Sunday, August 20, 2017

My Log 557 Aug 30 2017: Remarkable BBC series uncovers the true history of Britain’s 46,000 slaveowners, whose profits financed British industrialization

One of the most revealing and impressive programmes I have ever seen on television has just been broadcast in two parts by the BBC, under the title Britain’s Forgotten Slaveowners.  Based on research done by a team of historians at University College, London, it shows that not only was slavery almost unspeakably profitable economically, which has always been well-known, but that the greatest payoff came after it was abolished, when a huge compensation was paid by the British government to the slaveowners that amounted to the equivalent of 17 billion pounds in today’s money (or, at current exchange rates, closer to $29 billion Canadian). But nothing, of course, for the slaves.
The most revealing thing in this programme is that the greatest payoff in British history has been deliberately swept under the carpet, eliminated from the history that has always been taught in schools, and that this money was virtually the bedrock on which Britain’s extraordinary industrial success in the 19th century was based.
Furthermore many of Britain’s most aristocratic families owed their social elevation to the vast wealth accumulated from slavery, and  the tendrils of this huge payoff have penetrated into the lives of almost everyone in Britain (although the payoff itself, before the days of income tax, when government income came from consumption taxes, was basically drawn from the poor.)
The facts of this investigation have been drawn from the books of  a specially created 10-man board called the Slavery Compensation Commission, whose records contain the information that there were 46,000 slaveowners scattered across the British Empire, who owned some 800,000 slaves, on each of whom the owners were paid compensation for the losses that abolition of slavery could have caused them. 
The admirable presenter of these astounding facts, is David Olusoga, a British-Nigerian historian, educated at Liverpool and Leicester Universities, whose family when he was a child were the only blacks living in a Newcastle council flat which they eventually had to leave because of attacks by racists. He has since made a name for himself with books, and programmes like this that have made a point of rescuing from oblivion many aspects of the real history lived by black and other minorities.
From the 17th century Barbados was established by the British as the first colony built and run on slavery, ruthlessly enforced. Some 50 settlers arrived in 1627, complete with their own workforce of indentured workers who were given their food and shelter, and a promise of 10 acres of land at the end of their service.  The new settlers tapped into the Atlantic slave trade, and every year ships arrived  bearing thousands of Africans. The documents describe in detail  the brutality with which any sign of insurrection was treated, whippings, slit noses, burning of the face with hot irons, iron shackles, neck braces,  all part of the system of an extremely violent repression.  Barbados was an incubator, says Olusoga, the greatest experiment in modern terror, that gradually spread across the Caribbean, giving rise to two centuries of intense suffering as the slaves’ work created huge wealth for the English owning families, whose investments began to transform British life.  The documents show that 3000 slave owners in Britain itself were spread among every class (excluding of course, the poor) --- clergymen, widows,  as well as families later enobled such as the Lascelles, the Earl of Harewood,  37 members of the House of Lords, 80 Members of Parliament, and many other well-known families, who also collared half of the 17 billion pounds paid in compensation.  A major slave owner in Guyana was John Gladstone, father of the later British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. The father  had nine plantations, owned 2,500 slaves, and was awarded 105,000 pounds in compensation for the ending of slavery, which in current money would be equivalent to  83 million pounds. His loyal son as a member of Parliament opposed the abolition of slavery, and helped his father obtain the compensatory money.
There was an immense amount of cross-breeding as the white slaveowners took their pleasure of the African women, and some of these children even became slaveowners themselves, after being sent to England for grooming.  In the nineteenth century  Jamaica became, as Olusoga says, “the most profitable place on earth,” for  a plantation with, for example, 300 slaves, could yield a profit of a cool 6,000 pounds a year, equivalent to five million pounds in today’s money. Jamaica became the seat of the most brutal torture on earth, with terrible floggings in which salt and pickled lime juice was rubbed into the wounds to intensify the agony.
The second TV episode recalls that the greatest  profits ever came from the introduction of sugar into the country now known as Guyana. The records show how slaves were valued according to their skills and strength, the maximum being  3000 guilders (the Dutch were in the region first) down to 150 for a simple woman. The operations there were extended even after the slave trade itself ended. In 1820 some 200 sugar plantations  were recorded with l00,000 slaves.  The researchers are even able to figure the mortality rate of the  slaves. After a careful calculation it was figured at 13 per cent mortality over three years, a figure that seemed to be about average for most plantations. 
A concomitant development of this demeaning use of human beings  was the development of an horrendously negative stereotype, described in a disgraceful language as brutal, savage, uncivilized, child-like, and in need of guidance from their Christian masters. There is a record of a rebellion on August 18, 1820 in which the slaves seized and torched the fields, and the plantations, imprisoned the masters. But the government responded with force against  the unarmed rebels by sending the army and militias, who killed hundreds and deported or executed the ringleaders, leaving bodies hanging from posts to act as a deterrent.
The long fight for abolition of the trade, led by William Wilberforce gradually gained the upper hand over the vigorous defence of the slaveowners. A petition for abolition was presented to Parliament containing 1,500,000 signatures, more than there were voters at the time, but the vigorous defence forced the abolitionists to accept the proposals that the slaveowners be compensated, after a long tussle in which various other solutions were rejected, such as that after abolition the slaves would have to work without receiving any pay for another 15 years, gradually reduced under pressure to four years.  It seems that the slaveowners --- for example one English woman who started with seven slaves and ended with fourteen --- succeeded in portraying themselves as victims of the legislation, who deserved to be compensated. Expressed in the programme in modern terms, the slave economy of the day, like the banks of our day, was regarded as “too big to fail.”
The researchers have followed through to examine some of the investments made of the slave-earned money. Some railways were established with that money, and the Royal Society, the National Gallery and the British Museum and many other institutions were all established with the use of slave money, a least to some extent. Undoubtedly  the most devastating inheritance handed on to our own day is in the debased ideas accepted about non-white people which became established and widely accepted with the slave trade.  A prominent instrument in this were the writings of a British historian Edward Long, who wrote a history of Jamaica that was for years accepted ass being accurate, rather than debased history.  There are still monuments, statues, plaques and the like, extolling this man, although he died in 1813, and his ideas, though now anathema to most educated people, are still, as recent events have shown, alive and well among the bigoted section of many Western nations.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

LINK OF THE DAY: August 16, 2017-08-16: Beware the American habit of using high-sounding names for venal purposes

With the opening of the Nafta renegotiation talks, Canadians are being confronted with all sorts of ideas about life that are purely American, such as buy American, Right to Work and so on. It is good to remember the doubtful origin of these concepts, and a recent  article in Labor Notes by Michael Pierce called The Racist Origins of Right to Work reminds us of at least one thoroughly disreputable concept that has had the effect of virtually destroying the only weapon working people have had for defence against their employers, namely, the union movement . I have been keenly aware of this for many years because I once was called upon to finish a half-hour film shot by some young filmmakers on the subject of the industry --- yes, it is an industry --- devoted to the destruction of unions in the United States, a film that concentrated on one typically right-wing professional agitator whose business in life was precisely that, to destroy unions. 

Later, when researching a proposed film on a new Nissan truck manufacturing plant in Tennessee, I became aware of the anti-union bias  underlying the choice of the work force for the new factory, carefully chosen among gung-ho young guys  without  too much education, from small nearby villages who had been filled with all the concepts of  the huntinand fishin America the Great. I thought of this when reading recently about the failure of the union movement to penetrate another Nissan truck factory in the United States: I was not surprised: the workers there, too were no doubt carefully chosen to abhor unions.

Michael Pierce's article, which can be accessed here with two clicks,  reveals the virulently racist, anti-semitic, anti-communist and anti-union origins of a Right to Work movement that began  in an outfit called  the Christian American Association, that was directed  against  the Roosevelt New Deal, and that,  in its turn,  gave rise to  the Southern Committee to  Uphold the Constitution. Right-wing Americans are never at a loss for a high-sounding name to disguise the venal objectives of their politics. We have to be especially aware of this right now.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Log 556 August 15 2017: The hopelessness of the NDP

Last night, having contributed my $15 for membership of the NDP because I approve of Niki Ashton’s attitude towards the Palestine-Israeli imbroglio --- she supports the Palestinians, which raises the question, what the hell is wrong with her party that they don’t do the same?---  I walked over to St Laurent boulevard where she was reputed to be having a meeting at 7 pm.
I eventually found the place, a nightclub, upstairs, almost unsignalled at street level, with no sign indicating Ms Ashton was to be expected. The place was occupied by  a group of very loud rock musicians rehearsing for a concert scheduled to start at 9 pm, according to my internet research.  Eventually quite a few people arrived and occupied the seats that were scattered around as is usual in a nightclub, and waited.
Then, I waited.
And waited. At 7.30 I indicated to someone sitting at my table that she was running late.
So, I waited. And waited. At 7.35, growing impatient, I waited some more, reflecting on the fact that during my days as an active journalist I operated by a rule of thumb, that anyone who has not arrived for an appointment within 20 minutes of the agreed time is not coming, causing me to abandon the appointment.
At 7.45, convinced that if Niki Ashton  cannot keep an appointment, she is unlikely to be able to run the country, I left, asking my question of the guy at the door, who could not tell me when things were going to start,  and replied, “Good question.”
So much for my fancied candidate for Prime Minister.

Monday, August 14, 2017


Link of the day August 14 2017: THE STITCHED UP CASE AGAINST PRESIDENT LULA IN BRAZIL: I have always believed that the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff from the presidency of Brazil was stitched up by the relentless economic elite of that country, offended that a Workers Party should have had power. Even more suspicious has been the recent conviction of the former President Lula Da Silva on corruption charges. My suspicions on this account are confirmed by an article by Mark Weisbrot in a recent issue of The Nation. The judge was also the prosecutor, the so-called offence never happened, and in any case was alleged to have taken  place years after Lula had left office. Readthe article here, and realize that things have not really changed so much in Latin America, for so many centuries the exploited satrap of American and European money.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Log 555 August 11 2017: Nuclear power: the force that could destroy our world, and that already has come within a whisker of doing so

I heard some commentators on television the other day say that for human beings to maintain nuclear weapons is equivalent to leaving a loaded shotgun in a kindergarten.
I thought when I heard it that it is a totally apt comparison, but it seems even more appropriate since the extraordinary statement by the nuclear-warrior-number-one, the United States president, that he is ready to load on to North Korea fire and fury “such as the world has ever seen before.” This can mean only one thing: nuclear war.
It happens I had been thinking about this recently, after having viewed an extraordinary film called Command and Control, made by PBS, the American TV channel, about a nuclear accident that occurred in Arkansas in 1980.This film confirmed all the doubts I have carried with me through my entire life about nuclear power, and (let me get this off my chest right here) this is a film that I believe every person in the world should see, and that should be required viewing in every high school on earth. It lasts for 91 minutes, was issued in 2012, and was directed by Robert Kenner.
I remember most clearly  putting pen to paper to oppose nuclear power when I had briefly returned to New Zealand to live in the 1970s. Before that, I remember in 1950 in Montreal covering a luncheon address by the man in charge of nuclear research in Canada, who airily dismissed all objections based on the lack of control of the waste products, by uttering the infamous lie, that they had the waste disposal problem totally  under control.  Of course, it is so far from being under control, that they still have no idea how to dispose safely of the waste products, and it is known that leaks are occurring in many places from these supposedly safe storage places.
I 1975 I wrote an impassioned article opposing the proposal of the New Zealand government of the day to build a nuclear power station at the foot of one of the two harbours around whose shores is built the city of Auckland, with a quarter of the nation’s population. Of course, in response to my article the pro-nuclear people trotted out all their comforting bromides, but in the end the proposal was defeated by a combination of pressures brought by environmentalists in alliance with the indigenous Maori people, whose first objection was the simple but convincing fear that the power station would invade and ruin the bed of the shell fish they had always --- and in this case “always” means, for many, many centuries --- depended on.  New Zealand is still free of nuclear power to this day, and is still refusing to admit into its ports American warships carrying nuclear power, a policy that is so popular that it has even survived a series of conservative governments.
However, back to this film which reveals, in its last moments  after a  harrowing hour-and-a-half in which it describes the horrors of a nuclear accident, that thousands --- I’ll repeat that, thousands --- of such accidents have occurred in the more than half a century that nuclear power and the weapon systems it has spawned have been bestriding the world.
The accident occurred to a Titan II, an immense underground missile that was armed with the most powerful of all  hydrogen bombs, said to contain three times more explosive power than all the bombs used by all nations of both sides during World War II, including the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, and all this power was aimed at the Soviet Union. One of the men interviewed in the film said it was assumed in the early days of nuclear weapons, that it would take between 50 and 200 nuclear bombs to completely annihilate the Soviet Union, which apparently was the objective of the system, but by the mid-1960s, the US had 32,000 of them and for those working on building them the “money was free”. They had bombers carrying nuclear bombs in the air at all times, and submarines around the world were armed with bombs ready to be fired at a moment’s notice.  One of the former workers in the maintenance system says in the film that whenever he entered the missile silo, his team was in charge of it, and they had to be ready to discharge the missile on notice. He said, “I had no problem with that, even though I would be killing ten million people in seconds, I would never have hesitated.” It was being done in defence of his country, he argued, it was a deterrent, and to be convincing, “we had to show that we were ready to use it.”
I pause here to remark that merely to describe this programme must surely indicate to any sane person that the world has gone mad, and that especially lunatic are the persons who have undertaken to carry out these functions.   One thing I have noticed throughout my life is that no matter how horrendous the ideas of certain leaders may be --- think Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Emperor for Life Bokassa in the murderous Central African Republic, as well as a succession of American presidents (as well, I suppose, as the leaders of the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom) and there are plenty of others who could be cited --- these leaders always find people willing to carry out their orders.
The accident was caused by the simplest little thing: one of the maintenance teams that were constantly working to keep the missile in  order was advised at the end of their shift of some trouble with the pressure in the oxidizer tank,  which contained one of the two elements needed to fire the missile, the other being kept in an interlocking fuel tank. One member of the team who was interviewed said that before they entered the silo to examine this routine problem he had forgotten to take a torque wrench from his truck. He was not worried because this was a recent change in procedure: “I had spent three years using a ratchet, so instead of sending someone back to get the wrench, I grabbed the ratchet.” Of such small human errors are accidents caused. Using the ratchet, three feet long, with which he was completely familiar, when his hand slipped, a small but solid eight-pound metal socket attached to the ratchet fell and went hurtling down the seventy foot length of the several-stories-high missile, landed on the side of the fuel tank, making a small hole in it, and allowing a stream of fuel to eject.  The fuel system required that the oxidizer and fuel be mixed to create the explosion that would launch the missile, and the worker was aware that they could not stop what was happening.
The rest of the film is a detailed account of the efforts made to save the missile from exploding, because the nuclear weapon already armed on the head of the missile was of such force that it could possibly have devastated almost the whole of the eastern seaboard of the US including doing grave damage to most of its big cities, and killing, certainly, hundreds of thousands of people.
The film describes an accident that occurred in North Carolina in 1961 when a B52 bomber carrying two hydrogen bombs broke up, and the two bombs were released. One of them on hitting the ground went through all its arming steps and a firing signal was sent, and the only thing that prevented a four megaton explosion was a single switch, just like a light switch on the living room wall.  “If the right two wires had touched,” explains one worker in the system, “the bomb would have detonated, period.” At that time the number of nuclear accidents was increasing, and the same man said, “I read through all the known accident reports, and it scared the hell out of me.” They were shocked     when they realized the weapons they had always said were safe were not nearly as safe as had been assumed. They now realized that thousands of American nuclear weapons were vulnerable in case of accident, including the biggest one of all, the very one sitting on top of the Titan II missile in Arkansas.
The alarm went off at 6.35 pm, and it took some hours before effective action could be organized to deal with the problem. Indeed, the story appears to be one of mistaken orders, mostly given by people higher up in the chain of command who were not that familiar with the circumstances of the maintenance teams on the ground. At one point the only man in the team who seemed to have a practical idea of what to do was ordered not to go into the silo. An early mistake was to abandon the control room, so that they did not have available to them only way of dealing with the problem. Eventually they had to go back in, but by that time it was too late, and at least one of the team was incinerated when eventually the missile site exploded with a monstrous roar.
It seems that the warhead was not ignited, but instead was blown off its place at the head of the missile to land more or less harmlessly outside the site. But the entire missile site was destroyed by the explosion and fire that followed.
This film is the most graphic I have seen demonstrating the dangers of nuclear power, but it is a wonder that we need to be reminded of these dangers. The Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 sent its effects over all of Western Europe, and it was just a simple nuclear power generating station. More recently the Fukushima plant in Japan, carelessly sited in the path of a tsunami following a huge nearby undersea earthquake, is still, six years after the event, apparently still forty years from being normalized. I remember years ago passing by the Three Mile station in Pennsylvania that had a meltdown in 1979, which brought a sort of freeze to all future nuclear projects in the United States.  All the bromides delivered by the nuclear apologists pale into insignificance beside the massive record of nuclear accidents, more than 100 in eleven countries according to the latest Wikipedia count. And they, of course, exclude the “thousands” that were admitted to in this film in relation to weapons systems.
We just can’t believe in nuclear power as one of the elements for beating our climate change problem. The sooner we shut down every nuclear power station, the safer we will be.