Posts Tagged ‘American Constitution’

American Historian Nancy Maclean on James McGill Buchanan and the Libertarian Attack on Democracy

July 27, 2017

This is another very interesting clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report. He talks by phone to Nancy Maclean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, who explains the origins of Libertarianism in the thought of James McGill Buchanan and the threat this now poses to American democracy through the Koch brothers. Buchanan was one of the founders of Public Choice Economics. This exists in both left- and right-wing versions, and in Buchanan’s case, it’s extremely right-wing. Buchanan took an attitude towards the American constitution similar to Calhoun, one of the figures in early American political history, who was strongly opposed by Madison. Calhoun divided society into ‘makers’ and ‘takers’. The ‘makers’ were the rich, while the ‘takers’ were the poor. Buchanan expanded on this distinction to found the Virginia School of Political Economy. This considered that no constitution in the world, including the American, adequately protected property rights. As Maclean herself points out, this is a ridiculous statement when applied to America, whose constitution protects private property to a higher degree than those of other nations. Buchanan then became political active trying to change this.

Central to the Virginia’s school’s thinking was the doctrine that it was immoral to tax the rich to benefit the poor. Buchanan, and the other Libertarians around him, were firmly opposed to progressive taxation and the embryonic American welfare state. It is this opposition to progressive economic and social policies that has strongly influenced the Republican party’s current attempts to destroy Obamacare.

This led to the foundation of the Montpellerin Group, a think tank which was one of the founding organizations of Libertarianism in the 1970s. Its members included von Hayek, von Mises, and the founder of Monetarism, Milton Friedman, as well as Charles Koch. They also realized that they would be a minority, and so looked for ways to assist non-democratic regimes so seize power, like General Pinochet in Chile.

The Kochs are oil billionaires, who have been major figures in the Libertarian party, and have given lavishly to a number of extreme right-wing organisations in America working to destroy the American welfare state and undermine the Constitution. Two of these are the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, but Maclean states that there 15 of these in all. Maclean states that the Libertarians present themselves as Madisonians, determined to return the Constitution to its original form and protect it against the progressives and liberals they feel have hijacked and corrupted it. She points out instead that their views are those of Calhoun, rather than Madison. Madison and the other Founding Fathers were extremely Conservative themselves, and determined to protect private property as much as possible. She acknowledges that the Constitution as it is, with its four veto clauses, is a Conservative document. But Madison was a determined opponent of Calhoun, and stated that if Calhoun was successful, it would be the end of freedom in America.

I’ve put up several pieces from Reichwing Watch over the past few days, showing that Libertarianism, far from being a form of Anarchism, as its supporters claim, is actually a form of extreme right-wing politics similar to, and increasingly declaring itself to be, at least according to spokesmen like That Guy T a form of Fascism. This adds a little information to show that it has always been Fascistic. Buddy Hell over at Guy Debord’s Cat has pointed out that Pinochet and his regime was Monetarist, strongly influenced by von Mises, and that Milton Friedman frequently visited the country to see how the thug was implementing his economic policies. This shows that the connections between Pinochet and the Chicago school weren’t coincidental. Friedman and his cohorts didn’t visit Chile, because Pinochet just happened to be a Monetarist and wanted their assistance. They visited Chile because they had rejected democratic government and were actively assisting Pinochet to achieve power in order to help the rich exploit and brutalise the poor.

And this isn’t an issue that’s just confined to America. Libertarianism has also been a very strong influence on the Tory party since the days of Maggie Thatcher. She was deeply impressed by von Hayek, and turned up at a political meeting in the ’70s with his book, The Road to Serfdom. A young man had been speaking before her, recommending a more middle of the road policy in line with the post-War consensus. Instead Thatcher slapped von Hayek’s wretched screed on the table and announced, ‘This is what we all believe now.’ There was always a section of the Tory party that despised the welfare state, and they have become the dominant section of the party since Thatcher. It was Thatcher, who talked explicitly of dismantling the welfare state, including the NHS, which she wished to privatize. It is these policies, that are still being carried through nearly forty years later.

And these ideological links and the threat they pose to the NHS are likely to become fixed through the free trade agreements that the Tories are desperate to conclude with Donald Trump. The break up of the welfare state and the gradual privatization of the NHS is being done partly for the benefit of American private healthcare and state outsourcing companies. Private Eye revealed that the work capability tests were introduced by Peter Lilley and the Tories through the influence of the American insurance fraudster, Unum, an influence that continued when Tony Blair and New Labour came into power in 1997. The magazine also revealed that Blair was being lobbied by a number of American firms, including Wackenhut, which, amongst other things, runs private prisons. Any deal the Tories make with Trump’s administration is likely to cement the privatization of the remains of the NHS and the wider state sector into international law.

If we wish to defend the NHS and what’s left of the welfare state, and create a better, fairer society, we need to make sure such privatization does not become enshrined in any trade treaties, either with America or the European Union, and combat Libertarianism and its attack on the poor and weak as the underlying ideological cause.

Donald Trump Considering Removing American First Amendment Rights?

May 1, 2017

In this brief clip from The Ring Of Fire, host Farron Cousins discusses the statement of Reince Priebus, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, that the Orange Fascist is considering abolishing the First Amendment. That’s the part of the American constitution protecting freedom of the press, assembly and the separation of church and state. Donald Trump is debating removing those freedoms because he’s upset at the press’ criticism of him.

It’s astonishing that he’s considering doing what no other president has done.

Cousins makes the obvious point that while the Republicans like to sneer at those on the left as ‘special snowflakes’, this shows that Trump is actually one of them. So much so that his fragile ego can’t take criticism and so he’s literally thinking of attacking the American constitution itself.

Cousins states that Trump won’t be able to do this. It would require a constitutional convention, in which he would need a two-thirds majority. He also wonders where the guns rights lobby are in all this. They may not care about the First Amendment, but when there’s a whiff that the government might repeal the Second, they’re out in force. But Trump has no problems removing that amendment either. He made sure that the NRA stopped attendees from bringing guns to one of his rallies. And once Trump has removed the First Amendment, he will definitely come for the Second.

It’ll be interesting to see how the American right handles this obvious statement of real, near Fascist lunacy from Trump. Secular Talk a little while carried stories about the weird accusations thrown at Barack Obama from some of the right-wing Talk Radio hosts. The Republican right pilloried Obama as a dangerous racist and a Communist bent on genocide. Two right-wing radio hosts declared that Obama was going to become a dictator, who would kill more people than Moa or Stalin. One of Trump’s own aides is a bug-eyed lunatic, who thinks that Obama is an anti-White racist determined to wipe them all out. Quite apart from Alex Jones’ rants about how Obama wanted to incarcerate Americans in FEMA camps.

All that was rubbish. It never happened. And even when Obama was in power, it was obvious that it was all tosh except to the deranged conspiratorial fringe.

But this isn’t coming from Alex Jones and the Infowars paranoiacs. It’s coming from inside Trump’s own team. It states very clearly that Trump would like to be a dictator.

And as such, it’ll be very interesting to see how Republicans like Alex Jones, loudly shouting that they, and only they, are the guardians of the Constitution, handle this statement from the man they serve and promote as the upholder of American freedom.

Massachusetts Attorney General Attacks Trump’s Muslim Ban

February 3, 2017

After Governor Inslee and the attorney general of the state of Washington launched their attack on Trump’s Muslim ban, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Maura Healey, the state attorney general there, have also launched their appeal to block the ban. They are joining an action from the Massachusetts branch of the ACLU, as well as representing the University of Massachusetts, who saw two of their professors temporarily held over the weekend due to the ban. Attorney General Healey states that she and her colleagues have reviewed the legislation, and found it harmful, racist and unconstitutional. And just as Governor Inslee and the attorney general there believed that the Muslim ban was economically harmful to their state, so Healey is expected to argue that the detention of leading researchers and business experts will also damage the state’s economy.

This makes you wonder if any other states are going to come forward to challenge the ban, just as ordinary Americans have been doing at demonstrations across their nation.

Washington State Launches Legal Attack on Trump’s Muslim Ban

January 31, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece from YouTube showing Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state very firmly expressing his disgust and condemnation of Trump’s ban on Muslims coming to the US. Governor Inslee announced that he was going to seek ways to mount a legal challenge to overturn it.

In this clip, the state’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, announces that he is filing a lawsuit today against Trump, the Department of Homeland Security, and high-ranking Trump officials. The suit is intended to make key provisions of Trump’s ban declared illegal and unconstitutional. If successful, the legal action will result in the ban being declared illegal throughout America. Attorney General Ferguson also makes the point that America is a nation of law. Under the rule of law, it is not the loudest voice that prevails, but the law. You are either abiding by the Constitution, or you are not. And in his view, Trump is not abiding by the Constitution with the Executive Order.

Governor Inslee adds his voice, stating that this is not reality TV. It’s reality, and the immense suffering caused by ‘this train wreck’ prevents him from agreeing with Trump about how beautiful it all is. He states it is an insult and an attack on all of Washington’s citizens for a variety of reasons. An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths. It is also damaging to the state of Washington. He also offers this advice to Trump, as a member of the chain of command for the National Guard: Stop giving ISIS recruiting posters.

American Psychiatrists Fear Trump Mentally Ill, Unsuited for Presidency

December 29, 2016

They aren’t the only one, and this is serious.

In this video from The Young Turks, The Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins reports that three professors of psychiatry, one from Harvard, the other two from the University of California San Francisco, have written a letter to Barack Obama requesting that he step in and force Trump to take a psychiatric examination. They are concerned that he suffers from psychological defects that render him not just unsuitable, but actually too dangerous to be given the job of president. They believe that Trump’s grandiosity, his impetuousness, the way he takes offence and responds aggressive at even the mildest criticism point to mental illness. He may just suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, perhaps something rather more serious than that, or perhaps even be a full-blown sociopath. Cousins states that it could just be affluenza. Trump comes from an extremely wealthy background, and has been given everything he wanted, including now the presidency. But it looks more serious than this.

This makes Trump extremely dangerous. He cannot be trusted with the nuclear codes, nor control of the drone programme, which he could use to strike down his opponents. Cousins states that the US constitution provides for presidents to be removed or impeached if they are unfit for their office. And mental illness would certainly come under those conditions disqualifying a president from taking office on fitness grounds. Cousins believes it is unfortunately too early at this stage to use this to prevent Trump gaining office. But he recommends that letter should be saved and stored, and that once Trump is in the White House, it should be taken out and acted upon.

Vox Political on Blair’s Proposed New Institute for Centre Ground Politics

December 2, 2016

Mike today put up a piece, which asked rhetorically how we should receive Tony Blair’s statement that he is setting up a new institute to promote centre-ground policies. Blair, apparently, is concerned about the resurgence of left- and right-wing populism. The new institute will be launched in the New Year, but will not be party political.

Mike in his comment to the story makes the point that Blair is a creature of the reactionary right. Margaret Thatcher, who began the decades-long destruction of this country, its institutions and industries, and the impoverishment and immiseration of its working people, considered Blair and New Labour her greatest achievement. And when Cameron came to power, he began by consciously modelling himself on Tony Blair’s mixture of neoliberalism and social reform.

Mike comments that the best reaction to the news is probably that put out on Twitter by Matt Turner. This shows Jeremy Corbyn having a dam’ good laugh.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/02/how-should-we-react-as-tony-blair-announces-new-institute-for-centre-ground-politics/

Actually, you could go a bit further than Mike in the characterisation of Tony Blair. He is indeed a creature of the reactionary Right. He is also a crook of almost Reaganite dimensions. Reagan, remember, implemented Thatcher’s policies in America as a reaction to the liberalism of the 1960s. He was a thug who supported right-wing Fascist death squads all over south and central America, who committed appalling atrocities in order to keep the peoples of that continent in thrall to their upper classes and American corporate and political interests. Just as Tony Blair fully and heartily cooperated with Bush in launching an illegal invasion of Iraq, an invasion that has similarly seen the rise of death squads armed and supported by our allies in Washington.

Reagan and Blair also deregulated the financial sector. In Reagan’s case, this was the savings and loans societies – the American equivalent of our building societies. And the results were identical. Massive greed and mismanaged by the financial whizzkids resulted in financial crashes in which some of the very poorest lost their money. This included the cowboys, the remaining agricultural workers on America’s ranches, who Reagan’s supporter, Clint Eastwood, claimed symbolised sturdy Republican values – self-reliance, and having a piece of land of your own. Thanks to Reagan in America, millions of Americans had the opportunity to own a piece of property of their own taken away from them. Just as, decades later, Tony Blair did it to the working people over here.

And then there’s the whole process of the mass privatisation of industry. Reagan started that off, along with the attacks on the American welfare system, using arguments that were also repeated over here by the Blairites in the Labour party. He also flagrantly violated the American Constitution with the Iran-Contra affair, although he managed to escape and it was Oliver North who ended up going to the slammer. Blair’s backing of the Iraq invasion was similarly illegal, but under international law, as our country doesn’t have a written constitution like the US. He was also responsible for some of the policies that are chipping away at our liberties as free citizens. Like Major, Blair was a fan of the surveillance state, wishing to introduce mandatory identity cards, for which we, the ordinary citizens, would have to pay for the privilege of having. He also wanted to expand the powers of the surveillance state and introduce secret courts. These have also been taken over by the Tories and Lib Dems. Blair was also a liar, in that his government was determined to privatise the NHS, but like Thatcher, knew that actually telling people they were doing so would lose them the election. And so, like the Tories before and afterwards, he carefully hid what he was doing.

And then there’s the man’s personal character. He and his wife, Cherie, were massively greedy. They took money from businessmen in a series of sleaze scandals of the type that disgraced John Major’s administration. Corporate donors were given favours and places on government committees and quangos. Cherie Blair, who tried to pass herself off as a human rights lawyer, was quite prepared to work for some of the most brutal and reactionary nations and dictators the world over, if the money was right.

And what kind of left-winger, never mind Socialist, spends his holidays enjoying the hospitality of Berlusconi, whose ruling right-wing coalition included the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale, and the Northern League. The latter were so right-wing, they despised the Italian south as foreigners, sneeringly referring to it as ‘Egypt’. Their dream was an independent state in the north of Italy. And the core of their supporters were Fascists. There’s a documentary on YouTube by an Italian journalist, who went in search of the Northern League in his home country. He found them, and they’re very scary. They were, as you’d expect, militantly anti-immigrant. And there’s one scene where he filmed them in a café singing the old Fascist squadristi songs, and reminiscing about the old days under Il Duce. The documentary’s in English, so there’s no problem for Anglophone viewers seeing for themselves how unpleasant these rightists were.
And Blair’s greed was so much that the Italians nicknamed him ‘the scrounger’.

He then followed this up a year or so ago, by being George Dubya’s guest at a Republican Convention, though he wouldn’t say whether or not he was a Republican.

As for being aghast at the rise of populism on both right and left, Blair’s neoliberalism, his attacks on the welfare state and wars in the Middle East are directly responsible for this. His destruction of Iraq, which subsequent regimes have expanded into Syria and Libya, have displaced millions, who can see no future in their home countries. Hence they try to get into western Europe, where they believe they will have safety, jobs and prosperity. At the same time, Blair attacked the welfare state over here, as well as trying to destroy the unions further, and reduced employment rights and working conditions. The result is that millions of Brits are now plunged in precarity, making a meagre living from insecure, low-paid, and often temporary jobs, and saddled with debt. Their scared, and resentful of a corporatist elite, which only offered sanctimonious platitudes about civil rights and racial and gender equality, while making living conditions for ordinary people much worse. And people frightened for their jobs, and acutely afraid that they are being denied welfare payments, are going to be resentful of the immigrants they fear may take those things away from them. Hence the massive xenophobia that has spread alarmingly across Britain in the wake of Brexit.

Blair’s responsible for all that. But he stupidly believes that the answer to this fear and poverty is going to be, well, more of what he stood for: more neoliberalism, more rationed welfare services, more privatised healthcare, more tax cuts for the obscenely right. But somehow made palatable by mellifluous verbiage and lies about increasing opportunity, personal choice, and greater opportunities for women and minorities.

But working people, women and minorities ain’t buying it. There’s an long article in Counterpunch by two of their female columnists discussing why a very large number of American women voted for Trump against Hillary. This was even after it had become abundantly clear that The Donald was a boorish misogynist, who had no qualms about sexual assault. These two women, who both were staunch feminists, made the point that American women were largely unimpressed with Killary’s claim that they should vote for her, because it was about time a woman was in the White House. This didn’t impress the female electorate, who reasoned that Killary’s victory would not be a triumph for all women, but only entitled, rich women. Ordinary, middle class and blue collar women, were still faced with the fear of keeping their jobs and providing for their families in an economic regime in which they could be laid off and their jobs moved halfway around the world. They were faced with the harsh realities of paying the bills and finding affordable medical care when wages hadn’t risen in decades. The two authors made the point that the kind liberalism promoted by Clinton’s establishment Democrats, and Tony Blair and his ilk in Britain, doesn’t actually care about looking after the poor. They care about making sure a fair proportion of those enjoying the top jobs and position are women and members of ethnic minorities, while doing their level best to make sure the majority of people remain in poverty and insecurity for the benefit of the corporate elite.

The reason why Trump and Farage are on the rise on the Right, and Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn on the Left, is for the simple reason that ordinary people have got sick and tired of the lies uttered by people like Blair and the Clintons, that provide an egalitarian cloak for a harshly unequal and exploitative system.

Blair’s intention to launch this new institute also reveals something else about him as well: not only did he take over Thatcher’s politics, he also shares her egotism. Thatcher couldn’t accept that her time was over either when the Tories ditched her in favour of John Major. She kept trying to come back, interfering like a back seat driver. Private Eye made this point on one of their covers, where they showed Thatcher apparently trying to get her way once more by twisting Major’s hand. Plus all the sketches on the latter series of Spitting Image, which showed her as a sad, embittered old woman, constantly saying, ‘I used to be Prime Minister, you know.’

The same thing’s now happened to Blair. He can get used to the fact that he is now politically irrelevant, if not actually a liability.

So let’s treat him like one, and give his institute the derision it deserves.

The Pro-Slavery Origins of the Electoral College

November 24, 2016

The role of the electoral college in the election of Donald Trump has come under a lot of scrutiny and debate over the past few days. Killary won the popular vote by about 1/2 million or so more votes than the orange-tanned Nazi. But Trump was ahead in the electoral college, and so won the election. Many Americans now are discussing abolishing the electoral college as an anti-democratic institution.

They’re right. It is anti-democratic. It was meant to be from the very beginning. In this piece from Outdate Democracy, the American constitutional lawyer, Paul Finkelman, explains how the electoral college was deliberately invented by James Madison, in order to preserve the power of the slave states. The Founding Fathers discussed various methods by which the present could be elected, including restricting his election to the governors. This was rejected. Madison believed that the ‘fittest thing’ would be for American citizens to elect their president. But there was a problem, in that if this was based only on the numbers of White people, who were the only people who could vote, the south would be at a serious disadvantage. 30%-50% of the population of these states were slaves. The result was that these states had a smaller voting population than the north. As a result, the electoral college was devised, by which a slave was considered only 3/5 of a human being. This nevertheless gave these states the necessary numbers in their populations, to be able to send their own candidates to the White House. Finkelman shows that if the situation had not been invented, then possibly four of the first five presidents wouldn’t have been elected. He concludes that the electoral college is the last relic of slavery, and one that is now unnecessary, as all the residents in a state now have the right to vote.

It’s an interesting perspective on what is, to us Brits, a bizarre and very convoluted aspect of the system of American democracy. And I’ve no doubt it’s true. Along with footage of Dr Finkelman speaking, there’s also pictures of Blacks working in the fields, and on the auction block from the 19th century, and adverts for slaves, which make it very clear what a degrading and inhuman system the electoral college was intended to preserve.

Reichwing Watch: Trump Spokesman Cites Japanese Internment to Justify Muslim Registry

November 18, 2016

This is terrifying. It’s another clip from Reichwing Watch, from a news programme in which a spokesman for Trump tells Megan Kelly, the news anchor, to her face that Japanese internment during World War II has set a precedent for Trump’s proposal to have all Muslims entered in an official register. To her credit, Kelly tells him that he cannot use this as a precedent, and reproaches him for using it to get people frightened. The Trump surrogate laughs this off, but says that the president still needs to protect America. She argues back that the protection extends the moment you enter America.

This should terrify everyone, who is sincerely worried about the march of Fascism, including anyone with a knowledge of Roman civilisation. Firstly, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II as enemy aliens led to horrendous suffering and deprivation, and is still naturally resented by Americans of Japanese heritage decades later. George Takei, I understand, the actor who played Mr Sulu in Star Trek, was particularly active in Japanese-American civil rights organisations. American politicos have denounced the internment, and I think the government has paid the victims reparations. And it certainly was deeply unjust that when many Japanese-American servicemen were giving their lives for America, their families, friends and other members of their community were being herded into camps. It is repulsive that Trump’s spokesman should cite this as a precedent, and it does raise the issue of what Trump will do next. If he’s prepared to cite Japanese-American internment as a precedent, is he also considering interning Muslims as well, despite his mouthpiece’s smiling denials?

The American Constitution famously promises Americans freedom of religion. And religious freedom has been at the heart of American democracy, ever since Richard Baxter argued for it, including not just Christians, but also Jews, during the British Civil War. Baxter afterwards emigrated to the nascent US, and the proud, American tradition of religious toleration begins with him in the 17th century. Now Trump’s threatening to reverse this.

Trump’s proposal for Muslims to be officially registered reminds me very strongly of the ancient Roman attitude to religion. The Roman Empire was religious pluralistic, but retained a system of religious suppression. Because the Romans were afraid of the threat of insurrection and rebellion from clubs and other associations, including religious gatherings, they operated a system in which only those religions, which were not considered dangerous to the state, were officially tolerated. The Romans persecuted Christianity because it was not one of the religio licitas – permitted religions. Christians were seen as subversive, because they worshipped Christ as God, instead of the Roman Emperor. Hence the determination to make Christians sacrifice to the Emperor’s numen, his divine spirit, and the statements in the early Christian apologists that, although Christians didn’t worship the emperor, they nevertheless were good citizens, who prayed for him and the other authorities in their services.

Trump is threatening to inflict on American Muslims the type of system that led to the terrible persecution of Christians in ancient Rome.

And where America goes today, Britain and other nations follow tomorrow. I’m not a secularist, but this threatens religious tolerance and freedom right across the modern, democratic West.

And apart from the real danger it poses to Muslims, it also threatens to give the radicals a weapon to use against us. The Islamist bigots, going all the way back to the radicals demanding the suppression of the Satanic Verses and Rushdie’s death, whipped up opposition and hatred towards non-Muslims and the secular state by telling them that they were in danger from White and non-Muslim persecution. Way back in the 1990s the Beeb filmed one of these preachers of hate, Kalim Siddiqui, in his mosque, telling his congregation that ‘British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them’. When the team questioned Siddiqui about his words, he started ranting about how the Satanic Verses was the first step towards a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ This is sheer, poisonous bilge. The book wasn’t blasphemous, and it certainly wasn’t published in preparation for such an monstrous atrocity.

But accusations like this were used to motivate British Muslims, or some British Muslims, into political involvement and opposition to British secularism. And you can bet that ISIS and al-Qaeda will use Trump’s wretched registry to whip up support amongst Muslims by citing it as proof that western society really is intolerant and that we really do have a genocidal hatred of Muslims.

We don’t. Regardless of individual religious affiliation or lack thereof, we need to stand united against this. We can’t let Trump divide us and make the denial of our collective freedoms seem respectable policies. Because it won’t just be Muslims. After them, it’ll be other groups. No-one will be safe from this type of intolerance.

Reichwing Watch: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America

November 16, 2016

This is another excellent video from Reichwing Watch. Entitled Peasants for Plutocracy: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America, it’s about how wealthy industrialists, like the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, created modern Libertarianism and a stream of fake grassroots ‘astroturf’ organisations, in order to attack and roll back Roosevelt’s New Deal and the limited welfare state it introduced. And one of the many fake populist organisations the Koch brothers have set up is the Tea Party movement, despite the Kochs publicly distancing themselves from it.

The documentary begins with footage from an old black and white American Cold War propaganda movie, showing earnest young people from the middle decades of the last century discussing the nature of capitalism. It then moves on to Noam Chomsky’s own, very different perspective on an economy founded on private enterprise. Chomsky states that there has never been a purely capitalist economy. Were one to be established, it would very soon collapse, and so what we have now is state capitalism, with the state playing a very large role in keeping capitalism viable. He states that the alternative to this system is the one believed in by 19th century workers, in that the people, who worked in the mills should own the mills. He also states that they also believed that wage labour was little different from slavery, except in that it was temporary. This belief was so widespread that it was even accepted by the Republican party. The alternative to capitalism is genuinely democratic self-management. This conflicts with the existing power structure, which therefore does everything it can to make it seem unthinkable.

Libertarianism was founded in America in 1946/7 by an executive from the Chamber of Commerce in the form of the Foundation for Economic Education. This was basically a gigantic business lobby, financed by the heads of Fortune 500 companies, who also sat on its board. It’s goal was to destroy Roosevelt’s New Deal. Vice-President Wallace in an op-ed column in the New York Times stated that while its members posed as super-patriots, they wanted to roll back freedom and capture both state and economic power. The video also quotes Milton Friedman, the great advocate of Monetarism and free market economics, on capitalism as the system which offers the worst service at the highest possible profit. To be a good businessman, you have to be as mean and rotten as you can. And this view of capitalism goes back to Adam Smith. There is a clip of Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, answering a question on why the media is so incurious about the true origins of Libertarianism. He states that they aren’t curious for the same reason the American media didn’t inquire into the true nature of the non-existent WMDs. It shows just how much propaganda and corruption there is in the American media.

The documentary then moves on to the Tea Party, the radical anti-tax movement, whose members deliberately hark back to the Boston Tea Party to the point of dressing up in 18th century costume. This section begins with clips of Fox News praising the Tea Party. This is then followed by Noam Chomsky on how people dread filling out their annual tax returns because they’ve been taught to see taxation as the state stealing their money. This is true in dictatorships. But in true democracy, it should be viewed differently, as the people at last being able to put into practice the plan in which everyone was involved in formulating. However, this frightens big business more than social security as it involves a functioning democracy. As a result, there is a concerted, and very successful campaign, to get people to fear big government.

The idea of the Tea Party was first aired by the CNBC reporter Rick Santilli in an on-air rant. Most of the Party’s members are normal, middle class Americans with little personal involvement in political campaigning. It is also officially a bi-partisan movement against government waste. But the real nature of the Tea Party was shown in the 2010 Tea Party Declaration of Independence, which stated that the Party’s aims were small government and a free market economy. In fact, the movement was effectively founded by the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch. Back in the 1980s, David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice-president. The Libertarian Party’s 1980 platform stated that they intended to abolish just about every regulatory body and the welfare system. They intended to abolish the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Authority, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, National Labor Relations Board, the FBI, CIA, Federal Reserve, Social Security, Welfare, the public (state) schools, and taxation. They abandoned this tactic, however, after pouring $2 million of their money into it, only to get one per cent of the vote. So in 1984 they founded the first of their wretched astroturf organisation, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The name was meant to make it appear to be a grassroots movement. However, their 1998 financial statement shows that it was funded entirely by wealthy businessmen like the Kochs. In 2004 the CSE split into two – Freedom Works, and Americans for Prosperity. The AFP holds an annual convention in Arlington, Virginia, attended by some of its 800,000 members. It was the AFP and the Kochs who were the real organising force behind the Tea Party. Within hours of Santilli’s rant, he had been given a list of 1/2 million names by the Kochs. Although the Koch’s have publicly distanced themselves from the Tea Party, the clip for this section of the documentary shows numerous delegates at the convention standing up to declare how they had organised Tea Parties in their states. But it isn’t only the AFP that does this. Freedom Works, which has nothing to do with the Kochs, also funds and organises the Tea Parties.

Mark Crispin Miller, an expert on propaganda, analysing these astroturf organisations makes the point that for propaganda to be effective, it must not seem like propaganda. It must seem to come either from a respected, neutral source, or from the people themselves. Hence the creation of these fake astroturf organisations.

After its foundation in the late 1940s, modern Libertarianism was forged in the late 1960s and ’70s by Charles Koch and Murray Rothbard. Libertarianism had previously been the ideology of the John Birch Society, a group harking back to the 19th century. Koch and Rothbard married this economic extreme liberalism, with the political liberalism of the hippy counterculture. They realised that the hippies hated the state, objecting to the police, drug laws, CIA and the Vietnam war. Ayn Rand, who is now credited as one of the great founders of Libertarianism for her extreme capitalist beliefs, despised them. The film has a photo of her, next to a long quote in which she describes Libertarianism as a mixture of capitalism and anarchism ‘worse than anything the New Left has proposed. It’s a mockery of philosophy and ideology. They sling slogans and try to ride on two different bandwagons… I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect.’

The documentary also goes on to show the very selective attitude towards drugs and democracy held by the two best-known American Libertarian politicos, Ron and Rand Paul. Despite the Libertarians’ supposedly pro-marijuana stance, the Pauls aren’t actually in favour of legalising it or any other drugs. They’re just in favour of devolving the authority to ban it to the individual states. If the federal government sends you to prison for weed, that, to them, is despotism. If its the individual state, it’s liberty.

And there’s a very telling place piece of footage where Ron Paul talks calmly about what a threat democracy is. He states clearly that democracy is dangerous, because it means mob rule, and privileges the majority over the minority. At this point the video breaks the conversation to show a caption pointing out that the Constitution was framed by a small group of wealthy plutocrats, not ‘we the people’. This is then followed by an American government film showing a sliding scale for societies showing their positions between the poles of democracy to despotism, which is equated with minority rule. The video shows another political scientist explaining that government and elites have always feared democracy, because when the people make their voices heard, they make the wrong decisions. Hence they are keen to create what Walter Lipmann in the 1920s called ‘manufacturing consent’. Real decisions are made by the elites. The people themselves are only allowed to participate as consumers. They are granted methods, which allow them to ratify the decisions of their masters, but denied the ability to inform themselves, organise and act for themselves.

While Libertarianism is far more popular in America than it is over here, this is another video that’s very relevant to British politics. There are Libertarians over here, who’ve adopted the extreme free-market views of von Hayek and his fellows. One of the Torygraph columnists was particularly vocal in his support for their doctrines. Modern Tory ideology has also taken over much from them. Margaret Thatcher was chiefly backed by the Libertarians in the Tory party, such as the National Association For Freedom, which understandably changed its name to the Freedom Foundation. The illegal rave culture of the late 1980s and 1990s, for example, operated out of part of Tory Central Office, just as Maggie Thatcher and John Major were trying to ban it and criminalise ‘music with a repetitive beat’. Virginian Bottomley appeared in the Mail on Sunday back in the early 1990s raving about how wonderful it would be to replace the police force with private security firms, hired by neighbourhoods themselves. That’s another Libertarian policy. It comes straight from Murray Rothbard. Rothbard also wanted to privatise the courts, arguing that justice would still operate, as communities would voluntarily submit to the fairest court as an impartial and non-coercive way of maintain the peace and keeping down crime. The speaker in this part of the video describes Koch and Rothbard as ‘cretins’. Of course, it’s a colossally stupid idea, which not even the Tory party wanted to back. Mind you, that’s probably because they’re all in favour of authoritarianism and state power when its wielded by the elite.

I’ve no doubt most of the Libertarians in this country also believe that they’re participating in some kind of grassroots, countercultural movement, unaware that this is all about the corporate elite trying to seize more power for themselves, undermine genuine democracy, and keep the masses poor, denied welfare support, state education, and, in Britain, destroying the NHS, the system of state healthcare that has kept this country healthy for nearly 70 years.

Libertarians do see themselves as anarchists, though anarcho-individualists, rather than collectivists like the anarcho-syndicalists or Communists. They aren’t. This is purely about expanding corporate power at the expense of the state and the ordinary citizens it protects and who it is supposed to represent and legislate for. And it in practice it is just as brutal as the authoritarianism it claims to oppose. In the 1980s the Freedom Association became notorious on the left because of its support for the death squads in Central America, also supported by that other Libertarian hero, Ronald Reagan.

Libertarianism is a brutal lie. It represents freedom only for the rich. For the rest of us, it means precisely the opposite.

Frontiers Magazine on Robot Weapons

October 23, 2016

The popular science magazine, Frontiers, way back in October 1998 ran an article on robots. This included two pages on the ‘Soldiers of Tomorrow’, military robots then under development. This included drones. These are now extremely well-known, if not notorious, for the threat they pose to privacy and freedom. The article notes that they were developed from the unmanned planes used for target practice. They were first used in the 1960s to fly reconnaissance missions in Vietnam after the US air force suffered several losses from surface to air missiles. Drones were also used during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union, though instead of beaming the pictures back to their operators, they had to eject them physically. They were further developed by the Israelis, who used them to spy on their Arab neighbours during their many wars. Their next development was during the Gulf War, when they broadcast back to their operators real-time images of the battlefields they were surveying.

Apart from drones, the article also covered a number of other war machines under development. This included remotely operated ground vehicles like SARGE, and the Mobility Module and remotely controlled buggy shown below.

robot-army-cars

SARGE was a scout vehicle adapted from a Yamaha four-wheel drive all-terrain jeep. Like the drones, it was remotely controlled by a human operator. The top photo of the two above showed the Mobility Module mounted aboard another army vehicle, which contained a number of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition sensors. Below it is a missile launcher fixed to another remote-control buggy. The article also carried a photo of a Rockwell Hellfire missile being launched from another of this type of adapted vehicle.

robot-army-car-missile

Next to this was a photo of the operator in his equipment, who controlled the Tele-Operated Vehicle, or TOV, as the developers were calling such machines.

robot-army-car-operator

Another of the machines described in the article was the Telepresent Rapid Aiming System, a robot gun designed by Graham Hawkes and Precision Remotes of California as a sentry robot. As the article itself notes, it’s similar to the tunnel machine guns used by the Space Marines in the film Aliens. It could either be operated by remote control, or made fully automatic and configured to shoot live ammunition. At the time the article was written it had already been tested by a number of different law enforcement agencies.

The only vaguely humanoid robot was the Robart III, shown below.

robot-solider

This machine was able to track a target automatically using its video vision, and possessed laser guidance to allow it to be operated remotely. In demonstrations it carried a pneumatic dart gun, capable of firing tranquillizer darts at intruders. In combat situations this would be replaced with a machine gun. It was designed to be used as a mechanical security guard.

The article also stated that miniature crawling robots were also under development. These would be used to creep up on enemy positions, sending back to their operators video images of their progress. If such machines were mass-produced, their price could fall to about £10. This would mean that it would be easily affordable to saturate an area with them. (pp. 56-7).

The article describes the state of development of these machines as it was nearly 20 years ago. Drones are now so widespread, that they’ve become a nuisance. I’ve seen them in sale in some of the shops in Cheltenham for anything from £36 to near enough £400. Apart from the military, they’re being used by building surveyors and archaeologists.

And while robots like the above might excite enthusiasts for military hardware, there are very serious issues with them. The Young Turks, Secular Talk and Jimmy Dore have pointed out on their shows that Bush and Obama have violated the American constitution by using drones to assassinate terrorists, even when they are resident in friendly or at least non-hostile countries. Despite all the talk by the American army about ‘surgical strikes’, these weapons in fact are anything but precise instruments that can kill terrorists while sparing civilians. The three programmes cited, along with no doubt many other shows and critics, have stated that most of the victims of drone attacks are civilians and the families of terrorists. The drones may be used to home in on mobile signals, so that the person killed has been someone using their phone, rather than the terrorists themselves. Others have been worried about the way the operation of these weapons through remote control have distanced their human operators, and by extension the wider public, from the bloody reality of warfare.

Way back in the first Gulf War, one of the French radical philosophers in his book, The Gulf War Never Happened, argued that the extensive use of remotely controlled missiles during the war, and the images from them that were used in news coverage at the time, meant that for many people the Gulf War was less than real. It occurred in Virtual Reality, like a simulation in cyberspace. Recent criticism of the military use of drones as killing machines by whistleblowers have borne out these fears. One, who was also an instructor on the drone programme, described the casual indifference to killing, including killing children, of the drone pilots. They referred to their actions as ‘mowing the lawn’, and their child victims as ‘fun-sized terrorists’, justifying their deaths by arguing that as the children of terrorists, they would have grown up to be terrorists themselves. Thus they claimed to have prevented further acts of terrorism through their murder. And they did seem to regard the operation of the drones almost as a video game. The instructor describes how he threw one trainee off the controls after he indulged in more, unnecessary bloodshed, telling him, ‘This is not a computer game!’

And behind this is the threat that such machines will gain their independence to wipe out or enslave humanity. This is the real scenario behind Dr Kevin Warwick’s book, March of the Machines, which predicts that by mid-century robots will have killed the majority of humanity and enslaved the rest. A number of leading scientists have called for a halt on the development of robot soldiers. About 15 or twenty years ago there was a mass outcry from scientists and political activists after one government announced it was going to develop fully autonomous robot soldiers.

I’m a fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, which is about a group of robot soldiers, who now fight to ‘increase the peace’, using their lethal skills to rid the galaxy of criminals and tyrants and protect the innocent. The robots depicted in the strip are fully conscious, intelligent machines, with individual personalities and their own moral codes. The Frontiers article notes elsewhere that we’re a long way from developing such sophisticated AI, stating that he did not believe he would see it in his lifetime. On the other hand, Pat Mills, the strips’ writer and creator, says in the introduction to one of the collected volumes of the strips on the ‘Volgan War’, that there is a Russian robot, ‘Johnny 5’, that looks very much like Mechquake, the stupid, psychopathic robot bulldozer that appeared in the strip and its predecessor, ‘Robusters’. None of the machines under development therefore have the humanity and moral engagement of Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws, Mongrol, Steelhorn, Happy Shrapnel/ Tubalcain, Deadlok or even Joe Pineapples. The real robotic killing machines now being developed and used by the military represent a real threat to political liberty, the dehumanisation of warfare, and the continuing safety of the human race.