Posts Tagged ‘Drones’

Abby Martin on the Jimmy Dore Show Talks about US Crimes of Empire: Part 3

November 18, 2017

This is the third part and final part of my article on the interview with Abby Martin on the Jimmy Dore Show. She’s a tireless critic of American imperialism, and the presenter of the Empire Files on TeleSur English, and before that, on RT.

Dore and Martin discuss how the Empire and the Deep State loathes Trump because he ain’t good for the Empire’s image. After Bush had nearly pushed Americans towards revolution, Obama managed to placate people, and win them back to the Empire. But Trump is worse for the Empire because he’s such an a**hole and psychopath. There are people, who are just as psychotic. Paul Ryan, another Republican, hates the poor. But Trump is ramping up the Empire to colossal levels. There are now troop surges in Afghanistan, and the formation of Africom to deal with Somalia. Everybody’s heard of a horrific massacre committed by one of the warlords, and blamed on al-Shabaab. But what you aren’t being told is that week before his village was subject to a bombing raid which killed a load of kids. Martin talks about Trump’s hypocrisy and cynicism. He attacked Killary for the way she sold arms to the Saudis, but has been more than willing to sell them arms himself so they can kill civilians in Yemen. Under Trump, there has been a 400 per cent increase in drone strikes, and a 75 per cent increase in civilian deaths. Under Bush and Obama, the US military just killed every military-age male in a given locality. Now they’re carpet-bombing whole villages. Just like the Israelis kill Palestinians. Well, Trump said he would kill not only the terrorists, but also their families, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. Unfortunately, he has not honoured the promises Martin hoped he would, like normalising relations with Russia.

And then they get on to MOAB – the Mother Of All Bombs. This ‘mini-nuke’ – actually a conventional bomb that approached some of the destructive power of a nuclear device – was dropped on a cave system in Afghanistan. They said it only killed terrorists, but there were people in that area, and we won’t know if it only killed terrorists, because nobody’s allowed in there. Martin describes ISIS as a barbaric death cult – which is true – but states that this doesn’t give us the right to kill the people, who live in these countries. She makes the point that the applause which greeted the MOAB attack was a dehumanisation of the Afghan people and the victims of this weapon.

They then discuss whether some of the people on the Right, who supported Trump, may now be disillusioned with the orange buffoon. Many people probably voted for him because they thought he was anti-interventionist. But he hasn’t been. This might be because the military-industrial complex and the warfare state are beyond his control. Martin hoped that this part of the Republican based would speak out, but she was disappointed. The base is just interested in having a more efficient War On Terror. They aren’t speaking out about Venezuela, nor about the push for war with North Korea, they just don’t want us to fund al-Qaeda. As for Trump himself, he was never anti-interventionist. He just appeared so as it was a useful stance against Killary. He doesn’t have to surround himself with generals, who just want war because with every new invasion they launch, they get another star on their jacket. They two then discuss how nobody knows why America was in Niger.

I realise that this is an American programme, discussing American issues. But it also directly and acutely affects us. A number of our politicos have attended Republican conventions, and one of Trump’s British buddies was Nigel Farage. The Tories have been copying and utilising Republican policies since Maggie Thatcher took over as premier in the 1970s. And New Labour did the same with the Clintonite wing of the Democrats, adopting their stance against the welfare state, and introducing neoliberalism, deregulation and privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS, into the Labour Party.

The situation is rather different over here in Blighty, as we are now lucky enough to have a real Socialist as leader in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn. But New Labour is desperately trying to hang on in the shape of Progress, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement. And they have been using the smearing of decent anti-racists, the majority of whom are Jewish, as anti-Semites and their expulsion from the party as a weapon to purge their left-wing opponents.

As for imperialism, we are still riding on the back of America’s coat-tails, trying to be a world power by exploiting the ‘Special Relationship’. And so we support their wars in the Middle East, and the looting of these countries’ state industries and the brutalisation and impoverishment of their peoples.

Our media isn’t quite as bad as the Americans’ just yet. The news over here does accept that climate change is real at least, and there are still news reports about the poverty caused by austerity and Tory cuts to the welfare state and health service.

But it is heavily biased towards the Tories. The Beeb is full of public school, very middle class White guys, and its news and editorial staff have contained a number of high profile Tories, several of whom have left their posts to work for the party under Cameron and May. ‘Goebbels’ Robinson and ‘Arnalda Mussolini’ Kuenssberg are members of the Tory party. Robinson led a whole series of Tory groups, while Kuenssberg spoke at a fringe meeting in the Tory party this year.

The Kushners noted in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, that the Beeb does not allow anyone to question austerity, and it is just assumed, entirely falsely, as true and necessary by the rest of the media. And academics from Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities have noted that the Beeb is far more likely to talk to Tory politicians and managing directors about the economy, than Labour politicos and trade unionists.

And the war on alternative media is happening in this country as well. The Tories would love to close down RT. We’ve already seen them join in the baying mob accusing it of being Putin’s propaganda arm interfering with British democracy over here. All the while being very silent about how the Israelis were caught trying to get the people they don’t like removed from May’s cabinet. We’ve seen them criticise Labour MPs for appearing on the network, while ignoring their own people, who also have. And May got on her high horse to write a letter to Alex Salmond telling him not to take up a job as presenter with the Network.

And the bots and algorithms cooked up by Google and Facebook to protect us all from ‘fake news’ are having an effect on ‘controversial’ read: left-wing bloggers and vloggers. They direct potential readers away from the sites the corporations have decided are a threat to democracy. Mike’s suffered an inexplicable fall in the readership of some of his articles, and some of his posts have had to be reposted after mysteriously vanishing from Facebook. Even before then, there was an attempt to censor Tom Pride over at Pride’s Purge by claiming that his site was unsuitable for children. The pretext for that was some of the coarse humour he employs in his satire. This is nothing compared to some of the language you will hear on YouTube. It looked very much like his real crime was sending up Dave Cameron and the other walking obscenities taking up space on the Tory benches.

What Abby Martin says about the media and the crimes of Empire describe the situation in America. But it also describes what the neoliberal elites are doing over here.

We have to stop this. We have to take back parliament, and end the warmongering. Now.

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RT’s Lee Camp on What the US Military Is Doing in Niger

November 5, 2017

‘All the things we ever needed
I don’t need them now.
And all the things we did
Were confidential,
And hidden from me anyhow.’

– The Sisters of Mercy, Something Fast, early 1990s.

Remember those five US squaddies, who were killed in Niger the other week, but the American government couldn’t tell anyone what they were doing there in the first place? In this short piece from RT’s Redacted Tonight, comedian Lee Camp reveals what America is doing in this country in West Africa, and how the American military-industrial complex, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have worked to screw over yet another country.

He begins by stating that Africa possesses many of the vital mineral resources needed by the modern world – gold, diamonds, oil and so on. However, American investment and hegemony over the continent is being challenged by China, which has secured deals in recent years with African nations covering nearly ever sector of the continent’s economy. To maintain their military readiness for conflict in the region, in 2008 the Americans set up AFRICOM. From 2010 to 2017 the number of US troops in African increased by 2000 per cent. Most African countries don’t allow American drones to be armed. Niger was the one exception that was open to the Americans flying armed drones within its borders. The country has rich deposits of cobalt, manganese, chromium and platinum, metals that are used in modern weapons systems. It does not have any of the yellow cake uranium that Bush and co. claimed Niger was supplying to Saddam Hussein in preparation for Iraq making a nuclear bomb. This didn’t stop the claim being revived again in 2011, when it was alleged that Niger was sending the mineral to Iran.

Between 1990 and 1995 there was a Tuareg rebellion in Niger and Mali against poverty, corruption and exploitation. This came to end when the rebel leader was killed in a plane crash, which many of them blamed on the C.I.A. It looked suspicious, because an autonomous Tuareg region in the north of Niger threatened the plans of Exxon and other American oil and mining corporations to have a free hand in exploiting the region around Lake Chad.

This was followed by a famine, which was created not by a shortage of grain, but through the deregulation of the grain markets and the price of oil ordered by the I.M.F. and World Bank. The civilian government was then overthrown by a military coup in 2011, which suspended the constitution. The American government has a policy of not supporting governments that have come to power through military action. But Obama’s administration showed that they were as ready to embrace them, as they were to embrace the military regimes that had also seized power through C.I.A. sponsored coups in Honduras and Paraguay.

Then there was the NATO bombing of Libya and its assistance for the rebels, who overthrew and assassinated Colonel Gaddafi. As part of their policy of regime change, the American government also armed and gave aid to various Islamist groups connected to al-Qaeda. After the fall of Gaddafi’s government, these groups spread out across north Africa, and moved south across the Sahel down to Niger, to cause trouble to American corporations in the region in another example of the blowback that has come from terrorist groups armed as part of American imperialism.

Camp then goes to explain why Americans should care about the situation in Niger. It’s because this is where Americans’ tax dollars are going. He states that America now has a military government in charge. It is also another area in which America’s brave young men and women are fighting, and from where they’re coming back in coffins.

The clip concludes with comments from John Perkins, the author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, who states that after the Fall of the Soviet Union, America had the opportunity to practise good business practices around the world. They didn’t, and instead did exactly the opposite, promoting exploitation. As a result, the Chinese are stepping in to take advantage of the mistakes America has made.

The video’s entitled ‘What They Won’t Tell You About US Troops in NIGER’, and my guess is that they really aren’t going to be keen about the folks on this side of the Atlantic knowing about it either. Because whatever America is doing, we have to join in as part of the Special Relationship. Which means that we cling to our status as a world power by riding on the Americans’ coat-tails, acting as their poodle. Just as we did under Blair, and as we have done ever since World War II. And under Blair, we also sent ‘peace-keeping’ missions into West Africa – I think one of them was in Sierra Leone during their civil War in the late ’90s and early part of this century. So it really isn’t going to surprise me if it’s revealed that we’ve also got troops in there, or will have to send some in shortly if the situation escalates further.

As for the famine created by the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, that scenario has been played out in just about every country across the globe which has been forced to go to them for help. Way back in the 1990s there was a short film on Channel 4 about the IMF had trashed the economy of one of the countries in Southern Africa. The country was in dire economic straits, but had a healthy industry cultivating and exporting peanuts under government control. So the I.M.F. insisted that the industry be privatised and deregulated, with the result that the industry fell apart, creating more poverty and economic stagnation.

This isn’t the exception to the rule. This is the rule. Many of the countries in the Developing World, which have prospered, have done so precisely because they told the I.M.F. and World Bank where they could stick their recommendations. And these recommendations are always that industry should be privatised, deregulated and whatever there is of a welfare system should be cut back. Lobster has also described them as another important component of American imperialism, as they always recommend that the privatised industries should be sold to an American company.

Once again, American forces are being deployed in another part of the world to defend and expand American corporate interests against Chinese competition, and terrorist action by the same groups American armed against Colonel Gaddafi.
But the squaddies’ presence has been explained away as just being in an advisory role. Just like they were explained away in Vietnam.

The Humanist Report: Killary Gets Rough Reception in Wales

October 28, 2017

Which the American presenter pronounces as ‘Welch’ and ‘Welsh’, confusing the term for its people with the name of the country itself. But you can forgive him that because (1) he’s foreign, and (2) he loves the people of Welsh for standing up to Her Highness and telling her how it really was. And he also likes Matt Free of Channel 4 News for also asking Killary tough questions, which American pundits avoid.

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, Killary, who seems to think going around with a mass-murdering creature like Henry Kissinger is a badge of honour, has been going up and down on the Earth promoting her book like crazy. It’s called What Happened, and is basically her attempt to blame everyone but herself for her massive failure to win the election against a colossal moron like Donald Trump. She was Down Under a few weeks ago, giving the Aussies the benefit of her wisdom. Then she was over here, at the South Bank Centre, the Cheltenham Literary Festival and then Swansea University across the border, to receive an honorary degree. The Uni decided to grant her the honour for her work promoting women’s and children’s rights around the world. As the presenter here states, presumably they didn’t get the message that she voted for the Iraq War.

But all did not go smoothly for Kissinger’s fangirl. The students at Swansea actually booed her. And one young woman, a biochemistry student, Kirsty Lloyd, called out to her ‘Bernie would’ve won. He would’ve beaten Trump.’ Which he would have. He was in the lead against her in the polls, until she, Debbie Wasserman Schulz of the Democratic National Convention, and Donna Brasile, Clinton’s main woman in her team, managed to steal the presidential nomination from her.

Lloyd said afterwards

“Hillary Clinton cheated Bernie Sanders of his nomination. And all those drone strikes, which kill women and children are illegal contradict the reason she is being given a doctorate – which is for doing things for women and children all over the world. The main thing she’s done for women and children is kill them in drone strikes.”

And things didn’t get better when she was being interviewed by Matt Free. He reminded her that her share amongst women went down 1 per cent from 44 per cent under Obama to 43. Hillary then tried to rebut this by saying that it was only White women who became disillusioned with her. Overall she won amongst women. And she lost because gender is not yet a powerful factor in American elections as race is. The commenter on the Humanist Report states that this could only be the response of an American politician, who sees everything in terms of identity politics. He also points out that it’s also terribly insulting to Barack Obama, as it implies that he only won the election because he was Black.

Free goes on to make the point that she lost partly because of her background. She’d already been in office – sort of – as the First Lady with Bill Clinton, and so her membership of a political dynasty worked against her. And people didn’t like her as they saw her as an establishment candidate, in an age of revolution.

At which point Hillary goes off and drones on about how she led in all the debates, and was seen as the more intelligent, winning candidate. When he asks her, Clinton responds that she lost partly because of Steve Dromey and Russian ‘interference’.

The Report’s presenter again points out here how Killary has contradicted herself. She says she takes full responsibility for her failure, but then immediately blames other people. He also states that it’s great to see how people in the rest of the world don’t follow American pundits in fawning over their guests, asking easy questions. He liked the way Free made her squirm. He states that you don’t see politicians like Hillary pop up elsewhere in the world, because everywhere she’s seen as another sleazy, corrupt politician like all the others. Largely because of the dodgy dealings of the Clinton Foundation. But you do find politicians like Bernie Sanders appearing in other countries, like Jeremy Corbyn in Britain.

The presenter clearly makes some great points, though he and Free on Channel 4 could have challenged her about the so-called ‘interference’ from the Russians. They didn’t lose her the election. They were trying to interfere in the American election, but no more than they usually do. Crucially, they didn’t leak the incriminating emails to WikiLeaks. Those came from a Democratic insider disgruntled at her corruption.

As for her being the better candidate over Trump, he points out that Trump was trailing behind her and faced worse challenges than she did. In Utah a Mormon, Republican establishment candidate went independent to challenge Trump. And Trump faced another Republican challenger elsewhere, who took more votes away from him than Jill Stein did Hillary.

Hillary, her arrogance, corruption, and entitlement is responsible for her failings, not other people.

Except in one instance: the Electoral College. This swung overwhelmingly for Trump, despite the fact that Killary had three million votes more than he did at the popular level. And the College is an anti-democratic measure put into America’s bizarre and byzantine electoral system in the 19th century in order to give some political power to the southern, slave-holding states. If America was a genuine democracy, it would have vanished a long time ago. But it’s enshrined in America’s constitution, and so is preserved as part of the great wisdom of the patrician founders of the American political system. Who were all patricians with a real fear of power being grabbed by the White peasants and proles, let alone Blacks. They set up the Constitution to keep power in the hands of the monied, and so have built into the system the political paralysis that is stifling the forces for real change that America needs.

Raouf Halaby on Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ as Great Banned, Anti-War Book

September 29, 2017

There’s a great piece over at Counterpunch today by their contributor, the academic Raouf Halaby, on a celebration of banned books. One of the librarians at a local university celebrated Banned Books Week by holding a Banned Books Read-Out in the college amphitheatre. Students and teaching and non-teaching staff were invited to choose a banned book, and read from it for ten minutes. The librarian also provided 100 banned books from the university library to help people decided and participate.

Halaby himself chose Kurt Vonnegut’s SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five because of its powerful anti-war message, a message that is unfortunately still very pertinent five decades after he wrote it. The novel was written against the Vietnam War, and is about a man, who comes unstuck in time, going backwards and forwards into the past and future, but returns to 1945 and the infamous bombing of Dresden, before ending up in an alien zoo. Vonnegut himself had been an American squaddie during World War II, and he and his fellows were in Dresden when it was bombed. They had been captured as P.O.W.s, and were imprisoned in a converted abattoir called ‘Schlachthof Funf’ – ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ – during the bombing. Vonnegut was a great master of irony and black humour, and I’m very sure he saw the dark humour in having been saved from a bombing raid that killed an entire town while shut up in a slaughterhouse.

Halaby states that his mother was a quaker, and that’s possibly where he gets his anti-war ideas from. But he was a soldier, and dedicated his reading of Vonnegut’s great work to some of his army buddies, who were killed in Vietnam. As for the book’s continuing relevance today, he writes

For my ten minutes, I selected Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed Slaughterhouse Five for the following reasons: 1. Since the end of WWII the U.S. has waged war on the Korean Peninsula, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and at least half a dozen more countries around the globe. 2 Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has, at long last, forced us to engage in some serious soul searching, and a much needed conversation about the many lies, mistakes, and atrocities of this war, thus providing an opportunity to reach out to the hundreds of thousands who served in Vietnam as well as those who opposed the war and helped bring it to an end. 3. The U.S. is still using its superior military power, a disproportionate, scorch earth power that incinerates thousands of precious lives in faraway lands, and a power that pulverizes entire nation states. 4. Recent threats of unleashing the “fire and fury” of nuclear weaponry poses a grave danger to humanity. 5. Innocent civilians seem to always be in the sights of machine guns, missiles, and now, drones and MOABs . 6. Those who order soldiers to wade into the hades of military adventures do so under the guise of national security; waging a war is, after all, a pernicious flag-waving pathway to furthering political careers; gullible voters continue to buy into war snake oil. 7. And finally, I have seen firsthand the ravages of war and the devastating effects wars have had on individuals, communities, nations, and regions. I have inherited my mother’s Quaker values.

Much of his article is a long passage from the book, presumably the one he read out, describing the author’s experience in Dresden and their imprisonment in the slaughterhouse, and how it shows the brutality and inhumanity of war. All war. And makes the case that ordinary bombing with conventional weapons can kill as many people as nuclear bombs. A bombing raid on Tokyo with ordinary bombs one night killed 84,000 + people, while 79,000 + people were incinerated at Nagasaki. Not that this makes nuclear weapons any better, and they’ve gone on to vastly outstrip the destructive power of conventional weaponry. He also makes the point that war is evil, but the people, who commit the acts of mass death may be perfectly normal, otherwise decent people.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/29/dont-let-them-ban-our-books/

I don’t know if Vonnegut’s book was ever banned, though I don’t doubt that it’s anti-war stance and biting satire was extremely unpopular amongst the right and the military. It was so popular, that it was made into a movie in 1972, though critics like John Clute have said it does not equal the book. Vonnegut passed away a few years ago. However, he was still a trenchant critic of American politics and society right to the end. I remember reading a newspaper article in which he made his opinions of George W. Bush, then the US president, very clear.

Secular Talk: Jeremy Scahill Criticises American Pro-War Journalism

April 13, 2017

This is another piece criticising the pro-War slant of American news, this time from Secular Talk. The host, Kyle Kulinski, comments on the appearance of the respected journalist Jeremy Scahill on CNN’s Reliable Sources. Scahill was asked by the programme’s male anchor if he believed Americans had been desensitised to the war in Syria through media coverage. Scahill attacked Trump for giving even more leeway to bomb and invade the countries of the Middle East in campaigns, which had killed civilians. In March alone, according to one group monitoring airstrikes, the US military had killed 1,000 civilians in Iraq. Trump had also supported military intervention in Syria for a long time, and there had been strikes made by special ops forces as well as normal ‘boots on the ground’. He had also supplied intelligence and arms to the Saudis for the war in Yemen, which was also claiming innocent lives.

Scahill stated that CNN needed to withdraw all appearances from retired generals and colonels, because they were pushing the war. He also attacked two journalists in particular, Fareed Zakaria and Brian Williams, for their outrageous enthusiasm for the war. He states that Zakaria would have sex with a cruise missile if he could, and criticised Williams for his ‘obscene’ quotation of Leonard Cohen.

Kulinski remarks on how Scahill seems to have been aged by his experiences making a film in which he talked to people in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, who had been the victims of drone strikes. He points out how a simple Google search will show that Trump doesn’t care about protecting civilians, as he claims. He said he wanted to kill the families of terrorists as well as the terrorists themselves. In his raid on Yemen, he killed an eight year old American girl, as well as 35 other innocent victims, in a raid that Obama had considered would cost too many innocent lives. 200 civilians have also died in a recent air strike in Mosul. Kulinski makes the point that there has been a 432 per cent rise in drone strikes. Trump is also aiding Saudi Arabia, who have blockaded Yemen. As a result of this, 17 million Yemenis are facing starvation. As for chemical weapons, America has given white phosphorus, a truly horrific weapon, to the Saudis for Yemen and Israel, which has used it in Gaza. Kulinski points out that the media is now part of the military-industrial complex. They don’t check their sources, and they have on retired generals and colonels, who are on the payroll of the arms companies. Kulinski praises Scahill for cutting through all the corporate, pro-war bullsh*t, but says that means that Scahill probably won’t be coming back to CNN any time soon.

I’ve put this up as I think it is interesting and heartening that some journalists are attacking the mainstream media for their bias in promoting an American invasion of Syria, and the obscenity of Brian Williams’ quotation of Leonard Cohen. I wonder what Cohen himself would have thought of it, if he were alive today. I don’t know what his personal politics were, but the people I knew, who were fans of his were leftie liberal types, who hated war.

William Blum on the Police Bombing of Black Americans

February 9, 2017

I found this passage in William Blum’s America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy absolutely mind-blowing as it says so much about Reaganite and post-Reaganite America’s willingness to use deadly force, regardless of who gets killed, and the militarisation of the police.

In the chapter on human rights and torture, Blum discusses the continuing misuse of American drone strikes to assassinate terrorist leaders. These are notorious, as most of the victims so far have been civilians, including women and children. Blum mentions that Amnesty International has protested several times against their use. He makes the point that drones are only ever used against poor countries, like Yemen and Pakistan, and would never be used against America’s allies in the Developed world, like Britain. But bomb strikes have been used by the police in America against terrorists in poor Black neighbourhoods, with the resulting massive loss of innocent lives and destruction of people’s homes. He writes

Can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a house in Paris or London or Ottawa because they suspected that high-ranking al-Qaeda members were present there? Even if the US knew of their presence for an absolute fact, and was not just acting on speculation, as in the Predator cases mentioned above? Well, they most likely would not attack, but can we put anything past Swaggering-Superarrogant-Superpower-Cowboys-on-steroids? After all, they’ve already done it to their own – US drone attack killed two American citizens in Yemen in 2011, and on May 13, 1985, a bomb dropped by a police helicopter over Philadelphia, Pennsylvania burned down an entire block, some sixty homes destroyed, eleven dead, including several small children.. The police, the mayor’s office, and the FBI were all involved in this operation to evict an organization called MOVE from the house they lived in.

The victims in Philadelphia were all black of course. So let’s rephrase the question: can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a residential area of Beverly Hills or the Upper East Side of Manhattan? Stay tuned. (p. 127).

No, of course they wouldn’t.

But what in the name of Heaven is a police force doing with bombs? This whole affair reads like something from a dystopian SF novel. You know, something like Stephen King’s The Running Man, which was set in a Fascist America where the cops shoot people rioting to get bread. That one was filmed in the 1980s with Arnie. Or The Hunger Games. It does not sound like the actions of a responsible democracy based on ‘justice for all’.

I’m not disputing that sometimes it is necessary to use force against armed, violent criminals and terrorists. But I am absolutely amazed that the US police was militarised to the extent that the used bombs. As for the victims being Black, that explains so much about why so many Blacks in America hate the police, and the entire point behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

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.

RUR Performed by Lego Robots in Prague

October 24, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece discussing the similarities between the humanoids in H.B.O.’s WestWorld SF TV series, based on the 1970s film of the same name by Michael Crichton, and R.U.R., the 1920’s play by Czech writer, Karel Capek, which introduced the word ‘robot’ to the English language. In both WestWorld and RUR, the robots are actually closer to the replicants of Blade Runner, in that rather than being machines, they’re biological constructs produced artificially through the processes of industrial manufacturing. Capek’s play has been produced many times, and its theme of a robot rebellion against humanity has been one of the dominant themes in Science Fiction. It’s most famous treatment has been in the Terminator films, in which a virus infects the Skynet computer system, causing it to revolt against humanity, unleashing an army of killer drones and humanoid robotic soldiers.

I found this short video on YouTube. It’s about a production of R.U.R. staged last year, 2015, at the Czech republic’s national gallery in Prague by Café Neu Romance, and directed by Christian Gjorret. Gjorret is a member of the group, Vive Les Robots, which has been set up to get the public interested in robots and robotics. The theatre company took the unusual step of performing the play entirely with robots, made out of the commercially available lego kits available in toy shops.

It’s an interesting approach, even if it means that the physical scale of the performance is rather small. I think there’s an opportunity to stage the play on a much grander scale, using life-size animatronic robots. There is, after all, a robot band called Compressorhead, which plays cover versions of various Rock and Heavy Metal tracks. The ABC Warrior, which appeared in the 1995 Judge Dredd film was also genuinely robotic. It also looked to me very much like a real robot was used to show C3PO’s mechanical nature, when R2D2’s metal mate made his first appearance being built by Anakin Skywalker in the first of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace. The problem with staging such a production would be the immense cost. Animatronics aren’t cheap. The operators of the Ry’gel puppet in the SF series Farscape said in an interview that the portable version of the character cost as much as a car, while the studio version was even more expense, and cost the equivalent of a house. Nevertheless, I think if it could be staged, it would be a fascinating and genuinely thought-provoking experiment. If nothing else, it would show how near we are to creating some of these machines, and how pressing and prescient some of the SF stories dealing with the issues of Artificial Intelligence, freedom, and the survival of humanity faced with machines, which may be its superior, are.

Here’s the video:

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.

Secular Talk: Clip of Maggie Thatcher Praising Mujahideen in 1981

September 14, 2016

This is another sharp reminder of how much of the present mess the world’s in can be directly traced back to the policies of Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Despite the fact that both are great, molten gods against whom no word must be spoken amongst Conservatives over here and Republicans in the US. Kyle Kulinski begins the segment by showing a clip of Maggie Thatcher praising the mujahideen in Afghanistan in 1981, calling them freedom fighters, stating that they have the support of everyone who believes in freedom back in Britain, and promising another £2 million. In case viewers get confused, and believes that this is part of the kind of conspiracies Alex Jones regularly screams about on Infowars, that it’s all some kind of establishment plot with the Devil and UFO aliens to destroy and enslave the world, Kulinski supplies some context. This was a time when the USSR had invaded Afghanistan, and working on the assumption that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, America, Britain and the west started funding the militant Islamists to fight a proxy war.

Kulinski uses the clip to make the point that just as that error of judgement had disastrous consequences for decades after, so we’re making the same mistakes now. America and the west are still supporting hardline, intolerant Islam in the form of Saudi Arabia and Erdogan’s Turkey. Saudi Arabia is vehemently intolerant, and is responsible for the spread of the brutal Islamist ideology. And the US and the west are also supporting the Islamists, in the form of the al-Nusrah Front, which is another branch of al-Qaeda, in Syria. Why? Because Assad is allied with Iran, the West’s enemy, and also the Russians, who, despite the Fall of Communism, are still our enemy.

We haven’t learned anything. Kulinski points this out as a rejoinder for those right-wingers, who rant about the ‘regressive left’. No, it’s not the Left, who are making the same mistakes.

He also produces a few more embarrassing photos. One shows Ronald Reagan meeting members of the Mujahideen in the White House. The other is a newspaper article from 1983 praising Osama bin Laden as a religious warrior ‘on the road to peace’.

Kulinski responds to his critics, who have accused him of ignoring Islam as the source of this violence, by stating that he is very much aware that extremist, fundamentalist Islam is part of the problem. However, there are ways to counteract it, without bombing anyone. Like freezing the Islamists’ bank accounts, and not selling them arms. He illustrates this point with a newspaper headline about 90 per cent of people killed by drones being the wrong people.

Everything Kulinski says in this video is absolutely correct. But he could also have gone further. Reagan and the rest of his gang of New Cold War thugs at the time were told what would happen by the Russians. The Russian ambassador actually told one of Reagan’s team responsible for arming and funding the mujahideen that after they’d finished with the Russians, they’d come for the Americans. The Soviet ambassador was exactly right. This is precisely what happened with the attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the White House on 9/11. The Reagan’s hagiographers cannot say the old butcher wasn’t told.

And as Kulinski says, nothing’s changed in the meantime. The Tories are still following this murderous, stupid policy. The I newspaper today has reminded everyone that David Cameron is responsible for the current mess in Libya. But he was also one of those backing further airstrikes in Syria, though Private Eye has pointed out that he tended to send the planes in only at times when someone else, usually the Americans, had complained that Britain wasn’t doing enough.

And as Mike has pointed out in his critique of today’s report on Cameron’s legacy in Syria, that’s only one disaster for which he’s responsible. His whole administration was responsible for other persecution and suffering in Britain, amongst the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and the working class, who he has impoverished and exploited with welfare cuts and the imposition of highly exploitative working practices.

Which also follows a long Tory tradition, going all the way back to Maggie Thatcher and beyond.

It’s high time they were thrown out of power, and replaced with an administration genuinely determined to improve the lives of the unemployed, the sick and working people in Britain, and use peaceful means to stamp out the spread of murderous extremism abroad.