Adani is a con

There is no good reason why any Government should consider helping a coal miner to make a profit. Such actions are a form of corporate welfare where the people end up paying for a few to make a profit. It’s wealth distribution in favour of the rich.

Nor should we even be thinking about adding to the environmental problems we already have. Let’s face it, miners are not exactly friends of the earth.

But the biggest reason, if the ones above aren’t enough is simply coal is not the cheapest way of making electricity. Not even close. This mine proposal is a scam, one that continues the capitalist tradition of exploitation of people and the planet. We don’t need any Trumps, we just need some sensible decision making which doesn’t play to the rich and powerful.

See solar is cheapest.

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The art of dissembling

When a word fits you should use it

dissemble

verb: dissemble; 3rd person present: dissembles; past tense: dissembled; past participle: dissembled; gerund or present participle: dissembling

conceal or disguise one’s true feelings or beliefs.
“an honest, sincere person with no need to dissemble”
synonyms: dissimulate, pretend, deceive, feign, act, masquerade, sham, fake, bluff, counterfeit, pose, posture, hide one’s feelings, be dishonest, put on a false front, lie; More
cover up, conceal, disguise, hide, mask, veil, shroud
“she is an honest, sincere person who has no need to dissemble”
disguise or conceal (a feeling or intention).
“she smiled, dissembling her true emotion”

That’s what Google provided as a dictionary definition. This is what prompted my query

Zuckerberg says Facebook is ‘not a traditional media company

One of the richest men in the world (don’t you love how capitalism rewards the deserving) is well practiced in the art of dissembling which may well explain why the platform itself is rife with so-called “fake news”.

Clean cut, intelligent but somehow struggles with defining what Facebook is. Well blind freddy can see it’s advertising company on steroids but I’m sure you will never get such a frank disclosure from Zucks. It also happens to occupy the space formerly dominated by mainstream media companies, which means it is a defacto media outlet even if they are at pains to avoid talking about it.

So while this “chat” might appear to be a public statement that recognises what anyone with media experience already knows, that is, one of the functional roles of Facebook is similar to that of a traditional media outlet, the “chat” also serves to obscure the economic reality which is the core business for the Facebook juggernaut.

Dissembling.

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Solidarity

This appeared in Overland and it’s a definite call to arms but one I think lacks in the area of basic premises.

Firstly, I have no argument with the actions of solidarity. Yes they are critically important since it is really only by standing together that we have a chance however the political divide Stephanie asserts between collectivism and individualism cries out for further examination.

the fundamental divide between Left and Right: the Left believe humans seek community and advancement through cooperation. The Right believe humans are motivated by self-interest. We’re about the collective. They’re about the individual

So there are a few problems here. Straight off I don’t think you can draw a clear cut line between left and right. Basically because boundaries tend to become a bit vague the more you examine them (if you want read some Derrida). Another way to look at it is to say black and white sounds good, ie you are either with us or agin us but the real world seems to be more of a spectrum with graduation of grey. So you can believe it’s a black or white thing but the reality is not so clear cut.

Another problem with such a polarised viewpoint is the insistence that community (perhaps one of the most overused words in the left’s dictionary of jargon) is synonymous with cooperation and is also the antithesis of individual self interest. As game theory (the prisoner’s dilemma) shows, cooperative behaviour between individuals has a better payoff over time than non-cooperative behaviour. We don’t need to arbitrarily pit collective behaviour against individualism, rather we need to demonstrate how collective behaviour provides the greatest benefit for the largest number of individuals. It’s about being pragmatic about outcomes.

A more insightful perspective is not to pose the left/right dichotomy as cooperation versus self-interest, rather we need to look at the what happens when the focus is shifted away from the greater good and towards appeals to self-interest. Such systematic institutionalised appeals (as we have been experiencing for several decades) tend to promote competitive behaviour between individuals. Competition has been elevated by the politics of the right as the “natural” arbiter of best outcomes yet this seems to be merely an assertion based on some sort of social darwinism rather than something grounded in a considered analysis of the relative strengths of cooperative and competitive behaviour in terms of the greater good.

Which is why solidarity is so important, it enables the greater good in both deed and outcomes.

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Democracy on life support

Quartz today had this tidbit about the declining interest in democracy.

It’s a sobering read, especially with the rise of strongman politics.

Analysis is a bit fraught with danger but surely a couple of likely explanations are possible.

Top of the pops surely has to be the failure of democratic governments to actually delivery what most people want. This takes a few forms but primarily the electorate is surely not so blind that they fail to see governments of all persuasion falling captive to minority vested interests. To put it bluntly when democratic governments fail to take on the big end of town or even worse simply get into bed with them, then voting for a party that promises to change that situation becomes an exercise in self deception. It is worth noting here that Trump is busy picking a bunch of cronies who will simply continue the same practices that Trump promised to change, people like billionaire bankers and former execs from Goldman Sachs.

The second but perhaps more insidious explanation is that given the lack of credibility re enacting measures that are beneficial to people as a whole, it becomes harder to sell the virtues of democracy and self realisation for the general population. Imagine this classroom discussion, teacher “democracy is where laws are made to advance the welfare of the majority of people” and student “so why are the rich getting richer and life is getting harder for the rest?”

In other words democracy has rather spectacularly failed to deliver in recent times.

Finally, the alternatives don’t seem too bad and our collective memory is failing to remember the historical struggle to overturn tyranny and oppression. The freedom to publicly express a healthy doubt about the government of the day and even a limited ability to hold power to some sort of account through a free press are not to be taken for granted. They are fundamental to keeping would be tyrants at bay. The world will be a much more hostile place if those things are lost.

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What Paradox?

Recently the New Yorker has caught my attention with a series of short and concise essays broadly around the Donald’s ascent. In that vein, the recent article about Silicon Valley and “fake news” struck me as insightful but I couldn’t help but wondering if the author was deliberately obtuse or if in fact I do live in an different dimension.

This paragraph

Whether self-driving cars and trucks, drones, privatization of civic services like transportation, or dynamic pricing, all these developments embrace automation and efficiency, and abhor friction and waste. As Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management told MIT Technology Review, “Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our skills and organizations aren’t keeping up.”

There is a punch line but as I’ve argued here before these indicators of success, productivity, innovation and efficiency depend on your perspective. If you are a capitalist business such things are beneficial to your bottom line, if on the other hand you owe your existence as a wage slave to the things arising from the consequence of inefficiencies or the lack of innovation then such measures become a threat.

The perfect example offered by Om Malik is the long haul truck driver, and a recent test to replace the driver with an automated process. Great for Uber (who bought the company doing the development) but not so good for the long haul truck drivers.

But returning to the “paradox”. Erik Brynjolfsson concluded the paragraph above with these words

It is, he said, “the great paradox of our era.”

I would argue that it is only a paradox if you assume that the interests pushing innovative disruption, ie the technocratic elite actually have a genuine interest in the welfare of the people affected by its change. Further, you could even argue that concerns about social impacts may well be seen as a unnecessary distraction to those who want to rule the new world. In other words, the disciples of disruptive technology regard the social aspect of their work as something disconnected from the actual technology, a thing apart.

You can see evidence of this in all sorts of places but primarily you see it in the utterances of (well paid) experts who champion technological innovation and production efficiency. Their view is that these things are naturally good because they are good for business and since what is good for business is good for the economy, so they should be also economically good. Since by extension a good economy is apparently good for everyone then the circle is complete, everyone benefits. Troublesome exceptions such as a large pool of potentially unemployed drivers will sort themselves out (magically).

The problem here is one of perspective. It is assumed that because technology is useful that it somehow trumps the social and personal. Unfortunately the obvious truth is “technology-powered capitalism…tends to reward fewer and fewer members of society”. Equally obviously, King Trump isn’t going to do bugger all about it. In fact if you want a conspiratorial analysis you might suspect that the powers to be understand that a, technology is going to fuck the existing socio-economic order leading to b. widespread social unrest which c. will undoubtedly lead to violent internal dissent which is why d. we are waging a so-called war on terror while the state steadily increases the surveillance and policing of its own.

Or maybe I read too much science fiction.

http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/silicon-valley-has-an-empathy-vacuum

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Protecting the status quo

I can’t help feeling the term “post-factual world” calls out for examination. While it does describe the new age of transitory facts or even “fake news” the problems seem massively far reaching. For instance, if the continue attacks on institutionalized medium succeed in destroying even the limited capacity of media to hold power to account, what then? Does anyone really believe this is in the best interests of the general population especially given has vocal the west has been historically in calling out autocratic and dictatorial regimes for their lack of press freedoms.

Logically, the demise of authoritative voices with regard to truth and facts simply permits the rise of voices that basically lie. Where that leads us is anybody’s guess but my hunch is nowhere good. However it is also obvious that no matter how much some people might wish for certain problems to disappear, saying it isn’t so often has no affect on facts of life. Take the future of work as a illustration.

By now we have all heard the message, the angry white people want the golden days driven by high wage manufacturing jobs to return. Apple got the message and announced it might bring some iPhone manufacturing back to the US. Bill Shorten got the message and launch a foray into temporary work visas and of course Trump has managed to blame everyone for the pitiful state of employment in the US rust belt, without even looking like the great deceiver.

This is all rather ironic since the dawn of neo-liberalism we have seem governments vacate the area of employment, other than to pay themselves handsomely. Instead the “market” has been considered the device best suited to offer people enough employment to get through life. And by now everyone knows that one’s suitability for employment is a function of how far you can mold your humanity into fitting the subservient nature of most work relationships or if you want a simple term, how good a worker you are.

The inconvenient facts about how the system seems to favour men over women, and white people over others are the subject of much argument, but imagine how much better things like jobs will be in the post-factual world. Media inspired arguments will disappear and everyone will be happy. Especially when governments clear all the red and green tape currently holding the business world in check and preventing them from employing everyone.

Now this could happen. It did once, when the US lifted itself out of the Great Depression. They could possibly do it again but there’s is a problem here. No one knows where we end up after the infrastructure boom is over since the last one rather rudely terminated in a bit of a war. My point here is twofold. The economic data that says an infrastructure boom will fix long term employment issues is clouded by the socio-political implications that accompany such a gung-ho economic approach. Before the facts are obliterated in a post-factual world, we need to remember where isolationism and nationalism took the world 70 odd years ago. The second point is that a massive rebuilding project after the war, coupled with some decline in the number of people looking for work due to them being dead and all that and wholesale open slather to consumption led us to the golden post war years, economically. But the economic picture has some political aspects.

Things like the EU and UN and international co-operation were things that were born out of a desire to avoid things like war. The politics of those times reflected people’s concern that we should avoid wars and instead work to make the world a better place. Meanwhile the economics meant people could focus on their jobs. The two fronts if you like tended to co-exist and probably culminated in the social democratic state of the 70’s and early 80’s.

The other elephant in the room is the general anxiety about the technological threat to future work. Most people I speak to about this (which is a very tiny subset of the general population) usually express some concern about whether they will have a job at all in ten or twenty years time. This is not solved by blaming foreigners for stealing your jobs, or blaming major companies for off-shoring their employment base even though anecdotally both claims may be true. Economists tend to dismiss techno fear when it comes to employment by saying it hasn’t happened before but we have never before seen the extent of disruption posed by smart machines and robots. The technotopia where no-one has to work has a serious reality problem where people need to work to live.

I’m optimistic about how we could deal with the second problem but the rise of reactionary isolationism isn’t likely to encourage a mindset where the world’s problems can be positively addressed. The facts are politics like those currently occupying centre stage have are dark side which takes us to dark places.

If only there was a light on the hill.

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The Elites #donaldspeak

Trump has arrived in no small part because ordinary people are apparently fed up with the elites running the show. But before we buy into this narrative, I want to know who are these elites that everyone suddenly seems to despise?

Let’s start with Wikipedia which says elite is “a term that originates from Latin eligere (“to choose, elect”). In political and sociological theory for a small group of powerful people that controls a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege or political power in a society.” We could say that Trump himself is something of an elite given his financial status and his inherited privilege but apparently his supporters don’t mind. Frankly that seems like a bit of a cognitive disconnect for me but clearly millions of Americans weren’t troubled. They were more concerned about Clinton’s elitism..

I recently experienced some first hand Trump mania here in Oz. In a small country town one old bloke who was a bit down on his luck was over the moon about the election of Trump. For him it was the start of a revolution in politics where ordinary people (like himself) would be listened to because Trump wasn’t just a politician, he was a businessman (presumably in the business of looking after ordinary people by closing his factories and importing his products). Again the disconnect seemed palpable but the passion was intense which worries me but on a very different level.

Two days later I again experienced the sort of atmosphere where Trump-ism is considered at least acceptable. It was a country race meeting where comfortably genteel peoples gather to drink champagne and watch horse racing. Maybe I imagined it but Trump’s victory seemed to hang in the air as some kind of sign, the forgotten bush folk have a new saviour who isn’t going to let those hipster elites tell them what to do. The crowd seemed older and predominantly anglo which inclined me to think they had a number of issues but when the topic of Trump came up with some younger people they were quick to point to all of Clinton’s failings (being a stooge for the elites seemed to be the common theme) while almost breathlessly romancing Trump’s capacity to change the game.

Given the rather conventional definition of “elite” and the perception that Donald is somehow anti-elite it seems to me that what these two instances highlight is this. The term “the elites” everyone is bandying around in the year of Trump is really a derogative shorthand for the urban intelligentsia who spend their time sipping latte’s while facebooking and laughing at the ignorant country folk. The fact that we seem to have bred certain politicians who are clearly at home with this mob means they must be part of the elite conspiracy too.

The other thing Dr Google offered me was plenty of web sites that discuss the conspiracies of elites running the world. I’ve no doubt plenty of people believe in the existence of a small bunch of elite puppet masters who pull the political strings all over the world but how does Trump help with that? Is he going to suddenly tax the shit out of wealth and close down the arms industries? Maybe he will nationalise the banks as part of making America great. No, he’s going to build some bridges and few fences. That will fix those pesky elites.

How is it that Trump is not seen as part of the “elite” problem when he has been a beneficiary of the system for all his life? Inherited wealth, check. Accrued power and privilege from wealth, check. Tax avoidance, check. Male privileges, check. And the list goes on.

Yet this seems to be a fact free world, post President Trump where words are just a smokescreen for feeling real. The imaginary world of climate change and its hipster disciples have run head on into the reactionary dispossessed who simply want their old jobs back. If Trump says he will fix it that’s good enough for them despite the obvious problem with taking the spoken word literally.

Our world is increasingly complex and there are obvious limits on how much complexity humans can cope with. The elites in Donaldspeak are a very big simplification which seems to avoid uncomfortable facts because they would challenge too many sacred cultural cows. And it seems completely appropriate to conclude by observing that Adolf Hitler made Germany great too, for a while. And he had his own elite problem.

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President Trump

O.M.G. The hidden support base of uneducated white americans flocked to their man. The NYT has this exit poll graphic which shows Trump gaining 14% in those who identify as white with no college education (what we tend to call white working class).

And who would have thought the large number of people left behind as the 21st century juggernaut that is the free ranging corporate beast consuming technological enhanced workplace rationalisations while dining on generous tax loopholes mixed with global labor glut, who would have thought they would vote for change?

Well to be be frank Bernie Sanders did. I read a tweet that said something about it wasn’t gender that decided the outcome, rather it was simply that Clinton wasn’t a good enough candidate and I have to totally agree. Of all the soul searching that is now going on in the heart of the democratic party in the US, surely the biggest question is why not Bernie Sanders?

It was a serious misjudgement. Bernie spoke to primary concern most voters have, their personal livelihoods. Clinton on the other hand seemed to think the world had moved on which really just left the door open for Trump to exploit the discontented.

The arguments and recriminations will be long. But the figures suggest the Democratic vote basically collapsed in some key states which in turn highlights the weakness of the Clinton campaign. It simply wasn’t enough to paint your opponent as ignorant xenophobic sexist pig. You still need to give people a reason to vote for you. At the end of the day, Clinton failed to get the sort of popular votes that elected Obama and the electorate was in a mood for change.

But if you thought the Bush years were bad, hold on to your seats because you aint seen nothing yet.

Footnote. Just read this article by Michael Brull over at New Matilda which expands greatly on my point about Bernie Sanders

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Vote early, vote often #actvotes

There I said it. Vote early, vote often. Make Canberra great again. Exercise your democratic right. Keep the bastards honest.

Slogans. Politicians are pretty good with slogans. We could have a slogan led recovery if only saying something made it happen. A bit like believing in magic, you know the bit about being able to mumble some arcane phrase or recite some incoherent collection of bizarre utterances or simply making a wish. I wish the world was a better place.

Of course slogans are important. The give you something to cling to in your hour of desperate need. Hillary really is a crook, or turn back the boats, or it’s time. It’s time? Well that’s different mainly because it looks like a slogan, sounds a bit like one too but unlike the so many Trumpisms it actually invites you to think a little. It’s time doesn’t simply offer you confirmation bias, rather you are led a little to think about the world we share. Is it time for a change?

But on the day of a local election I am really despairing of democracy in general. Not the principle, which I think might still be the best thing going but rather the way the ideal has been subverted by money and power. You could say we have the best damn democracies money can buy, and that friends would be pretty close to how I feel.

Our political system has become self serving, probably all political systems ultimately do. Some call it corruption which is fair enough after all the modern democracy is supposed to be a tool for improving the lives of all constituents, not just the privileged few who can buy the political favours they deserve. So our politicians have become the servants of the ruling elite currying favour with this mob or that one and lining their own pockets while they do. I mean look at the perks and payola they collect as politicians, all the while talking about the need for austerity and balancing budgets.

The losers are us. We lose the best tool we have to build a progressive, inclusive egalitarian world which to be Machiavellian, is probably the end game. For when democracies start collapsing totalitarianism will step up to the plate. In many places it is already half way there.

The core of the problem remains economic equality. Pretty much every other problem we have, including religion, would cease to be a burning crusade in peoples’ lives if we didn’t have such a huge divide between the rich and the rest. All the logical analysis that says that rich just get lucky or work hard or are smarter or something is demonstrably at odds with the unmistakable human sense that the “system” is rigged. This in turn invites more selfish behaviour which leads to less desirable politics which leads to broken democracies which leads to authoritarian regimes.

The Donald defines the extent of how broken things are getting but he’s no Robinson Cruscoe. He just happens to be the most obvious example. I wish it were not so.

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Robotopia

Ryan Avent appears to share my concerns about robots and work. Writing in the Guardian he warns “a world without work is coming – it could be utopia or it could be hell.”

It is rather telling that he lists some of the obvious problems with the upcoming robot nirvana, the biggest and most obvious being the simple fact that working for money is how most people pay the bills for the things that make life live-able. The other key point is that technology isn’t actually benefiting workers in terms of their share in the GDP. My personal experience is heavily weighted with evolving technology in the workplace and it seems relatively trivial to note that businesses employ technology to improve profit margins and not to pay staff more (which of course means less profits). Our faith in the economic mantra that technology ultimately means more work and more wages is definitely heading for a collision with a world where the first object of business is to make money.

Avent concludes “two centuries from now, I am confident, we will have worked everything out splendidly. Assuming, that is, that those of us alive now can manage the first painful steps without wrecking the world in the process” but if history is any guide, only a very optimistic person would believe those painful first steps aren’t going to involve some very extreme risks.

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