Posts Tagged ‘Arms Companies’

Tony Benn: Socialism Needed to Prevent Massive Abuse by Private Industry

January 7, 2019

In the chapter ‘Labour’s Industrial Programme’ in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism, Tony Benn makes a very strong case for the extension of public ownership. This is needed, he argued, to prevent serious abuse by private corporations. This included not just unscrupulous and unjust business policies, like one medical company overcharging the health service for its products, but also serious threats to democracy. Benn is also rightly outraged by the way companies can be bought and sold without the consultation of their workers. He writes

The 1970s provided us with many examples of the abuse of financial power. There were individual scandals such as the one involving Lonrho which the Conservative Prime Minister, Mr Heath, described as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’. Firms may be able to get away with the payment of 38,000 pounds a year to part-time chairmen if no one else knows about it. But when it becomes public and we know that the chairman, as a Conservative M.P., supports a statutory wages policy to keep down the wage of low-paid workers, some earning less than 20 pounds a week at the time, it becomes intolerable. There was the case of the drug company, Hoffman-La Roche, who were grossly overcharging the National Health Service. There was also the initial refusal by Distillers to compensate the thalidomide children properly.

There were other broader scandals such as those involving speculation in property and agricultural land; the whole industry of tax avoidance; the casino-like atmosphere of the Stock Exchange. Millions of people who experience real problems in Britain are gradually learning all this on radio and television and from the press. Such things are a cynical affront to the struggle that ordinary people have to feed and clothe their families.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Workers have no legal rights to be consulted when the firms for which they work are taken over. They are sold off like cattle when a firm changes hands with no guarantee for the future. The rapid growth of trade union membership among white-collar workers and even managers indicates the strength of feelings about that. Not just the economic but also the political power of big business, especially the multinationals, has come into the open.

In Chile the ITT plotted to overthrow an elected President. The American arms companies, Lockheed and Northrop, have been shown to have civil servants, generals, ministers and even prime ministers, in democratic countries as well as dictatorships, on their payroll. The Watergate revelations have shown how big business funds were used in an attempt to corrupt the American democratic process. In Britain we have had massive political campaigns also financed by big business to oppose the Labour Party’s programme for public ownership and to secure the re-election of Conservative governments. Big business also underwrote the cost of the campaign to keep Britain in the Common Market at the time of the 1975 referendum. (pp. 49-50).

Benn then moves to discuss the threat of the sheer amount of power held by big business and the financial houses.

Leaving aside the question of abuse, the sheer concentration of industrial and economic power is now a major political factor. The spate of mergers in recent years in Britain alone – and their expected continuation – can be expressed like this: in 1950 the top 100 companies in Britain produced about 20 per cent of the national output. By 1973 they produced 46 per cent. And at this rate, by 1980, they will produce 66 per cent – two-thirds of our national output. Many of them will be operating multinationally, exporting capital and jobs and siphoning off profits to where the taxes are most profitable.

The banks, insurance companies and financial institutions are also immensely powerful. In June 1973 I was invited to speak at a conference organised by the Financial Times and the Investors Chronicle. It was held in the London Hilton, and before going I added up the total assets of the banks and other financial institutions represented in the audience. They were worth at that time about 95,000 million pounds. This was at the time about twice as much as the Gross National Product of the United Kingdom and four or five times the total sum raised in taxation by the British government each year. (p.50).

He then goes on to argue that the Labour party has to confront what this concentration of industrial and financial power means for British democracy and its institutions, and suggests some solutions.

The Labour Party must ask what effect all this power will have on the nature of our democracy. Britain is proud of its system of parliamentary democracy, its local democracy and its free trade unions. But rising against this we have the growing power of the Common Market which will strip our elected House of Commons of its control over some key economic decisions. This has greatly weakened British democracy at a time when economic power is growing stronger.

I have spelled this out because it is the background against which our policy proposals have been developed. In the light of our experience in earlier governments we believed it would necessary for government to have far greater powers over industry. These are some of the measures we were aiming at in the Industry Bill presented to Parliament in 1975, shortly after our return to power:

The right to require disclosure of information by companies
The right of government to invest in private companies requiring support.
The provision for joint planning between government and firms.
The right to acquire firms, with the approval of Parliament.
The right to protect firms from takeovers.
The extension of the present insurance companies’ provisions for ministerial control over board members.
The extension of the idea of Receivership to cover the defence of the interests of workers and the nation.
Safeguards against the abuse of power by global companies.

If we are to have a managed economy-and that seems to be accepted – the question is: ‘In whose interests is it to be managed?’ We intend to manage it in the interests of working people and their families. But we do not accept the present corporate structure of Government Boards, Commissions and Agents, working secretly and not accountable to Parliament. The powers we want must be subjected to House of Commons approval when they are exercised. (pp. 50-1).

I don’t know what proportion of our economy is now dominated by big business and the multinationals, but there is absolutely no doubt that the situation after nearly forty years of Thatcherism is now much worse. British firms, including our public utilities, have been bought by foreign multinationals, are British jobs are being outsourced to eastern Europe and India.

There has also been a massive corporate takeover of government. The political parties have become increasingly reliant on corporate donations from industries, that then seek to set the agenda and influence the policies of the parties to which they have given money. The Conservatives are dying from the way they have consistently ignored the wishes of their grassroots, and seem to be kept alive by donations from American hedge fund firms. Under Blair and Brown, an alarmingly large number of government posts were filled by senior managers and officials from private firms. Both New Labour and the Tories were keen to sell off government enterprises to private industry, most notoriously to the firms that bankrolled them. And they put staff from private companies in charge of the very government departments that should have been regulating them. See George Monbiot’s Captive State.

In America this process has gone so far in both the Democrat and Republican parties that Harvard University in a report concluded that America was no longer a functioning democracy, but a form of corporate oligarchy.

The Austrian Marxist thinker, Karl Kautsky, believed that socialists should only take industries into public ownership when the number of firms in them had been reduced through bankruptcies and mergers to a monopoly. Following this reasoning, many of the big companies now dominating modern Britain, including the big supermarkets, should have been nationalized long ago.

Tony Benn was and still is absolutely right about corporate power, and the means to curb it. It’s why the Thatcherite press reviled him as a Communist and a maniac. We now no longer live in a planned economy, but the cosy, corrupt arrangements between big business, the Tories, Lib Dems and New Labour, continues. Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism argues very strongly that we need to return to economic planning. In this case, we need to go back to the policies of the ’70s that Thatcher claimed had failed, and extend them.

And if that’s true, then the forty years of laissez-faire capitalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan is an utter, utter failure. It’s time it was discarded.

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Thought Slime’s Top Anti-Capitalist Horror Movies

November 1, 2018

This is a suitably Hallowe’en themed video from the left-wing American vlogger, Thought Slime, which I found on YouTube. In it, he discusses the top five horror movies with an anti-capitalist messages. They are George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead at 5, The Stuff, 4, Alien at 3, John Carpenter’s They Live, 2, and Society at no.1.

In Dawn of the Dead, the heroes take refuge from the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall. However, the zombies themselves are drawn to it because of its importance to them in their former lives. Thought Slime then discusses how the film thus presents zombies as a metaphor for mindless consumerism. He also acknowledges that Romero himself didn’t intentionally put an anti-capitalist message in the movie, and only realized that he had after he had made it.

The Stuff is, Thought Slime says, not a good movie. One of the actors insisted on improvising his own lines, and it shows. But it is very clearly an anti-capitalism film. It’s about an evil corporation that finds a highly good seeping out of the ground, and decides to package it as a new foodstuff. Not only is this mess addictive, it also gradually takes over the brains of those who eat it, and eats them from the inside out. The company isn’t worried about this, because it’s making them lots of money, and so they kill Federal investigators and anyone else who might discover its evil secret. The movie also includes fake adverts for this Stuff, and has it shown served in restaurants.

Thought Slime explains just how close this satire is to the behavior of amoral companies in the real world. The tobacco companies knew about the lethal effects of the product they were selling, and continued to promote it. And Big Oil is very aware of the damage petrochemicals are doing to the environment, but are intent on selling them because of the massive products they make. Even though this threatens to destroy the world.

Alien also has an anti-capitalist message, as the real villain isn’t the titular extraterrestrial creature, but the Wayland-Yutani Corporation. The Alien’s like a wild animal, a force of nature. But the Wayland-Yutani corporation, which employs the Nostromo’s crew, are completely amoral. They want it for their weapons division, and considers the crew expendable. Thought Slime compares their disregard for the safety of their workers with that of the corporations mining rare earth elements now, who similarly aren’t concerned with protecting the lives of the miners they employ. He also ask which company would also be so set on acquiring such dangerous weapons. As he ponders, the name ‘Raytheon’ appears on the screen, the name of one of the big American weapons manufacturers. He also makes the point that the Alien itself is a metaphor for sexual assault and the invasive nature of pregnancy, but doesn’t elaborate on it as it has been better explained elsewhere.

In They Live, an unemployed vagrant, played by the wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, discovers a pair of magic sunglasses that reveal that the Earth has been taken over by evil capitalist aliens, and the subliminal messages that they put in banknotes, the press and adverts to keep people enslaved, obedient and consuming. The aliens represent current capitalism and the capitalist class, while the spectacles are a metaphor for class consciousness. He discusses how the Nazis have taken this film as an anti-Semitic metaphor about the Jews, and makes the point that this is angrily denied by the director and writer, John Carpenter, himself.

He argues that within the film there is no alternative to capitalism, and compares this to Noam Chomsky’s book on propaganda. This argues that the major news outlets and the media all have this bias. He also recommends Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, which argues that capitalism ensures that capitalism is the only economic model people will consider.

He puts Society in top position because, if They Live is didactic about the evils of capitalism, Society is practically a call to revolution. In this movie, the rich are a completely separate species of goo monsters with predatory sexuality that prey on the poor. The hero is a normal lad a family of them has raised, but that’s just a joke they’re pulling at his expense. He can never really be one of them. Class mobility is an illusion. They control the politicians, education system and the police. Anyone who tries to expose them is consumed by the system. It isn’t a conspiracy movie, like They Live, which suggests that before the aliens arrived, society was just and good. But in Society, there has never been a good past. The goo monster rich have always been in control. The goo monsters don’t need to do what they do. They simply behave as they do because they enjoy it. And humans are, in this movie, a metaphor for the poor.

He concludes by saying that he doesn’t think that these movies were made to turn people anti-capitalist, but framing it that way makes it easier to communicate an anti-capitalist message to people. Horror movies are uniquely positioned to do this as they are a commodification of death and suffering. They’re considered more mercenary than other movies, are cheap and easy to make, and can turn a big profit at the box office, even if they’re terrible. Here the opening titles come up for the film, Ghoulies, which he explains at the beginning of the video is one of his favourites. And even when a horror movie is good and artistically accomplished, it inspires scores of cheap knock-offs. It’s considered a low genre which provides cheap, almost pornographic thrills. Thought Slime then argues that this attitude is rooted in classism. In other words, he says, hoity-toity types ignore horror movies. Which is why they’re good for reaching out to people against capitalism.

Warning: There is some foul language, and it naturally contains clips from the films it mentions. Though as this video was posted on YouTube, it shouldn’t be too horrific for the proverbial People Of A Nervous Disposition.

Radio 3 Programme on Internet Threat to Democracy

March 15, 2018

Next Tuesday at 10.00 pm Radio 3 is broadcasting a programme about the threat to democracy in the age of the internet. It’s part of the Free Thinking Festival, and is entitled ‘People Power’. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the last century but can it survive the digital age? Anne McElvoy chairs a discussion with Rod Liddle, associate editor of the Spectator, David Runciman, author of How Democracy Exists, Caroline MacFarland, the head of a think tank promoting the interest of “millennials”, and geographer Danny Dorling. Recorded in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead as part of Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival. (p. 130).

McElvoy recently presented the excellent short history of British Socialism on Radio 4. Now, I might be prejudging the programme, but it looks like very establishment thinkers once again trying to tell us that the Net, bonkers conspiracy theories and electoral interference from the Russians are a threat to western democracy as a way of protecting entrenched media, political and business interests.

The Net isn’t a threat to democracy. What is destroying it, and has caused Harvard University to downgrade America from a democracy to an oligarchy, in the corporate sponsorship of politicians. Because politicos are having their electoral funds paid by donors in business, they ignore what their constituents want and instead represent the interests of big business. Which means that in Congress they support the Koch and the oil industry, and the arms companies against 97 per cent of Americans, who want greater legislation over guns to prevent any further school shootings.

As for the press, they’re aiding the collapse of democracy because they’ve become part of massive media and industrial conglomerates, and represent the interests of their corporate bosses. They are most definitely not representing ‘truth to power’, but are instead another layer of power and ideological control. They promote the policies their bosses in big business want, even when it is actively and obviously impoverishing ordinary people. Like the way the right-wing press is constantly pushing neoliberalism, even though this as a doctrine is so dead it’s been described as ‘Zombie Economics’.

In this case, the internet really isn’t a threat to democracy, but the opposite. People can check the lies their governments and media are telling them, and disseminate real information to correct it, as well as go further and identify the people and organisations distorting and corrupting our politics from behind the scenes.

And this is obviously scaring the political and media elite. Otherwise they wouldn’t be transmitting programme like this.

Redacted Tonight: Mainstream Media Pushing War in Syria Hiding Connections to Arms Companies

April 25, 2017

This is another very incisive little clip from Redacted Tonight, a satirical politics show on RT. In this clip, their reporter John F. O’Donnell discusses disclosure, or rather, the absolute lack of it in the mainstream media when it comes to the connections of their contributors and presenters to arms companies when pushing for war in Syria. Media Matters, a media monitoring group, has criticised the way the Washington Post allows Ed Rogers to write for them urging more intervention in Syria and the Middle East, without mentioning that he is a lobbyist for Raytheon, the arms company that manufactures the Tomahawk missiles using in Trump’s airstrike last week. Fox News had retired American army general, Jack Dean on their show, who praised Trump’s air strike for showing that ‘American leadership is back’. But Fox News did not tell its viewers that Dean is on the board of General Dynamics, which makes the launching systems for the same missiles.

And guess who else also personally profited from launching the missiles? Yep, it’s Mr ‘Drain the Swamp’ himself, Donald Trump, now the biggest monster in it, according to the Young Turks. According to FCC records for last year, 2016, Trump also had stock in Raytheon, whose own stock has risen $5 billion since the attack.

War is business, as the saying goes, and under Trump, business is good.

These points are made in a humorous way by O’Donnell, who contrasts the media’s lack of disclosure with his own, as he makes coarse jokes about his bizarre sex practices, inability to impress a girl he fancied, and how he backed a friend’s lame business venture.

Vox Political: Bomber Benn Criticised by Public Over Civilian Casualties in Syria

August 21, 2016

Mike over in Vox Political put up another good piece about ‘Bomber’ Benn being taken to task by the great British public in Twitter for his wretched support for airstrikes against the terrorists in Syria. He made a speech declaring his support for such action in parliament late last year against the wishes of his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In return, he got applause from the Tories, which should, as Mike says, fill him with shame.

Now there is that terrible image of a young boy, covered in blood, being taken away in ambulance. The footage shows the lad looking confused and horrified as he wipes his face, and his hand comes away bloody. Mike’s article has a cartoon from an Arab artist showing the results of our actions, whatever we do. If we continue hitting Syria and its people, it will result in more child victims, symbolised by this boy. If we leave, then it will result in an exodus of refugees, many of which will drown, like the boy, whose body washed up on the shore of Turkey a few months ago, to his father’s horror.

Someone on Twitter pointedly asked Benn to make a speech explaining how the bombing is going. This got the rather tetchy reply from Benn advising his questioner to go and ask Russians and Syrians. Though he did have the grace to admit that what was going in Aleppo was shocking.

Benn’s comments cut no ice with the crowd on Twitter, however. They told him very clearly that it was he who helped bring these horrors about by demanding an expansion of the wars in the Middle East into Syria. They also stated that the Russians are currently talking to the Turks about finding a way to stop the fighting.

Mike also makes the point that western bombing and fighting in the Middle East has only created a vicious cycle, which creates more jihadis, ready to rise up and create more atrocities. The people who suffer are the children of everyone involved. But it creates big profits for the arms manufacturers and military-industrial complex.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/20/bomber-benn-challenged-over-continuing-syrian-cataclysm/

This is just the latest vile policy from Hillary Benn. A few years ago, when New Labour was in power and trying privatise everything that wasn’t nailed, Benn turned up in the ‘In the Back’ section of Private Eye. He was one of a coterie of MPs and officials, who were turning the Commonwealth Development Agency, or whatever it was then called, from a charity into a for-profit company. The result was that a British government organisation that gave countries in the Developing World funds to promote their economy by establishing businesses, was going to concentrate instead on finding ways to get the maximum amount of profit from their already impoverished and seriously indebted clients. Once again, western money men were going to get rich from Third World debt. Partly thanks to Benn.

The truth is that Benn is, like his former master Tony Blair, a Neocon, who believes in the right of private companies to loot the world as they please, and in expanding western power through war and invasion. He should get on well with Shrillary Clinton, as she is also a full-on hawk, a corporate warmonger who has made it very clear that she support airstrikes in Syria. And the American atheist/ secularist news show, Secular Talk, has made it very clear that the cycle of violence described by Mike is very real. Secular Talk has even played a piece of a speech from one of the leaders of al-Qaeda, in which he urges the various jihadi factions to stop fighting each other and concentrate on killing the Americans instead. The man openly says that he’s afraid America will cut back its operations. If that happens, then the fragile unity which exists between the various jihadi groups around opposition to the America will fall apart, and they’ll start killing each other again. Kyle Kulinski, the show’s host, has said that the jihadis have told us in this video very clearly how we can defeat them: we do nothing. Mind you, to quote Tom Baker’s Doctor in the classic Who serial, ‘Warrior’s Gate’, it has to be the right kind of nothing. But if we scale back our operations, and stop killing civilians, then the jihadis will do our work for us and butcher each other.

But that’s not something either Bush, Obama, Hillary or Benn on this side of the Pond want to think about. Probably because it means less arms sales to murderous foreign despots, like the Saudis abroad, and less military expenditure at home, leading to a further dip in profits for the merchants of death.

The Young Turks on How American Arms Manufacturers are Profiting from Airstrikes in Syria

January 2, 2016

I’ve blogged today a couple of items on the way the banks, the arms industry and governments are pushing for war in the name of profits, and the immense profits and influence of the global arms trade. Here’s a related video from The Young Turks on the vast profits being made by the arms contractors from air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Presented by the Turk’s anchor, Cenk Uyghur, the piece gives the following statistic.

The journalist Cliff Judy estimated that each bomb dropped cost $1.6 million. He also estimated that the monthly cost of the war was between $200-300 million. So far – and this piece was released a year ago – American defence contractors – the people manufacturing the weapons, not the Depart of Defense itself, had got $139 billion in contracts.

The waste involved is massive. Between $31 and $60 billion has been wasted by defence contractors in Afghanistan. Uyghur describes a process of massive overcharging, and a cynically blasé attitude to the profits of war, with money brought along in crates which the contractors didn’t even bother to count.

Uyghur makes the excellent point that this is money that could be better spent on peaceful works, building up the local infrastructure back in America, building schools, hospitals, repairing the roads and so on.

The main firm to benefit from the war financially is Lockheed Martin. Other arms manufacturers are also doing extremely well. $105 billion in contracts have been given to the leading five arms manufacturers. And to show you how cynical it all is, Uyghur quotes Jack Ablin, one of the executives of the BMO Private Bank dealing in US investment. Ablin describes the use of weapons and arms systems in preference to boots on the ground as ‘an opportunity’. And as their profits go up, so do these companies share prices.

Uyghur describes the politicians, who are also profiting from this, as whores. Well, that’s what they are, only he’s made the point elsewhere that ordinary prostitutes by and large don’t do anything to harm anyone else. These politicians take money from the defence contractors, and in return they give them contracts. And the same contractors give jobs afterwards to the politicians and generals.

This shows you the truth of the old saying: War is good for business. And business is good.

The Bush Family and the Corporations Profiting from War

December 17, 2015

This is another brilliant meme I found over at 1000 Natural Shocks (warning! Over 18 site). It lists the companies profiting from the war in the Middle East, going all the way back to George Bush’s father’s business dealings with the Nazis. It also tells you the percentage of armaments used by ISIS that actually come from America: 75%. Yes, ISIS are getting hold of American guns to kill American squaddies.

There was a season of the X-Files, back in the 1990s, which began with Mulder having lost his faith in the reality of Extraterrestrials on Earth. He instead believed that the evidence for them was simply misidentified objects and phenomena, and the misguided or crazed ravings of the deluded or the insane. This season began with him being approached by an official, who worked in a senior position with a defence contractor. This official is working for a company, which is collaborating with the government in creating false UFO phenomena and sightings. The government is deliberately misleading people and deceiving them into believing in UFOS in order to divert them from what’s really going on. The official himself has finally decided to speak out, as his son is dying from a mysterious illness contracted during the Gulf War.

‘The business of America isn’t business’, the official tells Mulder, ‘but war.’ He goes on to explain how war has boosted the corporate profits of America to the point where it has become almost a function of the American government, far beyond the need to defend the homeland. It follows President Truman’s admonition about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. The official’s speech is set within the context of a fictional show, but contains much truth. Though I very much doubt that there are little Grey aliens running around the world, with whom our government have signed nefarious pacts.

Here’re the memes.

Anti-Corporate War
Corporate War
War profits
ISIS American Guns
Repugs Against Peace
War Oil Price
War Lie

This is obviously American, but it also applies over here. We’ve blindly followed and supported the American invasion in Iraq, and successive British government have promoted the sale of arms abroad, frequently to despotic nations like Saudi Arabia, by British ‘merchants of death’. And various members of the British establishment, and especially the aristocracy, were very keen on the Nazis before the War.