Looking back in time – 1984

Seventy-four years ago this month, George Orwell’s 1984 was published. It was his last work. He was suffering from tuberculosis and less than a year later he died.

Whenever we discuss the distortion of the truth, authoritarianism, surveillance or propaganda, Orwell’s book 1984 readily comes to mind and we realise how some of his concerns are alarmingly relevant today. Orwell’s work has at times been misunderstood, but it is in the main a satirical warning and an attack on the rise of totalitarianism. In 1984 many readers have found inspiration in Orwell’s portrayal of one man in his struggle to hold on to what he believes in, what he considers valuable and worth fighting for. The dystopian society Orwell describes suffers not only from totalitarianism and its attendant propaganda, but also tyranny, a number of catastrophes, including environmental ones, corruption and war. Dissenters are caught and removed from society by the ‘Thought Police’. Orwell wrote in 1946: “What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.” I wonder what he would have thought about today’s social media, where users can be abused and vilified by such a large numbers of users. However, it also reminds us that our political leaders try to control what we say and write. Keir Starmer’s Labour Party bullies, suspends and expels those who do not toe the line.

Orwell’s other works and comments still provide us with much to think about. He famously stated: “A people that elects corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.” To what extent though are we accomplices in the actions of our governments? The political establishment has ways and means of influencing how we vote. We can see in the recent Turkish elections how much more influence Erdogan had than the opposition leader Kilicdaroglu. We have seen how money, influence, backstabbing, mendacity and control of the media have all influenced British voters. Somehow we have to learn to see behind the false promises and recognise our politicians for what they are.

Inflation the world over – the price of jollof rice soars in West Africa

A recent report from Al Jazeera analyses why “Inflation driven by economic instability, fallout from war in Ukraine and COVID have made jollof rice an expensive meal”. Inflation affecting food prices since 2020 has had an impact on people all over West Africa and of course in numerous other parts of the world. Many popular dishes and food items have become unaffordable.

Jollof rice is a fairly simple West African meal which is extremely popular. It consists of rice cooked with spices, especially pepper and tomato and some fish or meat. Now the cost of this staple is causing problems for many in Nigeria and adjacent countries. In Lagos one resident commented that her monthly food shop had doubled since last year, rising from about 40,000 naira (£70.05) to 80,000 naira (£140.10). Many households are seeking cheaper meat and fish for their meal.

In Ghana, food inflation is around 50.8%, the figure released in March, though it is less in Nigeria (24.61%) and Senegal (11.90%). Problems are particularly acute in Burkina Faso which has seen serious problems for over a decade and remains volatile. There are groups of refugees displaced from Mali and those displaced internally. There is poverty, food insecurity, unemployment and there are a number of armed groups who are increasingly attacking civilians. This is one of the tenth poorest countries in the world, and the blow of rising food prices will be a serious one.

The rise in food prices is affecting communities all over the world, but for the poorest, whatever country they live in, being unable to provide for their families can mean their existence becomes increasingly precarious, their health suffers and their lives are at risk.

Agreement on Colorado River conservation

Seven US states depend on the Colorado River. This river irrigates large areas of the country’s vital farmland and provides drinking water for 40 million people. It became clear that the river is overused and last month an agreement was reached with the Biden administration to reduce consumption and help save the river in exchange for $1.2 billion in federal funding. This will conserve at least 3 million-acre-feet (maf) of system water.

Problems have arisen because of considerable population growth and an unusual drought this century, which almost resulted in reservoir levels being lower than the intake valves that take water downstream. This would have cut off hydroelectric production.

It took a year to reach agreement, which was probably facilitated when the economies of major cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix, and the agricultural industry were threatened. Further negotiations need to take place in the future to protect the area after 2027, and hopefully next time the importance of addressing climate change will be be a priority.

Two million deaths caused by climate change

Between 1970 and 2021 there were 11,778 reported disasters, more than two million deaths and economic losses of US$ 4.3 trillion caused by extreme weather, climate and water-related events. These figures were released last month in a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

More than 90% of the reported deaths happened in poorer regions of the world. WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas commented: “The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards.”

While many of us are affected by economic losses, those who are most likely to be dismayed at the prospect of reduced profits, and who will challenge the concept that climate change is a result of human activity, are the large corporations. They are one of the main reasons why it is so hard to make real gains in the fight for climate justice and the restoration of our environment. They will always resist the urgent need for action on the environment to take precedence over market forces.

Uganda – Same-sex relationships risk the death penalty

Same-sex relations are illegal in more than 30 African countries, but the new law in Uganda, introduced by President Yoweri Museveni goes further and contains the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and “serial offenders”. This means having sex with anyone with a disability or passing on a terminal illness such as HIV/AIDS through gay sex. There is a 20-year prison sentence for “promoting” homosexuality. On May 30th this year the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (IGLA) tweeted: “The mere proposal of this bill has already led to targeted persecution of LGBTIQ People in Uganda. Activists will challenge the constitutionality of the law in court.” (@ILGAWORLD)

Shock and outrage, especially among LGBTIQ groups, has been expressed in various parts of the world, but the phrase “promoting homosexuality” and its prohibition is not new. The UK Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher, included Section 28 in the many cruel changes she imposed on the country. Some education authorities, especially the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), had introduced enlightened elements to the curriculum which promoted inclusion and understanding of gay rights. Section 28 put a stop to this. The Pink News called this: “The Conservative government’s vitriolic and traditionalist response to calls for equality from lesbian and gay rights activists in the late 1980s.”

Racism kicking back

Two weeks ago Vinicius Junior, a Brazilian footballer who plies his trade with Spanish team Real Madrid, was racially abused during a La Liga match against Valencia. He was subjected to abuse from the crowd and also came in for some very harsh treatment from Valencia players, prompting him to complain to the referee. Vinicius Junior received a red card, and the game was allowed to continue despite the racist chants coming from a large section of Valencia fans.

Former Manchester United player, and now pundit, Rio Ferdinand took to Instagram to offer his take on the matter. He wrote: “Bro you need protecting… who is protecting Vini Jr in Spain? He receives a red card after being choked and receiving racial abuse during the game… wtf [what the f***]? How many times do we need to see this young man subjected to this s***? I see pain, I see disgust, I see him needing help… and the authorities don’t do s*** to help him.”

The immediate reaction of La Liga was to back the referee and to say that protocols had been followed. However, following Real Madrid’s accusation of this constituting a ‘hate crime’ against Vinicius Junior, the red card was rescinded and Valencia given a partial stadium ban for 5 matches and a €45,000 fine. This was subsequently reduced to 3 matches and a €27,000 fine after Valencia appealed. This is pocket money for clubs of this size.

Some people will argue that footballers are overpaid (which they are) and that banter is part of the live match experience (which it is). But it is also the case that footballers are workers and that football stadiums are their places of work. Being well paid does not mitigate the racism black players often face, and paying for a ticket to the match should not allow ‘fans’ the right to throw racist abuse at players they don’t like.

PR delivers right-wing majority in Chile

In yet another blow to the claim that PR is the best way to secure progressive politics, the right-wing Republican Party won a majority in elections to select members for a Constitutional Council. According to NACLA the results of the election included an ironic twist as “ultra-conservative politician José Antonio Kast, an outspoken critic of the process, is now in control of drafting the country’s new constitution.” President Gabriel Boric had been elected on a progressive mandate but, in order to deliver any policies, has been held to ransom by the right-wing blocs. Despite promises to the contrary, Boric has failed to reform the police and alienated Indigenous voters by enforcing a military state of emergency in Southern Chile.

One of those elected to the Constitutional Council was Luis Silva Irarrázaval, part of the Catholic sect Opus Dei. He told reporters that “women’s reproductive rights are not essential to a constitution,” making it clear that the right to an abortion would be contested should it be advocated for the new constitution.

Beware right-wing wolves in left-wing clothing

There is a video currently doing the rounds and attracting some praise from people on the left. It is of Christine Anderson MEP in which she points out that establishment elites dominate the parliamentary system. In it she says “stop complying, start rebelling”. The video has been viewed just short of half a million times. Twitter user @TatDino declared, “She is our Queen of Freedom.” Except the video is not about freedom or socialism, it is about citizens refusing to comply with the restrictions that brought Covid under control. Christine Anderson is a member of the German right-wing neo-fascist party, the AfD (Alternative for Germany). This is a party that wants to stop all migration into Germany. It is a party that is deeply Eurosceptic but happy for its members to take wages and expenses to attend. Ms Anderson opposed a bill last year calling for the American Supreme Court to support women’s right to an abortion. Her party’s manifesto calls for the right of citizens to bear arms, for law and order (no contradiction there!), for a return to ‘family values’, a withdrawal from Europe, and an end to immigration. Do not be fooled by the left-sounding rhetoric. The AfD are a neo-Nazi party (currently polling around 10%, so thanks to PR able to win seats in the legislature). Do not share their videos. They are enemies of socialism and offer nothing but familiar right-wing dog whistles.

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