Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Reichwing Watch: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America

November 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.W.W. Issue Nationwide Call for Prison Strike in America

September 10, 2016

Yesterday, Counterpunch published the call from the I.W.W. Incarcerated Workers’ Organisation Committee calling for a nationwide strike in American prisons against slavery. This is the use of prisoners as unpaid labourers for private companies. The I.W.W. is the syndicalist trade unions, nicknamed the ‘Wobblies’, which was at the forefront of American working class radicalism in the early 20th century. It still exists to day, and has a branch in Bristol, which meets at one of the radical bookshops in Bristol’s Old Market. The call begins

This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America

In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

In the 1970s the US prison system was crumbling. In Walpole, San Quentin, Soledad, Angola and many other prisons, people were standing up, fighting and taking ownership of their lives and bodies back from the plantation prisons. For the last six years we have remembered and renewed that struggle. In the interim, the prisoner population has ballooned and technologies of control and confinement have developed into the most sophisticated and repressive in world history. The prisons have become more dependent on slavery and torture to maintain their stability.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

The prisoners go on to state that they need popular support on the outside. They describe the impact the slave system in American prisons has on the wider community. Ordinary citizens are arrested and sentenced to prison for the specific purpose of providing unfree labour for these private companies. They also talk about the ‘extra-judicial executions’ of Black Americans, naming a few of the victims. This is related to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which protests against the complete disregard some members of the American police have for the value of human life in shooting Blacks, regardless of the severity of the crime, or even if there is any crime at all. Several of the victims have been innocent.

To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside. Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.

Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they’ll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.

I’m quite aware that criminals in the prison system are hardly innocent victims, and that many are guilty of the most vile offences. But in this case, they have a point: they are being used as slave labour for private profit, and this is affecting the wider community. In America, the private prison corporations donate money to the political parties and for the election of judges, so that they will run on a platform of being tough on crime. The local political candidates are effectively bribed to pass laws introducing harsher penalties, and judges are effectively bribed to pass longer sentences. There’s a case in one of Michael Moore’s films, Capitalism: A Love Story, we he discusses the case of a teenage schoolgirl sent to jail for truancy, because the beak was connected to the local prison company, which wanted more slave labour.

Nor is this iniquitous system confined to America. Mike put up a piece several weeks ago, discussing the highly exploitative conditions in private prisons, in which prisoners are used as unfree labour for British companies. Mike made the point that we cannot close our eyes to such exploitation in this country, and claim that it doesn’t happen here. It does. Of course criminals should be punished, but it’s one of the fundamental cornerstones of the concept of justice that the punishment should fit the crime. The exploitation of prisoners as unpaid workers goes directly against this. As a punishment, it’s only an excuse for their exploitation for the profit of big business.

The strike has spread to something like 24 states and 40 prisons all over America, according to a report on Democracy Now! Over on this side of the pond, we need to start thinking about how we can stop the exploitation of prisoners for corporate profit over here.

Secular Talk on Ben Carson Advocating Free Gun Classes

February 21, 2016

In this fascinating clip from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski critiques a speech by Ben Carson, one of the Republican presidential candidates, in which the great surgeon lays out why he opposes gun control.

Carson’s a neurosurgeon, and his skill as a physician is certainly not in doubt. On everything else, however, he talks rubbish. For example, he’s been telling everyone that he used to be a real teenage tearaway. He claims he was violent, once trying to stab one of his friend in the stomach. The belt, apparently, stopped the knife. Everyone who knew him says the opposite. His friend can’t remember the incident, there’s no account of him being at all violent, and the people who knew him at College say he was extremely hard-working. You’d have thought hard-work, perseverance and a normal family background would be more than enough for a politician. But apparently it’s not what Republicans expect of a Black man. And so he has to invent all this complete bullshit about being a violent thug, who was eventually turned from crime by the grace of Jesus. I don’t decry or disbelieve people, who have genuinely turned away from lives of crime because of the Lord’s grace. I just don’t have much time for the tale when it’s simply being cynically used as a marketing tool by someone desperate to ingratiate himself with the electorate.

Carson says he’s not in favour of gun control, because of the 2nd Amendment guaranteeing gun right and ‘a regulated militia’ and so on. He says that instead of gun regulation, he’s in favour of free classes to instruct people on proper gun use and safety. His argument for not depriving Americans of their guns is the usual argument about the public needing to have weapons to protect themselves against government tyranny.

Kulinski points out that this interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is simply erroneous. The Founding Fathers inserted that clause into the Constitution because they did not want a permanent standing army, as such military forces were a threat to the government. They had been used throughout history to overthrow governments in coups. As a compromise, they allowed Americans to keep their guns and form militias to protect themselves and their nation. So, he remarks, it’s actually the opposite of what Carson is talking about. The people are allowed to keep their weapons, but it’s to prevent the existence of a standing army, which could overthrow the government.

Kulinski is exactly right. The Founding Fathers in their opposition to standing armies were part of a tradition of political thought going back to 16th and 17th century Britain. The collection of 17th century political texts from the British Civil War, Divine Right and Democracy, contains a number discussing the issue of militias and standing armies. Standing armies were resented as a threat to traditional English liberties. They were the mark of foreign despotisms like France and the Turkish Empire. As for militias, I got the impression that they were like the Home Guard and Territorial Army in modern Britain. They were semi-professional soldiers, who could be mobilised by the authorities against the threat of invasion, such as the Spanish Armada, rather than unregulated bands of citizens.

Kulinski states that there is another aspect to the 2nd Amendment. It was put in to placate Virginia and encourage it to enter the new United States by allowing it to set up slave patrols. Virginia was a state where slaves were in the majority. Its rulers feared that if it joined the US, the slaves would escape north to their freedom in those states, where slavery was in the minority. So in order to reassure Virginia that slavery would be protected, the 2nd Amendment was inserted to allow them to set up slave patrols in the north of the state to capture runaways. Kulinski therefore says that there is considerable irony in a Black American defending gun rights and the 2nd Amendment.

He also makes the point that the Republicans are just plain wrong when they say that the Democrats are against gun rights. What the Democrats are for is some moderate legislation restricting the ownership and purchase of certain types of weapons. They aren’t going to confiscate everyone’s guns, as that would be illegal and unconstitutional. They are in favour of buy-back programmes, where the state purchases them from individuals, and takes them out of use that way.

And finally, he also makes the point that there is no way an ordinary individual with his firearm can possibly take down the government, with its armoury of highly sophisticated firearms, tanks, planes and missiles.

Hoverbikes to Appear in 2017?

November 30, 2015

This is another fascinating piece of technology news from Youtube. It’s on the hoverbike that’s been produced by the Aerofex company, and which may be on the market in 2017. According to the video it has two rotors, can fly up to ten feet off the ground and stay in the air for an hour and a quarter. The downside is that if you want one, it’s going to cost $85,000. Here’s the video.

It reminds me very much of the Piasecki ZV-8- Airgeep, which was designed for use by the American army. A model kit of this was produced in the 1990s by Glencoe Models, of Northboro, Massachusetts. According to the background information given with the kit,

The Piasecki ZV-8_ or 59L VTOL Airgeep was designed for the army to increase mobility by combining the versatility of an all-terrain ground vehicle with the benefits of a small helicopter. The first flight was on October 12, 1958. Some of its capabilities were to include the ability to fly at speeds up to 150 miles per hour, and to fly unhindered over water or mountains. Actual top speed was closer to 70 miles per hour with a maximum cruising range of 75 miles. General dimensions were 24 ft. 6 in. long and 9 ft. wide. Having a very low profile and a significant amount of speed combined with its ability to fly low along the ground would have made it an elusive target.

Power for the Airgeep comes from two flat opposed six cylinder Lycoming engines. Rated at 180 horsepower each, the 0-360-A2A piston engines are housed in the fuselage and turn the two large propellers via drive shafts. To aid in stability the front propeller turns clockwise and the rear turns counter-clockwise. Directional vane below the props control side to side and forward-reverse motions.

Protection from minor contact with immovable objects is taken care of by the large inflatable bumpers at both ends. The perimeter of the duct area is also shielded to protect the crew in case of detachment of one of the propeller blades.

Today the Piasecki ZV-8_ or 59L Airgeep resides at the United States Army Transportation Museum in Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Piasecki Airgeep

Airborne bikes have appeared in a number of SF movies since the appearance of the Speeders in the Star Wars films. By far the best known are probably the Speeder bikes used by the imperial storm troopers in the third of the original movies, Return of the Jedi. Similar vehicles also appear in the third Riddick film, simple called after its hero, Riddick, where they’re ridden by a posse of interplanetary bounty hunters sent to catch or kill him. Unlike the Star Wars Speeder bikes, the ‘hogs’ used in Riddick seem to be propelled not by some kind of anti-gravity field, but by something more like a downward-facing jet.

It’ll also be interesting to see if this does actually go into production. Some of us can still remember the one-man helicopter that was due to come on the market for about the same amount of money. One even appeared in one of the Spy Kids films, as I recall. In practice, however, that scheme was a failure. They never managed to get it stable, and its press release got into the ‘Funny Old World’ column in Private Eye. The machine went on sale, but as it was lethally unfit to fly, purchasers were legally forbidden to try doing so, on the grounds they’d kill themselves. And that was the end of that dream of single-person flight.

If these pics are to be believe, though, it looks like they’ve solved that problem. I hope it comes out. Like most people, I could never afford one, but it looks a cool way to travel.