Ron Paul, Alex Jones and the politics of selfishness

screen-captureTwo of the more outspoken critics of the American government and corporate America are Texan Alex Jones and fellow Texan, Republican Congressman Ron Paul that he frequently endorses. Both have gathered quite a small but dedicated following on the internet for their anti-establishment stances. The reasons are understandable. Jones is a bombastic Texan who offers sensational explanations for America’s problems usually revolving around conspiracy theories that involve secret societies and government run population control experiments. Paul meantime maintains that 9-11 was an “inside job” which endears him to the disillusioned and pissed-off youth of America and beyond.

Jones campaigns that American society is heading towards a fascist nightmare and being plunged into a “New World Order” but the solutions his hero Paul advocates would in reality be even more right-wing, extreme and cynical than anything that exists today. The main tenet of Paul’s philosophy is removal of all government in favor of pure free market forces. This idea is sometimes known as libertarianism and is enshrined by organisations such as The Campaign for Liberty. Paul believes that all of America’s economic problems would be solved naturally if market forces were allowed to run unhindered by government. This was illustrated in a recent interview on CNN’s Larry King Live when Paul went head-to-head with Michael Moore. Paul said the solution to the ailing health-care system is to allow the free market to sort it out and for the government to get out of the way.

Paul is also popular for his anti-war stance and demanding a full withdrawal from American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. His political philosophy is that America should stay completely out of other country’s affairs including withdrawal of American military bases around the world. This sounds all very well but does this mean that he would also withdraw the country from those organizations like the UN that – however currently flawed – are committed to maintaining peace in the world? If so, what he is advocating for America is an “I’m alright Jack” policy that turns it’s back on the rest of the world.

Paul’s solution is that the world is run by private tyrannies accountable to no-one but themselves which would be a dream for corporate America. He’s saying that hundreds of years of popular struggle to secure working rights, civil rights and some modicum of democracy should be thrown out of the window. If he is really advocating this, then they he is as bad, if not worse, than the current system he so tirelessly criticizes.

Either, people like Jones and Paul have little concern for the future of the vast majority of the population or they simply haven’t thought through their positions enough.

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A financial coup d’état

That’s not the opinion of some left-wing loony. It’s the opinion of Democratic congresswoman Marcy Kaptur who says Wall Street has effectively taken over the US Congress and Federal Reserve. An excellent interview here on Bill Moyers with her and former IMF Economic Chief Simon Johnson (hardly Marxists either of them).

BILL MOYERS: So, Simon, what happens now? If we’re going to avert a depression and the next calamity, what needs to be done?

SIMON JOHNSON: Well, I think you have to keep at it, Bill. I mean, that’s the lesson from previous generations of Americans, who have really confronted entrenched power like this. You have to keep at it. And you mustn’t be satisfied. When the Administration says, ‘Okay, we fixed it. Don’t worry. We did some technical tweaking on capital requirements, for example, in the banks.’ You have to say, ‘No, that’s not true. Let’s look at what’s happening, let’s follow it through.’

Get the Ralph Nader Reader for free

Seven Stories Press – one of the best independent publishers out there – is currently offering the Ralph Nader Reader for free in PDF format. They’re offering it to celebrate the launch of Nader’s latest book, “Only The Super-rich Can Save Us!” in which Nader envisages a fictional world where rich elites unite in trying to fix the government and restore power to the people.

You can download the PDF directly here.

Beware of the Obama seduction

obama20smile4Last night I watched a revealing 2 hour special by NBC about life inside the White House. The team were allowed access all areas (more or less) and what’s initially striking is just how relaxed and youthful the White House is under Obama’s administration.

Most of all though – and I got the same impression reading Barack Obama’s autobiographies – was how earnest he and his team seem to be in improving the lives of Americans. Obama in particular is incredibly personable, friendly and intelligent and you can’t help but get drawn-in that he really is “change”.

After watching the program however, I had to take a step back and ignore the smile, the charisma and the openness for a second and pinch myself. Surely this is all too good to be true?

I always find Noam Chomsky a good antidote for this kind of thing and as he points out in the speech below, people need to take more note of the substance of Obama’s appointments and policies and less note of his laid-back charisma and style. In particular, he points out a few people that feature very prominently in the NBC film that clearly do not embody Obama’s election campaign promise of “change we can believe in”:

  • Joe Biden Obama’s 66 year old choice as vice-president and long term Washington insider. A strong supporter of Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
  • Rahm Emanuele Obama’s Chief of Staff. Probably the most powerful member of his team as he decides on the President’s policy agenda. Another long term Washington insider, he’s a former investment banker and was one of the largest recipients of money from investment institutions and hedge funds during his time in the House of Representatives. Also thoroughly supported the war on Iraq. In 2003, he spoke at a pro-Israel rally in Chicago and said Israel was ready for peace but would not get there until Palestinians “turn away from the path of terror”.
  • Larry Summers Obama’s bizarre choice to solve the financial crisis. A move once described as “Like putting Osama Bin Laden in charge of the war on terror.” The reason being Summers is a former World Bank employee with a record of leaving developing economies in ruins. Most importantly, he did a similar job in the Clinton administration where he oversaw much of the neo-liberal policies and financial regulation dismantling that’s actually responsible for the financial crisis in the first place. Summers also once described Africa as being “under polluted” and women as being “genetically handicapped” when it comes to maths. As The Exiled points out: “Summers’s track record, in which he oversaw the destruction of entire economies and covered up cronyism and corruption, his Africa memo and sexist declarations aren’t exceptions but rather part of a disturbing pattern.”

In some ways, I think it was better to have someone so much easier to see-through like George Bush as President than someone as silky smooth as Obama.

The start of the NBC film can be seen here:

3 very different Ted Kennedys remembered

Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy

I knew absolutely nothing about Ted Kennedy although I had heard of the Chappaquiddick (what a great place name that is) incident when he apparently ditched a car in lake resulting in the death of his lady passenger before finally turning himself in to the police a whole week later (thus ruining any chance he ever had of running for president). However, I read three reactions to his recent death that make you wonder whether they’re all talking about the same man.

The BBC hailed him as a “champion of liberal causes”:

Yet, despite the shadow of Chappaquiddick, he became a respected elder statesman of the Democratic Party, and a champion of liberal causes in the US Senate.

Independent US presidential candidate Ralph Nader, not known for his admiration of the Democratic party or mainstream media versions of history, remembered his legacy of “helping the needy and impoverished”:

Among Senator Ted Kennedy’s many accomplishments in the U.S. Senate was a little-heralded but critical boost he gave to the Freedom of Information legislation in 1974. At a time when the opposition to this key bill was in need of a countervailing champion, we visited Senator Kennedy, had a very substantive meeting and secured his networking support among other Senators, which led to its passage.One can only surmise how many major changes Senator Kennedy could have secured through the Congress had the Senate been populated by the kind of progressives who served in the mid-Sixties instead of their more conservative successors, both in Congress and in the White House.

His legacy of helping the impoverished, the excluded, and the needy in our society will persist. Our sympathies are with his family in these sorrowful times.

Writing in the First Post however, Alexander Cockburn dismisses all of these glowing assessments remembering him as a “hollow champion” who helped dismantle the labour movement in America and lay the groundwork for the neo-liberal NAFTA era that’s created many of today’s social and economic problem:

While Teddy Kennedy’s disasters were vivid, his legislative triumphs, draped in this week’s obituaries with respectful homage, were far less colourful. And they were actually devastating for the very constituencies – working people, organised labour –whose champion he claimed to be.

Though the obituarists have glowingly related Kennedy’s 46-year stint in the US Senate and, as ‘the last liberal’, his mastery of the legislative process, they miss the fact that it was out of Kennedy’s Senate office that came two momentous bits of legislation that signalled the onset of the neo-liberal era: deregulation of trucking and aviation. They were a disaster for organised labour and the working conditions and pay of people in those industries.

(Kennedy).. helped push through NAFTA, the “free trade” pact that was another body blow to American labour. 
….because his mishaps were so dramatic, no one remembers quite how noxious his political triumphs were for those who now mourn him as their lost leader.

Knowing how the mainstream media usually glowingly celebrate the deaths of their liberal heroes, I’m inclined to believe Cockburn’s assessment of things. However, Nader isn’t a man usually taken-in by mainstream liberal versions of history but since he works in Washington where Kennedy himself did, maybe not even he dared voice his full opinion.

The “war of necessity” over a pipeline

TAPI Pipeline route

TAPI Pipeline route

8 years and 64,000 troops from 41 countries later, the Taliban are still going strong in Afghanistan. Just this evening, a car bomb has killed 40 in Kandahar adding to the rapidly growing death toll of  Western soldiers and Afghanis dying in this needless conflict. The Guardian reports that this year, 295 troops have now been killed already this year compared to 294 in the whole of 2008. As is common with the Western media, no mention is made of how many Afghanis may have been killed. Obama is calling it a “war of necessity” and it’s clear that his credo of “change we can believe in” stops squarely when it comes to Afghanistan. He is still espousing the tired justification that those who attacked the USA on 9-11 were trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan and are planning to do so again. In reality, this “war of necessity” is nothing but a war for control of an oil pipeline.

Afghanistan has always been a huge strategic geo-political prize because of it’s proximity to energy producing states in the Gulf and Central Asia. The stakes have been risen even more however by the construction of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline known as TAPI due to open in 2014. The pipeline will pass through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Even the BBC theorized as far back as 2001 that the pipeline was the motivating factor behind the invasion. It suggested:

  • Given the increasing importance of finding and exploiting new sources of fossil fuel, governments like those of the US and the UK are enormously keen to gain influence in the Central Asian region in order to secure those supplies for the West
  • In order to achieve that, and get those energy supplies moving out of Central Asia, they need to set up a pro-western government in Afghanistan.

In typically liberal style however, the BBC concludes that you’re probably insane for believing these theories by stating:

But the argument that these are the main motivations behind US actions, not the desire to stamp out international terrorism, will probably find support mainly among those who already have a fondness for conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile Noam Chomsky’s theory is that the pipeline will remove regional dependence on Iran for oil and thus isolate the country even further – suiting US political motives in the region.

The Americans have coveted the pipeline for quite some time now. US interest in the pipeline stretches back to 1998 when, as Patrick Martin writes:

The Afghanistan pipeline route was pushed by the US-based Unocal oil company, which engaged in intensive negotiations with the Taliban regime. These talks, however, ended in disarray in 1998, as US relations with Afghanistan were inflamed by the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for which Osama bin Laden was held responsible. In August 1998, the Clinton administration launched cruise missile attacks on alleged bin Laden training camps in eastern Afghanistan. The US government demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden and imposed economic sanctions. The pipeline talks languished.

It’s quite possible that Unicol and the Bush administration saw 9-11 as the perfect opportunity to “settle” this languishing of talks once and for all by simply invading the country. As Michael Hart and Antoni Negri state in their book Empire, “All empires go to war over natural resources”. That’s why its Afghanistan and not New Zealand that’s been pounded with bombs for the last 8 years.

Healthcare is for Nazis

According to this woman at a town hall meeting in Massachusetts (isn’t that supposed to be the really intelligent state by the way i.e. Boston, MIT, Chomsky etc) it is anyway. She and her prankster buddy cleverly made a picture of Obama that looked like Hitler. Well actually, she basically just took a picture of Hitler and made him look black which, despite being flattered by her admiration for his health policy, I very much doubt The Fuhrer would have approved of. It’s interesting that these anti-Obama supporters often choose Hitler to compare him to when there are plenty of modern day examples of countries with a public health care system. Maybe she just felt that morphing Gordon Brown’s face into Obama’s was simply even more mental than free health care.

In reality however, the woman doesn’t have much to worry about. Hitler was far more of a healthcare “extremist” than Obama is. One of the main reasons Hitler became so popular in Germany was that he supported such things as a universal health care system (if you had blonde hair). As is to be expected of a politician that’s recently won power, Obama has already started backing-down and has no intention of providing anything as “crazy” as a comprehensive public healthcare system.