Category Archives: Politics

The root of all evil?


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.


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


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.


How did we get to this?

As the Facebook generation enters adulthood I do wonder if the thinly disguised reference to a sinister side of “the platform” in the latest Jason Bourne movie has any substance. For those of you who aren’t a JB fan, one of the plot lines in the latest movie reveals the agency has a “special” relationship with the architect of a rapidly growing social media platform.

Let’s face it, if you wanted to install a surveillance state, Facebook is gold. Team it with a mobile phone and there’s a basic profile without having to lift a finger from the keyboard.

Nor do I think this is particularly paranoid. It just is the way it is. A surveillance state by stealth and what could be stealthier than something we have willingly signed up for?

But getting back to the JB plot line. While I think it isn’t outlandish to claim that government agencies might have special relationships with IT companies (since in fact they do, despite the widely reported Apple iPhone case) I am more interested in the real politics. To be Machiavellian, who benefits from the rise and rise of Facebook?

Obviously Zuckerberg gets rich. One day he will catch up with his sponsor Gates. But if you look at the impacts of a rising Facebook on the old world social fabric it seems to me that something else is going on.

The claim of Facebook is that everything is social and by definition, connected. Facebook rather innocuously claims to just be what people want, despite the obvious fact that Facebook is very tightly controlled and managed. Without intervention, Facebook would be a mess, much like the world is in real life. So in a sense Facebook is a sanitized version of life with some room for a bit of nastiness.

Is it a platform for social change? Remember the chest beating about the role of social media in the Arab Spring? And where exactly did that end up? Syria? Iraq?

It has been remarked by others that Facebook tends to be a sort of echo chamber where we tend to gravitate towards comfort zones, friends we agree with, pictures we like, groups we think are worthy, pages that appeal to us. Facebook makes it extremely easy to avoid anything we don’t like or agree with. In fact we are so bombarded with stuff we like or should know about that we simply don’t have time or the energy to look at anything else. And this is happening to billion plus facebook users every day.

Sociology isn’t my area of expertise but I suspect what is going on here amounts to something that is actually the antithesis of social connections. By immersing ourselves in our echo chamber of choice we actually disconnect from the rest of society. The divide between us and them appears to disappear but only because we never have to deal with them on Facebook, until they burst into our lives armed with guns and start shooting.

A lot of screentime has been consumed recently devoted to the apparent demise of democracy, specifically the two party state variety and how fractured traditional political models have become. Is this a consequence of the Facebook effect? Impossible to answer definitively but there is something in the rise of authoritarian nationalism which is enabled by a media platform which facilitates close minded bigotry which in turn preys on the breakup of seemingly weaker tolerant liberal society.

And to which we add the spying capacity of Facebook and mobile phones. Scary huh? Particularly when you consider the role of the secret police in authoritarian regimes.

Of course the truth is usually seen as the best weapon in defense of liberty and justice but what happens when truth assumes a totally relativistic position. Well you get Trump, that what’s happens.

The advocates of change and disruption are quite strident in how we have to embrace the new. The problem is the new has some worrying old coming along for the ride and it is quite possible all this technotopia will simply usher in an age we might live to regret. If we survive.


Only The Libs have a plan?

The Australian Financial Review claims “Malcolm Turnbull is the only leader with a genuine growth agenda” in their editorial. Why? Because of the magic pudding of corporate tax cuts.

Who are they kidding? On what planet does corporate tax cuts automatically ensure economic growth? Where is the evidence?

Corporate tax cuts do however ensure that corporations pay less taxes. Corporations like Crown Casinos and News Corp. Not to mention other perennial favourites like Leightons, BHP, Hancock Prospecting etc etc. Hmm corporate tax cuts must be good for us if it rewards those companies. But the evidence? I can find evidence that high corporate taxation doesn’t necessarily deter economic growth but really the simple bold assertion that giving the big end of town a cut rate on their taxes is suddenly going to fuel prodigious economic growth is at best unsupported by any actual evidence.

And the AFR criticism of Billy Shorten, he has engaged in class warfare. Digging into old school politics of envy. Tax the rich, help the poor, that sort of thing. Shame on you Bill.

So the problem isn’t really a matter of one side of politics has an economic plan and the other doesn’t. That’s bullshit. They both have a plan, but one side would rather work towards improving economic equality because that produces better social outcomes whereas the other side wishes to produce greater economic inequality because inequality is the primary device that drives the capitalist model, a model which has recently resulted in even more spectacular results for the rich.

But I guess at $4 per edition not too many unemployed are reading the AFR these days.


How has it come to this?

It’s a fair question and one a few workers might be asking themselves as news regarding the latest casualties in the Shoppies pay deal comes to light. Specifically, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), has traded off “penalty rates and casual loadings of vulnerable, low paid workers in exchange, in many cases, for barely a handful of coins in extra hourly pay”.

Well why bother joining a union? So you can give them money so they can sell you out to the employers? If unionism was teetering on the edge of an abyss, one union just decided to wander a bit closer to the edge.

But hyperbole aside, the question remains how on earth did this decision by the union get up? It smacks of corruption at some level and gross dishonesty on many others. But mostly it’s more fuel for despair. Where is the outrage? Why is Bill Shorten quietly ignoring this, praying the matter will go away? Every Labor candidate should be held to account, the party supposedly representing organised labour, is politely ignoring the implications of a union deal that screws the most vulnerable workers.

Of course it won’t get much traction as “an issue”. The focus is on “black holes” and “boat people”. What a crock.


Why Turnbull has to defend Negative Gearing

Crikey call it the ongoing war against young people (it is) and New Matilda identified the aspiring class of one years as winners in the current regime but despite these cogent ideas and well argued articles there remains one rather obvious response to Mr Turnbull’s hasty defence of the existing landed gentry.

Of course you need to realise that government is about governing the majority for the benefit of the few (the 1%). The magic is in not letting the cat out of the bag, hence the portrayal of struggling aspirants capitalists mixed with nuclear family values as virtuous examples of how well the system is working. Never mind analysis from unfriendly think tanks like the Grattan Institute which delivers a pretty bleak view for those who simply want a secure roof over their heads. No nothing to see here.

Hence armed with this realisation then the unspoken truth is that the existing massive tax breaks that favour the investing real estate barons of tomorrow who are the very people with the ear of Mr Turnbull and his bunch of crony neoliberals. How do we know this? Well if negative gearing wasn’t the biggest tax lurk under the Australian sun then Murdoch would be screaming blue murder. The lengths to which the entitled are going to convince the renter class that negative gearing is in THEIR interests is simply the only proof we need that it is in fact exactly the opposite.

But then as the late great Kerry used to say, it is the responsibility of the rich to minimise their tax burden to the full extent of the law (or words to that effect). And if successive sycophantic governments have made taxation for the rich completely optional well that’s just fine and dandy. I’m sure Kerry would agree.


Abbott’s Right Wing Agenda

Fairfax is doing a fair job on the subject of taxation. Today it revealed the extent of Rupert Murdoch’s tax evasion while simultaneously reporting further job cuts to the Australian Taxation Office. The two bits of news are clearly connected in the broad sense, both are about taxes, but there is something else.

The current fascist government of Tony Abbott is perhaps one of the most ideologically driven governments we’ve suffered in recent times. They have attacked almost any person or organisation with an agenda not sympathetic to their own bigoted world view, denying funding to a range of socially useful organisations and publicly denigrating public officials who question the government’s actions. On the other side of the coin, they have offered funding support for mainstream religion in the public education system. But it is on the subject of taxation that their class warfare is truly revealed.

Taxes pay for government services, such as education, health, defence and so on. A general idea is that taxation is also a form of wealth redistribution, that is, rich people pay proportional more tax than poor people and the benefits of government services, while distributed uniformly, tend to improve the living standards of poorer folk, since proportionally, they have less to spend on the sort of things government services help to provide. Such as universal health care or public infrastructure. Less taxes or less government revenue means less is available to spend on theses sorts of things, something that is currently framed in terms of government budget deficits.

The current government has a budget deficit problem. They tried to fix it by slashing expenditure on a range of government services, the sort that benefit the poor and middle class, only to find that a whole lot of people didn’t agree. Now, while busy carving up the one organisation responsible for collecting taxes, they are simultaneously proposing to reduce corporate tax rates and raise the ubiquitous goods and services tax which, as many have observed, tends to place an unfair tax burden on low income earners.

But if the Murdoch exercise in tax minimisation is indicative of what happens when corporations are responsible for their own reporting regimes (something else this government wants to do), then the future for government taxation on large corporations is pretty dim. It was the late great Kerry Packer who once declared it was his personal responsibility to avoid paying any taxes and John Howard rewarded Sir Kerry with a state funeral. It appears this government is keen to surpass Howard by not only moving the tax burden off large corporations and high income earners but also reducing the services governments provide to the less wealthy.

Actually it’s not a matter of appearances, that’s exactly what Tony Abbott is about. His government’s agenda is the most destructive in terms of undermining the social fabric of democratic government we have experienced in recent times. They are the advance guard of the new neocons who seek to destroy the capacity of governments to provide socially useful outcomes. With these people there is no hope.

From the SMH

From the SMH


Does the radical left have a better idea?

So the dust has settled with the G20 in Brisvegas but a inkstain in your favourite Murdoch rag and I’m wondering about the smorgasbord of analysis on offer, ranging from a typically anti-Abbott portrait by Ben Eltham to this communist comment from comrade Dave over at The Word from Struggle Street.

There’s plenty more but I am really taken by Ben’s perseverance and some logical inconsistencies Dave offers.

Ben’s problem is he has to write something and he has to write it for his audience. That’s not to say what he’s written is bad, but it smacks of superficiality. Yes our beloved Tone fucked up and reinforced the suspicions of most that he really isn’t up to the job, his subsequent fawning over China’s Xi even too much for the radical right’s motor mouth Alan Jones, but that’s not really the issue. In a sense that’s just the charade of politics and how it is examined. That doesn’t make it less newsworthy but it does continue more or less normal political commentary.

On the other hand, Comrade Dave cuts to the chase. The G20 is about the capitalist order and the lack of anything substantial emerging from it tells us the capitalist system hasn’t found its mojo despite the abundant navel gazing. But I have some problems with the songbook Dave and Dr Tad seem to reference, our so-called alienation from others in the form of capitalism’s exploitative hierarchical social relations. Just to be clear, I think there is something of merit in the argument that identifies the root of capitalism in the way social relations are structured, for instance Naomi Klein makes a similar claim vis-a-vis our disconnect from natural world. For Klein, humanity’s relationship with the planet mirrors the exploitative dominating attitude capitalists seem to express towards the rest of humanity. Klein, in my view, correctly locates the origin of this worldview in the western christian tradition where the Garden of Eden is given to Adam and Eve so they may exploit and prosper. Alternative worldviews such as aboriginal myths around the globe support the idea that the Christian exploitative relationships both to the planet and each other are but one way we can relate to others, or even one express our selves as human beings.

So my problem with any Marxist analysis is this. Basically it seems that a Marxist view remains in the social domain, the Marxist world is the form that emerges from a different set of social interaction compared with say the existing liberal democratic model that is the form of capitalist interactions. However, imagining a anti-capitalist world seems fraught with certain contradictions.

There is firstly the problem of revolution which as Derrida observes, carries within the seed of the next hierarchic order or state. It is tempting to believe a revolution grounded in communist values may negate or avoid the self imposed contradictions of a capitalist system but two recent examples, the USSR and China seem to suggest that the communist order is no more successful over time than its opposite. Again, the more durable example seems to be the older indigenous order with a somewhat submissive relationship with the natural world and decentralised power, reminiscent of a cellular structure as opposed to the west’s obsession with pyramids.

The second problem I have is this notion of so-called anti-politics. I fail to see how the struggles of non mainstream activists operating outside the traditional institutions of state politics is anything but politics in a different place. The old feminist motto, the personal is the political should be sufficient to explain this phenomenon but it seems the Marxist left are somewhat incapable of accepting a widespread social expression of shared values can transcend the limited scope imposed by Marx. Yes our personal relationships ground the social but the world is more than the sum total of our relationships with each other, it is also a product of our relationship to the animal within and without.

How we get there peacefully, en masse and with the planet intact is perhaps the single biggest challenge humanity has ever faced.


Outrageous public boo Prime Minister #itstime

Oh dear, the right honourable our PM, Mr Abbott and his preceeding neoliberal footsoldier Little Johnny Howard got booed when they turned up to Whitlam’s funeral. Clearly these people haven’t been reading the Daily Telegraph long enough to know their lines. Don’t these disgusting filth realise Australia needs Tony?


Just in case you aren’t getting the message, here’s how the “tele” covered the funeral


And just to make sure, they are running this insightful bit of journalism somewhere.

Take a bow Rupert. I wouldn’t piss on you if you were burning.