Posts Tagged ‘Koch Brothers’

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

July 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open University Course Book on Climate Change

July 23, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I found a copy of a course book for the Open University’s series on climate change. I didn’t buy it, because I’ve got enough books I’m reading already. And I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it, except that the first name of one of the authors was ‘Kiki’.

However, I think it’s worth mentioning just to let people know that this literature is out there. Donald Trump and his fellow anti-science fanatics in the White House are trying to suppress all the evidence relating to climate change, and gag and sack the federal scientists researching it. Within months of his election he had inserted clauses in their contracts, which forbid them to publish academic papers supporting climate change. Now, according to one of the left-wing American news sites I follow, he’s decimated the number of employees and researchers within the American civil service dealing with climate change to the point where the federal office is basically empty.

All this is for the benefit of the Republican party’s corporate donors, particularly in big oil, led by the Koch Brothers. The gruesome twosome have tried to suppress investigation and research in climate change and environmental damage by campaigning for the closure of federal and university laboratories. Once these have been closed, the Koch brothers then donate money to the universities to relaunch the labs, but with a different focus which avoids these issues.

The last thing the fossil fuel industries want is Americans getting clean, green, renewable energy, which is why they’re also trying to pass legislation outlawing it and penalizing those Americans who use it. And they really, really don’t want ordinary Americans realizing just how much the planet is being trashed, thanks to industrialists like the Kochs.

The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/17/uc-gives-disabled-people-just-two-years-to-find-a-job-or-lose-everything/

This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/disabled-mp-accuses-tories-of-eugenics-is-that-why-they-wont-let-him-take-a-seat/

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.

Apollo Astronaut Michael Collins on Sexism, the Fragile Earth and Banning Guns in Space Colonies

July 13, 2017

Last week I put up a post about a clip of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, pulling faces at a rambling, incoherent speech made by Donald Trump. Trump was signing into law an act affirming America’s commitment to the space programme. His speech about it was less than inspiring however, and Aldrin, who not only went to the Moon himself, but has also been a staunch supporter of opening the High Frontier up to ordinary women and men, was very definitely less than impressed.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story, written by the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins. Collins was the pilot, who flew the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon, and then waited in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing, before flying back with them on the return journey to Earth. The book is Collin’s account of how he came to be astronaut. Determined to be a pilot after being allowed to hold the joystick of a passenger aircraft on which he and his family were travelling as a child, he joined the USAF and became a test pilot. He then moved on to join NASA’s space programme. He describes the rigorous training required, and his first flight into space with John Young in Gemini 10 in July 1966. He also explains how he came, reluctantly, to leave the astronaut programme for a variety of reasons, not least was the way it was stopping him from spending time with his family. And in his final chapter he, like Aldrin, looks forward to the future spread of humanity throughout the Solar system and beyond, with humans going to Mars and then Titan, a moon of Saturn, which may hold the key to the origin of life.

This isn’t an explicitly political book. Nevertheless, Collins does comment on specific issues as they affect the racial and gender composition of the astronaut programme, his perspective on the importance of the environment and why he believes guns would be banned by the inhabitants of a space colony. These are all issues which Trump, his supporters and donors in the gun manufacturers and lobbyists would strongly oppose.

In the passage where he discusses how he and the other astronauts became part of a panel, whose job was to select a fresh batch of astronauts, makes a point of explaining why only white men were selected. He then goes on to comment that although this was what was done at the time, he believes and hope that this will change, and that Blacks and women are just as capable of flying air- and spacecraft equally well. He points out that the highly technological nature of modern aircraft means that there is absolutely no biological obstacle to women piloting such high performance machines. He writes

Note that I have said “he”, because there were no women in the group, nor where there any blacks. In thinking about that, it seems to me that there were plenty of women and blacks who could get the highest marks in categories 1 and 4 [their intelligence and how badly they wanted to be astronauts], but in 1966 categories 2 and 3 [education and experience] tended to rule them out. There simply did not seem to be aeronautical engineers and experienced test pilots, who were black or women. I think, and hope, that will change in the future. Flying a modern jet aircraft does not require a great deal of strength, for one thing. Hydraulic flight controls, like power steering in a car, prefer a light touch, and women should do as good a job as men. Obviously, an airplane has now way of telling the skin colour of the person flying it. (pp. 72-3. My comments in brackets).

He describes how looking at the Earth from space made him aware how fragile it was, and of the importance of preserving the environment.

I will never forget how beautiful the earth appears from a great distance, floating silently and serenely like a blue and white marble against the pure black of space. For some reason, the tiny earth also appears very fragile, as if a giant hand could suddenly reach out and crush it. Of course, there is no one giant hand, but there are billions of smaller hands on earth, working furiously to change their home. Some of the changes being made are good, and others bad. For example, we are learning more efficient ways of catching fish, and that is good because it means more people can be fed from the oceans. If, on the other hand, these new methods result in the disappearance of species, such as whales, then that is bad. The automobile gives us great mobility, but pollutes our atmosphere. We cook cleanly and efficiently with natural gas, but we are running short of it. Newspapers and books spread knowledge, but require that trees be chopped down. It seems that nearly every advance in our civilisation has some undesirable side effects, Today’s young people are going to have to acquire the wisdom to see that future changes help our planet, not hurt it, so that it truly becomes the beautiful, clean, blue and white pea it seems to be when viewed from the moon. The earth truly is fragile, in the sense that its surface can easily shift from blue and white to black and brown. Is the riverbank a delightful spot to watch diving ducks, or is it lifeless greasy muck littered with bottles and tires? More people should be privileged to fly in space and get the chance to see the fragile earth as it appears from afar.
(p. 146).

Further on in the book, he states that future orbiting settlements would get their power from solar energy, as this would not only be abundant and free, but also clean, unlike coal. (pp. 150-1).

He also remarks on the way the Apollo missions differed from previous historic expeditions in that the explorers were unarmed, and suggests that the future inhabitants of a space colony at one of the libration points where the gravity of the Earth and Moon cancel each other out, and so named ‘Libra’, would similarly see no need for carrying weapons.

Apollo set a precedent for the future in another interesting way. It was probably the only major human expedition in which no weapons were carried. In similar fashion, no weapons would be permitted on Libra and Librans simply would not be able to understand why earth people continued to shoot one another. On Libra, if people felt hostile, they would be urged to put their energies into athletic contests or other competitive events, or simply to let off steam by going flying.

He then describes how the lower or zero gravity in the colony would allow people to fly aircraft power by their own muscles. (pp. 154-5).

Most of this is, or at least should be, non-controversial. Scientists have been warning us about the immense danger to our ecosystem, and the horrific decline in its natural wildlife as more and more habitats are destroyed, and an increasing number of species threatened with extinction, since the early ’70s. Among those warning of the ecological perils to the planet was the inspirational astronomer and NASA scientist, Carl Sagan. And indeed, one of the most powerful images that stimulated ecological awareness and the burgeoning Green movement was that picture of the Earth as a fragile, blue orb hanging in the blackness of space taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. Way back in the mid-1990s the Beeb’s popular science programme, Horizon, devoted an edition, ‘Icon Earth’, to how this photo had influenced politics and culture.

The picture hasn’t just made more people aware of the urgent need to protect the environment. Some of the astronauts have spoken about how it brought home to them how artificial racial and national divisions are. They point out that there are now boundaries visible from space. Helen Sharman, the British astronaut who flew with the Russians to Mir in the 1980s, states in her book about her voyage that space helps to foster international understanding and cooperation. She observes that astronauts are the least nationalistic people.

As for guns, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that shooting in the enclosed environment of space habitat could have truly disastrous consequences through the damage it could do to the machinery and fabric of the colony itself, and their ability to preserve human life in the harsh environment of space. A bullet through the outer skin of a spacecraft could lead the escape of its air, causing those within to die of suffocation and decompression.

Trump, however, is supported by the racist and misogynist Alt Right, who would like to roll back Black Civil Rights and women’s social and political gains since the 1960s, while the Republican party as a whole is generously funded by the NRA and the gun lobby, and the Koch brothers and other industrial magnates. The Koch brothers own much of the American petrochemical industry, and so, like many of the other multimillionaire businessmen, are very strongly opposed to any kind of environmental protection. The Kochs in particular are responsible for closing down awkward parts of the American meteorology and environmental science laboratories when they dare to issue warnings about the damage industry is causing to the country’s natural beauty and wildlife. They are then replaced with other institutions, also funded by the Kochs and those like them, which then conveniently deny the reality of climate change. The Republicans and their supporters in industry have also set up fake ‘astroturf’ Green movements, like Wise Use, which seek to undermine the genuine environmental movement.

Given the way the experience of looking back at our beautiful planet from space has transformed political, social and cultural perspectives all across the world, you can understand why some astronauts just might feel they have excellent reasons for pulling faces at their president.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In

April 2, 2017

London: Profile Books 2016

Bernie Sanders is the ‘democratic socialist’ senator for Vermont, who ran against Hillary Clinton last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. He didn’t get it. Although he had more grass roots support than Killary, he was cheated of the nomination through the intervention of the Democrat superdelegates, who massively favoured her. He is the man, who should now be occupying the White House, rather than the gurning orange lump of narcissistic Fascism now doing his best to drag the country back to before the Civil War. The polls show that Bernie could have beaten Trump. But he wasn’t elected, as Bernie’s far too radical for the corporate state created by the Republican and mainstream, Clintonite Dems.

How radical can be seen from this book. It’s part autobiography, part manifesto. In the first part, Sanders talks about his youth growing up in Brooklyn, how he first became interested and aware of politics as a student at Chicago University, his political career in Vermont, and his decision to run for as a presidential candidate. This part of the book also describes his campaigning, as he crisscrossed America holding rallies, talking at town hall and union meetings, appearing on TV and social media trying to get votes. A strong feature of the book is Bernie’s emphasis on his background as one of the country’s now threatened lower middle class. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who worked as paint salesman. He and his family lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, where conditions were cramped so that they often slept on couches. He freely admits that his parents were also relatively affluent and had more disposable income than others.

After having left uni, he began his political career in Vermont in 1971 when he joined and campaigned for the senate in the Liberty Union party, a small third party in the state. During the same period he also ran a small company producing educational films on the history of Vermont and other states in New England. Finding out that none of the college students he spoke to had ever heard of Eugene Victor Debs, he went and brought one out on the great American labour leader and socialist politician. On the advice of a friend and college professor, Richard Sugarman, Sanders ran for election as mayor of Burlington. He won, introducing a number of important welfare, educational and municipal reforms he called ‘socialism in one city’, a play on Stalin’s slogan of ‘Socialism in One Country’. He was strongly opposed by the Democrats. A few years afterwards, however, he was elected to Congress as an Independent, where, despite some resistance from the Democrats, he was finally admitted to the Democratic Caucus. In 2006 he ran for senator, contested the seat vacated by the Republican, Jim Jeffords, who had retired. By 2013 he was being urged by his supporters to campaign for the presidential nomination. To gauge for himself how much support he was likely to receive, Sanders went across America talking to ordinary folks across the country. After this convinced him that he had a chance, he began to campaign in earnest.

At the beginning of his campaign for the nomination, Sanders was very much the outsider, getting 15 per cent of the votes polled to Clinton’s 60 per cent. Then he started winning, climbing up the ladder as he took something like seven out of eight states in a row. The corporatist wing of the Democrats did everything they could to block his rise, culminating in the theft of the nomination through the intervention of the superdelegates.

Sanders is a champion of the underdog. He garnered much support by going to communities, speaking to the poor and excluded, often in very underprivileged neighbourhoods where the police and security guards were worried about his safety. He spoke in a poor, multiracial community in New York’s South Bronx, and to poor Whites in rural Mississippi. The latter were a part of the American demographic that the Democrats traditionally believed were impossible to win. Sanders states that actually speaking to them convinced him that they were way more liberal than the political class actually believe. During a talk to a group of local trade unionists, Sanders asked why people in such a poor area voted Republican against their interests. This was one of a number of counties in the state, that was so poor that they didn’t even have a doctor. The union leader told him: racism. The Republicans played on Whites’ hatred of Blacks, to divide and rule the state’s working people.

Sanders makes very clear his admiration for trade unions and their members, and how frequently they know far better than the politicians what is not only good for their members, but also good for the industry, their customers, and their country. He praises the nurses’ unions, who have endorsed his campaign and backed his demand for a Medicaid for all. He similarly praises the workers and professionals maintaining America’s infrastructure. This is massively decaying. 25 per cent of American bridges are, according to surveyors, functionally obsolete. Towns all over America, like Flint in Michigan, have had their water poisoned by negligent water companies. The electricity grid is also unspeakably poor. It’s ranked 35th worst in the world, behind that of Barbados. Yep! If you want to go to a country with a better electricity network, then go to that poor Caribbean country.

He describes how the poor in today’s America pay more for less. Drug prices are kept artificially high by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, so that many poor Americans can’t afford them. In one of the early chapter, he describes leading a group of women from Vermont over the Canadian border, so that they could buy prescription drugs cheaper. These same companies, like the rest of the big corporations, do everything they can to avoid paying tax. In some cases, these big corporations pay absolutely none. This is because of the corruption of American politics by donations from big business. As a result, the country’s politicians don’t represent the ordinary voters. They represent big business. He makes it clear he respects Hillary Clinton, but ran against her because you can’t combine representing ordinary people with taking money from the corporate rich. And at the heart of this corruption is the Koch brothers, oil magnates with a personal wealth of $82 billion and a corporate wealth of $115. They are not, explains Bernie, small government conservatives, but right-wing extremists. Their goal is to dismantle taxation completely, along with Medicaid and what little the country has of a welfare state. All so that the 1 per cent, who own as much as the poorest 90 per cent of the American population, can get even richer.

Sanders goes further to describe the massive inequalities that are now dividing American society, including the racism and sexism that ensures that women, Blacks and Latinos are paid less than White men. The notorious drug laws that have ensured that more Blacks are jailed for marijuana and other drugs than Whites. The crippling debt that faces more and more Americans. 48 million Americans are in poverty. 24 million have no health insurance. Many of these are people, who are in work, and frequently working their rear ends off just to make ends meet. He describes talking to a charity worker, who purchases just out of date food to give to the local food bank. According to the young man he spoke to, 90 per cent of the people using the bank are working Americans, whose jobs pay so little that they literally can’t afford to eat. In this section of the book he quotes a letter from a woman, who states that she and her husband are work 2 and 3 jobs each, but still can’t make a living. As a result, the young can’t afford to buy their houses, or go to university. He contrasts this with the situation in the 1950s. It wasn’t utopia, and there was still massive inequalities in wealth according to race and gender. But the economy was expanding, more people had the prospect of good, well-paying jobs, owning their own homes, and sending their children to college. This America is disappearing. Fast.

Sanders has given his support to women’s groups, and is a very staunch anti-racism campaigner. Amongst those who backed his campaign were Harry Belafonte and Dr. Cornel West, among other Afro-American intellectuals, performers and politicians. He also received the support of a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Seth MacFarlane and Danny DeVito. And comic book fans everywhere with genuinely progressive values will be delighted to here that his campaign manager ran a comic book store in Vermont. Presumably this guy is completely different from the owner of the Android’s Dungeon in The Simpsons. Sanders talks about his support for the Civil Rights movement, and Selma march, paying due tribute to its heroes and heroines, including Dr. Martin Luther King. He’s also a keen supporter of Black Lives Matter, the Black movement to stop cops getting away with the murder of Black people. As part of his campaign against racism, he also actively supports the campaign against the demonization of Muslims and rising tide of Islamophobia in America. When he was asked whether he would support this by a Muslim American, Sanders replied that he would, as his own father’s family were Jewish refugees from Poland.

Sanders is also strongly opposed to the current wars in the Middle East. He was not in favour of Gulf War 1 in the 1990s, and has attacked the invasion of Iraq under Bush for destabilising the country and region, and causing massive carnage. But he was no supporter of Saddam Hussein, and is also a staunch supporter of veterans, adding his political clout to their campaigns to stop the government cutting their benefits. He points out that the blame for these wars lie with the politicos, not the soldiers who had fight.

Bernie also takes worker ownership very seriously. Among the policies that he recommends for saving and expanding the American middle class are strengthening workers’ cooperatives and allowing workers to purchase their companies. One of the measures he states he will introduce will be to establish a bank to lend funds to American workers so that they can buy their own companies. He also wants to end the ‘too big to fail’ attitude to the big banks and start regulating them again. And as part of his campaign to strengthen and expand American democracy, he is a very harsh critic of the various laws the Republicans have introduced in states across America to stop Blacks, Latinos, the poor and students from voting. He also asks why it is that European countries can afford free medical care, but America can’t. And why Germany can provide college education free to its students, while Americans are faced with a mountain of debt.

Sanders is a genuine American radical in the tradition of Eugene Debs. It’s no wonder that the rich and the powerful now trying to pull the country back into the colonial era, when it was ruled by coterie of rich White men. He states that his country is now an oligarchy, and even a ‘banana republic’. He’s right, and right about the ways these issues can and should be tackled.

The Republicans have also tried to deter people from voting for him based on his apparent lack of interest in religion. They couldn’t attack him for being Jewish – although with those monsters Spencer and Gorka in the White House, I don’t know how long that will hold – so insinuated that he was an atheist. Well perhaps. But Sanders does have religious supporters. His friend and support Richard Sugarman is an Hasidic Jew and Sanders himself several times states how impressed he is with Pope Francis’ support for the global poor. He also made it clear in a speech he gave to the very Conservative Liberty University that he was impressed with the good in all religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, whatever. So he’s secular, but not anti-religious. Just anti-bigotry, and the way the right is trying to use religion to divide America.

It’s also remarkable that Sanders was the focus of a popular phenomenon far beyond his own campaign team. He states in the book that he wanted to control the campaign, and not have a SuperPAC telling people what he didn’t or didn’t believe. But he also found that up and down America, people at the grassroots were organising independently of his campaign team to support him. Unlike the astroturf fake populist campaign the Republicans and Libertarians have set up, Bernie’s genuinely popular with a growing number of American working people.

America desperately needs him. And so do we in Britain. The predatory, parasitical capitalism at the heart of American society has also been exported over here by the Conservatives. Just like the Americans need Bernie, we need Corbyn. And we need the two together, because if Bernie can do anything to stop the current political degeneration in America, it will also help stop the process over here.

Incidentally, Bernie has a personal connection with Britain. His brother is a member of the Green party in Oxfordshire, and campaigns against the privatisation of the NHS. Sanders also has a strong interest in protecting the environment and promoting renewable energy.

I also recommend this book to aspiring young politicos because of the chapters in which he talks about running a campaign, funded by your own supporters, not corporate backers, and what you need to do when running about the country. Like making sure you can get there in time and aren’t double-booked. It’s good advice, and although the latter seems obvious, he talks about a number of incidents in which he disastrously failed to follow it.

Sanders talks about the way people are being turned off politics in America, thanks to the massive corporate corruption. This also reaches into corporate media. Sanders also has a few ideas how they can be reformed. He himself was the subject of a media blackout, as the TV and news companies definitely did not want to cover him, and very much favoured Killary. Hopefully Bernie’s book will reach more of the alienated folk now being excluded from American politics, and show them that there is someone actively fighting for them. And so encourage them to get involved for themselves.

The Empire File’s Abby Martin on Trump’s Advisor, Steve Bannon

March 22, 2017

In this video from Telesur’s The Empire Files, Abby Martin discusses the repugnant rise on Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart and pillar of the Alt Right now serving as the chief advisor in Trump’s cabinet. She describes how Bannon began his career as an officer in the US navy. An ardent militarist with a love for war and staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan, Bannon was nevertheless disappointed at not seeing active combat as the conflict he was hoping for with Iran did not materialise. He left the navy to work in the US financial industry for Goldman Sachs, before leaving them to form his own investment house. He got the job with Goldman Sachs after personally meeting the first head. After selling his investment company two years later, he began making right-wing documentary films. These are apocalyptic dystopias of a collapsing America under assault from armies of criminals. But they weren’t successful beyond the restricted circles of the Tea Party. So in 2004 he moved to working for an internet company, IGE, or Internet Gaming Entertainment. This made its money from paying people to mine the Virtual resources in internet game such as World of Warcraft to sell to the games’ players. Bannon managed to convince Goldman Sachs to plough $60 million into this fantasy world. However, IGE was run by some ‘highly problematic’ people. Its founder, Marc Collins-Rector, was wanted for child rape, and eventually all three of the company heads were sued for the abuse of underage boys. Eventually IGE itself collapsed, sued in a class action by games.

A new company, Affinity Media, rose from the remains of IGE. Bannon overthrew the head of this company and replaced him with himself. He then left it a few years later to work for Breitbart.

The film also discusses his abusive second marriage to Mary Louise Bacard, whom he married after she became pregnant. Bannon postponed marrying her until only three days before she gave birth, stating that he wasn’t going to marry her unless the children were normal. Fortunately, amniocentesis scans showed they were. He did not pay much attention to his two newborn daughters and refused to pay child maintenance. Less than a year into the marriage, a domestic argument broke out between Bannon and Bacard, which ended with Bannon becoming violent and trying to strangle her. The police had to be called, and Bannon was charged with domestic misdemeanour, battery and witness intimidation. The trial broke down, however, as Bacard did not appear in court. Bacard divorced him, and later revealed that Bannon and his lawyers had threatened to ruin her life if she pursued the charges against him. After the divorce, Bacard also had the terms of Bannon’s visitation rights to their children changed after she caught him hitting one of the 17 month old babies. She also said that he argued with her in front of them and that she did not feel safe.

It is not just his wife he has abused. He has also been charged with the coarse verbal abuse of female employees.

Martin also goes into Bannon’s opportunist support for Conservative and reactionary political movements, which he thought he could promote as vehicles for his own views, such as the Tea Party and then Sarah Palin, about whom he made a documentary. Curiously, this does not include an interview with Palin herself.

Bannon became friends with Andrew Breitbart, the news agency’s founder, because of their shared love of reactionary media. Breitbart even admiringly referred to Bannon as ‘the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party’, referring to the Nazi propagandist who directed Triumph of the Will, about the Nuremberg rally and an equally celebratory account of the Munich Olympics. Breitbart was a protégé of Matt Drudge, the creator of the Drudge Report, who converted the style and approach of Conservative talk radio, in which subjects were discussed in a manner unsuitable for television, to the internet. Drudge took other media stories, but manipulated their headlines and contents to fit its bias against the progressive Left, women, the working class and ethnic minorities. Along with Bannon, Drudge also picked up and promoted the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. She notes that while Jones is viewed as an internet ‘sideshow’, he has an audience of millions that hang on his every word. Bannon was brought into Breitbart to encourage outside investment into it. But the company was itself experiencing severe problems. These stems from it being blacklisted after it manipulated footage of a female government employee to make it appear that she was advocating violence against Whites. After Breitbart’s death, Bannon took over the leadership of that company too. He then set up the Government Accountability Institute, which issues spurious reports alleging government conspiracies. These include the allegation that protest movements are secretly funded by the government. Among the millionaires supporting Breitbart is Robert Mercer, the investment banker who ran anti-Muslim ads attacking the Ground Zero Mosque and advocating the death penalty, and who has one of the largest private collections of machine guns. Other donors included the billionaire Koch brothers. Martin notes how the Institute acted to allow these millionaires to launder money, which could be invested in Breitbart. The money donated to the IGA was then used to pay the wages of Breitbart employees, which is illegal.

Ex-employees have stated that Bannon has a tight, dictatorial control of the company and expects both journalists and guests to follow his editorial line. Among those, who have been published in his organisation are the anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller, Michael O’Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, and the bigot and paedophile enabler, Milo Yiannopolis. She shows how the site manipulates and aggregates news stories to attack Blacks and Muslims. Following the rise of massive anti-Muslim feeling in Europe, Breitbart has focused on promoting and playing on this fear. Breitbart’s audience is mainly angry White men, and the organisation’s audience figures shot up from 8 million to 18 million after the election of Donald Trump.

Martin discusses how Bannon has also attacked traditional Conservativism, stating that he wants to destroy the traditional Republican party as well as everything left of it. He is a populist, but only defends and promotes the White working class. He rejects ‘globalism’ in favour of economic nationalism. She states how this has been used by extreme right-wing regimes since Nazi Germany to divert attention away from capitalism as the cause of systemic economic crises. Bannon is happy to describe himself as an economic nationalist, but vigorously rejects the accusation that he is a White Nationalist, despite his attacks on non-White immigrants as a threat to Judeo-Christian civilisation, particularly Muslims. His views on Islamic immigration are even more extreme than Trump’s. If he was in charge of government, then not a single Muslim would be allowed into America. He has made documentaries showing American border towns as under siege from immigrants. Unlike Trump, he also does not want legal, well-educated and productive immigrants to stay in the country. There exists a tape, which shows him arguing against Trump on this point, when Trump protested about an Indian man, who was deported back to his homeland, where he set up a successful company employing thousands of people. Breitbart also runs stories portraying Black Americans as violent criminals and welfare scroungers. Bannon also claims that the Alt Right’s appeal to racism is entirely coincidental. He looks back to the 1950s as a golden age, whose stability and prosperity has been destroyed by the decline of Judeo-Christian civilisation. She notes that he does identify correctly some of the current problems, such as the increasing lack of upward mobility and the poverty caused by neoliberalism, and also points out that the 1950s were definitely not an era of prosperity for Black Americans and others, who were exploited and brutalised. In his view, the civil rights and other protest movements of 50s and 60s destroyed the working class and small businesses, and allowed big business and big government to collude against working Americans. She states that in his hatred of the civil rights and other movements, he attacks the very people, who have been hurt the most by globalisation. The video includes a clip from one of his wretched documentaries in which he criticises ‘White guilt’ for encouraging the belief that ‘everyone should have a house’. She then moves on to discuss another of his tawdry epics, in which he attacks the Occupy Wall Street movement. He tries to portray organic popular protest movements as vehicles for Communists, Democrats or George Soros, and attacks millennials for supposedly undermining American culture and values with the vapidity and materialism of popular culture. He even goes as far as to blame this for the rise of ISIS.

Martin makes the point that Bannon’s message was extremely effective during the 2016 election campaign, because it addressed issues that the Democrats did not want to confront. She credits Bannon with formulating the most extreme elements of Trump’s Muslim ban and his harsh hostility to the media, as well as showing how Trump’s proposal to publish a list of crimes committed by immigrants is also strongly similar to Breitbart’s strategy. She also points out that Bannon’s militarism may, as a Chinese army officer observed, make Bannon’s prediction that in five to ten years America and the Chinese will be at war a reality. Bannon has said several times that Islam and China are expanding because they believe the Judeo-Christian West is in retreat. And Trump has also appointed more generals to his cabinet than previous administrations.

Martin concludes the piece by stating that Bannon’s rise shows how corrupt and illegitimate the system is, and that the Democrats, who wish to fight the same wars and are in debt and the pockets of their own corporate donors, are unable to fight him. He can only be fought by a united, multicultural progressive movement on the streets.

American Scientists Plan March against Trump

January 28, 2017

After the massive numbers of people involved in the women’s marches against Trump held around the world last weekend, American scientists are also planning to organise their own demonstration against the Orange Caudillo in protest at his disastrous environmental and health policies.

In this video, TYT Nation’s Jeff Waldorf discusses a report in Forbes’ discussing the formation of the new group of scientists planning this march. The group has it’s own internet page, and in five days its members grew from 200 to 200,000 +. The group says it will include non-scientists as well as scientists, and is intended to advocate the greater involvement of science in government. It’s purpose is to defend climate science, evolution, and alternative energy. Waldorf states that he too believes strongly that science should be more involved in government. He also quibbles with the phrasing in the Forbes’ article, taking issue with the magazine’s description of the scientists as ‘believing’ in the environmental damage caused by the fossil fuel industries. Waldorf argues that scientists’ in these areas don’t believe, because they have proof that oil pipelines, such as DAPL, can rupture, creating massive oil spills and environmental destruction.

Waldorf also argues that, although he understands why people in America’s coal country wish to retain the industry for as long as possible for the sake of their jobs, renewables are now becoming cheaper than oil for the first time. It’s time to move from the horse and buggy to the automobile, is the metaphor he uses. He also notes that 75 per cent of Trumps’ own supporters are also in favour of solar and wind power, and natural gas. Waldorf himself is not in favour of natural gas, as it’s still a fossil fuel, with the environmental problems that poses. At the moment, the movement is still in the planning stage, but hopes to issue a mission statement soon. In the meantime, they state that a government that sacrifices science to ideology is a threat not just to America, but also the world.

I wish the scientists the best of luck in their campaigns against Trump’s attack on climate change and green energy. I think, however, Waldorf has a rather too optimistic view of science. There’s quite a debate in the philosophy of science over what constitutes ‘proof’. In one view, articulated by the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, science advances through falsification. You can’t prove a particular theory. What you do instead is show that other explanations are false. In many areas of science, the observable effects of experiments, may be tiny and ambiguous. This is why scientists have developed very sophisticated statistical methods for sorting through their observations in search of factual evidence that will support or disprove their theories. Thus, at the risk of nit-picking, it might be fairer to say that climate change and environmental damage by the fossil fuel industry is far better supported by the available evidence, than the minority view that no such change or damage is occurring.

I also think you have to be careful about relying too much on science to solve social problems. The British philosopher, Mary Midgeley, in one of her books pointed out that in some areas, what is needed is a social and industrial solution to a particularly issue, rather than scientific innovation. For example, it could be argued that in the struggle against world hunger, what is needed is not new, genetically engineered crops which produce vast yields, but better transportation methods and infrastructure to supply people with the food that has already been grown.

Despite these very minor quibbles, it is true that orthodox, respectable science in the above areas has been under attack for a long time to serve powerful interests in the fossil fuel industries. Trump this week imposed gagging orders preventing scientists and government workers in the Environmental Protection Agency from revealing their findings. Climate change is happening, and is a real danger to America and the globe. But this awareness frightens the Koch brothers and their wealth in the petrochemical industry. So they, and millionaires like them, are spending vast sums to keep the facts from ordinary peeps. America’s scientists are right to challenge this. Let’s hope their march in support of proper science goes ahead and is well-attended.

Trump Imposes Gag Order on Government Environmental Scientists

January 28, 2017

The Republican party since the 1980s, if not before, has a bitter hatred of environmentalism and loathes just about any and all laws, movements or protests to protect Earth’s precious natural resources, and the creatures with whom we share our beautiful world. Now Trump’s taken it to its latest development.

In this video, The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian discuss Trump’s imposition of a legal ban gagging members of the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing details of their work to the general public. Trump has also frozen official funding, so that the Agency may only publish its results and findings if these meet the official, ideological approval of his administration.

Uygur and Kasparian point out that this is intended to keep people ignorant, powerless and deprived of decent science education before Trump’s government. They also point out that this action by the Orange Dictator shows without question that the Republicans are anti-science. It doesn’t matter whether individual Republican voters support Trump’s policy, or they merely have to go along with it because they agree with his others reforms. The Republicans are anti-science, and they should now own it.

They also make the point that in any jobs that may actually be brought back to America through these bans, Americans will be fighting for scraps. The jobs in the petrochemical sectors drilling for oil, which the attacks on the EPA are designed to protect, will not be such to give Americans the standard of living they want. It would make far greater sense for the government to begin investigating in renewables – a whole new industry. At the moment, even the Chinese are beating America in investment and research into renewable energy, because, says Uygur, ‘the Chinese are smart’. But there’s no reasons why America shouldn’t be no. 1 in renewable energy. They’ve got enough sun in Arizona and wind in Chicago, the notorious ‘windy city’.

The Young Turks here are right. This is all about protecting the Republican party’s corporate backers in the petrochemical industry, like the Koch brothers. These two have financed a slew of fake astroturf ‘Green’ organisations and campaigned against genuine climate science produced by independent university laboratories. Koch money has been poured into Unis and state coffers instead to produce very politicised labs that have been set up to deny that climate change is occurring, and that drilling for oil is having a harmful effect on the local landscape of the US. This is despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, such as vast stretches of Louisiana wetland now made little more than one vast oil bog. Or the fact that there were over 300 spills from the oil pipelines crisscrossing America last year. The Kochs and their dollars try to keep facts like these well-hidden from the voters and the folks that have to live with the results of their environmental pillage.

And whatever the Republicans do, the Tories are nearly always bound to follow. The Republicans have heavily embraced fracking, and so have the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers. So you can bet that at this moment, Theresa May, members of her cabinet, or perhaps the members of some Tory think tank somewhere, is looking at these gagging laws, and wondering how something similar can be introduced over here.

The Young Turks on American Conservatives Setting Up Black List of Liberal Professors

December 6, 2016

Another attack on freedom of thought and speech in America, the Land of the Free. Yesterday I put up a piece about two articles from Counterpunch, discussing Obama’s failure to repeal the gross infringements of the US Constitution he inherited from his Republican predecessors, his plans to set up some kind of official body to tell Americans what sources they should believe on the internet, and an outrageous article in the Washington Post smearing dissenting journalists as treacherous purveyors of Moscow propaganda. The latter article appears to have come from the corporatist wing of the Democrat party trying to find scapegoats for Hillary Clinton’s failure to win against Trump, and the establishment media to clamp down on its liberal, new media rivals.

Now it seems the Republicans are also trying to get in on the act. This time it they’re coming for university and college professors. In this snippet from The Young Turks, the hosts John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian discuss a Conservative student organisation that has set up a website, Professor Watch List, which aims to expose 200 or so university lecturers, who deliberately target and victimise Conservative students. They claim that they are only publishing the identities of professors, who have already been in the news. However, analysis of their sources shows that these are fake news sites. They pretend to be by students, but in fact are by ‘very old Republican guys’. Iadarola and Kasparian state that they would have no problem with the website, if it honestly did what it claimed to do – protect students, who are being targeted for their political beliefs by their lecturers. But it’s not. It’s a partisan attempt to prevent lecturers presenting facts and arguments that Conservatives find uncomfortable, and which could lead to the lecturers themselves being disciplined or even fired.

Conservative students are also demonstrating against ‘safe spaces’ on campus. This includes setting up fake ‘safe space’ events, such as bake sales, and then waiting to see who turns up. They then lay out juice boxes, crayons and other children’s items to make the point that the people, who support ‘safe spaces’ are childish, in their opinion. The two presenters make the point that they are doing so by acting as children themselves. Ana Kasparian is particularly annoyed about this. She states she does not like safe spaces, as she only really learned things at college when her beliefs were being challenged. This is part of the experience of higher education. Having your beliefs challenged forces you to present evidence to defend them, or having to admit that you’re wrong if you can’t. She states clearly that what she believes is a bigger threat to academia isn’t some Conservative students feeling uncomfortable because of what is being taught by a Chicano studies professor, but the Koch brothers funding scientific laboratories in American universities so that they’ll push out spurious ‘research’ denying climate change. The Koch brother are multibillionaire oil magnates, and they have been responsible for getting meteorologists sacks, who have spoken out about climate change. Due to their influence independent climate science laboratories have been closed down, and replaced with institutions, funded by the Kochs, which have given them the propaganda about the non-existence of climate change they want.

John Iadarola also makes the point that the definition of ‘safe space’ is so wide, that it’s practically meaningless. It can mean something like a Black union, which doesn’t want White Supremacists coming in and distributing Nazi literature. Or it could mean a classroom, where the discussion of a particularly controversial topic is not permitted. They also make the point that refusing to allow a particular individual to speak on campus, because they’ve charged too high a fee, is not censorship. It’s a perfectly reasonable attitude. It only becomes censorship if the speaker is turned down, despite requesting a reasonable fee.

The two also make the point that no political ideology should have the monopoly on education. Academic freedom is too important for this. What is needed is more dialogue, as so far the differences in political opinion have become extremely polarised and people are no longer speaking to each other. There needs to be more dialogue, and integration.

This is an immensely important issue, as academic freedom is one of the cornerstones of democracy, as is preserving students’ own freedom of thought by protecting them against indoctrination. The Blair government passed legislation intended to prevent it in schools. Part of this stipulates that if a teacher is asked a question about a particular controversial issue in religion or politics, they may give an answer provided that they make it clear that it is just their personal belief. Obviously matters become far more complicated at the level of tertiary education as the discussion of the topics being taught is much deeper, and the conclusions drawn from the facts may be more subjective. But it also demands that students also act as adults, and are able to accept and deal with material that contradicts their own person viewpoints. Kasparian has said in a previous broadcast that she came from a very Conservative background, and only became a liberal when she was exposed to left-wing views and opinions at College. She’s also a college professor herself, and so this issue directly affects her.

Many people, who’ve been through college or uni, have had lecturers with very distinct academic views, both of the left and right. That should not prevent them from holding their jobs, provided they don’t penalise students simply for holding different opinions. This Professor Watch List isn’t about protecting students from indoctrination, however. It really does appear to be an attempt by Conservatives to use claims of indoctrination to close down contrary viewpoints. They aren’t really against indoctrination. They’re just outraged that students aren’t being indoctrinated with Conservatism.

I haven’t heard of any similar movement to this having appeared in Britain. Yet. But as the Tories have launched attacks on the way history is taught, as Conservative MPs like Michael Gove decided that the teaching of the First World War in schools wasn’t sufficiently patriotic. In fact, he went on a rant comparing it to Blackadder. I think the Union of Conservative Students has been closed down and merged with the Young Conservatives to form Conservative Future. But compiling a list of left-wing university tutors certainly seems like one of the stunts they would have done. And the National Front or BNP in the 1980s did encourage school pupils to send them the names of teachers, who were supposedly indoctrinating children with Communism, so they could beat them up. It also reminds very much of the way real totalitarian regimes, from Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Nazi Germany, have encouraged children to betray their parents and other adults, including teachers.

Freedom of thought is under attack from the corporatist Democrats and the Nationalist Republicans. This is a very dangerous time, and these trends need to be defeated and reversed, if our societies are to remain genuinely free.

Barack Obama and the Corporatist Democrats Attack Free Speech

December 5, 2016

It’s very clear that in the next few years under Trump, the treasured freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution and the civil rights women and people of colour have fought so hard for are going to come under sustained attack. In many ways, Trump will just be continuing the rise of an exclusive nationalism and an all-pervasive surveillance state that began under George Dubya as he launched his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, it seems that the corporatist wing of the Democrat party, led by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, also wants to close down Americans’ freedom of speech and information by singling out dissenting journalists, news organisations and demanding a greater role for the state in telling you what information you should believe on the Web.

There were a couple of very important articles about threat to freedom of thought in last weekend’s Counterpunch. This followed an article on Thanksgiving by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post that claimed, on the authority of a group of media researchers, Propornot, that there were about 200 or so journalists, magazines, websites and organisations disseminating fake news intended to serve the Russians’ nefarious interests. Renee Parsons in her article discusses how the 200 websites identified by Timberg as outlets for Russian propaganda don’t actually show any evidence that they are acting on false information provided by Russian state media outlets like RT or Sputnik. And a careful reading of Timberg’s article also shows that, actually, RT and Sputnik haven’t invented any stories either. What they have done instead is identify items that the rest of the media ignored or paid little attention to, and made them more prominent. Or, to put it another way, they scooped the rest of the media.

As for Propornot itself, the organisation’s website states that it is “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!” And the only person identified with it is the satirist and comedian Samantha Bee, who is the anchor on the news comedy show Full Frontal. Propornot are frightening, as they call on Barack Obama and Congress to investigate how the Russians manipulated information sources to upset the American political process. Which shows that it’s a body of Clintonian Democrats desperately trying to find suitable media scapegoats with the new, anti-Russian McCarthyism for her defeat by Donald Trump.

The site is even more malign, in that it appeals to the American public to identify not only those individuals and organisers echoing Russian propaganda, but also ‘sympathisers’. She states

If there is any doubt whether the Timberg article and Propornot itself is a partisan effort, the YYY implication is that anyone “echoing a Russian propaganda line” such as those who speak “how wonderful, powerful, innocent and righteous Russia and Russia’s friends are: Putin, Donald Trump, al-Bashar Assad, Syria, Iran, China, radical political parties” will be considered tools of Russia as compared with those who speak “how terrible, weak, aggressive, and corrupt the opponents of Russia are: the US, Obama, HRC, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, US allies, MSM and Democrats” will be considered enemies of the State. Anyone with such information is encouraged to ‘come tell us at Propornot about it.”

This came nearly two months after Obama made a speech to a political organisation about the internet, in which he made it clear that he wanted to set up some kind of official body to manage what they trust on the Web. She states

During a visit to the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh on October 13th, the President, known for his smooth, glib reassurances so successful at placating the public, suggested that “we are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to” and that “democracy requires citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions” and further that “those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.” The President continued that “there has to be some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests.”

The President’s statement does not adequately capture what democracy requires of its citizens and reads more like what George Orwell epitomized as ‘political speech’ deliberately meant to confuse and demean citizen awareness. What Obama failed to acknowledge is that every American has a right, an obligation as an engaged citizen to determine for themselves what is a lie, distortion or truth; that ‘fake news’ is in the eye of the beholder and what a citizen believes and what they do not believe is their business and requires no justification to the government or anyone else. Most importantly, it was the President’s obligation to say that with a tremendous divergence of opinion on the www, some of it wacky, some of it conspiratorial, some of it incredibly incisive and intelligent and important – all of it is protected by the First Amendment.

To briefly parse the President’s words, most of which are painfully obvious,

suggestions of a “curating function” as in some official government entity assigned for the purpose of “protecting” (“ added) the public interest and “some sort of way…sort through information that passes some truthiness test” are presented in the President’s usual folksy, innocuous dialectic used to serve the public pablum while a further shredding of their Constitutional rights slips by under their nose.

She states that this is a further attack on American’s Constitutional freedoms by Obama. Despite his election promises, Obama has not ended surveillance without warrant, restored habeas corpus and the prohibition against detention without trial, torture, and excessive secrecy of government branches. Moreover, the Constitution also explicitly forbids presidents from starting wars without the approval of Congress. This has also been violated by successive administrations, and Obama hasn’t restored this Constitutional provision either.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/obama-and-propornot/

Further information on Timberg and his witch-hunt is provided in the same issue by Pam and Russ Martens. They discuss the possible reasons for this article, including that discussed by Parsons, and first put forward by Max Blumenthal of AlterNet, that it’s the Democrats trying to blame the Russians for Killary losing the election. Other theories are that the mainstream media is also trying to ensure its survival in the age of the internet and alternative media by smearing its new media competitors. Glen Ford, the editor of the Black Agenda Report, one of the organisations smeared as a Russian propaganda outlet, has suggested that the corporatist Democrats are very close to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, and that had Hillary won the election, she would also have launched a similar attack on alternative news sources on the Net. The Martens also state that during his career, Timberg was the National Security deputy editor for the Washington Post, before taking up his current position as the paper’s technology editor. He has also made speeches about the facial recognition technology used for law enforcement, and interviewed the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, on the information revealed on the NSA’s programme of mass surveillance. This latter interview was done at the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank, that was secretly part-owned for several decades by the Koch brothers.

The Martens themselves believe that this latest McCarthyite smear is an attack on the news organisations that ran stories from the WikiLeaks materials exposing the massive corporate corruption in the Democrat party. Both the Washington Post and New York Times did report that information from WikiLeaks revealed that a Citigroup executive, had made the decisions on who Obama should hire as key personnel during his first term. Citigroup was one of the massive banks that had to be bailed out during the 2008 crash. And both the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards supported Killary’s presidential campaign.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/timbergs-tale-washington-post-reporter-spreads-blacklist-of-independent-journalist-sites/

Fortunately, Timberg’s article has met with widespread derision and ridicule, with many of the commenters on the online version of the article criticising it as a piece of shoddy, McCarthyite journalism. Regardless of the precise motives for the attack – and the various theories put forward above aren’t mutually exclusive – it’s clear that the Clintonite wing of the Democrats are just as keen as the Republicans to subvert the Constitution for their own backers in big business and the surveillance state. Obama and Clinton have shown that they are determined to maintain the infringements on the Constitution introduced by George Dubya, and, indeed, expand them to smear their own enemies.

And unfortunately, this mindset appears to be spreading to the Blairites over here. Mike last week reported that Tom Watson had made a rant, attacking websites producing false information. By which he meant the pro-Corbyn site, The Canary. Tony Blair modelled New Labour on Bill Clinton’s New Democrats. Watson’s comments seem to show that the Blairites in the Labour party also want to crack down on British websites that don’t follow the required New Labour line. Just as Blair himself used to organise ‘negative briefings’ against ministers, who were deemed ‘off-message’.

If America and Britain are to have healthy, functioning democracies, where the people genuinely have power and not a narrow clique of politicos acting for the benefit of the corporate elite, it will mean purging the Democrats in the US of the Clintonites, and the Blairites in the Labour party over here, as well as defeating the Republicans and Conservatives.