Gordon Campbell on the rise of the far right, and battle bots

In his victory speech at the Cannes film festival this week, the British film director Ken Loach warned that the rise of far right parties in Europe was being fuelled by the economic policies of austerity, and manifested in a welfare bureaucracy that systematically denies assistance to those in most need. Regardless, the media has focused its attention on the anti-immigrant, Islamophobic policies of the European far right, with its scary echoes of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s. Meanwhile, the economic failure underlying the scapegoating barely rates a mention.

The failure of the media to follow up on Loach’s point means that the rise of the far right in Europe – and of Donald Trump in the US – appears to be almost inexplicable. Why, these people must be idiots, and racist to boot! In reality, the anti-immigrant sentiment has a strong economic rationale. Millions have seen their jobs lost and their wages depressed, while a tiny elite have prospered from the policies promoted by their friends in the political Establishment – who, over time, get richly rewarded for services rendered. The victims of austerity see the influx of immigrants as posing a further threat to their economic security. A healthy, inclusive economy would welcome immigrants. But an economy damaged by neo-liberalism – and where the welfare safety net has been shrunk by the mania for budget balancing – is in no shape to take on further strain.

Austria is the latest example. This week, the far right Freedom Party of Norbert Hofer lost yesterday’s election to the moderate independent Alexander Van Der Bellen, but by only the thinnest of margins. Hofer has every reason to feel his time will come. Only the absentee ballots swung the result against him. How did Hofer get so far? Again, the international media has focused on the Freedom Party’s anti-immigrant, Islamophobic rhetoric.

More importantly, Hofer won votes by mobilising a lot of previous non-voters, and by uniting both the right and the left against the status quo. Hofer did so by opposing the policies of austerity via his promises of more jobs, higher wages and welfare spending:

Analysts credit Hofer…., with persuading the party to change course…..towards a more moderate-seeming (and vote-winning) focus on employment, incomes and welfare.

As with Trump in the US, the millions displaced by the policies of neo-liberalism and free trade, are not being wooed with the language of class conflict. Instead, the appeal is to a threatened national identity, and via the candidate’s claim to personal empathy with the lot of the displaced:

[Hofer’s] slick, unashamedly populist, Eurosceptic but largely uncontroversial campaign, promising to “put Austria first” with the slogan “Unspoilt, honest, good”, saw him collect 35% of the first-round vote in the presidential elections, his party’s best national score since its formation in 1956.

….. In a concession message posted on Facebook, Hofer urged his supporters to not be downcast. “I will remain loyal to you,” he wrote, “and make my contribution to a positive future for Austria.”

By contrast, the opponents of these right wing populists operate at a distinct disadvantage. Hillary Clinton in the US, and David Cameron in the UK – where the champions of Brexit are painting themselves as guardians of British identity – are widely seen as being the creatures of Wall Street and Canary Wharf. They are the candidates of a status quo that has consistently failed most of the public. In the wake of 30 years of neo-liberal economic policies, the US electorate faces a genuine dilemma; many of Donald Trump’s supporters may be idiots, but you’d really have to be an idiot to vote for more of the same from Hillary Clinton.

Robots in Foxholes

Talking of empathy… the US military is going through something of an existential crisis with its mechanised weapon systems. Sure, its drones work OK, give or take a lot of collateral damage by drone operators. Out on the battle field though, the battle bots do seem to be far less reliable. Evidently, the Pentagon has been trying to foster the same sort of bond between frontline troops and their battle robots as currently exist between the troops and their military working dogs. Problem is, the killer machines require so much oversight and maintenance, the relationship is more one of frustration, and resentment.

At the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Virginia, officials are testing out a system that might inspire those kind of close man-machine relationships…..With decision-making power and the ability to learn preferences, some of the machines may be advanced enough to make Marines forget they’re not dealing with another individual, suggested Col. James Jenkins, the director of the Warfighting Lab’s Science and Technology division.

There is still quite a way to go, Colonel Jenkins concedes:

“The emotional bond will be different. In [Dr. Peter Singer’s] book Wired for War, he talks about guys using [improvised explosive device removal robots]; literally, they’re like dogs or almost kids to them and [ the Marines] are crying when a machine gets blown up,” Jenkins told Military.com. “Does that happen for a drone? No, probably not.”

Bring on Spot, and Gus. But uh oh…

Specific machines now undergoing testing at the lab include Spot, a quadruped that can take commands and execute them, but struggles to react to changing situations, and Gus, an unmanned vehicle that can carry gear to troops in the field, but need operator input at the beginning and end. Right now, the questionable reliability of unmanned prototypes and their need for extensive supervision — what Jenkins called the “irony of automation,” can prevent Marines from getting close to their robotic counterparts.

“At the end of the day, what we found is when the bullets start flying, the Marine either becomes so absorbed in driving the robot that he loses essay of what’s happening around him, or he drops the controller and becomes a rifleman,” Jenkins said.

Thankfully, the other side is also having its own problems. Despite their reputation for ruthless competence, Islamic State fighters don’t always live up to their own hype. A few weeks ago, this blackly comic video surfaced, of a group of bungling IS fighters filmed out on the battlefield. Abu Hajaar is definitely not the guy you want in your foxhole.

Birthday Bob.

OK, so today is Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday. We are now two albums into Dylan’s latest incarnation, as a crooner of the hits and lesser known items from the Great American Songbook of the 1940s and 1950s. Yes, Dylan is turning late in life into a version of Willie Nelson, and repeating what Nelson did 30 years ago on his Stardust album.

Not many people will linger over these creaky twilight albums, when Dylan’s achievements are finally assessed. Unfortunately though, Dylan guards his copyrights online almost as obsessively as Prince used to do, and the live performances are much less rewarding. So what to do as a birthday tribute? Well, this terrific out-take – which inexplicably didn’t make the cut for the Oh Mercy album – is good for starters:

And if you’ve got an hour to spare, these remnants of his long lost Eat The Document documentary are still fascinating :

And here’s D.A. Pennebaker at age 90, talking just last week about the making of his Don’t Look Back movie.

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15 Comments on Gordon Campbell on the rise of the far right, and battle bots

  1. Hofer won the election the same way most banker muppets do by lying and making promises he will break.
    Tell the hoodwinked sheeple what they want to hear and they will identify with the ideology and vote .
    Politics = keeping the Empire’s status quo in power.

    With the bankers venture capital invested in war technology is in the service of madness.

  2. Yes it is a valid concern that the far right are using so called lefty politicians which are placed to maintain the ruling power of the Establishment/Banker’s Black triangle.
    No surprise that the people en masse oppose the bankers economic policy “austerity for you but not for us” .
    If the establishment does not throw in a disenfranchised candidate like Hofer they would not get the voters. And then people by not voting and not supporting the 1% ruling them would break the status quo by not giving consent to it.
    @Anabel Hofer may have got the numbers we really don’t know as the media monopoly reports the results of the Establishment ” he who counts the vote counts”.

  3. Austria has a history of corruption in government dating back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the ‘sick man of Europe’ when it collapsed), and apparently it’s frustration at that which is driving the rise of the far right. Sure, economic and immigration issues make that stand out now, but the same level of corruption isn’t present everywhere.

  4. Gordon, your attempt to portray the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment as though it was a reasoned and considered response is simply disingenuous.

    Perhaps you find it distasteful to admit it…but the popularity of anti-immigrant sentiment is simply because many people (perhaps the majority) are attracted to bigotry.

    I find it frustrating that a great deal of intelligent and thoughtful progressive writing on the internet appears to have been tempered because of the perception that many in the audience would be turned away if the writer was actually honest about the many ways in which we all are fairly revolting creatures.

  5. @AVR the same level of corruption is present in govt everywhere( inc NZ).

    @Mr Smith I don’t disagree in that you may very well believe you are a “revolting creature” and so project your feelings/thoughts on to others.
    The majority of people are not “attracted to bigotry”.
    People have been conditioned to be fearful of immigrants by media propaganda, their conditioned beliefs and attitudes reflect their learned ignorance.
    The bankers ” austerity ” program, implemented by the Crown govt, means there is not adequate provision of basic needs( housing, health, welfare, paid work). For the people of a nation this economic warfare is forgotten in the “fear of others” making immigrants the problem and not the bankers and their crown govt.
    Don’t be so naive, why do you think the govt’s deliberately increasing immigration numbers now without having housing, social and health provision.

  6. The far right has to be viewed on a case by case basis. In terms of Austria, the current state is a core remnant of the Austro Hungarian empire, which enthusiastically embraced the Nazi’s and their takeover in 1938.
    Many of the key Nazi’s were Austrian including Hitler himself and when the Soviet Union took Austria and Vienna in 1945, Vienna and Linz were marked for special retalliation. While the relatively elite Soviet troops that took the country were realtively well behaved, Stalin decided to send the worst Russian criminals and trash into Austria for six weeks in which anything available was raped and pillaged. As a result during the following ten years in which Austria was supposedly under joint allied control but in reality the key areas of Austria under Russian control, the elite Austrians and former Nazis conducted a sort of civil war against the Soviet occupiers.
    Therefore the current Austrian far right desccendants of Jorg Hader probably are a Nazi type party.
    In the case of Kurt Wilders in the Netherlands in some respects he is simply legitimate hard right politicians who has long made the legitimate point that Muslim immigants erode and attack western freedoms and the rights of women to a free life. In the case of Chile, Liberal intelligent women tended to be the strongest opponents of Allende in 1972-73 and in a sense the 1935 and 1957 labour Government in NZ was largely opposed by liberal women and women were inclined to be heavily against Labour as among other things as Labour attacked the fashion industry, imposing crippling tarrifs on imported clothing from the US, restricting the fabrics available for quality womens fashion and the importion of jewish refugees from Vienna and Berlin was unappreciated by some in the fashion and seamstress business even in Wellington because they were high skill competition which undercut established business and sometimes their offsprings chance of a professional career, ie in the case of my mother it meant she could not afford to go to Medical School and had to work at 3 jobs and get 1.5hrs sleeo a night to finance a MA(Hons).
    In terms of the Nazi’s in German, Pinochet, Allende and Milsovich all stood beyond all that as representatives of values and rights of the Military Officer class and Middle Class and Professional interest and to oppose and eliminate the Pacificts, equalist believers in the blank slate ( as Hilter said to reverse some of the unfortunate ideas of the French and Soviet revolution and in many ways to literally implement fGaltons theory of intelligence and pauperise the dumber sorts of ordinary men and employed and unemployed state dependents.
    Robert Menzies a noted pre war appeaser and it should be noted that pre war Australia refused Jewish immigrants might in some ways be seen as implementing a similar more disguised and deceptive version of the same ideas in Post war Australia.
    In my views both Merkel and Helen Clark are far too liberal in encouraging excessive, poorly processed immigration from Asian, Middle East and Mediteranean nations that we dont fully understand and whose even professional and middle classes may have values hostile to our and liberal womens interests.

  7. @ robert really?! you are fear mongering that immigrants are not screened for hostility against “liberal womens interests”.
    Many kiwi men are sexist beat their wife and children , kiwi men are not “screened” to prevent their hostility towards woman .

    No mention of stopping wars – just keep the flow of people who have lost their homes,land and infrastructure to the UN sanctioned wars.

    Nazi right wing ideology on a “case by case” basis.No thanks.

  8. @ Robert, Allende was a marxist, not a Nazi. His election spooked the Americans into backing the facist military coup that murdered Allende, instituted a reign of torture and assassination and undid all his economic and social reforms.

  9. @Paul. Apology. I meant General Videla ( Argentine junta) and Pinochet shared the same basic, German Socialist (Nazi) policy of elite rule by the Military for the middle class and military. Videla said the Argentinian military wanted to pauperise the working class and eliminate the protected subsidised Government sector. It is difficult to see improvement in the Argentine economy since with often fairly extreme left wing Governments in NZ.
    Although many claim to be confused over Allende the evidence was he was moving in the direction of imposing the Eastern European communist model with Soviet support and that the previous Edward Frei government was already moving far to the left, tolerating land confiscation. The relatively limited CIA response reflected Nixons inchoate Watergate problems but their was also quite a lot M16 and other UK agencies involved fairly obviously. It would be true that Chile still operates on a ferociously right wing capitalist system today but its a relatively poor country cf Argentine and can not afford free or low cost tertiary education of any quality.

  10. Maybe I show bias but I was suggesting the Kircheners were fairly hard left rather than English/ Joyce. But Ive alway thought that Helen/Judith/Margaret and jacinda are an ideological Waikato foursome

  11. Its completely nuts to thinks the extreme right wing NZ govt is extreme left wing. Sorry to have to tell you Robert but this shows a cognitive bias bordering on delusional.

  12. In the growth and rise of the extreme right wingers you can see the so called left wing is now more of soft center.

  13. Sorry Troy, National are definitely left centre, the last right wingers in National were pretty much expelled when Shipley was disposed by English. Williamson, Matthew Hooton, Ralston, Fay can you think of anyone else in NZ of any political significance who could be called right wing. The only right wing in NZ is a few families and individuals. In terms of Act to my mind the party was largely a left wing front to contain and discredit the few stupid right wingers, ie Douglas, Richardson and Quigley etc. I means most of the prominent Act women were in reality so far left a few years before they would probably have regarded being called a communist a few years before, ie Coddington, Newman, Issacs and Roy.
    While the German Nazis called themselves National Socialists up to 1932 their support was entirely middle class and employed. The evidence suggests that virtually no working class or unemployed person voted Nazi, they voted KPD or Social Democrat. The anti semite issue in Germany in 1932 was confined to a few provincial areas and Hitler never mentioned it in his speeches. It had nothing to do with the Nazi vote in 1932/33 and the issue was really Hitlers personal obsession alone and he did as he was told and never mentioned it in his speeches once the Nazis became prominent. Hitlerite and Nazi are not the same thing. Half the Nazi vote in 1932 thought the Strasser brothers or Goring were going to lead the Nazi Government, rather than Hitler who many regarded as no more than an intelligent agitator.
    By 1943 if you study film of the Eastern Front is it difficullt to distinguish any difference between the Soviet/ SS and German Army Officers and soldiers. Those Nazi officials who traveled to Moscow to negotiate the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1939 found much about the two regimes and their presentation indistinguisable.

  14. Robert the Crown NZ govt are a bunch of peoples asset poaching, stealth privatizationalists , wealth transferring right-wingers.
    But you can’t tell that because these right winger fascist ideology and actions are to you “indistinguishable” .
    The “Green & Labour” party of the Crown NZ govt is “center right” to facilitate this rise of the right wingers.

  15. No MoU or a “voting carrot” a merger of two center right political parties the greens and labour would change the far right stench of the Crown NZ govt.
    The people of NZ remain disenfranchised and misrepresented by merchant bankers in the cabal’s Crown NZ govt.

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