Posts Tagged ‘Detroit’

The Smearing of the Innocent: The 1950s Anti-Comics Scare and the Anti-Semitism Smears against Labour

May 5, 2018

Frederic Wertham is a figure, who casts a very long shadow over the history of the American comics industry. Born Friedrich Wertheimer, he had emigrated to America from Germany in 1920. A psychiatrist with left-wing political views, he had moved to England to study medicine at King’s College and been influenced by the Fabians before finally moving to America. He was an expert in the study of the brain, and the neurological causes of behaviour, working under the leading expert in the organic causes of madness, Emil Kraepelin.

The carnage of the First World War made him concerned to understand the causes of violence, and the outbreak of the Second World War made him into an activist determined to combat it. In so doing, he became one of the leaders of a moral crusade against comics. The funny papers were supposed to contain all manner of subversive attitudes and doctrines, and were spreading criminality and sexual perversion amongst their young readers.

In some ways, he was an admirable figure. He was particularly concerned with the problem of children and violence, working with kids living in some of the most violent and exploitative environments of America. He gave the results of his studies into the mental health of children in racially segregated schools over to Thurgood Marshal, where it became part of the evidence civil rights activists used in the court cases that ended segregated schooling. With the support of prominent civil rights leaders, he opened a free psychiatric clinic for the poor in Harlem.

He became concerned about the influence of comics through his work with youngsters at the clinic. He noticed that all of them read comics. This should have been no surprise, as 90 per cent of all American children read comics. Those who didn’t were generally the children of the rich, who were kept away from such cheap literature. He was also strongly influenced by his fellow √©migr√© from Germany, Theodor Adorno, who blamed the rise of the Nazis on the mass culture created by capitalism.

He began his attack on comics in 1948 when Collier’s ran an interview with him, entitled ‘Horror in the Nursery’, and which ended with him declaring that ‘the time has come to legislate these books off the newsstands and out of the candy stores’. As a result, churches organised the boycott of retailers selling comics and citizens’ groups wrote to their politicians demanding action. More than 50 cities passed laws restricting the sale of comics. Comic books were also burned in a weird parallel to the book burnings in Nazi Germany. These began in Binghampton, New York. Volunteers went from house to house, asking if there were any comics. They’d then try to persuade the householder of their dangerous nature, encouraging them to surrender the offending literature, which would be taken to the local schoolyard to be burnt.
The comics industry managed to survive by passing voluntary codes of conduct. This managed to allay fears for a few years, until 1952-4 when Estes Kefauver, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, began his campaign against juvenile delinquency. Kefauver discussed the issue with Wertham, who had just written his book, The Seduction of the Innocent. This has become rightly notorious for its wild claims against comics. In 1953 Wertham became psychiatric adviser to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. In May the following year, the Subcommittee came to New York to examine the influence of the funny papers. It was this hearing that led to the near annihilation of the comics industry and the passage of legislation outlawing the crime and horror comics.

Among the allegations Wertham made were that Wonder Woman was a lesbian and Batman and Robin were a gay couple. Crime comics encouraged children to emulate the crimes contained in the stories. He also accused comics of spreading racism and Fascism, including Superman. He said of the Man of Steel that ‘superman has long been recognised as a symbol of violent racial superiority’. It’s rubbish, of course. Superman has never been remotely Nazi. The two creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were both Jewish, as were most of the creators of the American comics industry. In 1946 the Superman radio show had broadcast a story, which had been partly created with the assistance of the Anti-Defamation League. In this, the Man of Steel fought against a KKK-style organise intent on destroying an interfaith organisation run by a rabbi and a Christian priest. The show was praised by organisations like the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Negro Press Association for its work combatting racial and religious prejudice and promoting respect.

Superman wasn’t the only comic Wertham and the others smeared as racist, but comics generally. Wertham often went against the explicit content and moral of the stories, and twisted them to suit his own prejudices. One example was a horror novel, in which a father organises the lynching of his daughter’s boyfriend because he’s Latino. The thugs he gets to the job instead kill his daughter. It’s a nasty tale, but clearly not an endorsement of racism by any means. But because the strip included a racist term for Hispanics, Wertham and the rest seized on it as an example of the racism in comics.

This reminds me of the anti-Semitism used by the Tories, the Israel Lobby and the Blairites in the Labour party today against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. This has led to decent, anti-racist people being smeared and libelled as racists and Holocaust-deniers. This includes Jews, many of whom are anti-racist activists, who themselves or their families have suffered anti-Semitic abuse and assault. The parallels become even closer as Comics were also suspected of spreading Communism. in 1948, the police commissioner of Detroit declared that comics were full of ‘communist teachings, sex and racial discrimination.’ Which is similar to today’s smears that Corbyn’s supporters and Momentum are really hard-left Trotskyites and Communists, rather than real, middle of the road socialists wanting a return to the Social Democratic consensus and a proper welfare state.

The people making these smears against the Labour left go through their posts on-line, and then, like Wertham, take things out of context, twist their meaning and omit anything that shows that their victims are not the racist monsters they wish to paint them. And they are utterly despicable. And it’s a nasty, politically motivated campaign to prevent Labour coming to power, at least under Jeremy Corbyn.

Now some comics at the time of wertham’s campaign were very definitely unsuitable for children. But not all, and certainly not Superman and the rest of the DC favourites. But as Martin Barker shows in his book, Comics, Ideology and Power, it was another incident in a long history in which the upper classes have been suspicious of popular literature, and have attempted to censor and control what the hoi polloi read. Just as the upper classes and the media are now attempting to use smears again to stop people voting for and joining Corbyn’s Labour party.

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Secular Talk on Alex Jones’ ‘Libs Are Demonic Villains Who Want Blood’

March 4, 2016

This is yet another piece from Secular Talk, and I’m reblogging it because it answers some of the accusations the American far right throw at anything even vaguely liberal or left-wing, as well as showing just how peculiar their opposition to Obamacare is.

Kyle Kulinski is here commenting and taking apart an interview on Alex Jones’ Infowars programme with a right-wing documentary film maker, Joel Gilbert, who has produced a movie, No Such Thing as Utopia, attacking the left and its economic and social doctrines. Jones and his guest accuse liberal policies of devastating the economy and deliberately attacking the family, leaving millions of families without fathers. Deprived of paternal guidance, the boys from these broken homes turn to crime. It was liberal policies, of course, that has left Detroit the wrecked, dying city it now is. They claim that liberals are all secret Marxists intent on a entering and corrupting mainstream political parties, like the Democrats. And then Alex Jones goes off on a mocking sneer about how liberals are like ‘gangster-type felons’, extremely bloodthirsty wanting to inflict a genocide, but in public affect a simpering attitude of ‘But I’m so Liberal!’

As for Obama, they claim that his intentions were ‘never good’, and that he only intended to cut the deficit in half.

It’s rubbish, of course. Kulinski challenges them to name one Marxist policy the Democrats have. There isn’t one. They are, in his view, centrist corporatists. As for the devastation of Detroit, that’s often been claimed by the right to be due to ‘socialist’ policies and the trade unions. The simple fact is that it was wrecked by NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The corrupt, corporatist system destroyed middle class, factory jobs that kept people employed. This meant that all the jobs were exported abroad. It wouldn’t have matter, who the people of Detroit would have voted for – Democrat, Republican, Fascist, Centrist, Communist. And the economy’s going to remain like that until another industry comes into to revive Detroit.

He also tears into the Republican accusation that Obamacare is a Marxist policy. In no way is it. This may surprise you – it certainly did me – but it was first suggested by – wait for it! – Richard Nixon. It was also supported by Bob Dole. Newt Gingrich supported it during the Clinton administration. Even the far right, all-American Heritage Foundation made notes on it.

Obama himself has honoured his promise to halve the deficit. Bush left the country with a staggering debt of $1.4 trillion. Under Obama, it’s gone down to $480 – $460 billion. As for Obama’s supposedly evil intentions, Kulinski states that it’s ridiculous, but the stance is also shared by people on the left. Everyone rationalises that what they’re doing is good for the country.George Bush, with whose policies Kulinski radically disagrees, thought he was doing his best for the country. Even Joseph Stalin rationalised his monstrous crimes against the Soviet people and the countries he conquered in this way.

And if you want to point to Detroit as an example of what liberalism does, how about Mississippi as an example of the effects of Conservatism. It is the poorest, most obese state in America, with the lowest levels of education and the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. He also adduces the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. They have the best middle classes in the world, best standards of health care, best social safety nets and they’re people all self-report that they are the happiest. And they’re incredibly liberal.

Reagan’s Lies: Libyan Terrorists Invade from Canada

January 29, 2016

There’s a whole chapter in Alexander Cockburn’s and Jeffrey St. Clair’s book, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, on the lies, propaganda and general vileness of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, remember, told Americans that the Contra rebels, who were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1980s were ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. Cockburn remarks drily that the Iroquois would have agreed. And just in case anyone is in the doubt that Reagan was Fascist sympathiser, he apparently told his audience in Spain that the Lincoln Brigade and Defenders of the Republic, Americans who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, were on the wrong side. Among the terror groups Reagan sponsored were RENAMO in Mozambique and UNITA in Angola, as well as Rios Montt’s band of torturers in Guatemala. And the CIA left a torture manual in El Salvador.

But it’s some of the propaganda that really makes you, like Matilda, gasp and stretch your eyes. He had a group called ‘Threat Inflaters’, comprising Robert Moss, Clare Sterling and Arnaud de Borchgrave, who were there to exaggerate the Soviet threat. And this they dutifully did. Reagan duly told his audience about an impending invasion from Nicaragua, whose army was coming up through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. And in 1987 ABC ran a series, Amerika, in which the Soviet Union conquered the American Midwest. And the Caribbean nation of Grenada just had to be invaded, because it lay on vital sea lanes and so threatened US trade.

To demonise Qaddafi further, the Reaganites planted a story in the media about a Libyan assassination squad coming into the US from Canada to blow the President away. Or may be it was Mexico. This squad was composed of three to thirteen men. Depending who you listened to, it’s members included three Libyans, three Iranians, and three Syrians, as well as a Palestinian, a Lebanese and someone from East Germany. It came out during the Iran-Contra hearings that this had all been dreamed up by an Israeli secret agent. The CIA was also aware the story was bogus. Cockburn states that a Federal customs officer, who worked on the tunnel from Windsor in Canada to Detroit, told him that they weren’t told to look out for any hit squads, despite this being one of the most obvious and major routes into the US.

Of Reagan’s mendacity and sheer evil, Cockburn states in this pungent passage:

hearing all the warm and fuzzy talk about the Gipper, young people spared the experience of his awful sojourn in office, probably imagine him as a kindly, avuncular figure. He was a vicious man, with a breezy indifference to suffering and consequences of decisions. This indifference was so profound that Dante would surely have consigned him to one of the lowest circles of hell, to roast for all eternity in front of a malfunctioning TV and a dinner tray swinging out of reach like the elusive fruits that tortured Tantalus.

Reagan was a liar, and his lies helped prepare the world for the invasion of Iraq and the consequent bloodbath into which the area has descended. Yet there’s a consistent attempt in America to present him as a great statesman and visionary. The sooner that view is destroyed, the better.

The Global African: How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Black Politics

January 25, 2016

This is fascinating. It’s an attack on Neoliberalism from a Black American perspective, talking about the harm it has done to Black communities, churches, politics and people’s personal psychology and sense of self-worth. In this piece from the Global African, there’s a discussion between the host, Bill Fletcher, and a professor of Black Studies at Johns Hopkins university, Lester Spence about the harmful effects of Neoliberal economics. The second segment talks about the Paris conference on Climate Change, and the implications this has for communities in the Developing World.

They’re both important issues, but the piece that interested me was the first half, the critique of Neoliberal economics. Lester Spence, the professor being interviewed, has written a book about it. Apart from the economic theory itself, he also wanted to correct and supplement some of the ideas in Cornel West’s book, Racial Matters, and a work on Neoliberalism by a White academic. He admires both books, but states that the leave out vital issues, like the way Neoliberalism has corroded Black people’s ability to organise and their sense of self-worth for Cornel West’s book, and the racial dimension of Neoliberalism in the study of it by the White academic.

For the benefit of their viewers elsewhere in the world, Spence defines what Neoliberalism is. He states that it is the view that people should organise themselves as a business, and that politics and public services should also adopt the methods of private industry, including libraries. This has resulted in the destruction of the notion of ‘the public’. In the case of the churches, it has resulted in a mentality that sees the Bible as a business manual, which if adopted will not only spiritually enrich you, but also materially as well. In this it resembles the teaching of some of the earlier Black cult leaders. This is in line with Neoliberalism generally, which despite the part of the word being ‘neo’, Greek for ‘new’, takes much of its doctrines from the 19th century.

The result of Neoliberal economics, as pioneered by Milton Friedman, has been massive income inequality and the economic devastation of the working class. This has affected all Americans, but African-Americans have been particularly hard hit, in places like Detroit. Spence and Fletcher point out that Neoliberal economics was rolled out when Black Americans were first being elected to positions of political leadership, particularly in the communities that were worst affected. Thus, Black politicians and leaders became the scapegoats, charged with the failures that the economic system had produced.

Spence states that some Black people have prospered through Neoliberalism. These were middle class people, who had the education and affluent background, which gave them the entrepreneurial qualities prized by the system. People like himself. But those less privileged, like citizens with special needs, it has been devastating. They have got poorer.

He also talks about the ‘Black Nihilism’ that the economic system has spawned. This was identified by Cornel West in Race Matters, which was written about the time of the Rodney King riots. In the words of the two conversing here, it’s the lack of love Black people have for themselves and their fellow Black Americans. This takes away their power to combine and organise politically, and replaces it with therapy. The result is that Black politics has been enervated, and the ability to bring about political change nullified.

There is also a distinct racial dimension to the economic theory and its political appeal to specific American demographics. He criticises the White academic’s otherwise excellent study because it ignores this. Spence states that some of the people, who vote overwhelmingly for Neoliberal policies are poor Whites, who are suffering as much as Black communities. This needs to be explained.

Spence has also taken the unusual stem of publishing his book with a small press publisher, Punctum. It’ll be available at the price of a few dollars for about five years as PDF, then free on-line after that. Spence states that he wanted to break out from the ‘honeyed noose’ of academia, and make the book’s publishing, and not just its contents, a political act. He also disliked the appellation of ‘scholar activist’, despite his actions.

This is a very thought-provoking piece from the perspective of one of the racial groups hardest hit by the wretched brainchild of Milton Friedman, von Mises and co. It’s a perspective that needs to be taken into account when addressing the poverty and despair this pernicious theory has created.

Regarding the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, there’s an increasing movement away from it, and some of its worst preachers have attacked it. One of these was the American right-wing Evangelist, Jim Bakker. Bakker was one of the televangelists that emerged in the 1980s, with Swaggert, Jerry Fallwell and the rest of the corrupt crew. Bakker was criminally corrupt, as well as morally bankrupt, and ended up going to gaol for defrauding his church. He has since written a book criticising and denouncing the very theology he used to preach as heretical.

And the doctrine of self-enrichment through religion or spirituality isn’t confined to Christianity. It’s also in the New Age movement. Deepak Chopra, one of the movement’s leading writers, has said that he promotes ‘Prosperity Consciousness’. You can see the same corrupt ideals at work in The Cosmic Ordering Service, another New Age book that told you if you wanted something, you could get it, so long as you went through the proper New Age mental rituals. The Qabbala cult Madonna belongs to is also part of it. This isn’t much like the original Qabbala, which is a complicated system of Jewish mysticism. It’s a radically simplified version of it, which again promises its adherents worldly wealth through practicing a few basic spiritual formulas or exercises. It’s been strongly criticised by mainstream Jewish scholars for both its theological distortions and the massive profiteering involved. The person responsible for the Qabbala cult, for example, sells a copy of the Zohar for up to $300 or so. It might even be more. These are all in Hebrew, but he tells his followers that they don’t have to bother understanding this mystical text. Simply having it will confer spiritual benefits and material wealth. It’s needless to say that this is very definitely not what proper Jewish religious scholars believe.

As for White people voting for Neoliberal politics, my guess is that race, and particularly racial contempt for Blacks, has been an important element of the strategy through which it has been sold to them. Right-wing American politicians have stigmatised Blacks as being feckless welfare scroungers. The interventionist policies used to improve their conditions, such as affirmative action, merely act to prevent the benign market operating as it should. It stops virtuous, well-qualified Whites from getting the jobs they need by giving them to Blacks. At the same time, food stamps, unemployment benefit and support for unmarried mothers mean that Blacks are dependent on welfare and aren’t bothered about getting jobs.

The White poor, who are being fed this rubbish, don’t see themselves as dependent on welfare, despite the fact that many of the most hard-line, fervently Republican communities are the poorest in America. The Young Turks did one piece about a year ago looking at one county in the American south – I think it was Kentucky – where nearly everyone was unemployed and consequently dirt poor. And just about everyone in that county – 97 per cent – were White.

This is also the bilge being fed to people over here. A few years ago, The Spectator, never pro-Black in the first place, began running stories stating that, thanks to left-wing policies, White men were the only demographic group not welcome in London. It was a counterpart to the Republicans’ ‘Southern Strategy’ of targeting ‘Angry White men’. The fear of the economic and social threat of immigrants, whether from the EU or the Middle East, is being used by Cameron to try and frighten voters into allowing him to cut even more welfare benefits. You could see that in the reports Mike posted over at Vox Political on Cameron’s attempts to get the other EU leaders to deny migrants over here the welfare benefits to which they were entitled under EU and their own countries’ laws, which included payments to which they were entitled and which were paid by their countries of origin.

The Republicans and the Tories are using White racial fears to impoverish and degrade Whites, Blacks and other racial groups. And they’ll keep playing on this as long as it appears to work. Blacks and Whites need to unite to stop this, and ensure a better, fairer world for working people, whatever the colour of their skin.

The Disgusting State of Detroit Schools

January 23, 2016

Okay, I know this is another American story, but it mirrors the way our state schools in the UK are being run down by the Conservatives. I’ve got a particular interest in teaching, as my mother was a teacher, and I took my first degree at what was an Anglican teacher training college. The school, in which Mum taught was also part of an exchange programme with an American school. As part of this exchange, one of her teachers went to the Land of the Free, while one of theirs also crossed the Pond to Blighty.

Last Wednesday school staff in Detroit went on strike because of the disgusting conditions in the schools, in which they were expected to teach. The photos from the twitter site @Detroitteach, show a very grim story: mouldy bread given to pupils for breakfast, mushrooms growing on class room walls, and cockroaches and other insects infesting the floors. These are the conditions, which the authorities want the future citizens of American brought up and educated in. As you can see, they had the support of parents and pupils. As for the last pic, which shows the gentleman responsible for this mess, there’s now a massive scandal in Flint, Michigan, after the local water company poisoned the water supply with massive amounts of lead, including water at the local hospital. This guy was also responsible for that debacle.

Detroit School 1

Detroit School 2

Detroit School 3

Detroit School Protest 1

Detroit School Protest 2

This is also an issue that has its counterpart in British politics. The Tories do not like teachers and state education, and have been trying to run down both of them since Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. We’ve had denunciation after screamed denunciation, both in Britain and America, about left-wing teachers supposedly indoctrinating their students to be militant atheists/ Communists/ Trotskyites, and filling their heads with militant anti-racism or gay rights. Remember how Maggie sneered at one of the Tory conferences about ‘champagne Socialists’ and Fabians indoctrinating the dear kiddies with ‘anti-racist mathematics’, while the Sun claimed that schoolchildren in Brent were being made to recite ‘Ba, Ba, Green Sheep’, instead of ‘Black Sheep’ as part of a loony-left anti-racism drive? And the absolute frothing hysteria about protecting young minds from gay indoctrination? This has all provided the pre-text the Tories and Republicans have used to denigrate state education, and try to break the power of the teaching unions.

Most teachers, regardless of their personal political beliefs, aren’t motivated by a burning desire to radicalise the young and impressionable. They just want to stand in front of a class and teach, with the hopeful intent of getting the class to realise their potential. This has become increasingly difficult with the way education has become little more than a political football, and the profession has seen itself progressively starved of the support it needs from the authorities. Many teachers work in extremely challenging circumstances, including having to deal with threats of violence, including rape. And there is no support from the government, and especially not from Thickie Nikky Morgan, who can’t tell you what 7 X 8 is, or how many academies last year had to be returned to state control, but can prate about the need to privatise, or part-privatise even more.

Education on both sides of the Atlantic needs more funding, and a far more supportive attitude from the education authorities than just right-wing populist demagoguery from officially appointed morons, who have never put a foot in front of a class except as part of a very carefully scripted publicity campaign. Get the Right out of politics, and proper funding into the schools.

Vox Political: Police Considering Handing 999 Calls to G4S

November 12, 2015

Mike has posted a number of very important, ominous pieces about Tory reforms to the police force, reforms which will undermine the police as a public, state institution tackling crime, and deny those arrested of their fundamental right to legal representation and a fair hearing.

All this is being done in the name of private profit and cutting costs.

Last week Mike revealed the news that the government was considering putting 999 calls in the hands of G4S. Even without their record of incompetence, which has included letting prisoners escape while under their escort to the courts for trial, this would still be a matter for concern for corruption and conflict of interest. On of the company’s major shareholders is the husband of Theresa May, the current head of the Home Office.

See Mike’s story: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/08/police-forces-consider-company-part-owned-by-theresa-mays-husband-to-handle-999-calls/

The next day, Mike posted up this story, expanding on the news: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/10/more-cuts-mean-privatised-police-for-profit-theresa-may-call-it-what-it-is/

Not only are Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire police forces considering granting the operation of their 999 lines to the company, but Theresa May has announced that she intends to give G4S and other private security firms and government contractors like it police powers. This will be ‘when the time is right’, of course. Mike points out that this is truly policing for profit, whatever May says to the contrary.

The Tories have been floating the idea of privatising the police force for nearly a quarter of a century. In Christmas 1991 I recall the Mail on Sunday running a story about the wonderful, Minarchist Tory Britain that would be ushered in the majority of MPs were women. This included a privatised police force, hired by individual communities. It’s an idea ultimately lifted from Rothbard and the American Libertarians. It was put into a feature about a future parliament controlled by women, as the Daily Mail has always aimed at a female readership, despite having a highly reactionary attitude to feminism, and an attitude towards women that comes dangerously close, and at times has crossed over into misogyny. If you want an example, think about the various articles the Mail has run demanding that women return to their traditional roles in the home. Or the photographs of underage, teenage girls, accompanied by sexual captions commenting on their attractiveness.

The Mail was hoping with this story to capitalise on the support the party had received from women, partly due to the election of Margaret Thatcher. This was despite the fact that Maggie had no women in her cabinet, and most of her policies actually harmed them as women form the majority of workers in the low-paid sectors.

It was also about this time that they launched the old propaganda line about national economics being similar to budgeting for a household. The article claimed that women automatically knew to vote Tory, as they naturally have a better understanding of men through handling the household budgets. This is a bit of specious, condescending flattery, as running a household is not like running a national economy, even if the word ‘economics’ ultimately does come from the ancient Greek term for ‘household management’. And it doesn’t impugn anyone’s ability to run a home to point this out.

The story was run at the beginning of Major’s ministry, and much was made of his inclusion of women in his cabinet, like Virginia Bottomley and Edwina Currey. If I remember correctly, the article claimed that the privatisation of the police was a police particularly favoured by Bottomley. Now nearly a quarter of a century later, it’s being announced by another female politico, in this case Theresa May. I wonder if this is entirely coincidental, or if the Tories feel that this would look far better being announced by a woman. Perhaps they hope that by specifically appealing to women, they can make it look like some kind of neighbourhood policing, done by corporations that know the needs and requirements of their local communities, rather than what it is: the assumption of authoritarian powers of arrest and detention by a private corporation, acting only for the profit of its senior management and shareholders.

If they are trying to present it as such, which I recall the Daily Mail article attempting to do, then backing G4S and other government contractors seems to me to be a grave error of judgement. Apart from letting their prisoners escape, I also remember that one of them was involved in serious riots in a refugee detention centre, which employed them. The inmates had risen up in protest at a series of abuse committed by the centre’s wardens, who were not state screws, but security guards in one of these private firms.

I also wonder if the person, who dreamed up this idea, has also seen some of the same Science Fiction films I have. Like the Heavy Metal movie and Robocop. The Heavy Metal movie was an ’80s animated film, based on the adult comic of the same name, which was the Anglophone version of the French Metal Hurlant. It was an anthology based on the comic’s various strips, linked by a story in which a young girl is led to realise that she is a warrior woman with cosmic powers, dedicated to fight evil.

One of the stories is set in a decaying future, where the police act like a private detective agency. The victim comes in, reports the crime, and then is expected to pay for the costs and manpower of the investigation.

The other film is another flick from the ’80s, Robocop. This was set in a decay, near-future Detroit, where crime was rampant and the police force had been privatised and handed over to a private corporation, OCR, or Omni-Consumer Products. Beset by bad management and suffering from an appalling death rate at the hands of local criminal gangs, Detroit’s boys and girls in blue go on strike. Meanwhile, the company has been trying to crush crime by using robots. These are failures, the prototype malfunctioning lethal during a boardroom demonstration in which it fatally shoots one of the corporation’s executives pretending to be an armed villain.

So the company decides to try again, this time using a machine which will also be part human. They set a new, rookie policeman, Murphy, up to suffer a brutal shooting in order to supply a suitable subject for transformation.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, it’s a fast-paced, ultra-violent action movie. One of my mother’s friends went to see it at the cinema when it came out, and left feeling physically ill because of the graphic violence. Despite this, it is a good movie, with a sympathetic treatment of the resentment and anger of the demoralised cops, and the central character’s own struggle to remember who he is and regain what little he can of his lost humanity. It also makes the point that what people need on the streets isn’t efficient machines, but real people with compassion and empathy towards the victims, as well as the aggression and determination needed to tackle offenders. In one scene, Murphy as Robocop saves a woman from rape by shooting her attacker in the crotch. The victim runs to him to offer her thanks. But the Robocop machine can only diagnose her as traumatise, and impersonally calls a rape crisis centre on her behalf before going on to his next assignment.

And just as Superman is powerless when his enemies wield Kryptonite, so Robocop also has a built-in weakness. His manufacturers have built into his programming a secret protocol that prevents him from apprehending or harming any of the corporation’s employees or management. It is only when the board chairman – the Old Man – sacks the villain that Robocop is finally able to get justice and avenge himself by shooting him.

Robocop is, of course, very definitely SF, though possibly not so far away from reality. I doubt that we will ever be able to create cyborg super-cops any time soon. Detroit was and is a declining city with a severe crime problem. Furthermore, the storyline’s partly based on the city’s privatisation of its services. It did not, mercifully, privatise the police.

Now a privatised police force in the system May and her bosses are advocating clearly wouldn’t charge individuals for investigating crimes. But they are going to charge the state for their services. And in order to make sure they remain profitable and give a dividend to their shareholders, they will have to economise and make cuts. Mike has already reported on the concerns by the police that Tory cuts to their budgets of up to 25 per cent will leave them unable to properly investigate and prevent crime, and arrest offenders. So it looks like handing over police powers to the likes of G4S will actually increase it, not cut down on crime.

And as with Robocop, there is the problem of corruption in the assumption of the state’s powers of arrest and punishment by a private corporation. There have been major scandals over corruption in normal police force, particularly the Met and the West Midlands forces. People have been wrongfully arrested and suspects beaten, as well as collusion between the police and criminal gangs. It has been hard enough bringing these cases to justice. I doubt very, very much that the task will be any easier if policing is handed over to private companies. How many private policemen or women would dare to risk arresting a manager or senior boardmember?

And finally, there is the matter of principle that justice should always be public, and only the state should have fundamental right and trust to arrest, detain and punish offenders. The Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens, while in many respects a highly reactionary arch-Tory, has stated that he opposes private prisons on this exact point.

So just on considerations of efficiency, competence, and the philosophical foundation of the state as the public arbiter of justice, this is an appalling decision. But this all counts for nothing when the Conservatives see an opportunity to turn a quick buck from privatising a public utility.

I doubt very much, however, that they will go as far in their privatisation of the justice as Rothbard advocates. That would mean the privatisation of the courts themselves, so they could receive all the benefits of commercial competition in a free market economy. That’s anarchism, and whatever the Tories say they stand for in terms of personal freedom and free enterprise, they have always stood for a highly authoritarian society backed by the use of force against the lower orders. The very last thing they want to do is dismantle that. Rather, they are doing everything in their power to reinforce and strengthen it.

The Real Source of the Coalition’s Employment Policy: Morgus from Dr. Who’s ‘The Caves of Androzani’

November 30, 2013

Sometimes, life really does follow art. This week we had Boris Johnson telling a gathering of City bankers that ‘greed is right’, almost, but not quite, following Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko. The other night it struck me that the government’s way of tackling unemployment also seems to bear more than a little resemblance to another piece of 80s screen fiction, the Dr Who story ‘The Caves of Androzani’.

This was Peter Davison’s final regular appearance as the fifth Doctor. In it, the Doctor and Peri land on Androzani Minor, where they get caught up in a struggle between government forces, led by Major Chellak, and an army of androids, created by the mad scientist Sheraz Jek. Androzani Minor is the source of the drug Spectrox, which massively extends the human lifespan. Its production is controlled by a massive industrial combine, the Conglomerate, whose chairman is the avaricious and ruthless Krau Morgus. This has, however, been disrupted by Sheraz Jek. Jek had previously been employed by the Conglomerate, creating an android workforce, who could harvest the raw Spectrox safely. He was, however, betrayed by Morgus. Androzani Minor is subject to periodic mudbursts, geyser-like blasts of boiling mud caused by tidal action when the planet passes close to its larger twin, Androzani Major. Morgus sabotaged Jek’s instruments so that he was caught without warning in one of the mudbursts. Horribly disfigured and driven by an all-consuming desire for revenge, Jek has stopped production of the drug in order to force the Androzani government to kill Morgus. The government, in its turn, has sent in troops under Chellak to quell Jek and his androids and restore production.

Morgus, however, has managed to turn this situation to his own advantage. A ruthless businessman with absolutely no morals, Morgus is deliberately using the war to raise the price of Spectrox. He supplies the government forces with the arms and equipment they need, while also secretly supplying Jek through a group of mercenaries in return for shipments of Spectrox.

Spectrox in its raw state is highly poisonous, with the victims of Spectrox toxaemia dying in three days. The Doctor and Peri contract this after falling into a Spectrox nest. The plot revolves around the Doctor’s and Peri’s attempts to escape from Chellak, Jek and the mercenaries, and the Doctor’s efforts to find the antidote before they finally succumb to the poison. He is concerned primarily with saving himself and his companion. His mere presence on Androzani acts as a catalyst for increasing confrontation between Chellak and Jek, and the political and criminal machinations by Morgus, which finally culminate in his overthrow and downfall by his PA, Trau Timmon.

It’s a taut story, which combines the political thriller with elements of Restoration drama and Jacobean tragedy. At certain crucial points, Morgus turns to speak directly to camera. As in Jacobean tragedy, nearly everyone dies at the end, with the exception of Peri, Trau Timmon and the Doctor. Here’s a fan trailer for it from Youtube:

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It’s Youtube address is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjH_hZZhaXw.

Morgus himself is smooth talking, exploitative and ruthless. When he finds out that one of the Conglomerate’s mines has produced too much copper, he arranges new equipment containing a bomb to be sent to the plant, which is destroyed in the resulting explosion. Fearing that Androzani’s president is aware of his duplicity, he personally pushes him down an empty lift shaft. Calling Trau Timmon to inform her of the tragic accident, he muses, ‘Still, it could have been worse.’
‘How so?’, she asks.
‘It could have been me.’

Here’s another fan produced piece from Youtube, showing Morgus as one of the fifty great Dr Who villains of all time.

It’s on Youtube at:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3mlkV6tmA0.

Particularly noteworthy here is Morgus’ solution to the social problems caused by unemployment. At 0.55 on the video he states ‘those without valid work permits will be sent to the eastern labour camps’. Morgus makes this comment in a conversation with the President, who drily observes ‘Where they’ll work for you for free’.
‘I hadn’t thought of that’, replies Morgus.
To which the President simply says, ‘I know’, while all the while looking at Morgus with eyes that say the complete opposite.

It’s this episode that reminds me very strongly of the government’s policy. After all, what is the Conglomerate’s deportation of the unemployed to forced labour camps except a form of workfare?

It’s been said that all Science Fiction is, despite its settings in the future, or on other worlds or parallel universes, about the issues facing present society. Workfare was certainly being discussed in the 1980s, when it was first introduced in America by the Reagan presidency. It’s been pointed out that much of the SF of the period is a reaction to the new, Conservative policies of the period, the privatisation of the economy and the growing power of frequently ruthless corporations. It is the Corporation in Alien and its sequel, Aliens, that sacrifices Ripley’s crewmates aboard the Nostromo, and the planet’s colonists and the marines sent to rescue them fifty years later in order to acquire the Aliens for the company’s weapons’ division. Another corporation, OCP, is also the villain in Robocop. The company acquires Detroit’s police force after it is privatised, and sets up a young, rookie cop, Murphy, to be gunned down in order to turn him into cybernetic law enforcement officer of the title. Morgus and the ruthless, exploitative Conglomerate can similarly be seen as a comment on the economic and social policies of Reagan and Thatcher. It is possible to go somewhat further, and suggest that the story’s also a disguised treatment of the Iran/Contra affair, in which the US government supplied arms to Iran and the Contras in Nicaragua, in return for the freeing of US hostages in Lebanon, and the shipment of cocaine into the US by the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua.

It also needs to be noted, on the other hand, that the story is not necessarily an explicit comment on free-market capitalism. It’s assumed that the Conglomerate is privately owned, but it’s not stated. Both the Fascist and Communist dictatorships have used forced labour in industry, and so the use of unemployed slave labour in Morgus’ work camps could simply be based on those examples, especially as the work camps are on the ‘eastern continent’. Dr Who’s writers were clearly well aware of the way totalitarian states, particularly Nazi Germany, operated when devising their villains, such as Davros in The Genesis of the Daleks. Even so, free market capitalism under David Cameron has very definitely followed Morgus’ Conglomerate in the introduction of forced labour for the unemployed, even if they haven’t started to send people to Siberia yet. As for Morgus deliberately manipulating production to keep it profitably low, and create a reservoir of the unemployed, which he can exploit for free, the Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has pointed out that Neo-Liberal economics demands a constant unemployment rate of 6 per cent or so to keep labour cheap.

So, one way or another, Cameron’s government is following the Science Fictional policies of Dr Who’s Trau Morgus. Only without bombing mines and personally assassinating leading politicians. And it’s similarly time that someone brought it all to an end, though hopefully we won’t have to wait for a visitor from beyond the stars.