arguments — the major military interventions involving Britain since the Iraq war (Libya; Syria); the key forces within it including Corbyn, also opposed intervention in Kosova.

But in both cases, while Corbyn’s own politics are influenced by a left-wing tradition of political “softness” towards noxious movements simply because they are at odds with “the West”, his record is probably more concretely connected to a desire to resolve conflicts through negotiation and diplomacy. (This is true, I think, even of his more controversial statements about, for instance, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement). And this commitment to diplomatic solutions comes top of the Labour manifesto promises on foreign policy. “We will put conflict resolution and human rights at the heart of foreign policy, commit to working through the UN, end support for unilateral aggressive wars of intervention and back effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis,” it states, boldly.

Referring to “ongoing wars across the Middle East, unprecedented numbers of refugees, global terrorism, climate change, the threat of nuclear conflict, a devastating food crisis across East Africa and beyond, an erratic US administration and a more combative government in Russia…” it insists that: “We [must] exhaust diplomatic solutions alongside international, regional and local partners within the framework of international law.”

Though describing the Trump administration as “erratic” seems a bit of an understatement, here Labour is at least prepared to call into question a “special relationship” that previous Labour governments (Blair, obviously, but going back long before that) have embraced. The statement goes on: “When [Trump] chooses to ignore [our shared values] whether by discriminating on the basis of religion or breaking its climate change commitments, we will not be afraid to disagree.”

On one key conflict, Syria, Labour promises to “work tirelessly to end the conflict and get the diplomatic process back on track” — which is implicitly critical of recent military actions. It is unclear what this implies regarding the ongoing, less high-profile Western military involvement in the Syrian conflict. And Corbyn personally does not have the best record on denouncing Syria’s murderous president Assad. But as far as it goes, Labour’s policy is unobjectionable. “Labour is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution — a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.” This for sure is the only basis upon which peace can be
achieved.

The Party also promises to address other conflicts — it mentions “Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.” Indeed on Yemen — where the Tory government has backed a brutal Saudi-led war, Labour demands “a comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into alleged violations of [human rights] in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition. We will immediately suspend any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded.” This would be a welcome change indeed in British foreign policy. A more comprehensive look at arms sales in general would have been more welcome still.

Many such conflicts pose sharply perhaps the most vital issue facing Europe and the Western world — the refugee crisis, which is driven by wars and poverty and shows no sign of abating. On this, Labour is vague: “In the first 100 days of government, we will produce a cross-departmental strategy to meet our international obligations on the refugee crisis.” That is an improvement on the Tories’ utterly lamentable record.

The commitment to “conflict resolution”, if it led to anything in practice, would be a part of any meaningful solution to the crisis. But only part. Immigration is at the heart of the political debate. The issue was clearly central in fact to the Brexit vote. It is the issue which, above all others, the Corbyn leadership finds it hardest to challenge mainstream prejudices. On one level this is hardly surprising — given the toxic stream of anti-immigrant propaganda delivered daily by so much of the media (the Daily Mail being an obvious example). If Labour took an unequivocal line supporting free movement it would be savagely attacked in the press — and many of its core voters, those who voted for Brexit and so forth, would prove hard to win over in the short term (certainly before the election).

While Labour this time certainly avoids the idiotic pandering to these prejudices which marked the Miliband campaign in 2015, still it is backtracking from earlier, stronger statements. Labour is, of course, better than May’s Tories. But a general sense of good-will towards immigrants and migrants, and promises to “meet obligations”, do not equal a policy.

And on defence policy, Labour’s current commitments are a very long way to the right of what might be expected from the Corbyn team. Labour will support Trident. More: “Conservative spending cuts have put Britain’s security at risk, shrinking the army to its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars”.

Labour, by contrast, commits “to spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence [to] guarantee that our Armed Forces have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of [their] obligations.” No doubt this reflects compromises with Labour’s pro-NATO right wing.

There is certainly much to support in Labour’s manifesto commitments on foreign policy, but the broad sweep of it is pretty “mainstream” — multilateralist, favouring diplomacy over armed intervention, with some commitments to the rights of immigrants (whether from EU countries or refugees), but nothing hugely specific, and nothing which could be construed as particularly radical. It is, nonetheless, for sure, a step forward in comparison to the Blair years.

Permalink 18 Comments

‘Prevent’: time for a rational discussion on the left

May 25, 2017 at 8:40 pm (anti-fascism, apologists and collaborators, Civil liberties, communalism, ex-SWP, fascism, Free Speech, islamism, Middle East, misogyny, SWP, terror)

Image result for picture Cage John Rees
Stalinoid ex-SWP’er John Rees flanked by pro-Taliban members of Cage: united in opposing Prevent

The Manchester outrage, and the reports that some local Muslims had warned the authorities of the perpetrator’s (and others’) extremism, raises the question of the left’s attitude towards ‘Prevent’. For too long Islamists and their apologists have got away with simply smearing Prevent as “islamophobic” and denounced all those (including secular Muslims) willing to work with it. This article from Labour List provides a starting point for a much-needed discussion:

In defence of Prevent: why Britain’s anti-radicalisation strategy must be reformed rather than scrapped

By Stephen Lambert

Prevent, part of the Government’s annual £40m counter terrorism strategy, seeks to challenge the impact of extremism and radicalisation by “encouraging debate” in local communities and schools.

It works through community safety partnerships led by local councils. Each police force has a specially trained Prevent officer who liaises with community groups and other public bodies. All teachers, social workers, doctors and councillors are trained to be on the lookout for signs of radical Islamic, far-right and extreme left-wing activity.

Since the latest rules came in four years ago there have been a number of appalling events leading to the loss of life on mainland Britain. The actions of a suicide bomber, motivated by hate, brought carnage to Manchester, killing 22 and maiming 59. It is the latest in a line of attacks. Our thoughts go out to the bereaved and injured. Two months ago a “lone actor” terrorist hit Westminster and murdered a police officer. Last summer the anti-racism campaigner, Jo Cox, was killed by a far-right white supremacist in her home town in Yorkshire. In 2013 the off-duty soldier Lee Rigby was killed by three jihadis in London.

According to the counter-terrorism think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, Britain is ‘”facing a shifting and increasing range of threats emanating from jihadist groups and individuals.’’

Islamic State or Daesh remains the principal threat on British soil “reinforced by the numbers of returned foreign terrorist fighters.’’

MI5 estimated that 850 people seen as a potential security threat are known to have taken part in the Syrian conflict, with half thought to have returned here. 

Lead anti-terrorist experts such as Rob Wainwright of Europol claim another worrying development is the “significant rise in nationalist, xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic sentiments across the EU, each resulting in acts of far-right extremism.’’

Some 57 per cent of lone-actor foiled terrorism attempts in Britain have been carried out by right-wing extremists, the home office said.

The radical left believes Prevent is damaging trust in society. The duty has charged government officials, teachers, health professionals and councillors with monitoring people’s political and religious views. It has been suggested that Prevent has eroded civil liberties, demonised Muslims and bolstered religious discrimination.

True, hate crimes against Muslims soared by 70 per cent between 2011 and 2014. For Liam Byrne, who considered this in Black Flag Down, and former Conservative minister Sayeed Warsi, Prevent has contributed to a climate of intimidation amongst some ethnic groups. Muslims constitute 5 per cent of the population, yet official figures show that 67 per cent of those referred for suspected radicalisation in 2014, were Muslim.

Civil libertarians maintain that Prevent is not making our citizens safer. Rather it’s fostering an atmosphere of insecurity while stoking up Islamophobia at a time when the far-right is on the rise both in the UK and across Europe.

But scrapping Prevent as part of the overall Contest strategy is not the way forward. The stark reality is that Prevent, despite its imperfections, has helped to thwart the level of violent terrorism. Radical Islamism and the growth of the far-right threatens hard won freedoms, democratic values and institutions, liberty, the rule of law and national security.

Critics of Prevent have to been too quick to label it as some sort of spying operation. This is patently false. Prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, one in three of the hardline Communist-run East Germany’s populace were Stasi informants spying on their own neighbours.

Prevent, contrary to popular belief, is a voluntary programme, requiring parental consent. It takes in special branch, local  community partnerships such as Safe Newcastle, educational establishments, the fire service and youth offending teams. In most cases it is implemented with sensitivity without alienating any section of the community. Clearly the vast majority of Muslims in Britain are moderate, law-abiding citizens who reject violence. Across our core cities, including Newcastle, peace vigils are being held in response to the latest attack.

The shocking event at Manchester testifies to the terrible impact of terrorism. Most of it is home grown. It’s not imported from the EU. Andrew Parker, director-general of MI5, notes that more than 3,000 jihadi men and women, some in their teens, are being watched. At least 12 plots have been foiled in the last two years. The government, Andy Burnham and fair-minded people across the country fully support the decision to increase the number of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ operatives by another 1,900.

Of-course, strengthening surveillance is crucial. But the government needs to take steps to better engage Muslim groups in anti-radicalisation measures delivered through a multi-agency approach. Indications are that Amber Rudd, the home secretary, will carry out an in-depth review of Prevent to shed its toxic image amongst some sections of the Asian community.

One important way to tackle potential radicalisation is through learning and training. The government’s Fundamental British Values programme is being delivered in every school and college in England and Wales to promote the principles which underpin our liberal democracy – respect, tolerance, the rule of law and equality.

Many experienced teachers and youth workers are prepared to challenge the reactionary ideas of “youthful jihadi apologists” or far-right supporters of ultra-nationalist groups, like the BNP.

Urban colleges, as in Bradford, have been praised by Ofsted for their partnership work with police and the local Muslim community in challenging extremism. And Sadiq Khan, Labour’s mayor of London, pointed out that the Muslim community in other places needs to take ownership of the issue and engage more with Prevent.

Prevent’s work on the ground needs reform, as spelt out in Labour’s manifesto, but it must not be abandoned if we are to win the hearts and minds of Britain’s Muslim communities. Maintaining safe neighbourhoods remains a priority while violent extremism against vulnerable citizens must be defeated. And, of course, the perpetrators of these cowardly crimes must be brought to justice.

Stephen Lambert is director of Education4Democracy and a Newcastle councillor. He is a former chair of  Safe Newcastle.

Permalink 3 Comments

Back to Work

May 25, 2017 at 5:42 am (democracy, elections, islamism, Rosie B, terror)

My local hustings was cancelled last night. Electioneering was put on hold after the Manchester bombing and will not resume until tomorrow. Outside of Manchester itself, one day’s pause would have been enough.

There has been plenty written by Mancunians celebrating their city, their football and music and creativity. That is their Manchester, and they cherish it and celebrate more now it is wounded.

I’ve only visited the city once and was taken with its buzz and friendly citizens and its mighty Victorian industrial past preserved. I had heard the music of course but my Manchester, the one I saw, was the civic pride of the Victorian industrialists with its splendid town hall and art collection.

Manchester had come to me from other angles – from Mrs Gaskell’s North and South with its outspoken women factory workers who astonish the lady from the agricultural south. It is Peterloo and the Chartists and the Anti-Corn Law League, the Manchester Guardian, the liberals and the radicals who sought to extend the franchise. Emmeline Pankhurst was a Mancunian. I remember the suffragettes every time I cast a vote. That Manchester shaped British politics.

To honour its spirit we should get back to the door-knocking and leafletting, the hustings and the interviews, the debates and the polls and the betting, the manifestos, the wriggling out of questions and the bad-tempered exchanges and all the noise – some of it fairly cacophonous – around an election.

The democratic process should not be derailed by a failed piece of humanity with a foul ideology who tried bigging himself up by murdering a bunch of gig-goers.

1024px-Brown_work

Work by Ford Madox Ford, Manchester Art Gallery

Permalink 6 Comments

AWL statement: Against the terrorists, fight to rebuild hope

May 24, 2017 at 7:55 am (AWL, fascism, islamism, Middle East, murder, posted by JD, religion, socialism, solidarity, terror)

 .

Only a rebirth of social hope can cut the roots of the vindictiveness-obsessed, death-obsessed political-Islamist movements.

The bombing at the Manchester Arena, which as we go to press has killed 22 and injured 59, has been claimed by Daesh as its own. Experts say that may be inaccurate and macabre boasting; but almost certainly the killer was an Islamist clerical-fascist of some sort.

We join many others in extending our solidarity to the families and friends of those killed and injured.

It will be good if the police can arrest any who collaborated with the attacker, and good if the Iraqi army (with US backing) can complete their battle to push Daesh out of Mosul, where it has ruled since June 2014. But recent decades show that no-one can have confidence in the cops or big-power armies to quell this clerical-fascist terrorism; that in fact their actions, like the clumsy “Prevent” programme​, like successive curbs on civil liberties, like the USA’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (launched under cover of the “war on terror” declared by US president George W Bush in 2001), like the USA’s record in Afghanistan since it came in to push out the Taliban in 2001, will feed the despair underpinning the terrorists rather than mend it.

Daesh extols the attack as killing “crusaders”, extracting “revenge”, and terrorising the “mushrikin” (polytheists or atheists). The attack has to be put into some historical context.

Cults of death run through the history of fascism. The Spanish Falangists (part of Franco’s forces) had the slogan Viva la Muerte, Long Live Death.

For the death cult to reach the pitch of suicide attacks on randomly chosen civilians, often young people or children (and, world-wide, more often what the Islamists see as the wrong sort of Muslims than non-Muslims), requires a particular mix.

Religion: cults of martyrdom, beliefs in afterlife rewards. Despair: an across-the-board rage at the modern world. Logistics: the idea that these attacks on “soft” targets bypass overwhelming military might.

Systematic suicide bombing starts, in the modern world, with the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers movement in 1987. They borrowed it from the Islamist movement Hezbollah, in Lebanon, which in 1983 had done a truck bombing of the US Marine base in Beirut and forced the US to withdraw.

With the Tamil Tigers — who eventually made hundreds of suicide attacks — and Hezbollah, there was some connection to determinable political aims (force the US out of Lebanon, force the Sri Lankan government to cede Tamil independence), though the tactics meshed with politics which made the Tigers and Hezbollah menaces to “their own” people too.

From the 1980s, and even more from the early 1990s, Islamic clerical-fascists took the lead in this tactic, and shifted it increasingly to attacks, like the Manchester one, which fail even to claim a determinable political goal. They had been boosted by Khomeiny’s seizure of power in Iran in 1979, the near-victory of Islamists in Algeria in the early 90s, and the Taliban’s gaining power in Kabul in 1996.

The balance of their attacks has shifted away from targets which could be held, however tenuously, to symbolise oppressive power, towards “soft” civilian targets.

The UK’s top “anti-terrorist” cop said in March this year that his forces had forestalled 13 terrorist attacks since June 2013. We have no way of checking his figures. He may be right. The facts show that the established powers and measures have no success at draining the swamps of hatred which lead to more and more attacks and attempts. Only a renewed socialist labour movement can do that.

After the 7 July 2005 Tube bombings the British police reported 269 religious hate crimes against Muslims and mosques in the next three weeks, six or seven times the level of the previous year. Such responses increase the suffering, rather than decreasing it.

Britain could scarcely have a meaner-spirited, more closed-door, attitude to refugees from Syria than it already has. Any further worsening there should be opposed. Many of those refugees are fleeing the clerical-fascist terror of Daesh and similar movements in Syria. The fight against that terrorism calls for welcoming them.

Permalink 1 Comment

Manchester Arena blast: the people rally round

May 23, 2017 at 4:09 am (good people, humanism, Jim D, solidarity, terror)

The BBC reports:

Within an hour of reports of the incident emerging, people began offering spare rooms and beds to people stranded in the city using the hashtag #RoomForManchester.

Hundreds of tweets offering places to stay are being shared and re-tweeted thousands of times.

#RoomForManchesterImage copyright Mark McGregor

Permalink 5 Comments

Labour’s manifesto and the economy: a moderate re-balancing towards fairness

May 21, 2017 at 6:41 am (economics, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity)

Image result for labour manifesto 2017

Martin Thomas looks at the modest reality of Labour’s manifesto (full text here).

The output (value-added) of the UK economy these days is around £1900 billion a year. Of that, about £360 billion is goods and services bought by central and local government, about £320 billion is capital investment, and about £1,130 billion is stuff bought by households. The sub-totals do not add up to the overall total because of other categories, and the figures are rough, based on the last available official figures, for 2014.

The UK government produces many useful statistics on the distribution of household income, but not for the percentage of household income taken by the rich, the top 5%, and the fairly well-off, the top 20%. To get an idea, let’s borrow the US figures — 20%-plus of the total for the top 5%, 50%-plus for the top 20%. Historically, US income inequality has been greater than the UK’s, but the gap has decreased, and inequality between top and bottom incomes has been rising in a way that makes official figures, always produced after a delay, usually underestimates.

Household income and household consumption can diverge, especially for very high-income people who save a lot of their income, but the US figures will give us a ballpark estimate. A dozen complications make the figures inexact; but an inexact estimate of the shape of the forest can teach us lessons not visible from more precise statistics about the trees. If we subtract 20% from the employed-workforce total of 32 million for bosses and their high-paid associates, some 26 million workers turn out about £74,000 each in products and services.

Of each £74,000:
• about £22,000 returns as wage, benefit, and pension income to the lower 80%, mostly working-class households
• about £9,000 goes in household income to the top 5%
• about £12,000 to expanding capital, from which they benefit most
• about £13,000 in household income to the well-off-but-not-rich 15%
• about £14,000 in government purchases of goods and services, be that medicines for the NHS and books for schools, or Trident missile replacements.

Let’s say half to two-thirds of that £14,000 is health, education, and similar spending which should be counted as part of the social wage. That leaves over £40,000 of the average worker’s value-added going to the rich or well-off, to the expansion of capital controlled by the rich, and to the expansion of the power and pomp of the state. Or over £1,000 billion a year in total.

The figure is rough. But it gives a measure of the mendacity of the Tory propagandists who denounce Labour’s manifesto as made of “wild, uncosted spending commitments”.

To pay for:
• More than £6 billion extra per year for the NHS
• £8 billion extra for social care
• Reversal of the Tory school cuts
• Reversal of the Tory benefit cuts, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits
• Restoring student grants, and scrapping university tuition fees
• Ending the 1% freeze on pay rises for health and education workers

the Labour manifesto promises to:
• increase income tax for the top 5%
• reverse the Tories’ cuts in corporation tax.

It promises to take some tens of billions of pounds — John McDonnell estimates £50-odd billion — out of the £1,000 billion a year which currently goes to the rich and the very well-off, or to enterprises under their control.

Many other economic measures in the manifesto require little extra public spending. The government can readily borrow to build new council housing, and then by law council housing accounts are “ring-fenced”. Tenants’ rents cover the costs. In fact, more than that, since in recent years councils have been sneakily raiding their housing accounts by artificially increasing “service charges” paid from them to other departments. Abolishing tuition fees will cost little in current government spending. After tuition fees were raised, the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported “ the average total taxpayer contribution has not fallen very much”, since the government pays about as much on student loans for fees, and their administration, as it previously paid direct to universities.

Increasing the minimum wage to £10 an hour will force bosses to limit their profits and the amount they pay themselves, but that is all. The Picturehouse strikers have reported that the boss of Cineworld (which owns Picturehouse) could pay Picturehouse workers the Living Wage out of his own personal take, and still pocket £1 million. Repealing the punitive Trade Union Act, abolishing zero-hours contracts, and saying workers have “employee” rights by default (putting the burden on the boss to prove that they are not employees) will not tap public funds, but will help workers reduce inequality. Renationalising the railways, and launching publicly-owned energy companies, will limit privatised operators’ loot, but not cost taxpayers.

The moral and political content of the manifesto is the reduction of inequality. It is not to be counted in a few pounds here and a few pounds there. It is about changing towards a society of solidarity and cooperation from one where a rich few lord it over a majority who have to scrape and scrabble to find food and shelter, education and health care, or even to get a few hours’ work each week — where each one jabs their elbow in their neighbour’s face to get out of the mire and on to the high lands. It is about reversing the trends of the last near-forty years, since Thatcher.

When Thatcher took office in 1979, the ratio of incomes at the bottom of the top 10% to those at the top of the bottom 10%, the 90:10 decile ratio, was about 3. By the time she quit, in 1990, it was up to 4.5. Since then, and until now, Thatcher’s “neoliberal” mode of economic policy has dominated, with only slight inflections this way or that. Inequality has steadily drifted up to 5.3 now. Under the Blair and Brown Labour goverments, measures like the minimum wage and tax credits improved things for some of the very poorest, but inequality still rose, because the rich increased their loot much faster.

Under Thatcher, the very richest gained — individually, though not in terms of the society they were living in — and also a large group of upper-middle-income people. That has changed since the crash of 2008. The very richest quickly recovered their losses. The conservative Sunday Times headlined its report on its annual Rich List for 2017: “In a year of uncertainty, one thing was without doubt — Britain’s richest were getting richer… the total wealth of Britain’s 1,000 richest individuals and families soared to £658bn — a 14% rise on last year”.

Since 2008 both the worse-off and also middling-income people have seen at best stagnation. Real wages increased a bit, on average, in 2014-5 and 2015-6, thanks to some recovery in the world economy, but are still well behind pre-crash levels. Almost certainly they are already decreasing, and set to decrease further. No-one yet knows what the eventual Brexit deal will be like. But only the most fanatical ultra-market economists believed that Brexit could actually improve Britain’s overall income.

Their recipe is to slash all social and environmental regulations and protections, so that Britain becomes a high-profit, low-wage, high-insecurity, low-welfare platform for global capital, conveniently close to Europe. viable The main Tory leaders do not think that is viable. They know that, by diminishing and hindering trade, they will diminish economic life, to a yet-unknown extent. What justifies that, for them, is their mean-minded obsession with excluding migrants. Which will further diminish economic life, since those migrants are mostly young, keen, taxpaying workers, essential to many public services. The Tory future is grim.

That is why Theresa May has gone for an election now, and why she refuses to offer any substantial prospectus other than “strong and stable leadership”. It is why she refuses to rule out tax rises. The Resolution Foundation think-tank, analysing known wage trends and already-programmed benefit cuts, has predicted a rise in the 90:10 inequality ratio from 5.3 now to 6 in 2020, a faster rise even than under Thatcher. That is without taking into account effects from Brexit.

The choice at this election is between a “strong and stable” drive to make inequality even more hurtful, and an attempt to reduce inequality and institute some social solidarity and cooperation.

Explaining the Labour manifesto to workers who have been beaten down by years of Thatcher, Blair, and Cameron into believing that no plan for improvement can ever be true is a first step. It is not all. We need an active, mobilised, and lively labour movement to sustain the message, and to sustain and push a Labour government if we win one on 8 June.

The proposed clawback from the rich is moderate. In simple arithmetic, they could afford it easily — some tens of billions out of hundreds of billions of value which they siphon away each year. But the rich do not get rich, in a capitalist society, by being generous and easy. They get rich by being the people most ruthless in pursuit of greed, exploitation, trampling down and squeezing the working class.

What they say now, while they are still confident of a Tory victory, about Labour’s policies being “wild”, “ruinous”, “disastrous”, and “illegal”, is a pale anticipation of how they will react if Labour wins. They have a hundred levers of sabotage of an elected government — from “strikes” of capital, through top officials, to the Labour right — and they will use them.

In Solidarity’s view, even the moderate rebalancing proposed by Labour’s manifesto can be implemented thoroughly and securely only by a labour movement ready and willing to take economic power out of the hands of the ultra-rich, by workers’ control and social ownership across industry. The movement will become strong enough to do that only by uniting, now, to create and organisation in every workplace and working-class street capable of winning a majority for the manifesto and fighting the battles needed to implement it.

Permalink 2 Comments

Alice Neel in Harlem

May 20, 2017 at 4:51 pm (Art and design, culture, humanism, posted by JD, United States)

Alice Neel, Uptown is at Victoria Miro, London N1 from 18 May-29 July. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, published by David Zwirner Books and Victoria Miro.

 Above: Alice Neel’s 1950 portrait of the playwright Alice Childress

“I love you Harlem,” the American painter Alice Neel wrote in her diary around the end of World War II, and really, she loved everything in it. Neel celebrated Harlem — specifically its ethnically mixed section known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio — for “your poverty and your loves.” And what Neel eulogized in her diary, she immortalized in oils: street scenes, interiors and, above all, portraits of the men, women and children in a neighborhood far from the suburban Philadelphia of her youth, which the artist adopted as her own.

Little heralded in her lifetime, Neel (1900-1984) has won posthumous acclaim as one of America’s most inventive and peculiar portraitists. Her later paintings, especially, made her sitters strange through thick outlining and unelaborated backgrounds. But behind Neel’s experiments with form were New York lives — of writers and revolutionaries, lovers and petty criminals – Jason Farrago, New York Times.

Benjamin, 1976
Benjamin was the son of Neel’s landlord in Harlem. She painted many portraits of adolescent boys, some more self-assured than Benjamin appears. ‘Alice seems moved by his smallness,’ says Als. ‘There’s something about the vulnerability of his shape, the narrowness of his shoulders and the tilt of his head. It’s a moving picture of a boy who has yet to become a man and doesn’t quite know how to fit into masculinity. He’s thinking, “Is this the way a boy or a man sits?” Just as we have paintings of young women in flower becoming women, this is about a boy about to be transformed.’

  Ron Kajiwara, 1971
When Alice Neel painted his portrait, Ron Kajiwara was a graphic designer at Vogue; later, he became its design director. ‘Kajiwara’s face is a kind of mask here,’ Als says. ‘He and his family had been interned in California during the second world war when he was a kid, and he was gay, and there is something so forbidding about his character. He has been rejected by the world and here he is working in the white avant garde. His pose is a kind of armour. Alice is painting her inability to get further in; his beautiful self defence.’

Ron Kajiwara, 1971, by Alice Neel

Abdul Rahman, 1964
‘I know all the theory of everything,’ Alice Neel once said, ‘but when I paint I don’t think of anything except the subject and me.’ Abdul Rahman was a cab driver she painted more than once. Als: ‘What’s so powerful about a lot of Alice’s pictures of men is she doesn’t shy away from the erotic element. She lets it be known as part of the work. What is energising in this painting is the erotics of her looking. She looks at men the way men might look at women or other men. It is delectable to her.’

Abdul Rahman, 1964, by Alice Neel
*
Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, 1959
The world treats your children as you have treated them,’ Neel once observed. And when she came to paint children, she was always concerned to treat them as equals. She also had some tricks to keep their attention. ‘She would suddenly miaow like a cat to keep the children interested while they were sitting,’ says Als. ‘I love this painting as a kind of perversion of a Sunday-school portrait. There is a kind of fierceness to the girls. Alice liked that. She wanted girls who would stand up to the challenge of being painted.’

Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, 1959 by Alice Neel

Permalink 2 Comments

Tories to outlaw effective strike action on rail

May 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm (elections, posted by JD, Tory scum, unions, workers)

This item, tucked away in the Tories’ “pro-worker” manifesto, seems to have escaped the media’s notice:

‘We will work with train companies and their employees to agree minimum service levels during periods of industrial dispute – and if we cannot find a voluntary agreement, we will legislate to make this mandatory’ (p.60)

H/t: Comrade Tony and thanks to Roger McCarthy and others BTL for pointing out the link to the image I originally posted had broken.

Permalink 6 Comments

Israeli intelligence expert Melman on Trump’s “dangerous amateurism”

May 18, 2017 at 2:42 pm (israel, Middle East, posted by JD, Putin, Russia, Trump, United States) ()

By Yossi Melman (17 May 2017) at Yedioth  Ahronoth: Dangerous Amateurism

  • Israeli officials were very careful yesterday not to comment even implicitly on reports from the US, according to which US President Donald Trump shared top secret intelligence in his meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrof and with the Russian ambassador to Washington. That’s all senior officials need, to get into trouble with the unpredictable Trump prior to his visit to Israel next week.
  • .

  • American media outlets assessed yesterday that the secret information came from Jordan or from Israel — two countries whose intelligence  communities have very close ties with American intelligence. Both also have good capabilities. The Jordanians [specialize] more in handling agents; Israel, presumably [specializes] in technological intelligence — in coverage of Syria and ISIS. Lat night the New York Times already reported that the information came from Israel, which had requested that the US handle it with extreme caution.
  • .

  • In any case, the information, irrespective of its source, dealt with ISIS terror plots. We can assume that Trump said what he said in order to mobilize and spur the Russians into taking action against the terror organization, which is a front on which they are dragging their feet. However, sharing the information is a double-edged sword. The Russians, who are working in Syria to fortify Bashar Assad’s regime, might share the information to him and perhaps even to his allies/their allies in the civil war in Syria — Iran and Hizbullah. Each of these could make use of the information, if it comes to their attention, in such a manner that would jeopardize intelligence operations and expose sources of information. And in this shadow world, there is no worse sin than failing to protect sources and exposing agents — as in the affair involving Eli Zeira, the Mossad and Egyptian agent Ashraf Marwan.
  • .

  • In democratic countries, the intelligence communities are committed to give all the information at their disposal to the political echelon. There are leaders, in Israel too (such as the late Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin), who insist on receiving not only the executive summary, but also knowing about the sources that are behind the information. Presumably, Trump delivered the information not out of malice, but simply because of his lack of understanding of the rules of the game in the [sphere of] intelligence. If he did this with malicious intent, then that is a different story, which borders on treason and espionage.
  • .

  • Sharing the information with a third party without permission from the supplying source undoubtably undermines trust between the two countries. And intelligence cooperation is based first and foremost on trust. There is no doubt that officials in the US intelligence community are also embarrassed by the president’s amateurism. But at this point what can they do? They are on a collision course with him in any case, and the affair of the dismissal of former FBI director James Comey is only one example. Besides, after all, he is the elected president and commander-in-chief of the military.
  • .

  • Before being elected president, Trump had already become entangled in slips of the tongue and leaking intelligence, to which he was exposed in briefings that he received.
  • .

  • Now there are reports in Europe that following the incident, some countries are weighing the option of scaling down their cooperation with the United States. This is empty talk. The US is an intelligence power, and all the intelligence communities in the Western world, certainly small countries like Israel, are more dependent on it than it is on them. The relationships here are not among equals, and are more similar to the relationship between horse and rider. Even those who are angry at Trump will not be able to take counter-measures, since then they would be exposed to American revenge and punitive action. If the information is indeed from Israel or Jordan, have no fear — both countries will continue to cooperate with the United States, mainly because they have no alternative. However, they will be more cautious.

Permalink 1 Comment

Next page »