From Zeros to Heroes to a Number One (almost)…How a motley band of chancers ensured Ultravox breathed again.

John Foxx, second from the right. Heading for the door.

1979 was a heady year…

· Drag King, Margaret Thatcher was unleashed upon the world.

· A Mullah from Paris lit the fuse for the Iranian revolution and the overthrow of the Shah.

· Americans were taken hostage in Iran.

· The INLA blew up Thatcher fanboy Airey Neave.

· The IRA blew up Royal Coup Mongerer Lord Mountbatten.

· Three Mile Island blew up.

· USSR invaded Afghanistan.

· Idi Amin is overthrown.

· Saddam did some overthrowing and came to power.

· Skylab returned with a bang.

· And John Foxx quit Ultravox.

By January 1979, Ultravox were a washed-up curio. A Curate’s Egg of prog rock, punkish overtones and New Wave sensibilities that was abandoned by their lead singer, John Foxx and their record company, Island. Never quite one thing, or the other, Ultravox were men out of step and out of time. Zero financial success had done for Island Records* who not only dropped the band but also expunged their 3 — critically well received — albums from their catalogue.

John Foxx. Close the door after you.

Unsurprisingly, after such a kick in the creative gonads, John Foxx walked away only to turn up a year later with the rather magnificent solo album ‘Metamatic’. The individual members of the band dispersed to play with amongst others, Numan and soon to be dead, James Honeyman-Scott.

*Island not only dumped them by letter but demanded all of their money back.*

At this point, they should really have faded into a foot note of ‘Post-punk try hards of English musical history’ but then life doesn’t always follow the plot-line…

Enter Midge Ure…

Midge contemplating one or two sugars.

Glaswegian Midge, had a somewhat chequered musical history and had been knocking round the UK music scene since the early 70’s. Firstly as a member of hippy abomination ‘Salvation’, then the truly ghastly ‘Slik’, a hastily constructed boy band aiming to cash in on the success of the Bay City Rollers. The short-lived re-badged Slik ‘PVC2’ and then the proto-Blink 182 Punk Pop outfit ‘Rich Kids’ (Ironic when you consider Midge was McClarens’s first choice for lead singer with the Pistols) formed by Glen Matlock after his ejection from The Sex Pistols.

*Midge also claims he was the originator of the word ‘Punk’ having used it whilst being interviewed by the NME’s very own chameleon and Doriana Gray, Caroline Coon in 1976*

Enter The New Romantics…

The Blitz Kids!

By 1978, Post Punk London was a melting pot of weirdo’s and creatures of the night who had crashed out of the Punk scene and its various bands. Though Punk was seminal in musical terms, the nonsense that came with it, the violence, the spitting, dreadful 3rd or 4th generation Punk bands making dodgy facsimiles of the Sex Pistols and the inevitable monetisation of Punk by high street and the media, meant many wanted to escape their past into something safe and very much theirs.

‘Rich Kids’ drummer and all round cheeky chappie, Rusty Egan and gender bending Welsh boy, Steve Strange, hosted a number of DJ nights at various London clubs in the late 1978 and eventually set up the Blitz Club in London in 1979, which was to become the spiritual home of the New Romantic movement, that very briefly flourished in 1980/81.

Enter Rusty Egan & Steve Strange…

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Midge centre and Rusty Egan on the right. Where is Steve Strange?

Having played with Midge in the recently defunct ‘Rich Kids’, Egan had pitched in with Strange and set himself up as a proto-Alternative DJ at various clubs around London. He was playing a lot of electronica from Germany but the listening pool was limited. The ‘Rich Kids’ had disbanded by November 1978, mainly due to half the band having zero interest in synthesizers and electronics. Midge being a mate and a regular at the club nights/Blitz Club was an obvious choice of musical partner and they embarked on recruiting various musician pals — including Ultravox’s Billy Currie — to record their own music to play at The Blitz. This was a band that was only ever meant to be a studio and video project…Visage.

Enter Martin Rushent…

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Martin Rushent on the left with The Stranglers Dave Greenfield and Jet Black.

Martin was hot property in the late 70’s. He had enjoyed considerable success producing The Stranglers. Rushent had offices above The Blitz and inevitably, Egan wandered into Martin’s office and played him the Visage demos. He fell in love with them, so much so, he let the band record their album in his studio for free. He loved them so much, he bought all the same equipment and used it on his next production gig, Dare by The Human League – the rest, as they say is history. He loved them so much, he signed them to his fledgling record label, Genetic. Which didn’t go so well…

Ultravox staggers from the ashes…

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Ultravox…again.

After the original Visage demos were recorded in early 1979, Billy Currie, who wanted to keep the Ultravox Candle aflame, asked Midge to join Ultravox in the April of 1979. This proved to be rather problematic, due to Midge’s contractual clauses from various shit bands he had played in previously. So, it wasn’t until November 1979, that he officially joined Ultravox, however in the intervening months the band were no slouches:

· They managed to bring onboard Thin Lizzy’s management, MOD who funded their tours and musical exploits.

· Most of the Vienna album was written and rehearsed.

· The first Visage album was recorded.

· Billy Curry joined Gary Numan on tour and Midge joined Thin Lizzy on their US tour.*

· They toured as Ultravox playing, as then, unrecorded Vienna tracks.

*Midge had previously met Phil Lynott in Scotland and became friends. When Gary Moore left Thin Lizzy, for a third time, Lynott hastily recruited him to play lead guitar for the remaining leg of their 1979 US tour. He was given a tape of the set list and told to learn it during the flight from London to the JFK. A flight much shorter than usual, due to it being Concorde.

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The original studio band that was Visage. artily standing in some shrubbery.

By the beginning of 1980, Ultravox had songs, management but no album or record deal. After hawking themselves around and some deft gamesmanship from MOD, Chrysalis records finally signed the band in early 1980. The band recorded their album in RAK studios in London and decamped to Conny Plank’s studio for mixing in Cologne.

Conny Plank was instrumental to that early Ultravox sound. Having worked with Foxx era Ultravox! (Note the exclamation mark) and a man famous for his production of Kraftwerk, Neu! And Yello. He brought the cold, clinical, brooding quintessential Germanic and Central European atmosphere to the record.

Vienna turned out to be their masterpiece and most complete album.

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Conny Plank. A man. A bear. Who knows?

By the beginning of 1980, Visage had a recorded an album, had management (MOD again) but also no record deal, However, the Visage project of the previous year, was about to burst into life.

Having been recorded over a year earlier, Martin Rushent’s Genetic Records had planned to release the album but Genetic folded before that ever came to pass. MOD went straight to the USA to hawk Visage around and found a fan in Polydor, who bought up the global rights to the first Visage album. The Album, imaginatively tiled: ‘Visage’, was released in November 1980 and the single: ‘Fade To Grey’ was released in December 1980 and became a sensation.

After the album ‘Vienna’ was released in July 1980, two unsuccessful singles were released: ‘Sleepwalk’, which was the song that had secured them the Chrysalis deal and ‘Passing Strangers’.

Then came the behemoth that was ‘Vienna’. In a dry run of The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown’, the record company didn’t want to release Vienna. It was too long. Too doomy. Not a single for radio.

After the boss of Chrysalis saw a live performance of ‘Vienna’ at Hammersmith Odeon in November 1980, Chrysalis relented and ‘Vienna’ was released to the radio stations in December 1980 and the general public in the first week of January 1981.

And there was, of course, that video, which again, the record company didn’t want to make, so the band made it anyway.

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“This means nothing to me”…Liar.

And the rest, as they say, really is history…

Well not quite… 

https://www.loudersound.com/news/steven-wilson-to-remix-ultravox-vienna-album-for-autumn-2020-release

The Monsters are here…

Look closely. They’ve been here for some time but like the aliens in John Carpenter’s, ‘They Live’, they look like us and hide in full view.

These are the Monsters that persuade you to vote to disadvantage yourself.

These are the Monsters that tell you the NHS is failing and the private sector must come to the rescue.

These are the Monsters that tell you globalisation is good for you, whilst taking your jobs away and closing your industries down.

These are the Monsters that tell you we cannot afford public services and we must save the bankers first.

These are the Monsters that tell you democracy gets in the way of profit.

These are the Monsters that tell you Greening society, the economy and combating Climate Change, gets in the way of profit.

These are the Monsters that tell you reduced life expectancy is a matter for the market.

These are the Monsters that tell you throwing statues into rivers is lawless, Marxist thuggery, whist supporting coups, regime change and bombing of countries far away.

These are the Monsters that tell you equality is a matter for the market.

These are the Monsters that tell you you’re not working hard enough, whilst sitting in their sun baked tax havens.

These are the Monsters that tell you endless lies, confuse, distort and distract the truth.

These are the Monsters that let you burn in tower blocks because health & safety is a matter for the market.

These are the Monsters that tell you Herd Immunity and 1.5 million dead, is a price worth paying.

These are the Monsters that tell you can’t have a minimum wage you can actually live on.

These are the Monsters that tell you poverty is your problem, whilst they extract all the wealth.

These are the Monsters that can bankrupt elected Governments and put them through grinding Austerity, to pay bankers back.

The Monsters who created all this, then persuade you they have answers. It’s not their fault but everyone else’s and you vote for it.

These are the Monsters that want everything to be about them, money and they want it all for themselves.

The Monsters are here…And they don’t care about you.

“Culture alienation boredom and despair”…

CONSUME

I read somewhere that Neo-Liberalism triumphed in the UK, the day the 1994 Sunday Trading Act came into force. The idea that the long fought for right for workers to have one guaranteed day off a week, was to be thrown to the wolves of consumerism and the rights of Capitalists, must triumph over all others, was the last nail in the coffin of the post-war social contract.  

Fast forward 25 years, to 2019 – and fittingly – Friday 13th December 2019, the hopes of all those desperate for an alternative to decades of Neo-Liberalism, privatisation, off shoring of jobs, industries and 10 years of austerity, found themselves staring at an 80 seat Tory majority and a Prime Minister whose only recognisable skills seemed to be:

A: A professional political clown.

B: Useful idiot.

Watched as their dreams for a better future receded over the horizon. 

Perhaps the most puzzling recrimination, is that those who really needed the Labour Manifesto to be enacted, seemed to have voted to actively disadvantage themselves by voting Conservative to “Get Brexit” done, which was a PR triumph by Cummings. A beautifully simple, yet vacuous nonsense phrase. Brexit is still not done, and no-one knows what shape it will take but we probably know ultimately who it is most likely to benefit. Not those who voted for it or voted Tory to get it done.  

Was this the fault of Corbyn, the manifesto, the working class, the middle class – who as the Governments response to COVID has shown, were deluded as to how superior or special they were – and the left in general? 

*My EasyJet pilot acquaintance, on a 3 figure salary, house in the country, Tory voting, Laura Ashley buying, Boris fan wife that lunches, now finds himself facing redundancy and his wife suddenly supporting the very unions she once despised and their son, a young Conservative and also a pilot, now jobless*.

WORK

As Tony Benn once quipped “The Labour Party has never been a Socialist party, but it has had Socialists in it” and that was an accurate assessment. You only have to read Benn’s diaries of his time in Government in the 1970’s ,to see how timid Labour were in Government. When the opportunity for really radical change presented itself twice in 1974 and 1976, the Government, under both Wilson and Callaghan flunked it and gave into the bankers.  

What comes through in his diaries is that even those who were firmly on the left of the party, spent vast amounts of time and energy disagreeing and falling out with each other. And herein lies the perennial problem the left has. They have never had that laser like focus that the Tories have had since 1975. To look after Capitalism and those who steer that particular boat and even when they do fall out without each other; ejecting Thatcher or more recently Brexit, they always keep their eye on the prize: Power and money. Everything and everyone else, are dispensable and then they win the next election. 

The left under Corbyn in Parliament were always in the minority. 74% of the Labour PLP were involved in the ‘Chicken Coup’ in 2016. Bizarrely, the best they could offer as an alternative, was the wizard Owen Smith. After the 2017 election, many came back including Starmer, whose excuse for his Chicken Coupery was “everyone else was doing it” and we now know he was scheming against Corbyn, whilst serving in his shadow cabinet – in a forensic fashion undoubtedly. The membership approached nearly 600,000 members under Corbyn’s leadership (800,0000 plus if you include affiliated members) the membership was inspired by Corbyn’s mild brand of Social Democracy/State Capitalism, not doubt for many who had not experienced anything but Neo-Liberalism, this was the first time an alternative had been articulated.  

STAY ASLEEP

As ever, the Labour Party HQ & CLP hierarchy and PLP were out of step with the sentiments of its own membership and in the case of Brexit, both with its own constituents. My own CLP, Rochford & Southend East were the epitome of centrist Blairite blandness. Run by a small cabal of officers and councillors, who seemed to have been in post for years. They offered nothing in the way of leadership or new ideas. Labour in power at Southend Council have been beyond disappointing. Nothing radical to offer and favouring vanity project schemes rather than tackling the real inequalities in the town. Compared to say what the Labour administration in Preston have been doing, they are an embarrassment and a continuation of the previous Conservative administrations visionless, complacent laissez-faire approach. The CLP were very much of the Cooper and Owen Smith persuasion in the two-leadership contests. It voted for Ashley Dalton to be its PPC, a woman who clearly had no time for Corbyn, who never mentioned his name in any media or election literature. The only time it was mentioned, was to bad mouth him. I washed my hands of Rochford & Southend East CLP. 

Rumour has it that Labour has lost 200, maybe 300,00 followers since the last General Election. Those inspired by the manifesto of 2017 & 2019 have seen where the new leader is taking the party and voted with their feet. I myself left in 2019. Having seen what Watson was up to and how Chris Williamson was treated, the writing was on the wall (I never did receive a reply to my email to the CLP explaining my reasons) 

WATCH TV…

So where does this leave those who find themselves living that awful nausea inducing James O’Brien phrase: “politically homeless”?

To reference Tony Benn again, the left has, on cue, regressed right back to the 1970’s and is spending its time pointing fingers at other and playing the blame game. 

Something became very clear after the 2019 defeat, for some on the left, it was open warfare on anyone who had abandoned Labour to vote Conservative: ‘They deserve what’s coming’…‘I hope they die’, were not uncommon tweets to see on Twitter. There was little attempt to take a step back and ask: Why had these people abandoned Labour and seemingly voted for a party, that hand and would actively disadvantage them?  

DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY…

This was a failure of the Labour Party to understand the lived experience of so many working-class experiences for decades, outside of London and the South East. Explain it had very little to do with immigrants and everything to do with globalisation via decades of Conservative and New Labour policies which had made them poorer financially, socially and culturally. Articulate that people like Farage who actively supported these policies, was a charlatan and not their champion. The Labour Party never embraced Lexit, which could have offered a genuine alternative. The Labour media elite, who were over-whelming of the Pro-Remain camp, sneered and scoffed at the idea of Lexit. Lexit never got off the drawing board, was never championed and attracted no financial backing from any union. Lexit would have offered an alternative direction for the UK upon leaving the EU. It was still-born. 

Of course, the irony is that COVID has shown us that the Government has enormous fiscal levers it can pull to fund and manipulate the economy. Levers which were offered by the Labour manifesto in 2019 and denied as a Marxist impossibility by the Conservatives, who then had to implement the very ideas Corbyn and Long-Bailey had espoused only months earlier.  

CONFORM…

That conversation could have been had with Lexit, if Labour had embraced Modern Monetary Theory, as it is exactly the policies that MMT allows, that could have offered a different Leave direction and a chance to rebuild an economy to be far more self-reliant. Labour flunked it on every occasion and endlessly talked about tax and spend and fiscal rules its own author didn’t understand. I have seen a view by some, that post-COVID, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) will somehow ride to the rescue like a Magnificent Fiscal Seven, to save us all from Neo-Liberalism and allow the voting public to see finally, what could be possible.

This view conveniently omits that:

  • No senior and influential politician in the world, is championing MMT.
  • No senior and influential politician in the world, is owning the need to tell the voters the truth behind tax, spend, debt and deficits.
  • No senior or influential politician in the world, is talking about MMT.
  • And like it or not, it needs a senior and influential politician in the world to do this, so no, MMT will not be coming to the rescue anytime soon.  

And what of the left, which seems to be reading from that well-worn script of casting around aimlessly for a life raft to cling onto. We have Galloway’s latest vanity project. Chris Williams well-intentioned ‘Resistance’, the talking shop that is the opaque People’s Assembly and no doubt others I am not aware of, all saying: “Join us to fight the Tories and build Socialism”. Fight the Tories how exactly, by endless Zoom conferences and get togethers? Chatting about how what went wrong, is all everyone else’s fault?

Have the left learned nothing? Is it really so impossible not to splinter in umpteen different directions, all viewing each other suspiciously over bunkers, as not ideologically pure enough, for the left to grow up, come together and unify under one political banner, one message. To have one real focus, one real rallying point and one charismatic leader? 

THEY LIVE. WE SLEEP

Until the left in the UK can get their head round this glaringly obvious tactic, nothing will change and future is dismal and hopeless.  

#ReThinkMoney Part 8: “Let’s Pay Off The National Debt!”…

So, the cheering has subsided. The parties are over. You’ve finally done it. Won the election! The PM has appointed you Chancellor and you are sitting in your office at HM Treasury and the first Red Box lands with a thump upon your desk.  

You open it and sitting atop the pile of Ministerial briefings and communiques, is a report shouting at you:  

‘The National Debt is now over 100% of GDP’… 

A bead of sweat runs down your temple and lands onto and magnifying exactly where it says: 

‘over 100% of GDP’… 

Your mind races. Memories of previous accusations by the then Government and now opposition fill you mind: 

“Sorry. We spent all the money” 

“There’s no money left” 

“Didn’t fix the roof whilst the sun was shining” 

“Maxxed out the Governments credit card” 

“Bankrupt. Broke. Insolvent” 

You pick up the phone and summon your Top Treasury Civil Servant and in hushed but slightly panicked tone say: 

“We MUST pay off the National Debt. Tell me what to do?”. 

The Treasury boffin. Pauses. Composes. Looks away, only to utter, somewhat disdainfully: 

“I don’t think that is good idea Chancellor” … 

You need a drink… 

So why does our Civil Servant feel the need to sneer at you the Chancellor, which, to average eyes, seems a reasonable request? 

What our Treasury friend understands is the CRUCIAL difference between a: 

Currency ISSUER Vs a Currency USER and the outlandish powers being a Currency Issuer bestows on a Government.  

What is a ‘Currency Issuer’? 

Exactly what it says on the tin. A Currency Issuer has the monopoly and legal power to create and issue its own currency. It is not tied to the availability of any commodity, such as Gold, or any other resource. 

It is ‘Fiat’. It can be created at will, without reference to anything, or anyone else.  

https://duncanpoundcake.wordpress.com/2019/12/07/rethinkmoney-the-greatest-lie-ever-told-probably-taxspend/

The Bank of England creates Sterling on behalf of the Government, which then allows the Government to spend for Public Purpose: 

*The NHS

*Roads

*Bridges

*Pensions.

Does the Bank of England print money? – YouTube

A Currency User, is everyone else. We can’t create currency. We need to get hold of currency, to spend into the economy to pay our taxes, bills and buy the things we need or want.  

Once you get your head round this simple but revolutionary idea. It presents a whole pile of questions.  

But let’s stay on track..  

Great you think:  

“We can just create all the currency we need and pay off the National Debt! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? “…

Therein lies the problem. The word ’DEBT’.

For most Currency Users, it has negative connotations: Owing money. Being in hock to someone else. Being a currency user, if you can’t gather enough currency to service your debt, you run into problems.  

Ah ha! As the National Debt is all the money we, as a nation, have borrowed, presumably the same fate will befall the Government and Bailiffs will be knocking on the door of Number 10, warrant in hand, Channel 5 camera crew in tow, white van parked up, demanding to take Larry the cat away as a down payment…Right?

This is where you need to Stop thinking like a Currency User and Start thinking like a Currency Issuer… 

Let’s go back to that word Debt, or two words ‘National Debt’. 

Surely it is a sum of how much the Government has borrowed? 

Well no. There is no National Debt. Just a whole list of Assets and Liabilities. 

If you start to drill down into the National Debt, via The National Loan Fund (NLF) Accounts, published at the end of July, every year. It soon becomes apparent that it includes anywhere from 40-50% of liabilities.  

Now these liabilities are NOT borrowings (The NLF Accounts specifically use the word liabilities and not debt)  

No money was created, let alone borrowed to pay for them. They are a promise to pay if required.  

These liabilities include: 

*Premium Bonds 

*The scheme that the Government uses to guarantee £85k in your bank account 

*Any arrangements it may have made with the IMF, World Bank and EU to pay money if a financial crisis hit.  

*All cash – be it zeros or physical*. 

*Sterling is a liability. It is an IOU. A promise by the Government to accept it as payment for taxes and to honour when used to purchase goods or services in the economy. It says as much on the back of every bank note. ‘We promise to pay the bearer’… 

Your money is your asset and the Governments liability. 

Maybe Government liabilities concern you? 

In that case, ask your bank to pay the contents of all your bank accounts to the HMRC. You will have done your bit to help pay down the National Debt. 

Even better, let’s make a bigger dent and eliminate ALL money denominated in Sterling, in circulation. This would reduce the National Debt by about £12 billion.  

As mentioned, we would also have to:

*Renege on any international obligations to pay. 

*Close National Savings and Investments 

*Foreclose on any loans to Local Authorities 

*Close the Student Loan Fund 

*Basically, withdraw from the economy, any part of the Government that requires Sterling to be spent or paid now, or in the future.  

We’re making progress, we’ve reduced the National Debt by up to 50% 

So, what do we do with the remaining 50% we have borrowed? 

As the Government issues its Gilts & T-Bills in Sterling, we have immediately eliminated the National Debt, as we have eliminated Sterling from the economy but that is too easy.  

So, what are Gilts & T-Bills? 

Effectively they are money but with an interest ‘coupon’ attached, that pays interest every 6 months (An interest rate the borrower decides, not you, the lender) to whoever holds that Gilt.  

You can present your Gilt for sale at ANY time and the Government are obliged to pay you, or your intermediary Sterling in exchange. Like normal currency, Gilts carry a promise to pay the bearer. 

The Government can issue interest-bearing money at will. Anyone can buy them, once they hit the secondary market and many investment, saving and pension funds include them in their investment mix.  

The Government exchanges one liability, Sterling, for another liability Sterling with an interest coupon – Gilts. For you though, it is a straight asset swap.

Again, if you hold one of these Gilts directly, or indirectly, it is asset for you and liability for the Government.  

Gilts and T-Bills are nothing more than the sum of nation’s savings. 

An interesting anomaly is that the Government owns 25% of all Gilts in circulation and still pays itself interest on its own holdings. So, 12.5% of the National Debt is owned by the Government, which means the Government is in debt to itself.  It holds the asset and the liability, cancelling both out.  

So, what has you, our fledgling Chancellor learned? 

  1. The Government creates its own currency in the first place, it never has to borrow from anyone. Why should it? It just can because it is a Currency Issuer and has given itself the legal powers to do so.  
  1. It spends Gilts & T-Bills into the economy, creating National Savings.  
  1. All Sterling be it cash, zeros in your bank account or interest-bearing Gilts is Your asset and their liability.  
  1. The National Debt is not debt but a scorecard of the Governments liabilities and conversely, assets held by others. 

The UK could do what the Japanese Government did last year and pay off completely, 40% of its National Debt. Specifically, the bond liabilities by borrowing the money from itself, the Bank of Japan.  

Maybe one day. A Chancellor and a treasury official will have that very same conversation…We can only hope.

I’ll leave the last word to inimitable Michael Norman, who sums it up in more earthy prose: “National Debt is retarded”…

For further reading on the National Debt:

https://duncanpoundcake.wordpress.com/2018/04/26/debt-and-lots-of-it-part-one/

https://duncanpoundcake.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/debt-and-lots-of-it-part-two/

#ReThinkTheStranglers… “I’m clutching my teddy bear” – How The Stranglers lost it, found God and rewrote the Bible…

There are two knowing quips about The Stranglers on the internet:

·        ‘The Stranglers aren’t a band, they are a point of view’

·        ‘God loves the Stranglers’

Which, if you really got The Stranglers and their worldview, you would understand. Even God…

‘God loves’…was a particularly interesting quip, because in 1980, the band knocked on God’s door with a whole list of questions and wrote a riposte to the Bible. The be-musingly titled:

‘The Gospel According to the Men In Black’…

Who Wants The World Tour 2/7/1980 – Rome

This 12-month heroin fuelled search for the meaning of life, became to be known as their ‘Annus Horribilis’ and was a text book litany of – if it could go wrong, it went wrong.

Legend has it, that it was Jet Black who stumbled across the MIB, having read about them in a ‘Flying Saucer Review’ – January 1978. Their first musical outing appeared on 1979’s ‘The Raven’ album with the song: ‘We are The Men In Black’ an interesting tune, not exactly a dance floor filler and sung in a particularly annoying Pink & Perky vocal. This song was the one that saw long-time producer Martin Rushent, pack his bags in disgust and decamp.

*Only to turn up later producing ‘Homosapien’ for Pete Shelley and ‘Dare’ for the Human League – Mk 2, with songs not a million miles away from ‘We are the Men in Black’*

The song itself became a bit of a blue-print for the album that was to appear in its name. Circular drum patterns, odd guitar signatures, keyboards coming to the fore and the trademark, in your face bass sound, turned down into something more far more Dub and stylish.

‘The Gospel’, as it became known, is something of a marmite album for many fans of the original line up. Many wanted another angry punk album, even though punk had collapsed under the weight of it’s own contradictions, with the last Pistols gig in January 1978.

Last Pistols in New York – 14/1/1978

This despite of ‘The Raven’ having more to do with prog rock than punk and with the lyric of the title track stating “Find me a new direction” as a clue to the more observant, that the past was not an option.

‘The Raven’ from The Raven -1979

Aficionados and more observant would have noted that the 1979 solo projects ‘Euroman Cometh’…

‘Freddie Laker’ from ‘Euroman Cometh

And ‘Nosferatu’.

‘White Room’ from Nosferatu

Gave a very clear indication where the bands two main songwriters were headed with their sonics.

The music press panned it. Commercially it was considered a flop. Artistically? It was a work of genius and prophet for what was to come 13 years later.

From The Outside Looking In…

The Stranglers were always a curious new wave oddity. A motley crew consisting of a:

  • Jazz drummer and entrepreneur – long before Thatcher appropriated the word.
  • Failed bio-chemistry graduate and teacher.
  • Half French, history graduate, classical guitarist, carrying a bag of potatoes around on his shoulder.
  • Eccentric and virtuoso keyboard player who sounded just like Ray Manzarek, though claimed to have never heard anything by Ray Manzarek.

Their reputation was not a good one. From fights with the Pistols and The Clash, kidnapping journalists, storming out of a live BBC concert whilst telling the audience to ‘’Fuck off’’. Faxing their US label with a ‘Get fucked’. Going onto US chat shows to proclaim that our American cousins had “Smaller brains’’ and telling one Australian chat show how much they loved drugs. Claiming afterwards they meant cigarettes.

Their reputation generally arrived a week before the band in any given situation. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/mar/12/stranglers-40-years-fights-drugs-ufos

But beneath all the punk posturing, high-jinks, dicking around and attitude, there was a fierce intelligence that regularly bubbled up in their music. From their 1977 freshman offering – ‘Rattus’ right through to 1979s – ‘The Raven’, their songs were littered with to references to:

  • Shelley.
  • Nostradamus.
  • Ritual Suicide.
  • Disgust at rape.
  • Nordic mythology.
  • Cold War Paranoia.
  • Robots taking all the jobs.
  • Depleted Uranium.
  • The fall of the Shah (A song whose message proved to be eerily prophetic)
  • Tales of political gerrymandering in Australia.
  • Eric Satie.

These were not subjects anyone else were singing about. Yet the music buying public just kept on buying.

Until that is, ‘The Gospel’ came along…

”A Series Of Unfortunate Events”…

A phrase Jet Black coined, to sum up the the disasters that befell The Stranglers whilst recording the ‘The Gospel’ in 1980, are well documented:

  • Studios desks blowing up in Brussels, wiping all recordings out.
  • Imprisoned for inciting a riot at the University in Nice
  • Key people dying around them,
  • To having all their equipment stolen in Los Angeles – only to find it wasn’t insured.

All this ensured that an August 1980 release, was delayed until February 1981.

25th April 1980: Hugh Cornwell of punk rock band The Stranglers is driven away from Pentonville Prison following drugs charges, by his girlfriend, singer Hazel O’Connor.

Much of the original concept and art-work was conceived during Hugh’s stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Pentonville. The idea that life on earth had been interfered with by Aliens and that God was in-fact, an alien was a theme that ran though the album. Not a close-knit narrative like Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ but songs exploring differing aspects of the Bible and the Men In Black, who, ironically, really didn’t get that much of a look in on the album at all.

Jet Black, another one who claimed not to have any external musical influences when it came to his drumming, had by 1979 seen his tricky jazz drumming, quirky time signatures and flourishes start give way to something far more tribal. By the time he recorded ‘The Gospel’ they were pounding.

He started to use a technique where each individual drum was recorded separately which, by necessity, meant a very rhythmic, looped drum sound was adopted. This was a technique Martin Hannett was famous for, when recording with Joy Division, giving Steve Morris his famous ‘Robot’ drum sound. https://thevinylfactory.com/features/stephen-morris-on-joy-division-and-new-order-how-the-studio-shaped-the-sound/

Studio technology in 1980 was basic. No Midi. No computer editing. Stylophone-esque drum machines. The Gospel is a very slick example of Mother of Invention and what you can do with a bit of creativity and a pencil. Condenser microphones were scavenged from cassette recorders to create tinny drum sounds. Loops were created using a tape running around pencils, held in strategically placed corners of the studio. Layers upon layers and washes of keyboard individually recorded, rising and falling. Background hums and mechanical noises were recorded, or created using keyboard sounds through guitar pedals, making unsettling atmospheres and soundtrack like soundscapes. The 10cc trick of layering voices, was employed with a typical Stranglers twist, into a cacophony of aural laughter.

I mentioned there was no close-knit narrative running through ‘The Gospel’. This wasn’t strictly true. In late 1978, The Stranglers had recorded ‘Two Sunspots’, which was meant to reference both the correlation between increased sunspot activity and UFO reports, as well as a song about nipples.

‘Two Sunspots’ appeared on 1979s – The Raven album as ‘We are the Men In Black’, however it was slowed down, doom laden looped drums added and some Spaghetti Western Guitar. ‘Two Sunspots’ then reappeared again on ‘The Gospel’. Hugh likened this to a palimpsest. Hiding one piece of art within another.

The album went onto explore the odd statistical correlation between UFO sightings by people driving Japanese cars. Muse upon the reaction Jesus would get should he returned to Earth (With a Gregorian Chant for a Middle Eight) The theory that a Manna Machine that fed the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, was now hidden in the Golan Heights. A sad lament by an alien leaving Earth, having watched mankind ruin it. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. An inverted Lord’s Prayer re-written as an ode to the Men in Black, amongst others.

Understandably, this was not common fayre for the average man on the Hackney Omnibus. JJ Burnel thought The Gospel was the answer to all the Universe’s conundrums. He was in a minority.

It was panned by the critics and fans alike.

Turn The Centuries Turn…

With the passing of time how do we view this flawed masterpiece? Occasionally the album opener ‘Waltz In Black’ turns up on Keith Floyd re-runs, who was a keen fan but generally it has sunk without a trace. The Stranglers rarely played much, if any from it, after Golden Brown. Now and again ‘Thrown Away’ makes an appearance but even the band seem to have forsaken it. Which is a tragedy.

Its subject matter was unique. It’s recording techniques and meshing of electronica and rock were years ahead of its time and far more complex than Gary Numan’s efforts and more akin to early Conny Plank, Midge Era Ultravox.

As the X-Files demonstrated, 13 years later. Aliens, UFOs, Government conspiracy and abduction could make for very interesting viewing, unlike any of the MiB films.

I was a bit late getting to The Stranglers party, having taken a more electronic route into music. Through serendipity (Or as Koestler phrased it, an example of ‘Synchronicity’) my discovery of The Stranglers was by pure chance, having read about the Men In Black in 1980, via ‘The Unexplained’ Magazine’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unexplained_(magazine) 

This magazine did a 3 part article on the MIB Theory. I also started reading a bizarre book called ‘Genesis’ also about a worldwide conspiracy between Governments and Aliens, Nazi tech, UFOs and Hollow Earth.

For December 1981, a copy of ‘Thrown Away’ turned up in a ‘Ten Mystery Single Pack’ from the Burlington catalogue, as a Christmas present (Along with ‘Primary’ by The Cure) 

A very suitably MIB like introduction into the strange world of The Stranglers ensued and 40 years later. I am still talking about it.

Intrigued?

Read more at: http://strangled.co.uk/pdf/but02.pdf

Listen to more at:

Watch more at: https://youtu.be/AY062VoQkUA

#ReThinkMarx…The Theory of Everything – Part 2: Barry Goldwater and his Voodoo Dolly…

Richard Nixon beat his Democratic opponent, George McGovern, by 23-points in the popular vote in the 1972 Presidential election. ..

In the aftermath of McGovern’s defeat, the Democratic Party moved relentlessly towards the centre and the centre moved relentlessly towards the right, with each passing election, from 1976 onwards. Since 1980, any Democratic contender who invoked leftish policies, or radicalism would hear the political and media establishment shout ‘’McGovern!’’. The Democrats’ fear of a McGovern-ocolypse is, as per usual, history re-written. McGovern lost NOT because he was too lefty. He lost in the face of a popular, canny President presiding over a buoyant economy at full pelt due to the demands of the Vietnam war and the end of the Gold Standard Currency Restrictions. This was Pre-Watergate & Pre-Oil Crisis. However, the disconnect between the political establishment and the voters, who would have benefited from McGovern’s 1972 platform, has grown to become an increasingly larger share of the American electorate. The issues McGovern espoused, though 50 years old still resonate and are universal. Ones Marx identified 150 years ago.

When McGovern lost to Nixon, the Democrats answer was to abandon any pretence at Johnson’s ‘Big Society’ and to capitulate to the emerging Neo-Liberal voices in Washington. When Republican hopeful, Barry Goldwater, lost to Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide, their response was the opposite. They embraced Presidential loser Goldwater’s radical conservatism, leading the way, 16 years later for Ronald Reagan.

But Why?

From his early career as a senator, Goldwater recognised and mined the conservatism of those unhappy with the moderate Dwight Eisenhower. Crucially, with big donations from feral conservative Capitalists such as Roger Milliken, Fred Koch and smaller sums via John Birch Society sympathizers,  Goldwater finally landed the GOP nomination in 1964. When he declared that “extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice”, he was speaking for the conservative Republicans who had dreamed of taking over the GOP. Yet more actors were employed, the American Enterprise Institute and the infamous libertarian University of Chicago economist, Milton Friedman. Goldwater had put together a philosophy that within less than 20 years, would become the blueprint for all Republican campaigns that followed:

  • Interventionist foreign policy
  • Opposition to civil rights legislation grounded in “states’ rights”
  • Antagonism  towards Unions
  • Rejection of the welfare
  • Deregulation
  • Favour the rich
  • Vague statements about morality and liberalism
  • Big tax cuts aimed at upper-income individuals and businesses
  • Pressure on Congress to hold down spending. 

Goldwater’s defeat did little to cool Republicans’ belief that the evils of liberalism and moderate Republicanism, needed to be eviscerated. The most important exponent of the Goldwater philosophy was of course Ronald Reagan. In 1964, Reagan delivered ‘The Speech’ on a national television a day before the election. Reagan criticised high taxes and lack of vigour in Vietnam. He sneered at the liberal “intellectual elite”, welfare cheats and praised Goldwater as a man would not “trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state.”

With Reagan assuming leadership of Goldwater’s platform, the Republican Party rebuilt the GOP in Goldwater blueprint. Nixon for all his faults, was a moderate and pragmatic politician who even once claimed himself to be a Socialist. Nixon pumped  the US economy with expansive fiscal and monetary policy. When polls showed the public liked McGovern on issues like inflation and taxes, Nixon ever the opportunist, shifted to the left. He took the unprecedented step of instituting wage-price controls to clamp down on inflation, promised to sock it to the rich and slash tax rates on the working class: “The essence of this is redistribution”.

On foreign affairs, Nixon could claim that he was winding down in Vietnam and cooling the Cold War after his trip to China. The Democrats could have resurrected Roosevelt and Nixon would still have romped to victory. 

When Nixon left the White House, the moderates went with him and the insurgents like Dick Cheney, filled their shoes, culminating in 1980 when Reagan secured the Presidential nomination.

Here’s Ronnie…

Today, every Republican candidate worships at the altar of Reagan. Reagan’s 1980 campaign promised:

  • Sweeping tax cuts
  • A “return to spiritual and moral values.”
  • To take on Communists abroad
  • Dealing with welfare cheats
  • To restore “states’ rights.” – Segregation by any other name.

A facsimile of Goldwater’s 1964 address. Reagan has placed fringe politics and economics as centre place and mainstream. There it has stayed ever since. Oddly, Goldwater didn’t support Reagan in his campaigning for the Republican nomination in 1976, preferring the incumbent, the less ideological Gerald Ford. Before his death, Goldwater, disavowed himself from the Republican Party, calling them ”Extremists”.

As they say, sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war.

Neo-Liberalism soon infected the Democratic party who saw Regan’s mish-mash of voodoo promises, as the only way to get back into power. Jimmy Carter, once in the White House became the experiment for Neo-Liberalism:

  • Big capital gains cut that benefited the top 10 percent of taxpayers.
  • Deregulation
  • Fiscal austerity
  • Monetary restraint
  • A rejection of minority and civil right organisations

These Democratic Neoliberals saw banishing the redistributive policies of McGovern and any New Deal or re distributive style thinking. Going abroad with military adventures and rowing back on civil and gay rights. In a complete 360 turn around, they argued that economic growth, not income inequality should be the focus. Aspiring entrepreneurs were to be courted, which coincidentally made the Democrats more donation friendly for the rich. 

The outcome of this? The Democrats became a magnet for white males and money from some of the largest corporations in the country, including Morgan Stanley, Dow Chemical, Citigroup, and Koch Industries. These Democrats anointed themselves the “New Democrats”.

The ultimate manifestation of this thinking, culminated in Bill Clinton. Who ran with a strange brew of Neo-Liberalism and populist economics, rejecting tax-and-spend politics and promising billions of dollars in new infrastructure and education spending, national health insurance and a re-distributive taxation, passing the burden to the rich. Very McGovern. 

Of course, all this promise vanished as soon a Clinton assumed office and the Democratic Neo-Liberals took key appointments in his administration and inevitably Clinton moved further to the right when he ripped off all the Republican desires:

  • North American Free Trade Agreement
  • Ending welfare
  • Defending Marriage Act
  • Financial deregulation
  • Top heavy Capital Gains Tax Cuts

Straight out of the Goldwater playbook.

Back in Blighty…

It was the UK that led the Neo-Liberal assault. When Ted Heath lost the 1974 General Election, in February 1974, Post-war Welfare Toryism was lost with him. A similar group of thinkers to those in the Republicans, on the right of the Conservative Party and influenced by the thinking of Hayek and Friedman, saw the solution as Goldwaterism. It took only 5 years for the Conservatives to recast their party under Margaret Thatcher. The same voices in the Labour Party, starting with Healey and his experiments with Monetarism and Austerity in the late 1970’s – just as Carter did – saw the Neo-Liberals in Labour coalesce after the 1983 election defeat and turn away from the traditional Labour concerns around distributing the gains of capitalism, amongst the working class and towards Neo-Liberalism.

Like the ‘New Democrats’, Blair’s ‘New Labour’ became all about winning, ”being comfortable with people becoming filthy rich” and sounding and looking like the Conservatives, only with better suits and nicer teeth.

40 years of Neo-Liberalism has seen all its promises laid bare…

The rich have got richer and rest have seen their incomes stagnate and their jobs go abroad in the name of; Globalisation, Freedom of Movement and Free Trade. Perhaps the biggest con trick is that Trump, Farage, ERG, IEA and the all the gang of Neo-Liberals ghouls, on both sides of the Atlantic, have persuaded tens of millions, that it is everyone else’s fault for their economic decline; Foreigners, the Chinese, the EU, the liberals, the lefties, the Marxists, the fairies at the bottom of your garden. Take your pick.

This all came into sharp focus with Brexit and culminated in the 2019 General Election, when McGovernism of the Labour Party, was lost to the Atlantic Neo-Liberals, who claimed they could save the UK from the very mess, they helped create.

Which is bemusing as the European Neo-Liberals, also claimed staying in the club would save the UK from the very mess, the EU had help to create. Even though the EU is a flag waving Neo-Liberal, Austerity, Free Trade, Globalisation advocating, trade club that has helped create the same stagnating economies and explosion of inequality and a democratic deficit across across Europe.  

As John Lydon once said: ‘’Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated’’…

*Big thanks for Joshua Mound whose original article provided much of the original content*

#ReThinkUtopia…One Person’s EUtopia, Is Another’s Brexit

*This was first published on the Pileus website in 2017. It has been slightly updated to reflect what has happened since*

The world seems to be an increasingly binary place, perhaps more so than any time since the late 1970’s, when Thatcher, swiftly followed by Reagan and then every other nation, unleashed the turbo charged work of the Chicago economists upon the world…Neo-Liberalism

Right now, we have Brexiteers telling us that their Utopian vision is the correct one and rests with the UK throwing off the shackles of the EU to float around the seven seas aboard HMS Britannia, in free trade festival of sovereignty. While the Remainers, tell us our future is ONLY assured if we stay in the club and collaborate to protect us from an increasingly splintered and global world. Both feel passionately that their world-view, and Utopian vision is correct. You argue Brexit is an option of bravery, whilst Remain is one of fear (“better the devil you know”). Unfortunately, belief does tend to blind one to the truths of others. The more thoughtful amongst us are probably still scratching our heads, trying to make sense of it all.

But do Utopias exist? Will they ever? Should we strive for them? 

The person we have to thanks for dropping the seductive concept of Utopia into the human mind is St Thomas More (of Henry VIII fame). He may not have been the first to ponder a Utopia, but he was the first to coin the phrase and put pen to paper with a detailed and well thought out premise. 

‘UTOPIA’ was published in the perquisite Latin, in 1516. Only available to the elites of the age who could afford a copy, have access to and could read (Perhaps, he saw the irony in that) More created a make believe island world, with echoes of Marxism 250 years in advance of Karl himself and fair smattering of proto-Orwell.

More’s protagonists, particularly Raphael, see the ills in the 16th Century European world primarily being the tendency of European Kings to start wars and the huge sums of money spent warring, that was then unavailable to be spent on other more useful ventures. (The modern day relevance is staggering) More and Raphael, criticise the use of execution for crimes of theft on the basis that if Capital Punishment applies equally for theft and murder, you may as well bump off any witnesses to your thievery. However, they were insightful enough to recognise the links between poverty, starvation and crime and pointed their collective finger at the practice of enclosing of common land for sheep farming, by the elites of the age. Sagely, they also know good governance requires wisdom and good listening skills. 

‘Plato doubtless did well foresee, unless kings themselves would apply their minds to the study of philosophy, that else they would never thoroughly allow the council of philosophers, being themselves before, even from their tender age, infected and corrupt with perverse and evil opinions.’

Interestingly, rather than espousing the revolution of Marx, More favours the ‘Remain and Reform’ option. Choosing to work within flawed systems to change and improve, rather than hoping to start again from first scratch. Which neatly frames what Remain has occasionally argued but never actually explained ‘How’, though the confused Yanis Varoufakis had a go pre-Referendum.

More’s vision of ‘Utopia’, is an island off the ‘Mainland’ (Steady Brexiteers) and the democratic and municipal structures are based around:

54 cities, each divided into quarters.

Each city has a maximum of 6000 households

Each family consists of 10-16 adults

Grouped by 30 households which each elect a representative.

A total of 200 representatives in turn elect a ruler by secret ballot, who is to rule for life – unless he is deposed or removed for tyranny

People are distributed around Utopian houses and towns to keep numbers even. Freedom of Movement is allowed, if overpopulation or under population threatens. Colonies are set up on the mainland, or mainland inhabitants are invited to join Utopia. It is voluntary and if you don’t like Utopian life, you can return.

There is no private property and all houses are rotated between the citizens every ten years. All goods are stored in warehouses where you can request what you need. There are no locks on the doors of the houses. The economy, unsurprisingly, is agriculture based and is the most important occupation in Utopia, with all taught farming skills and all doing a form of national service on farms every two years. Women do the same farm work as men.

Every citizen is required to learn at least one secondary trade: weaving (mainly done by the women – Of course) carpentry, metal work and masonry. All people wear a uniform of sorts, regardless of status and trade, no fancy apparel on More’s Utopia. Every member of Utopia is required to work – no unemployment allowed and the working day can be as short as six hours a day if required. 

Of course the elites, rise to the top and become officials or priests but are chosen for their qualifications and ability to learn.

Education and learning is encouraged in leisure time. More’s Utopia also boasted a form of welfare state including free healthcare, euthanasia, married priests and divorce. Amusingly for a lawyer, More’s Utopia contains no lawyers because Utopian law is deliberately simple, and all should know what is right and wrong. The toleration of all other religious ideas is enshrined in a universal prayer recited by Utopians.

Atheists are tolerated but are seen as a danger to the state. Why? As they do not believe in an after life, it was considered that that they would have little incentive to fear punishment, or reason to share the Communism of Utopia. All atheists are greedy and grasping, apparently. However, they are not banished but are encouraged to talk out their ‘erroneous beliefs’ with the priests until they are convinced of their error.

Utopians do not do war. They do a bit of arms dealing and military aid to friendly countries but prefer the capture of enemies rather than death. 

So you could argue, so far so good-ish, not for everyone but you can see how More tries to alleviate the social and economic problems of 16th century Europe, framed in the context of his age.

However, there is a Orwellian dark side to Utopia and this is where More’s own Cognitive Dissonance, comes to the fore in the form of:

Slavery, each house being allowed two, foreigners or Utopian criminals. Their chains are made gold. Gold is part of the collective wealth of Utopia. Shackling criminals with it, or using it for bodily functions – chamber pots – is intended to create distaste. With the gold being in plain view it is difficult to steal. However, slaves do enjoy periodic Jubilees for good behaviour. 

Pre-marital sex is punished by enforced celibacy.

Adultery punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in communally with the old and of course, the ‘administrators’ taking the best of the food. ID cards are required to travel internally. No ID card equals slavery. 

More is completely confused as to his view of women and what their role should be.  Wives are subject to their husbands and husbands are subject to their wives but women are restricted to conducting household tasks. At the same time all women are trained in military arts, women confess their sins to their husbands once a month. Gambling, hunting, makeup and astrology are all discouraged in Utopia. 

Privacy is not regarded as freedom in Utopia. Pubs and places for private gatherings are non-existent for the effect of keeping all men in full view, so that they are obliged to behave well. 

So fast-forwarding to 2017, as ever nothing much has changed over the years. We can all recognise More’s Utopia for what it was, an attempt to identify society’s ills, most of which are just as relevant today, with solutions that eventually rely on power of elites, dispensations, gender inequality, problems with personal liberties and everyone ultimately having a boss. So no solution at all.

The world today presents us with the failed a Neo-Liberal paradise of free trade liberty that mutated into an increasingly economic feudal order. Dictatorship pretending to be Communism, collapsed under the weight of it’s own intransigence, desperation to keep the powered elite in situ and lack of understanding of the human psyche, all to be replaced by a Capitalist Dictatorship.

Brexiteers wish to reclaim an England lost that never existed. Yes, it is seductive one, appealing to an emotional response to a lost age, without understanding the world is a changed place and that their Utopia will not be achieved.

Remainers EUtopia fails to recognise the immense democratic deficit with the EU, it’s adherence to Neo-Liberal economics and punishment beatings. Trump presents his UKIP version of American Nationalism but with little to back it up apart from words and only actions that contradict his promises. Does Utopia lurk somewhere amongst these competing -isms & -ologies? 

We attempted to post-1945 and we called it Social Democracy/State Capitalism, an agreed Social Contract of rules and behaviours between Capital and Society. There has never been a more urgent time for a new Social Contract and a Bretton Woods II for the global 21st Century. 

If Labour had got its act together, it could have proposed LEXIT as a response to carve a new path that was neither Brexit or Remain…

#ReThinkMarx…The Theory of Everything – Part 1: Marx, Jesus and Dick Cheney

Generally, when you mention Marx in polite company, you can see people physically recoil in abject horror, as if you had just let off a really odious fart. Men faint. Women reach for the designer Gin bottle. Children are rushed upstairs to bed. The dog pisses itself and rushes out the back door and the local holy man is called to perform some form of exorcism.

But why is this? What exactly did Marx say that was so terrifying?

Most descriptions of Marx talk about Capitalism but Marx recognised the most important issue above all was: OWNERSHIP

This is often missed in critiques of Marx but if you own the resources, you call the shots. Of course you can’t ignore Capitalism when mentioning Marx but everything boils down to ownership. From its development via Mercantilism, Capitalism is now the only global game in town. 

Capitalism rejects:

  • Co-Operation
  • Embraces competition. 
  • Relies on Winners and Losers
  • Redefines Class –  Those who own the resources and everyone else.  
  • Economic Darwinism

If you fall into the ‘Everyone Else’ category, then you have little choice but to work to survive for the Ownership Class, which owns and controls the means of production and take the lions share of the money created. As a result, it can exploit the ‘Everyone’ Else’ class. It is that division of class, that is at the very core of Capitalism. 

To survive in a Capitalist society, you need to compete. Businesses must compete against each other to survive. The Profit Motive becomes the most important factor and pay, conditions, job security etc, are a hindrance to the pursuit of profit. Capitalists compete against each other to maximise profit. What Capitalism ignores, is that those who actually produce the value and profit, are at the bottom of the pile. 

Capitalism is Economic Feudalism. Enter ‘Economic Man’, where you are the sum of your value, is your ability to transact and compete in the market.

Post-war Governments use to try and plan for the future. In every walk of life and business, planning is considered essential, ‘Fail to prepare and all that’ but with Capitalism, any attempts by a Government, or society to plan for the nations future, is seen as an attack on the sanctity of the free market and something akin to Stalinism. 

But ownership isn’t just material goods or stuff but also IDEAS…

As the centuries have turned the Owners have used their ownership of, what Marx termed as, ‘Mental Production’ and the ‘Ideas of the ruling class‘…

  • Media
  • Opinion News
  • Education and the narrative around history and economics. 

It is the Establishment ideas you hear proselytised, not alternatives. When was the last time you saw The Morning Star on any paper review on the BBC or Sky?  

If you own and control the economy, the media and education, you control the narrative around it:

  • Tax and Spend
  • Untenable Borrowing
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • the need for Austerity

We saw and heard this repeatedly over the Election Campaign of 2019: 

  • How will you pay for it? 
  • How much will you borrow? 
  • How can we afford it? 

There are of course Other Voices. Other ideas. Other points of view but these are generally belittled, ridiculed, smeared as they threatened the privilege and power of the Establishment and Owning Classes. All the rights men and women have fought for over generations, were not given by Capitalism. They were fought for by very ordinary men and women, often sacrificing their lives. As Capitalism has expanded, it has laid claim to more of society, invades more sovereign countries, overthrows more democracies to claim to their resources. Slavery and the Empire maybe technically over but as America has shown us – and more recently Europe – Imperialism is alive and kicking but using Economics as its standard bearer. More power, more land, more wealth more resources. More War. Just MORE…

America has spent most of the years since 1945, overtly – or surreptitiously – invading countries, organising coups, overthrowing democratically elected Governments, their political and economic resources. 

Bush’s VP, Dick Cheney was the real power behind George Bush Jnr. He took control of the White House and all state and security information coming in and out. He was also a believer in Neo-Liberalism but merely as a convenient vehicle to establish a New American Empire. Frankly Cheney believed in anything that allowed America and it’s billionaires, to do what-ever they hell they wanted.

*War is a tool of Capitalism. If you have seen the film ‘Vice’, you will have seen how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld jealously eye up Iraq and its oil supplies before 9/11, which gave the Neo-Liberals in the White House the excuse they needed to manufacture consent to invade Iraq, award American Oil companies no bid contracts to extract oil from Iraq. No WMD. Chemical or Nuclear weapons were ever found. Just cocaine and Western videos. Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton before becoming VP. When he left Halliburton to become VP, Halliburton paid him a $26 million golden goodbye. Halliburton was awarded a contract to extract oil from Iraq.*

Over 40 years, we have seen the Neo-Liberal project remove all barriers to:

  • Capital
  • Movement of people
  • Movement of manufacture to the lowest cost basis possible.
  • Removal of tariffs
  • Removal of regulation
  • Removal of worker protection and employment rights
  • Removal of Trade Union protection

Have no doubt, from Thatcher onwards, these have been a deliberate attack on the Working Class.

Paradoxically, it is human nature to look for others to blame often and as the consequences of Neo-Liberalism has reeked havoc in communities across the world, it is those who are different who find themselves in the firing line and the monsters in the shadows are waiting to exploit this malcontent through racism, nationalism, prejudice and fascism. 

The Post War Cold War Regulated Capitalism has morphed into an extremis of Neo-Liberalism…

Neo-Liberals are smart. Very smart. They worked out that the way to win, was to take over the state and democracy and make it work for them. To infiltrate positions in the establishment, business, politics, the media and Think Tanks to ensure that the state becomes a tool of Capitalism. When Cameron stuffed BBC News full of Tory activists in 2010, in senior positions, it was for a reason. When Capitalism went into crisis in 2008, who rode to the rescue? The State, bailing it out with trillions of Dollars world-wide. Capitalism is inherently unstable and will always produce boom and busts but the state will always comes to its rescue. 

Marx coined the phrase ‘Socialism’ as an ideology to resist the establishment and to find a carrion call as a way of resisting. Much like Jesus’s Christianity, which you could argue was the first form of Socialism, there are various definitions of Socialism from Reform to Revolt. Marx preferred the latter, mainly as he felt the future of the Working Class was in their hands. The Post-War Consensus and State Capitalism, which developed economies signed up to post-1945, as much influenced by a fear of Communism, was an attempt to keep the excesses of feral Capitalism under control and revolution at bay.  

Marx argued that the only way to create transformation, was by seizing control of the means of production. And he was absolutely right but the wrong people revolted and grabbed the means of production for themselves, the Neo-Liberals.

#ReThinkLabour…Boris was right


The Tories don’t have a leg to stand on with its conduct over the last 10 years: 

  • Its conduct in Government. 
  • The conduct of MPs and Ministers.
  • Austerity and the destruction it has wrought on the economy and society all in its pursuit of ideological purity. 

And Labour have the answers…

  • Economic & Societal Renewal
  • Balancing Regional Differences
  • Green New Deal

This time, by participating in an election prior to Brexit being done, Labour have given the Tories an early Christmas gift. Letting the narrative of the Tories, press and broadcasters to make this ”The Brexit Election” and about nothing else. 

Having spent nearly 3 and half years defending Labour’s position on Brexit via Twitter, which lets be honest, has been one of trying to be all things to all men. You can understand the temptation. Keep Leavers and Remainers on-board. Steady as she goes. Let the Tories implode.

In 2017, at least the line was ‘Respect The Result. Negotiate A Deal that meets the 6 Tests’. By 2019, this had morphed into Labour putting themselves in the outrageous position of promising to negotiate a new Withdrawl Agreement in Government…and then campaigning against itself during a Second Referendum. 

Complete Picard head in hands stuff. 

70% of Labour constituencies voted overwhelmingly, to Leave.

70% of Labour MPs were returned to Parliament, by a majority of Leave constituencies. 

There was a massive clue in that and this may well upset middle class, woke metropolitan Labour MPs but that is the reality. If you can’t represent the will of your constituencies, then you should not be in the job. You don’t send the Remainer Emily Thornberry up to a 62% Labour Leave constituency- Bishop Auckland, to rally the vote for an Ex-Liberal Democrat Remain MP but send her they did.  

If Labour had got their head round the fact the UK is a Sovereign Fiat Currency Issuer, it could have told the nation, hand on heart:

  • We don’t need the EU to allocate Regional Funds. We can do that ourselves.
  • We don’t need a Brexit dividend of £350m per week. We can do that now. 
  • We don’t have to suffer when we leave the EU. The Government have massive economic levers only a Soverign Fiat Currency Issuer has, to mitigate many of the negative effects of Leaving the EU.

If Labour had got their head round the fact the UK is a Sovereign Fiat Currency Issuer, it could have told the nation hand on heart:

  • We don’t need to raise taxes. In-fact, we need to do the complete opposite and cut taxes for the majority, rather than getting themselves tangled up in un-necessary own goals defending tax rises and then having to admit even the moderately paid would see their taxes rise. 
  • We don’t need to mess with Married Couples Allowance to pay for spending plans? It is of zero consequence but gifted the Tories a stick to beat Labour with. What were they doing?

If Labour had got their head round the fact the UK is a Sovereign Fiat Currency Issuer, it could have argued, hand on heart:

  • That its £400bn spending could be keystroked into Departmental budgets on day one of a Labour Government. No new taxes. No new borrowing.
  • It could have argued that what the economy really needs is a Tax Cut, which it couldn’t do by insisting Taxes and Borrowing would pay for its plans.
  • It could have killed the ‘But how will you pay for it?’ debate and moved the discussion onto the powers a Sovereign Fiat Currency Issuer has for renewal and transformation.  

I am connected with enough people in the MMT community to know that discussions have been held with McDonnell and Corbyn about the reality of Money Creation by Government for Public Purpose and MMT. McDonnell in particular was not interested and stuck to Neo-Liberal drivel about Fiscal Spending Rules (Which even the authors didn’t understand) and Tax Payers money. The one Labour MP who did get it, was Chris Williamson…   

 

And what of all those Remain predictions that the pound will collapse, if we left the EU? 

It still hasn’t and the London FX markets predicted – correctly – a rally in Sterling if the Tories WON and should we NOT LEAVE in January, they are predicting a FALL in value. Scroll to the end of this article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50725581

The Labour Party failed to tackle claims of Anti-Semitism head on – always turbo charged with glee by the Red Weed Labour Co-Op/LFI Blairite MPs – and come out fighting. When Chris Williamson had the balls to do so, he was hounded out by the Blairite Cuckoos. This and Watson were the two reasons I resigned from the party, out of disgust. 

And it will be the same Blairite Cuckoos, who will now see the planets and stars aligning to strike and install another Neo-Liberal puppet as Leader.  

The Tories didn’t win this election. It’s vote share increased by a mere 1%. Its was Labour who lost it…

The party will now descend into a navel gazing bitchfest. The same Remain MPs who refused to listen to their Leave constituents, who couldn’t keep their mouths shut and just follow the party line, will now blame everyone else –  mainly Corbyn – and attempt to move the party back to a Neo-Liberal Centre Ground and only Yvette Cooper can save us. Expect much sickening gloating and wringing of hands from Streeting, Phillips, Creasey and all their mob denying all responsibility for this epic disaster.

#ReThinkMoney – Part 7… The Sorry Tale of A Modern Day Prometheus and Neo-Liberal Euroland

 

As Brexit grinds ever tediously on, all the attention has been on Withdrawal Agreements and what was on the side of a bus. No-one paid much attention to the state of the Eurozone and its 20 year experiment in the creation a Supra Non-Sovereign Currency….The Euro. 

Even though the Maastricht Criteria boasted about letting member states sink or swim – brave words that remained untested, until member states did indeed sink – this was all quickly forgotten when in the wake of the 2007 GFC, the ECB came running to the aid of member states in the financial cack.

ECB largesse came at a terrifying price…

The ECB, being a Supra-National Currency Issuer (The Euro) did as all Central Banks are obliged to do, act as a ‘Lender of last resort’ and the ECB came to the rescue of drowning Eurozone members. This solution was a response to an inherent problem the architects Maastricht had engineered into their grand scheme from day one.

By requiring Member states to:

  • Relinquish their Sovereign Currencies, to join the Euro
  • Rely on solely on borrowing or taxation to fund their activities

It was flawed from day one, it was only a matter of time before a solvency disaster struck.

Despite all their bullish pronouncements about no bail outs, was the EU really prepared to see a member state fail and fall out of the Euro, undermining the very system they had created? 

Of course not…

When Greece teetered on the verge of collapse, only a bail out by other member states, via the ECB, prevented an economic collapse of the Greek Government, weighed down by Euroland debt.

The ECB threatened to close the banking system of Greece down, which is a clear breach of its own legal obligations and even the IMF winced at the terms presented to Greece by Merkel and like Prometheus, Greece has been paying the price for its transgressions ever since.

 

The Maastricht requirement to abandon all Sovereign Currency Issuing, was to prove to be a fateful decision…

As I discussed in ‘The Greatest Lie Ever Told (Probably)’ even Sovereign Currency Issuers can voluntarily limit their ability to issue Fiat Currency, if they choose. The Gold Standard being an obvious one.

A Government with the limited ability to create and issue its own currency, can run out of Sovereign Currency to service its liabilities and fall into insolvency. For those members who ditched their Sovereign Currencies in January 1999 and adopted the Euro, they may as well have chosen the Bolivar.

*For a slalutory tale in giving up your Soverirgn Curreny, look no further than Venezuela, the most current example of getting it badly wrong. Having denominated and issued its Government Debt in USDs, it found itself in a position where it was unable to obtain enough USDs to service its liabilities, mainly due to the America’s ban on buying any Venezuelan Govt Debt and banning of oil purchases. Cutting off its supply of USDs, created a solvency crisis. (Note there is zero mention of Socialism in that paragraph.

For some myth busting on Venezuela, read my blog: ‘Myths About The Venezuelan Economy’ *

Conversely, a Sovereign Currency Issuer like Japan, can run massive Deficits and Debt to GDP percentages, whilst offering ridiculously low interest rates (Negative at one point) on their sovereign debt. Even though it is denied, the market knows Japan cannot default.  Ever…

A nation issuing its own currency can always spend by crediting bank accounts and yes, this includes paying any interest on its debt. There is no default risk. However, a nation that issues another Nation’s/Country’s/Central Bank currency, Venezuela and the Eurozone, can default. And this is exactly where Eurozone Members find themselves.

Now whilst it is true that the individual Eurozone Governments can still spend by crediting bank accounts with the credit of bank reserves at their respective Central Banks, it is however, these same National Central Banks that need Euro Reserves from the ECB, to keep bank clearing running smoothly.

But here is the rub:

  • The ECB is prohibited from buying the National Govt Debt of Eurozone member nations. 
  • These National Central Banks can only obtain Euro reserves, if the ECB is prepared to lend them the Euro Reserves and must use their own Government debt, or assets as collateral. 

Lets this sink in. EU members are forced to obtain permission to borrow and then pay interest on their currency of use, the Euro. It may be unkind to describe the Euro as a huge Extortion Scheme, where the indebted member state must borrow more Euros, just to pay the interest on the original sum borrowed in Euros, increasing the debt. 

You end up in the insidious position, whereby National Central Banks can ensure there is money (loans) to keep their banking clearing systems running . The fact is this money is borrowed, becomes the problem. The Eurozone Nation needs to pay it back, with interest.

This is where the Household Analogy DOES apply:

  • If Greece runs a Deficit (Spending more Euros than it takes in Tax revenues) at the ECB, it needs to cut its domestic spending to move into surplus, thus allowing it to pay back its loans from the ECB, without more borrowing. 
  • The Greeks don’t have to borrow from just the ECB. It can sell its own Government Debt to other Eurozone members, obtaining Euros directly into its Central Bank. 
  • However, any bonds sold, will require paying back with interest. More debt and so it goes on. 

 

The UK has none of these constraints, though we’re told we do… 

Since 1971, it no longer borrows its own currency to fund spending. 

  • The BoE creates Zeroes and credits them HMG bank accounts. 
  • HMG then spends those Zeroes into the UK economy. 
  • A Sovereign Currency Issuer never needs to sell bonds for revenue to spend.

If the UK sells Gilts:

  • It is purely voluntary…Repeat…Voluntary.
  • Gilts/T-Bills/Premium Bonds give the Private Sector/Tax Payer the opportunity to exchange non-interest earning government liabilities – £s.
  • Into interest-earning government liabilities; Gilts/T-Bills/Premium Bonds. 
  • These Zeroes move from one bank account with reserves at the BoE, into the HMG reserve account, also at the BoE. That’s it. The Zeroes never leave the BoE. 

Gilt sales are voluntary. Gilts are just an alternative account, sitting at the BoE.

When Gilts are sold, HMG deposits the zeroes it receives at its BoE.

When Gilts are bought, the zeroes are moved from the purchasing reserve bank account at the BoE, into the HMG bank account at the BoE.

Gilt sales are of zero relevance when it comes to; solvency, revenue, spending or interest rates and it matters not if buyers of Gilts are British, or Mongolian.

Any rules HMG impose regarding having to sell Gilts, T-Bills or Premium Bonds before spending are purely…voluntary. That is by choice and NOT necessity. 

 

Government Debt and Private Debt are two VERY different creatures…

I discussed the difference in my blog: ‘Debt And Lots Of It’

When HMG issues a Gilt, it creates an asset for the private sector and there is no offsetting private sector liability – The creation of the Gilt was for free – All Gilts do is to create net financial assets for the Private Sector. 

Household debt is debt. HMG ‘debt’ is a liability but also an asset that increases the wealth of the private sector. A form of financial welfare.

The current rise in Private Debt since Austerity, should be ringing alarm bells somewhere in Government…

  • The private sector cannot run continuous deficits, spending more than it earns, borrowing on credit. 
  • The private sector/tax payers/households cannot issue currency. 
  • The private sector/tax payers/households needs to find £s to service its debt. 

I discussed Gilts in-depth in my blog: ‘Debt And Lots Of It

 

The Torture of the Greeks…

The problem Greece has found itself in, is that being part of the Eurozone turned into a financial straitjacket.

Unable to issue it’s own currency, it was forced to borrow Euros from the ECB, Eurozone Members and Capital Markets. The interest rates were set by others. A further surrender to Sovereignty – never mentioned by the Pro-EU lobby – was to allow the markets, rating agencies and other EU members to dictate the domestic policy of a democratically elected Government and Sovereign Country. If you are a Currency User, like Greece and find you can no longer service debt via taxation revenue, you will inevitably find someone to lend but at ever increasing rates of interest. The more a Currency User borrows, the higher the interest rate required and greater the risk of bankruptcy. 

Now there are those who will defend the EU’s behaviour towards Greece and tell you it is all the Greeks fault: ”They have always had a lacksidasical attitude towards paying tax” and, on the surface, this is a fair point but it does beg some questions:

  • Why did the EU ignore numerous warnings NOT to allow Greece to join?
  • Was Greece was set up for failure by Brussels, who knew that Euro membership required taxation for spending to make the Greek economy to function in the Eurozone? 

A Roads Lead To Maastricht…

Engineered into the Maastricht Treaty, are the EUs infamous Fiscal rules…

A classic piece of Neo-Liberal Economics; Brussels. No 10 and America’s response to the GFC has ALL been EXACTLY the same policy…Austerity: 

  • The express policy of the ECB, is to ensure Eurozone members achieve surplus (Perma-Austerity) 
  • The express policy of the HMG, is to its achieve surplus (Perma-Austerity) though this now seems to have gone out the window. 
  • The express policy of the Fed, is to ensure its achieves surplus (Perma-Austerity) Not a chance.
  • The express policy of the Liberal Democrats, is to ensure achieve surplus (Perma-Austerity) according to their 2019 manifesto but the Liberal Democrats are not even Useful Idiots. 

All of which demonstrates zero concern for the impact on the real economies of the EU, UK, US or the well-being of its citizens lives.

Austerity has been turbocharged since the GFC and the results are for all to see across the Euro-Zone and UK. It is the Economics of the Psychopath

Austerity really does kill. 

So, if Greece or any country were to pay off it’s National Debt, that would be good thing?

https://duncanpoundcake.wordpress.com/2020/06/25/rethinkmoney-part-8-lets-pay-off-the-national-debt/