Saturday, August 31, 2019

Boris Johnson's Intensions Exposed

Boris Johnson’s intention to prorogue Parliament has provoked much contrived outrage from opposition politicians and Commons Speaker John Bercow.

But where have these self-proclaimed “defenders of democracy” been while Jeremy Corbyn and many progressive and labour movement figures have been demanding a genuine exercise in democracy through a general election?

This present parliamentary session has been one of the longest in modern British history and is not over yet, despite the current recess. The sitting government has been defeated time and again, in unprecedented fashion, and yet the Tories limp on.

It is nothing out of the ordinary that a new prime minister at the head of a new government wants to suspend Parliament briefly in order to prepare a new legislative programme.

Nor is there anything out of the ordinary about a parliamentary shutdown so that politicians can attend their autumn party conferences.

What is extraordinary is that Johnson should be prime minister at all and that the electorate should have been repeatedly denied the opportunity to bring this Tory government down.

It is also clear that Johnson has an ulterior motive, namely to squeeze the parliamentary time available to anti-Brexit MPs to legislate against a “no-deal” departure from the European Union, seek a fourth postponement of Brexit day and perhaps even revoke Article 50 and keep Britain in despite the referendum result of June 2016.

These factors make today’s announcement of a forthcoming prorogation abnormal. It comes in circumstances that have been created by anti-Brexit MPs and the House of Commons. They have had three years to agree a way to honour the people’s vote to leave the EU. Moreover, the vast majority of those MPs were elected on pledges to do just that.

Instead, they have tried every parliamentary trick in the book — in this case Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice — to block and delay any and every kind of exit from the EU. Their wealthy supporters outside Parliament have tried using the courts and launching public campaigns to the same end.

Now Johnson has decided to take them on with a trick or two of his own.

Had more MPs been honest about their full intention, their own protestations about prorogation being a “constitutional outrage” might at least have the ring of sincerity. As it is, they are the squawkings of a bunch of unscrupulous plotters who are now being played at their own disreputable game.

Speaker Bercow has already made plain that he is a pillar of the pro-EU Establishment, which is at least a move to the left since his days of demanding “hang Nelson Mandela!” and praising the murderous dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile.

At the same time, nothing that Johnson says can be taken at face value either.

He proclaims his urgent passion to invest in the NHS, schools, infrastructure and community policing, yet his record is that of so many pro and anti-Brexit MPs: tax cuts and privatisation for the rich, cuts in public services and welfare benefits for the rest of us.

The danger remains that he and future prime ministers could see in prorogation a useful and usable device for suspending Parliament in order to impose reactionary policies without permission or accountability.

Caught as we are between those that would thwart the peoples will, expressed in the 2016 referendum, and a Tory government intent on pursing its reactionary agenda by any means, the only logical call is for a general election now.

We need the election of a government committed to a radical socialist agenda and a recognition that the chances of carrying through that agenda require our release from the straitjacket of the anti-democratic EU, anti-worker European Court of Justice rulings and the neoliberal single market and customs union.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

UK – Democracy Under Attack

British MPs decried Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament as reckless and unconstitutional on Wednesday, with senior figures suggesting radical action including protests, a general strike and civil service disobedience.

MPs and other senior politicians suggested a number of increasingly drastic proposals to take on Johnson. Robert Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, suggested civil servants needed to examine their conscience as to whether they could support the government’s actions.

“We are reaching the point where the civil service must consider putting its stewardship of the country ahead of service to the government of the day,” Lord Kerslake said.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, demanded an intervention from the Queen, suggesting the prime minister had put the monarch in an unforgivable position that set her at odds with the majority in parliament.

Corbyn said there was “a danger that the royal prerogative is being set directly against the wishes of a majority of the House of Commons”.

He said the granting of Johnson’s request would “deprive the electorate of the opportunity to have their representatives hold the government to account, make any key decisions and ensure that there is a lawful basis for action taken”.

Swinson said she had also requested a meeting with the Queen. “This is a crucial time in our country’s history, and yet our prime minister is arrogantly attempting to force through a no-deal Brexit against the democratic will. He is outrageously stifling the voices of both the people and their representatives,” she said.

“It is appalling that the prime minister has forced opposition leaders into taking this action. However, we must take all measures necessary to avoid a disastrous no-deal Brexit, for which there is no mandate.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Anti Slavery Taskforce

At the last General Meeting of BMUC there was a lot of enthusiasm for supporting the work of the Anti Slavery Taskforce and United Voice, including the training of BMUC members on how to identify, approach and assist potentially exploited workers. I'm writing to you to follow up on that. Can you advise on the best way to approach putting this in action?

There was also a motion passed to write to the Escarpment Group to "Ask about the ratio of local workers:temporary visa workers employed and their policy regarding the employment of local workers." I thought it would be advisable to check with you first to ensure such a letter wouldn't negatively interfere with the work being done with affected Escarpment Group workers by the Anti Slavery Taskforce and/or United Voice.

I may have already approached you about the above matters - I thought I had but can't find any record of doing so - so if this is a repeat of a previous communication I apologise. The intent of this email is to make sure I've done what I was supposed to do, not to hassle you. 

The members of BMUC who attended Politics in the Pub found your suggestions and information extremely useful and informative. Please let me know of any anti slavery campaigns that could use the support of BMUC.


In Unity

Debra Smith

Monday, August 26, 2019

Morrison’s wage crisis slows GDP

Morrison’s wage crisis slows GDP

GDP growth has slowed to 0.4 percent for the quarter and 1.8 per cent for the year on the back of low consumer spending and negative retail sales figures caused by the wage growth crisis, according to ABS figures released this morning.

The wage crisis has caused a collapse in consumer spending which has resulted in negative retail sales figures. The entire economy is being impacted by the Morrison Government inaction.

Working people are at the coal face of this crisis. This is being driven by the fact that millions of workers are barely earning enough to keep their heads above water and have nothing left to spend on discretionary items.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien

“This Government promises economic strength at every opportunity but has delivered six years of near record low wage growth, which is now slowing the entire economy.

“We needed action on the wages crisis years ago. Working people have been bearing the brunt of an avoidable crisis because this Government believes that everything can be solved by throwing billions at billionaires.

“The Morrison Government has no answer for this. They will try more corporate tax cuts, which we know don’t work, and in a few weeks they will cut penalty rates again, which have been shown not to generate a single new job.

“We need action now to give working people the power to fight for and win pay rises which will boost consumer spending and re-ignite growth.

“When 60 percent of the economy is domestic consumption, you need money in the hands of working people, not a handful of super-wealthy business owners.

“We need systemic change, not blind adherence to a broken trick-down ideology.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Obscure World of Mysterious Boutique Companies

Apparently, the age of the old-fashioned spook is in decline. What is emerging instead is an obscure world of mysterious boutique companies specializing in data analysis and online influence that contract with government agencies. 

As they say about hedge funds, if the general public has heard their names that’s probably not a good sign. But there is now one data analysis company that anyone who pays attention to the US and UK press has heard of: Cambridge Analytica. 

Representatives have boasted that their list of past and current clients includes the British Ministry of Defense, the US Department of Defense, the US Department of State, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and NATO. Nevertheless, they became recognized for just one influence campaign: the one that helped Donald Trump get elected president of the United States. 

The kind of help the company offered has since been the subject of much unwelcome legal and journalistic scrutiny.

Carole Cadwalladr’s recent exposé of the inner workings of Cambridge Analytica shows that the company, along with its partner, SCL Group, should rightly be as a cautionary tale about the part private companies play in developing and deploying government-funded behavioral technologies. 

Her source, former employee Christopher Wylie, has described the development of influence techniques for psychological warfare by SCL Defense, the refinement of similar techniques by SCL Elections through its use across the developing world (for example, a “rumor campaign” deployed to spread fear during the 2007 election in Nigeria), and the purchase of this cyber-arsenal by Robert Mercer, the American billionaire who funded Cambridge Analytica, and who, with the help of Wylie, Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon, and the company’s chief executive Alexander Nix, deployed it on the American electorate in 2016.

But the revelations should also prompt us to ask deeper questions about the kind of behavioral science research that enables both governments and private companies to assume these powers. 

Two young psychologists are central to the Cambridge Analytica story. One is Michal Kosinski, who devised an app with a Cambridge University colleague, David Stillwell, that measures personality traits by analyzing Facebook “likes.” It was then used in collaboration with the World Well-Being Project, a group at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center that specializes in the use of big data to measure health and happiness in order to improve well-being. 

The other is Aleksandr Kogan, who also works in the field of positive psychology and has written papers on happiness, kindness, and love (according to his résumé, an early paper was called “Down the Rabbit Hole: A Unified Theory of Love”). He ran the Prosociality and Well-being Laboratory, under the auspices of Cambridge University’s Well-Being Institute.

Despite its prominence in research on well-being, Kosinski’s work, Cadwalladr points out, drew a great deal of interest from British and American intelligence agencies and defense contractors, including overtures from the private company running an intelligence project nicknamed “Operation KitKat” because a correlation had been found between anti-Israeli sentiments and liking Nikes and KitKats. Several of Kosinski’s co-authored papers list the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, as a funding source. 

His résumé boasts of meetings with senior figures at two of the world’s largest defense contractors, Boeing and Microsoft, both companies that have sponsored his research. He ran a workshop on digital footprints and psychological assessment for the Singaporean Ministry of Defense.

For his part, Aleksandr Kogan established a company, Global Science Research, that contracted with SCL, using Facebook data to map personality traits for its work in elections (Kosinski claims that Kogan essentially reverse-engineered the app that he and Stillwell had developed). 

Kogan’s app harvested data on Facebook users who agreed to take a personality test for the purposes of academic research (though it was, in fact, to be used by SCL for non-academic ends). But according to Wylie, the app also collected data on their entire—and nonconsenting—network of friends. 

Once Cambridge Analytica and SCL had won contracts with the State Department and were pitching to the Pentagon, Wylie became alarmed that this illegally-obtained data had ended up at the heart of government, along with the contractors who might abuse it.

This apparently bizarre intersection of research on topics like love and kindness with defense and intelligence interests is not, in fact, particularly unusual. It is typical of the kind of dual-use research that has shaped the field of social psychology in the US since World War II. 

Much of the classic, foundational research on personality, conformity, obedience, group polarization, and other such determinants of social dynamics—while ostensibly civilian—was funded during the cold war by the military and the CIA. 

The cold war was an ideological battle, so, naturally, research on techniques for controlling belief was considered a national security priority. This psychological research laid the groundwork for propaganda wars and for experiments in individual “mind control.” The pioneering figures from this era—for example, Gordon Allport on personality and Solomon Asch on belief conformity—are still cited in NATO psy-ops literature to this day.

The recent revival of this cold war approach has taken place in the setting of the war on terror, which began in 1998 with Bill Clinton’s Presidential Decision Directive 62, making terrorism America’s national security priority. 

Martin Seligman, the psychologist who has bridged the military and civilian worlds more successfully than any other with his work on helplessness and resilience, was at the forefront of the new dual-use initiative. 

His research began as a part of a cold war program of electroshock experiments in the 1960s. He subjected dogs to electric shocks, rendering them passive to the point that they no longer even tried to avoid the pain, a state he called “learned helplessness.” This concept then became the basis of a theory of depression, along with associated ideas about how to foster psychological resilience.

In 1998, Seligman founded the positive psychology movement, dedicated to the study of psychological traits and habits that foster authentic happiness and well-being, spawning an enormous industry of popular self-help books. 

At the same time, his work attracted interest and funding from the military as a central part of its soldier-resilience initiative. Seligman had previously worked with the CIA and even before September 11, 2001, his new movement was in tune with America’s shifting national security priorities, hosting in its inaugural year a conference in Northern Ireland on “ethno-political conflict.”

But it was after the September 11 attacks that terrorism became Seligman’s absolute priority. 

In 2003, he said that the war with jihadis must take precedence over all other academic research, saying of his colleagues: “If we lose the war, the laudable, but pet projects they endorse, will not be issues… 

If we win this war, we can go on to pursue the normal goals of science.” Money poured into the discipline for these purposes. The Department of Homeland Security established Centers of Excellence in universities for interdisciplinary research into the social and psychological roots of terrorism. Elsewhere, scholars worked more obliquely on relevant behavioral technologies.

Some of the psychological projects cultivated under the banner of the war on terror will be familiar to many readers. 

Psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker, and their colleagues in other disciplines (most prominently, the Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein) rehabilitated the cold war research on “group polarization” as a way of understanding not, this time, the radicalism that feeds “totalitarianism,” but the equally amorphous notion of “extremism.” 

They sought to combat extremism domestically by promoting “viewpoint diversity” both on campus (through organizations such as the Heterodox Academy, run by Haidt and funded by libertarian billionaire Paul Singer) and online, suggesting ways in which websites might employ techniques from social psychology to combat phenomena such as “confirmation bias.” Their notion of “appropriate heterogeneity” (Sunstein) in moral and political views remains controversial.

Seligman himself saw the potential for using the Internet to bring his research on personality together with new ways of gathering data. This project began shortly after the September 11 attacks, with a paper on “Character Strengths Before and After September 11,” which focused on variations in traits such as trust, love, teamwork, and leadership. 

It ultimately evolved into the innovative World Well-Being Project at Penn. Seligman also fostered links with Cambridge University, where he is on the board of the Well-Being Institute that employs the same kind of psychometric techniques. 

The aim of these programs is not simply to analyze our subjective states of mind but to discover means by which we can be “nudged” in the direction of our true well-being as positive psychologists understand it, which includes attributes like resilience and optimism. 

Seligman’s projects are almost all funded by the Templeton Foundation and may have been employed for entirely civilian purposes. But in bringing together the personality research and the behavioral technologies that social psychologists had for decades been refining with the new tool of big data (via the astonishing resources provided by social media), it has created an important template for what is now the cutting-edge work of America’s intelligence community.

In 2008, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates commissioned the Minerva Initiative, funded by the DoD, which brought researchers in the social sciences together to study culture and terrorism, and specifically supported initiatives involving the analysis of social media. 

One of the Cornell scientists involved also participated in the famous and controversial Facebook study of emotional contagion. Less well known is the Open Source Indicators program at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA (a body under the Director of National Intelligence), which has aimed to analyze social media in order to predict social unrest and political crises.

In a 2014 interview, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, speaking then as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that such open-source data initiatives, and in particular the study of social media such as Facebook, had entirely transformed intelligence-gathering. 

He reported that traditional signals intelligence and human intelligence were increasingly being replaced by this open-source work and that the way in which intelligence agents are trained had been modified to accommodate the shift. A growing portion of the military’s $50 billion budget would be spent on this data analytics work, he claimed, creating a “gold rush” for contractors. A few weeks after this interview, Flynn left the DIA to establish the Flynn Intel Group Inc. He later acted as a consultant to the SCL Group.

Carole Cadwalladr reported in The Observer last year that it was Sophie Schmidt, daughter of Alphabet founder Eric Schmidt, who made SCL aware of this gold rush, telling Alexander Nix, then head of SCL Elections, that the company should emulate Palantir, the company set up by Peter Thiel and funded with CIA venture capital that has now won important national security contracts. 

Schmidt threatened to sue Cadwalladr for reporting this information. But Nix recently admitted before a parliamentary select committee in London that Schmidt had interned for Cambridge Analytica, though he denied that she had introduced him to Peter Thiel. 

Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie allowed Cambridge Analytica to evolve into an extremely competitive operator in this arena.

It was by no means inevitable that dual-use research at the intersection of psychology and data science would be employed along with illegally-obtained caches of data to manipulate elections. But dual-use research in psychology does seem to present a specific set of dangers. 

Many areas of scientific research have benefited from dual-use initiatives. The National Cancer Institute began its life in the early 1970s as part of a coordinated program examining the effects of tumor agents developed as bio-weapons at Fort Detrick. 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, similarly, researched the effects of militarily manufactured hazardous viruses. This was the foundation of a biotechnology industry that has become a paradigm case of dual use and has led, in spite of its more sinister side, to invaluable medical breakthroughs. 

But the development of behavioral technologies intended for military-grade persuasion in cyber-operations is rooted in a specific perspective on human beings, one that is at odds with the way they should be viewed in democratic societies.

I’ve written previously about the way in which a great deal of contemporary behavioral science aims to exploit our irrationalities rather than overcome them. 

A science that is oriented toward the development of behavioral technologies is bound to view us narrowly as manipulable subjects rather than rational agents. 

If these technologies are becoming the core of America’s military and intelligence cyber-operations, it looks as though we will have to work harder to keep these trends from affecting the everyday life of our democratic society. That will mean paying closer attention to the military and civilian boundaries being crossed by the private companies that undertake such cyber-operations.          

In the academic world, it should entail a refusal to apply the perspective of propaganda research more generally to social problems. 

From social media we should demand, at a minimum, much greater protection of our data. 

Over time, we might also see a lower tolerance for platforms whose business model relies on the collection and commercial exploitation of that data. 

As for politics, rather than elected officials’ perfecting technologies that give them access to personal information about the electorate, their focus should be on informing voters about their policies and actions, and making themselves accountable.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Life and Times of Yuri Gagarin

Every April, people around the world celebrate the life and works of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. He was the first person to travel into outer space and the first to orbit our planet. 

He accomplished all this in an 108-minute flight on April 12, 1961. During his mission, he commented on the feeling of weightlessness that everyone who ever goes into space experiences. In many ways, he was a pioneer of spaceflight, putting his life on the line not just for his country, but for the human exploration of outer space. 

For Americans who remember his flight, Yuri Gagarin's space feat was something they watched with mixed feelings: yes, it was great that he was the first man to go to space, which was exciting. 

His was a much-sought-after achievement by the Soviet space agency at a time when his country and the United States were very much at odds with each other. However, they also had bittersweet feelings about it because NASA hadn't done it first for the U.S.A. Many felt the agency had somehow failed or was being left behind in the race for space.

The flight of Vostok 1 was a milestone in human spaceflight, and Yuri Gagarin put a face on the exploration of stars. 
Gagarin was born on March 9, 1934. As a young adult, he took flight training at a local aviation club, and his flying career continued in the military. He was selected for the Soviet space program in 1960, part of a group of 20 cosmonauts who were in training for a series of missions that were planned to take them to the Moon and beyond.

On April 12, 1961, Gagarin climbed into his Vostok capsule and launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome—which remains today as Russia's premier launch site. The pad he launched from is now called

"Gagarin's Start". It's also the same pad that the Soviet space agency launched the famous Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957.

A month after Yuri Gagarin's flight to space, U.S. astronaut Alan Shephard, Jr., made HIS first flight to and the "race to space" went into high gear.

Yuri was named "Hero of the Soviet Union", traveled the world talking of his accomplishments, and rose quickly through the ranks of Soviet Air Forces. 

He was never allowed to fly to space again, and became the deputy training director for the Star City cosmonaut training base. He continued flying as a fighter pilot while working on his aerospace engineering studies and writing his thesis about future space planes.

Yuri Gagarin died on a routine training flight on March 27, 1968, one of many astronauts to die in space flight accidents ranging from the Apollo 1 disaster to the Challenger and Columbia shuttle mishaps. There has been much speculation (never proven) that some nefarious activities led to his crash. It's far more likely that erroneous weather reports or an air vent failure led to the deaths of Gagarin and his flight instructor, Vladimir Seryogin. 

Since 1962, there has always been a celebration in Russia (Former Soviet Union) called "Cosmonautics Day", to commemorate Gagarin's flight to space. "Yuri's Night" began in 2001 as a way to celebrate his achievements and those of other astronauts in space. Many planetariums and science centers hold events, and there are celebrations at bars, restaurants, universities, Discovery Centers, observatories (such as Griffith Observatory), private homes and many other venues where space enthusiasts gather. To find more about Yuri's Night, simply "Google" the term for activities. 

Today, astronauts on the International Space Station are the latest to follow him into space and live in Earth orbit. In the future of space exploration, people may well start living and working on the Moon, studying its geology and mining its resources, and preparing for trips to an asteroid or to Mars. Perhaps they, too, will celebrate Yuri's Night and tip their helmets in memory of the first man to head to space.

Joseph Stiglitz on Trump

In the new world wrought by President Donald Trump, where one shock follows another, there is never time to think through fully the implications of the events with which we are bombarded.

In late July, the Federal Reserve Board reversed its policy of returning interest rates to more normal levels, after a decade of ultra-low rates in the wake of the Great Recession. 

Then, the United States had another two mass gun killings in under 24 hours, bringing the total for the year to 255 — more than one a day. And a trade war with China, which Trump had tweeted would be “good, and easy to win,” entered a new, more dangerous phase, rattling markets and posing the threat of a new cold war.

At one level, the Fed move was of little import: a 25-basis-point change will have little consequence. The idea that the Fed could fine-tune the economy by carefully timed changes in interest rates should by now have long been discredited—even if it provides entertainment for Fed watchers and employment for financial journalists.

Not a lack of liquidity

If lowering the interest rate from 5.25% to essentially zero had little impact on the economy in 2008-09, why should we think that lowering rates by 0.25% will have any observable effect? Large corporations are still sitting on hoards of cash: it’s not a lack of liquidity that’s stopping them from investing.

Long ago, John Maynard Keynes recognized that while a sudden tightening of monetary policy, restricting the availability of credit, could slow the economy, the effects of loosening policy when the economy is weak can be minimal.

Even employing new instruments such as quantitative easing can have little effect, as Europe has learned. In fact, the negative interest rates being tried by several countries may, perversely, weaken the economy as a result of unfavorable effects on bank balance sheets and thus lending.

The lower interest rates do lead to a lower exchange rate BUXX, -0.01%  . Indeed, this may be the principal channel through which Fed policy works today.

But isn’t that nothing more than “competitive devaluation,” for which the Trump administration roundly criticizes China? And that, predictably, has been followed by other countries lowering their exchange rate, implying that any benefit to the U.S. economy through the exchange-rate effect will be short-lived.

More ironic is the fact that the recent decline in China’s exchange rate USDCNH, +0.0396%  came about because of the new round of American protectionism and because China stopped interfering with the exchange rate — that is, stopped supporting it.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

UNESCO and Great Barrier Reef

With the Australian sun illuminating the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef in all their glory, UNESCO World Heritage delegates snorkelled for hours surrounded by manta rays, dolphins and reef sharks.
Their mission was to check the health of the world's largest living ecosystem, thousands of multi-coloured coral reefs stretching over 2,000 km off the northeast coast which bring in billions of dollars a year in tourism.
Some coral has been badly damaged and certain animal species, including dugong and large green turtles, are threatened.
UNESCO will announce on Wednesday whether it’s going to place the reef - larger than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland combined - on a list of endangered World Heritage sites. That’s a move the Australian government wants to avoid at all costs.
Such a listing could lead to restrictions on shipping and port expansion that could hit Australia's trade in commodities and energy.
Government ministers have been lobbying hard overseas, while the UNESCO delegates snorkelled in the least damaged area of the reef following a warning by the UN body that the reef risked a blacklisting.

"I have no doubt that they (UNESCO delegates) had a perception that the barrier reef was dead. That it was doomed, it was down, it was in a bad place," Gash said. “And that's not the case at all.”
A pile of processed metal sits near the Barney Point shipping port.
Since then, there has been renewed concern about development, particularly coal mining in the northeastern state of Queensland and shipping.
Greenpeace said 50 percent of the reef's coral cover had been lost in the last 30 years. Earlier this year, UNESCO said the reef's outlook was "poor".
UN delegates spent the bulk of their visit to Queensland hearing detailed scientific rundowns on the reef, the government said.
Locals said the visitors spent a lot of time cavorting with the animals at one of the few remaining unspoiled stretches of the reef.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Vale Toni Morrson

Toni Marrison 1988

The world lost an icon this week. Prolific novelist, essayist, editor and professor Toni Morrison passed away on Monday at the age of 88.

Morrison’s family confirmed “with profound sadness” that Morrison had died “following a short illness.”

The Nobel Prize-winner leaves behind a legacy rooted in uplifting the voice and visibility of black women and black culture, along with never backing down in speaking against the ills of society that continue to cause oppression.

Morrison authored 11 novels. Some of her most well-known books include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and Tar Baby.

Although many know Morrison for her own writing, she had a long history of working to bring black literature into the mainstream as an editor.

Born on February 18 1931, in the racially integrated Lorain, Ohio, Morrison was one of four children in a working-class African-American family.

Her father worked as a welder at US Steel, along with working odd jobs after hours to supplement income, while her mother was a domestic worker.

The author would often tell the story of how her family, the Woffords, lived in at least six different apartments during her childhood. One of their houses was set on fire by the landlord when her family couldn’t afford the four dollars in monthly rent.

Morrison enrolled at Howard University in 1949, where she majored in English with a minor in the classics. Upon getting her undergraduate degree Morrison continued her education at Cornell University in 1953. Her thesis at the university was on the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.

By 1964 Morrison was a single mother of two sons. She moved with her family to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a senior editor for a textbook publisher.
This would begin the avid reader’s career in publishing, as she would later work at Random House for more than a decade. She was the first female African-American senior editor at the publishing company.

One of the very first books Morrison got published was [The Case for] Black Reparations by Boris Bittker. Another of her early publishing triumphs was Contemporary African Literature, a collection that included works by Nigerian writers Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.

Morrison edited works by black documentary film-maker and social activist Toni Cade Bambara, novelist Gayl Jones and revolutionary activist and philosopher Dr Angela Davis.

Morrison, through her work as an editor, paved the way for black writers by providing them access to a mainstream publisher in order to tell the global black experience.
Much of her extraordinary editing career was done simultaneously with her work as a writer.

Her novels had a central theme of exploring the lives of black people. Morrison explained to The New Yorker in 2003 what drove her to write her stories: “What was driving me to write was the silence — so many stories untold and unexamined. There was a wide vacuum in the literature.”

Morrison maintained that as a black female writer she was just as capable, if not more so, in detailing the human experience as her white male counterparts.

“I’m already discredited, I’m already politicised before I get out of the gate … I can accept the labels [black, female] because being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more,” she once explained.

In 1993 Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature, becoming the first black woman to do so. A year later, at Princeton University, she would establish a special workshop for writers and performers known as the Princeton Atelier.

Morrison never shied away from speaking on race and racism both in the works she helped to publish, her own books, and in her public talks. Morrison did not mince words regarding our current political climate either.

In a short essay published days after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, entitled “Mourning for Whiteness,” Morrison wrote the following: “Here, for many people, the definition of ‘Americanness’ is color … To keep alive the perception of white superiority, these white Americans tuck their heads under cone-shaped hats and American flags and deny themselves the dignity of face-to-face confrontation, training their guns on the unarmed, the innocent, the scared, on subjects who are running away, exposing their unthreatening backs to bullets.

“Surely, shooting a fleeing man in the back hurts the presumption of white strength? … So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.”

Morrison succinctly described the dangers of white supremacy and the way it is used as a tool to divide and sow fear. Her words ring even truer now as there has been an increase in hate crimes and mass shootings fueled by a president and White House administration that encourage bigotry and genocide.

Morrison’s final book was published in 2015, titled God Help the Child. It is a novella focusing on the experiences of a young, dark-skinned black woman who works in the cosmetics industry
The 2015 BBC documentary Toni Morrison Remembers also details the story of Morrison’s life in her own words and the words of those she inspired and befriended.
Morrison once said: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” It was in her use of language, and in uplifting the language of others, that she will continue to live with us and inspire us long after her passing.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Yanis Varoufakis July 219

Speech by Yanis Varoufakis in the context of the commencement of the DiEM25-Labour Party collaboration - to deliver a common agenda for Europe and beyond. Delivered on 14th July 2019, alongside Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, at the closing plenary of the International Social Forum convened by the Labour Party at SOAS, London

Australian Building Defects Nightmare

Friday, August 02, 2019

Welcome to Blue Mountains Unions & Community.

Welcome to Blue Mountains Unions & Community.

In the late 1980s BMUC was formed by Blue Mountains activists from different unions as a community organisation to "advance unionism, living standards, social justice and employment" in the Blue Mountains.
In August 1997 the BMUC was incorporated in NSW under the Associations Incorporation Act 1984 (reg: Y2665505)
Objects and Aims
  • Act to advance unionism, living standards, social justice and employment.
  • Organise regular "Politics in the Pub" sessions that invite speakers to address the Blue Mountains community on appropriate issues.
  • Assist in the protection of rights for all wage and salary workers.
  • In solidarity with other community groups formulate policy that protects the environment and community assets.
  • Support the election of people at the local, state and national level who will serve the best interests of wage and salary earners and the Blue Mountains Unions Council.
  • Publicise Blue Mountains Unions Council activities and views in the media.
  • Publish a newsletter for regular dissemination within the Blue Mountains community of Blue Mountains Unions Council views.
  • Act in concert with Unions for the purpose of recruitment.
Horoshima Nagasaki – Never Again

You can find our website here and our blog here.


Saturday 3rd August 2019 from 3pm to 5pm
at the Family Hotel, Katoomba

Secrecy is the enemy of fairness.

Australia's environmental, labour, and health and safety laws are threatened by a free trade agreement, the RCEP, currently being negotiated between Australia, New Zealand, China, India, South Korea and the ten member countries of ASEAN - about half of the world's population. How can we ensure trade is globally fair, safe and environmentally friendly?

Dr Pat Ranald Convenor Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) & Research Fellow, University of Sydney. 

Alison Rahill Executive Officer, Anti-Slavery Taskforce, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

Previously advertised speaker Anna Spoore is unable to attend.
For more details go to our Events page.

With talk about Australia getting its own nuclear weapons and a campaign to get the Australian Government to sign the treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, don't miss this year's Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemoration.