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A John Clarke Inspired Sketch: Mia from PMO

Brian: Thanks for your time tonight.

John: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Brian, good evening.

Brian: Now you’re from the Prime Minister’s office?

John: That’s right, Brian. I work for the big guy.

Brian: And what’s your name?

John: My name’s Mia, Brian.

Brian: Mia from the Prime Minister’s office. We haven’t seen you around much recently. Is everything alright?

John: It comes with the territory, Brian. The Prime Minister’s a busy man.

Brian: He must be, because we haven’t seen him in the last few days. What’s motivating him?

John: He gets his inspiration from Jesus, Brian.

Brian: How so?

John: Well, Brian, he often asks himself ‘What would Jesus do?’ and then for some reason he goes and hides for three days.

Brian: Then he sends you, Mia, out to speak to the media for him?

John: That’s my job, Brian laughter in the background.

John: What’s that?

Brian: Just the crew.

John: Why are they laughing? Are they laughing at me?

Brian: I really wouldn’t know, Mia.

John: I represent the Prime Minister.

Brian: Yes, I know you do, Mia, and you do it so well, too. Thanks for joining us tonight.

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Rupe’s Tantrum: NSW Edition

In my last piece, I looked at how Scott Morrison appeared to have lost the support of the man who truly runs Australia. There we looked at the column published under the name of Morrison’s dog, which left the Prime Minister beaten and bloody in an alley somewhere. This time, I want to look at NSW, again using the Errorgraph as the example. Similar to last time, I do not have the link to the article, but someone in my household buys this rag and so I have photos of the appropriate pages.

The Takedown, Part One: Joke Headline

This is hardly new for the Errorgraph: puns are common in their headlines. But this one takes advantage of quite possibly the worst name for a Health Minister: Brad Hazzard. Seriously, did no one think this through? Regardless of that, the front-page headline reads

HEALTH HAZZARD

YOU’RE OUT OF ORDER

Ok, that was my line. Referring to the unfortunately named Health Minister as Health Hazzard is supposed to come from satirists and critics. Not some public tantrum from Australia’s uncrowned king because incompetence makes his preferred political brand look bad.

The rest of the front page deals with quite a lot of truth for this rag. It says, in part

Epic advice fail let limo drive us to disaster.

Now Health Minister says the rules are just a ‘guide’

Legal Eagle slams lax language, calls for reform

Jesus: so much truth, and against an LNP minister. All of that is true: the advice was lax and the language left much to be desired (it used the word ‘near’ for Pete’s sake). These were little summaries off to the left of the front page. The beginnings of the article are interesting as well. A former leader of the DPP commented that the orders were unenforceable due to their imprecision. Minister Hazzard, according to the article, now says the rules are ‘given as a guide’. The placement of these two sentences next to each other implies a causal link that I am not sure is there, but I digress. If the two are linked, it is quite the copout from the Minister.

The Takedown, Part Two: The DPP for the People

The aforementioned former DPP leader had this to say about the health orders, specifically around wearing masks

[A rule requiring mas-wearing] “near” a shop or cafe is “too imprecise for a regulation that imposes criminal responsibility on any citizen”

Amen. How can the word ‘near’, which has not, to my knowledge, been defined, serve as the basis for a fine of $1000? This is Keystone Cops stuff right here. The Errorgraph then restates Hazzard’s claim that the rules are merely ‘a guide’. The Errograph did some actual journalism (shocking, I know) by asking about enforceability, and Health Hazzard accused them of looking for ‘loopholes’ in the orders. It is rare that I defend the Errorgraph, but when the orders have holes that you can drive a 747 through, the question should be asked. Also, talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Mr. Hazzard, fighting back against Telegraph personnel? Taking your life in your hands, much, Sir?

The former DPP official then had this to say, effectively driving the nail in

[Listing] “outdoor recreation” as a reasonable excuse to leave the home also creates confusion in the community. For some people, simply sunbathing may be their idea of outdoor recreation

Right. These orders have lacked precision from the start, seemingly because the Premier is unwilling to do what Mr. Andrews in Victoria did and enforce a ‘hard lockdown’. The exact reason for this is not clear, but I suspect it has something to do with LNP donors.

Calling for Hazzard’s Head: The Editorial

In a scathing editorial buried some 16 pages in, the Errorgraph Editor outlines some of Mr. Hazzard’s greatest hits, including this gem

Health orders are given as a guide to help the community get through what is a very difficult time. Some of them are precise and some of them are not

Yes, apparently he really said that. But the point of the editorial comes two sentences hence when the editor writes

There’s a chance Hazzard may retire at the next election. The Premier would be wise to accelerate this process

There it is, right there. An open call for the Premier to sack Mr. Hazzard. Since the election is taking place in 2023, that is surely what it means. The Minister has lost his master’s favour, and all that is left is for him to leave, with encouragement if necessary. But we live in a democracy remember. Before anyone suggests that this is merely an editorial, nothing gets printed in that rag without approval.

What is Going on Here? Analysis

For a publication that so often engages in blatant LNP propaganda, something is wrong here. As the title of this piece suggests, I would speculate that this article is the NSW version of the First Dog column. What is different here is the lack of anonymity. This was out and proud in the paper (including the front page) rather than buried. Rupert Murdoch is once again defending the Liberal Party as a brand, and some actual journalism also happened. This proves once again that objective, critical coverage of the LNP is possible, but that this partisan pandering propagandist chooses not to do it. Another point of note is the fact that this directs attention away from the rampant corruption within the NSW COALition. But credit where it is due: a broken clock is right twice a day and this piece, in rare form for this rag, is accurate in both its criticism of the health orders generally, and of Mr. Hazzard specifically. Rupe is still defending the Liberal Party as a brand, but it did result in some actual journalism.

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Grabbed by The Column: Morrison Loses Murdoch’s Favour?

This time I want to discuss the seemingly ridiculous idea that Scott Morrison’s dog has a column in the Errograph. One may think that the obsequious propaganda (or stupidity) has reached new heights: the First Dog has a newspaper column. But all is not as it seems.

Dog Column, Part One: Lazy Scott?

The Daily Errorgraph is a well-known vehicle of COALition propaganda: the bias simply drips off the page. I do not have the link to the article this time but someone in my household buys this rag and I took a photo of the ‘piece’.

The first section of note is this little gem

Someone says they have a big important job running the country and then you are locked down with them and you realise just how much time they spend making cups of tea, playing sudoku and watching Cronulla Sharks highlights on YouTube

Did you catch it? Joke column or not, this is quite excoriating of the Prime Minister. He is not working, running zoom calls, or indeed doing anything to earn the more than $550,000 per year his job apparently warrants. Rather, he is watching his beloved sharkies on YouTube and doing puzzles. Hardworking man our Prime Minister is the clear message.

Dog Column, Part Two: Scotty from Marketing

The column then moves on to make a joke about Morrison’s perhaps overblown cheering for Ash Barty. As the piece puts it

So already he [Morrison] was tired the next morning when Jen suggested he go out and clean up the verandah instead of spending all that time on his phone updating his Twitter account and congratulating Ash [Barty]

It is easy to see this as a dig at Morrison using sport as a distraction from his various shortcomings. Whether it is cricket, the sharkies, or Ash Barty, the Prime Minister has often hidden behind sport. The idea seems to be that everyone can agree sport is awesome for some reason. Sorry Scumo, but I for one can mentally multitask you mental midget. Even the Errograph can see through his crap. Something has clearly changed.

Dog Column, Part Three: The Greatest Hits

The criticism of the Prime Minister continues with this slap to the face reference to Morrison and the bushfires. Referring to cleaning up the mess on the verandah, which the dog partially takes credit for, Morrison is quoted as snapping at Jen saying

I don’t hold a hose, Jen

Jesus christ. Trouble in paradise (and I do not mean in the Morrison marriage). That line could well serve as Morrison’s political epitaph. It portrays him as an out-of-touch elitist for whom mundane tasks are the work of lower-status people. For this to be printed in the Errorgraph of all places speaks volumes about the evident breakdown of the relationship between the Prime Minister and the man who truly runs Australia.

The column then proceeds to criticise Mr. Morrison with a clear dig at his temper with this line

Anyone would think he was tackling the press corps rather than a request from the cheese and kisses

That references not only Mr. Morrison’s temper but his adversarial (to say the least) relationship with members of the press who dare to criticise him. This column has not been subtle so far, but it saves the best for last.

Dog Column, Part Four: A Real Jab

The hits just keep on coming. The final topic is vaccinations, and it packs a punch. After Jen says that Morrison should get the dog vaccinated, the hound says

As a dog, I am a strict anti-vaxxer myself so I was heartened to hear Scott arguing that with the tight border controls around Sydney’s lower north shore there was no rush to get me vaccinated. Apparently he felt happy leaving me needle-free until after the election.

Somewhat speaks for itself, no? No rush to get him vaccinated? This fuels speculation that there will be a sudden influx of vaccines prior to the calling of an election. This is not subtle and really leaves the Prime Minister hanging.

Continuing, Jen says

“You were supposed to get this [dog shots] sorted last year, Scott,” Jen said furiously. “You only had one job and you messed it up”

That was a two-by-four to the face. The Errorgraph is not messing around here. This is also the first true thing this rag has printed in some time if we ignore the date on the front page and the price of the paper. Before digging a little deeper into what I think is going on here, the last few lines are worthy of note

“Come on Buddy, time for a run on the lawn” said Scott, grabbing the ball and heading out through the verandah doors. He loves throwing the ball for me and then trying to get it first.

“Remember Buddy” he said, tossing the ball. “It’s not a race”

Stop it! He’s already dead. Not a race? There are no words here. Of all the things this column shows, the most brazen is that Murdoch could criticise Scott Morrison (accurately we should note – all of this is true) but that he chooses not to.

Analysis

There is perhaps more truth in the phrase ‘COALition propaganda rag’ than I first thought. As much praise as this and other Murdoch rags have heaped on Morrison, he himself is not the target. Murdoch is not defending Morrison as an individual, but rather the Liberal Party as a brand.

So long as Morrison served the agenda of keeping the Liberal Party in power, he was defended and provided with propaganda. Now that his sheer incompetence and other foibles threaten the Party’s grip on power, Rupe has seemingly turned on Morrison. It says much about the dishonesty of the Australian Montgomery Burns that the criticism was published anonymously.

‘Scomo’s Miracle’ was the Errograph front-page headline after the 2019 election. Rupe’s decision to turn on Morrison now, after the legion of scandals that has plagued him for much of his term, does suggest that an election is forthcoming. Given that the two likely alternatives (Spud – Dutton and Friesenburger – Frydenburg) are each about as popular as hundreds and thousands in a braille book, Rupe’s next move should be interesting.

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9-5 Jobs on Ice(land): Scandinavia Shows the Way

In a long-term study carried out in Iceland, the traditional 9 to 5 five work structure has been decimated. The research, carried out over four years, reduced the weekly hours workers put in without docking their pay. Specifically, they trialed a four-day workweek. The results will cause the capitalist class to squeal, squirm and yell every insult imaginable. Are you ready? Not only were the workers involved in the study much happier with greater work-life balance, but productivity went up. Let us delve into this.

The Study, Part One: Happy Workers

Over a period of four years, 2500 workers from various industries took part in a four day work week. Hours were reduced and pay remained the same. The results of the study were, according to one of the researchers

… hugely positive. Workers from all sorts of areas of the public sector are incredibly happy with their work-life balance, spending more time with their families, doing more kind of extracurricular activities — things like cycling, taking up new hobbies, and so on’

So, the workers’ lives improved as a result of spending less time at the office. Who would have thought? Now, I doubt the owner class would ever say this in so many words, but who gives a sh*t about that? They are peasants, they are replaceable. But those of us outside the sociopathic bubble of shareholders and corporate profits see the benefits. Happy workers are more likely to work hard for you and see their job as something of value. In short, people are less likely to revolt if you do not crush them. Shocking.

The Study, Part Two: Muh Profits!

One of the arguments one hears against reduced working hours or increased wages is ‘what about the profits’. The Ferengi from Star Trek are now a model, not a warning. This race was a parody of extreme, unfettered capitalism which placed profit above all else. Profit defined the very identity of a member of this species. There were no unions, health regulations, or anything else that got in the way of holy profit. This race is now the basis for modern so-called capitalism.

But it turns out this study has that covered too. According to the report outlining the findings

The trials were successful: participating workers
took on fewer hours and enjoyed greater well-being,
improved work-life balance and a better cooperative
spirit in the workplace — all while maintaining existing
standards of performance and productivity

That last clause is decisive. The precious profits of the parasitic vultures in the owner class remained the same. This despite the reduction in the number of hours the workers did. This research undermines the profit argument, with its petulant sense of entitlement to the time and labor of workers. Why should they break their backs to have the owner class hoard the vast majority of the profits? Technology has advanced to the point that this archaic, almost feudal social structure has outlived its usefulness.

Analysis: What of the Future?

As I said in the opening of this piece, if this study receives any coverage from the western media at all, it will be negative. The western owner class is not interested in workers having more time to themselves. The maintenance of the archaic structure of 9-5 Monday to Friday (and this only because the law says so) is much more important. The owner class will bitch about socialism and communism and all the other non-arguments they use to destroy anything that resounds to the benefit of the peasantry.

Let them. Let them squeal and expose their petulance and sense of entitlement for all to see. If they are willing to commit suicide in public, who are we to prevent them? This research is only the beginning.

Conclusion: A Long Time Coming

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes (of Keynesian Economics renown) predicted that, in the twenty-first century, a 15-hour workweek would suffice. This prediction, grounded in the technological development of the age, has of course not come to pass. The technology did, but the social change did not come with it. Let us remember that the 9-5 (or 9-3 in the case of school) schedule is artificial: we made it up. Indeed, the limitations that are placed on labor (child labor laws, minimum wage etc) were also made up. Never forget, friends, that the very existence of such laws tells you that if they could get away with it, they would.

But back to Keynes and his prediction. The idea that technology should result in fewer hours for workers and more time for, you know, living, has been long in the pipeline. The owner class just hoarded the benefits for themselves. Using America as an example, if the minimum wage kept pace with productivity (as it did before the 1980s) it would be more than $22/hr now instead of the $7.25 federal minimum. The owner class is, in a very real sense, a parasite: extracting resources from the host that is the rest of society. Unlike most parasites though, the owner class has convinced the host of its necessity. The current study says ‘not as essential as you think’, and it is to be lauded for that. May its data and conclusions serve as the basis for future, broader trials of this long-overdue and quite fundamental social change.

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The Case for Social Media as a Public Utility

Since the advent of social media, and specifically its rise as the primary means of mass communication, the power of the companies that own the platforms has increased exponentially. Since these companies often set their own rules that they then enforce, anyone can be removed for any reason at any time. One’s presence on social media is a temporary privilege that can be terminated at any time.

In this piece, I want to make the case for social media companies to be regulated in similar ways to telephones. It is true to say that one cannot have one’s access to the telephone cut off if one says something offensive. Whatever one says, access to the medium is not restricted. If the medium is used for illegal activities, the state takes action rather than the private company. When it comes to social media, the state has effectively surrendered its power to enforce the laws.

Corporations with Too Much Power, Part One: Facebook and Twitter

Examples abound of companies such as Facebook and Twitter effectively censoring customers because of something they said. Donald Trump is perhaps the most famous, but look at why Facebook and Twitter banned him. He did not break any laws (enough for charges to be filed anyway), but rather he violated a private company’s terms of service. A private company was able to censor the President of the United States? I hope I am not alone in suggesting that this is way too much power for a private corporation to have.

Please do not take the proceeding paragraph as some sort of defence of the former President. Such is not my purpose. I merely use Mr. Trump, a divisive figure to be sure, to illustrate the point about private corporations having power over speech. One of the arguments you hear is that censorship on social media is not, in American parlance, a First Amendment issue. The chief reason is that the First Amendment restricts the government’s ability to censor speech. It says nothing about corporations’ ability to do so. At the risk of engaging in a slippery slope fallacy, this argument should terrify you.

Corporations with Too Much Power, Part Two: YouTube

YouTube content creators that are considered ‘borderline’, a term best understood as critical of the establishment, are deprioritised. Examples include Secular Talk, Jimmy Dore, David Pakman, and others. These creators are simply not recommended to new potential subscribers. Indeed, when one watches these videos, in the ‘up next’ section of the page, one sees corporate news channels recommended. Such channels also appear on the front page of YouTube as well. Now you might argue that these channels also cover news, but that is little more than an artful dodge. The reason one goes to YouTube is to avoid the propaganda of mainstream media. YouTube as much as admitted that the so-called ‘borderline content’ was being removed from circulation in favour of ‘authoritative sources’, best understood as establishment media sources.

A question for YouTube: would these ‘authoritative sources’ be the same ones who lied the nation into war in Iraq? Would these be the same ‘authoritative sources’ who did Russiagate for five years? These sources are not ‘authoritative’, but rather tow the establishment line, which is seen as more ‘advertiser friendly’, which means YouTube makes more money. It is the money, Lebowski. One could be forgiven for thinking that the point of this deplatforming of channels that tell inconvenient truths was to turn YouTube, formerly under the tagline ‘broadcast yourself’, into Corporatetube.

A Counter-Argument: They are Private Companies

As I hinted at above, censorship on social media platforms is not a free speech issue. Laws protecting free speech say nothing about corporations’ power to limit free speech. Given that these platforms are private companies, one could argue they are within their rights to terminate anyone’s account at any time. Perhaps this is valid, but surely only to a point. Telephones are the ultimate example of the counter-point though. You can call Barack Obama a n*gger over the telephone if you want to and nothing will happen. You can tell sexist jokes and say all manner of ‘offensive’ things over the telephone and nothing will happen to you.

But if you do the same things (or in many cases much more benign stuff) you can find yourself perma-banned from these platforms without right of appeal. What is different? Why are the standards different on social media than on the telephone? As usual, please do not take the criticism of the differing standards as endorsements of the less savoury characters in society, but I want to know. Why is ‘being offensive’ (whatever that means) enough to get what is, in effect, the internet death penalty? The response to objectionable speech is not censorship, but more speech.

Proposed Solution: The First Amendment on Social Media

The solution to this frankly monstrous power in the hands of corporations is to extend First Amendment protections to social media. Short of libel, slander, direct threats of violence and sedition, it’s pretty much a free-for-all. That means that ‘offensive speech’, itself an utterly subjective term, is no longer grounds for censorship. Indeed, there is an American case where the Supreme Court ruled that the content of speech is not grounds for censorship. As I said in the opening paragraph, if the platform is used for illegal activities then the state should act. But I for one see a serious problem with the idea that corporations, not accountable to any laws, have pretty much unfettered control over people’s access to the primary means of communication.

If the decisions to ban or warn people are made by machines (which they must be given the sheer volume of posts), this too poses an issue. Machines, for all their intelligence, cannot ascertain tone, including sarcasm, or context. A youtuber I follow was recently perma-banned from Twitter because he quoted a line from Game of Thrones which says ‘all men must die’. He clearly meant it sarcastically, but a machine cannot tell the difference. It simply saw the words ‘men must die’, interpreted that as a threat of violence and banned him. He had broken no laws, but a private company’s terms of service.

Conclusion: A Cautionary Tale

Social media as a platform run by private enterprise should serve as a cautionary tale. When something becomes essential (itself debatable in this case I admit), it becomes a utility and should be regulated as such. Consider electricity and water. The idea that access to these things can be taken away because of an opinion is laughable. Now is that a perfect analogy? No. One can survive without social media. But communication, for which social media is the primary means, is essential. Free speech protections (with the usual caveats) should be applied to social media. The practicalities of this (since these platforms are used around the world) would be difficult to work out. But the current system of corporations as gatekeepers for what is and is not acceptable speech is not sustainable.

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The More Things Change: President Biden in Action

After a long hiatus due to other demands, I am back to once more contribute to this fine site. I trust you have all kept well.

In this piece, I seek to discuss seeming parallels between the Biden and Trump Administrations on policy. This is not a one-to-one comparison, so please put that strawman away. The policies of the President and his Administration are what are under consideration here. Not civility, decency or any of that other polite-society nonsense. I seek to look purely at the policy decisions of the Administration. Under this lens, I see evidence of a disturbing pattern of continuity that flys in the face of claims that Mr. Biden is the new FDR or some other agent of transformational change.

I’m Seeing a Pattern Here, Part One: Biden Appoints Trump Judges

The Hill is reporting that the Biden Administration has appointed ‘a slate’ of judges, first considered under the previous Administration, to immigration courts. Specifically, quoting

The Biden team has hired a slate of immigration judges initially selected during the Trump era, angering advocates who argue the White House is already failing to deliver in its pledge to push back against the prior administration’s shaping of the judiciary. The first 17 hires to the court system responsible for determining whether migrants get to remain in the country is filled with former prosecutors and counselors for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as a few picks with little immigration experience

Trump judges appointed by a Democratic Administration? The same Democratic Party who spent the previous six years mindlessly bashing Trump? If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say that Trump himself was the issue, not his policies and appointees, but that is for another time.

Also, interesting, is it not, that prosecutors and lawyers who worked for federal immigration enforcement agencies should become judges? No bias in those appointments. In addition, picking some individuals with no experience also screams competence. The Hill even adds that almost none of these appointees spent their careers representing migrants in court. Bodes well, Mr. President.

The Response

A former immigration judge, now serving as a law professor, aptly sums up the situation when he says

This is a list I would have expected out of Bill Barr or Jeff Sessions, but they’re not the attorney general anymore. Elections are supposed to have consequences…No one on that list is among the top 100 asylum authorities in the country, and that’s the kind of people they should be hiring — not prosecutorial re-treads.

Much to unpack here. The judge correctly identifies the Trumpian nature of these appointees, noting acerbically that ‘elections are supposed to have consequences’. This latter point gets to the core of the issue: there is seemingly little difference between Biden and Trump on this issue, at least in terms of judicial appointments. For Biden to appoint a slate of Trump’s judges does suggest some form of agreement with the policy of the previous White House. Before anyone suggests it, I am not making a one-to-one comparison. Rather, I am suggesting that Mr. Biden could have found his own appointees more in line with his apparently more humane immigration philosophy. He was not obligated to take on nominees considered by the previous Administration. You are what you do, and this does not reflect well on you, Mr. President

I’m Seeing a Pattern Here, Part Two: The Trump Tax cuts

Business Insider reports that, as part of negotiations with Republicans to fund his recovery agenda, Biden offered to reverse his pledge to do away with the 2017 Trump tax cut. This bill, according to the Tax Policy Center, was a large redistribution of wealth to the top. This study is the basis for a claim some of you may have heard, that 83% of the benefits of the 2017 tax bill went to the top 1%. One may argue that compromise is the essence of practical politics, and that campaign rhetoric is meaningless, but this still looks terrible. By even offering to maintain this plutocratic tax bill, the President has released blood into the water, displaying weakness on which Republicans will seize. Your negotiation strategy needs work, Sir.

I’m Seeing a Pattern Here, Part Three: The Military Budget

The Hill reports that President Biden’s Administration has set forth a military budget of $753Bil, approximately a $20Bil increase. While this figure admittedly does basically line up with inflation, it must be said that three-quarters of a trillion dollars is outrageous for a military budget. You lead the nominal ‘left’ party in America, Mr. President. Your military budget is more than the previous guy, who was allegedly an agent of a foreign power? That much establishment criticism of Trump was rendered hollow by the fact that they continued to grant him gargantuan military budgets should not be doubted.

But why, you ask. Why should the leader of the nominally ‘left’ party maintain these absurd budgets when Flint, Michigan has no clean water? While anywhere from 45-60000 people die every year because of the American ‘health’ system?

Conclusion: It’s the Corruption, Stupid

The motivation behind the apparent continuation of many Trump policies under Mr. Biden, many with bipartisan support, is quite simple. In no small irony, corruption is a bipartisan thing. What former President Eisenhower so prophetically christened the military-industrial complex has successfully purchased the loyalty of both parties. But the military-industrial complex is hardly alone. Have you ever noticed that issues receiving actual bipartisan support are almost always in the interest of the donor class? This is simply the reality of American politics: both sides are, in fact, bought.

Epilogue: Why Must We Vote for Biden Again?

The President is what the President does as I said above. While not ignoring the President, my ire is for those hacks who said ‘gotta vote for Biden, gotta vote for Biden’ like the partisan parakeets they were. The simple question, is why? Why should the Democratic base vote for Biden? His policies to some considerable extent mirror those of the Great Orange Disaster. What is the difference?

Mr. Biden aptly summed up his term (and indeed the Democratic Party) when he said

Nothing will fundamentally change.

 

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Media as Propaganda: The Biden Administration

Prologue: Maybe the Right had a (Limited) Point

The right-wing has long been critical of the media. Now, the majority of this criticism is wrong, since the claim is that the media ‘leans left’. This garbage is based on the idea that the non-Tory party is somehow Communist. In fairness to this claim, given how far to the right the Tory parties have gone, the other guys look like they have reanimated Comrade Lenin. But I digress. The media’s coverage of the newly minted Biden Administration, and specifically Vice-President Harris, leads me to suggest that maybe the right-wingers had a point in their criticism of the media. Only to a point though. The media does not have a ‘left’ bias (chiefly because there is no left). Rather, it has a Democratic bias because they wear the civility mask while implementing corporate governance.

In this piece I want to look at some examples of establishment media in the US doing either propaganda or serious CYA for the new Administration. I acknowledge now that some of this comes from Fox News of all places, so bring a 20kg bag of salt. But even Fox prints links to other pieces and sources to support their claims. Like the Roman Historian Tacitus, it is the spin on the data that we must watch for. While we can set aside phrases like ‘liberal media’ as rhetoric, links to Instagram pages certain media outlets have established to ‘cover Kamala Harris’ cannot be so easily dismissed.

Example One: NBC News and AIPAC

Both Fox News and Jimmy Dore are reporting that NBC News ‘archived’ a story (read removed it) from its website that was critical of the Biden White House. Specifically, a family foundation linked to a Biden pick for a seat on the National Security Council donated $500,000 to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC. NBC noted that the donations did not seem to pose a legal issue, but the appearance of bias in favour of Israel by a top American official did not look good.

Well, the pro-Israel lobby cannot let those facts go unchallenged by lies and smears. Critics labelled the article ‘offensive’ and even ‘anti-Semetic’ and demanded its removal. So, like the spineless clowns that they are, NBC caved to this nonsense pressure campaign and buried the story. It is amazing how critique of the policy of Israel, or even mentioning them without fawning praise, has been conflated with anti-Semitism. As the original NBC piece noted, while Israel is a close American ally, it acts in its own interests. Indeed, it repeatedly and aggressively spies on the US. NBC had to apologise and retract a story that told the truth. Rather than Israel and its lackeys demanding censorship, I want to focus here on the fact that the media removed a story that dealt with potential corruption within the Biden White House. This is crap.

Example Two: The LA Times and ‘Covering Kamala Harris’

The Los Angeles Times recently launched an Instagram page dedicated to photographs, quotes and other paraphernalia concerning the Vice President. The Times was sure to emphasise the fact that, per a Tweet, Harris is

the first vice president who is Black, South Asian, female and the direct descendants of immigrants

Who cares? Her heritage, gender etc make no difference to me. You know this is where certain media critics derive the whole ‘Yaas, Queen; slay!’ idea. This style of fawning praise based purely on identity and utterly devoid of substance is the stuff of propaganda. What has the newly minted Vice President actually done? Policies, please, not what boxes she ticks.

To no-one’s surprise, this ‘journalism’ was openly mocked on Twitter, as outlined in the Fox article. One criticism that resonates well with me personally is that offered by YouTube commentator Sydney Watson (her politics do not matter). She said this in reference to Harris and the characteristics the Times emphasised

You know what matters more than this list of immutable characteristics that make no difference to her competency? Whether or not she can perform her job

Amen. I do not care if Harris is the first Vice President who is an openly lesbian transgender purple-skinned nun. I care if she can do the job. The media is so focused on what she is that it ignores what she has done. I acknowledge that this Administration is new, but that cuts both ways. The media should wait until something has been done before providing its assessment.

Example Three: WAPO Scrubs Harris Gaff

As part of its reporting on the 2019 primary campaign trail, the Washington Post reported on Kamala Harris and her preparation for a debate in Miami. The original article is too long to quote here, but I will link to a Fox News piece that contains the original text prior to the edit. The long and the short of it is that Harris compared life on the campaign trail to prison. Indeed, she joked about the similarity between respite from the stresses of the campaign and a prisoner asking for food and water.

Well, the Biden Administration’s propaganda wing cannot allow those actual words of Kamala Harris to remain in the record. They scrubbed them, a full two years after the publication of the original article. Huh: it is almost as if the paper’s coverage of Harris changed once she was in a position of power. Someone should write a history of the media and politicians. Got your title already – From Watchdog to Lapdog: A History of The Media and Politicians.

Conclusion: Better than State-run Media

The media seems to be in the tank so to say for the Biden Administration. Whether editing the past (Example Three) or controlling the present (Examples One and Two), the propaganda bent is clear. This is actually better than state-run media in terms of propaganda. It maintains the illusion of press freedom because the state does not (directly) control these outlets. Such an illusion is useful because it maintains the mask of democracy and a free press, something so critical to Biden and his Administration.

To end, I want to reiterate that I am not a right-winger. Anyone who has read my previous articles for this site can see that. The conflation of criticism of Corporate Democrats and their media assistants with being ‘right-wing’ needs to stop. The fact that I have to go to right-wing sources for serious media analysis says much about the state of the media.

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Democrats as Aristocrats: Fetishising ‘Decency’

The time has come to call out American Liberals (corporate political insiders, suburban wine mums and Karens) for the 21st Century aristocrats that they are. These preening dandies, who are usually doing alright financially, obsess over ‘decency, honesty, integrity’, the aristocratic response to liberté, égalité, fraternité. This is their focus. Mere rhetoric. No action, for King Joe I, Peace be Upon Him, has arrived. Gag.

In this piece, I want to look at how Liberals (as defined above) have turned the previously nebulous phrases of ‘decency, honesty and integrity’ into fetishised buzzwords that involve no actual change. These terms are meant to sound good and have Liberals (and ideally the rest of the country) go back to sleep.

Do Me Decently, Part One: Fetishising ‘Decency’

Decency, like so many other terms in politics, is nebulous, subjective and ultimately void for its vagueness. But it has a very specific meaning when these aristocrats say it. The context for such a term is typically in response to the former Trump Administration. So much of the coverage of Trump was about some uncouth remark that he made and similar surface-level crap that has no place in serious political discourse. He was indecent, you see. He removed the mask of ‘civility’ and ‘decorum’ that had so long held the kleptocracy that is American government together. To paraphrase the Roman Emperor Tiberius, Trump’s government was no longer fleecing the sheep, but skinning them. The mask of civility was no longer there, and the corrupt, broken, corporate system was exposed for all to see.

When Joe Biden and American Liberals use the term ‘restoring decency’, which they do with annoying frequency, they mean ‘put the mask back on’. There is no point in running a corrupt government when there is a scandal every ten minutes. Scandals put the focus on the operations of the government, which exists to serve corporate and wealthy interests. To keep this scam going, we need ‘decent people’ in positions of authority. Those who know how the game works. This is why they hated Trump so.

Do Me Decently, Part Two: The New Aristocrats and ‘Back to Brunch’

Inherent in the suggestion that Trump himself was the problem rather than a symptom was that once he was gone, things would return to ‘normal’. This manifested itself in the pithy phrase ‘back to brunch’. It portrayed the idea that, with Trump out of the way, Liberals (as defined above) could return to their cushy lives. With Orange Man gone and the ‘serious people’ (interpret that as you see fit) back in charge, all was right again. These people are officially the new aristocrats: wealthy, preening moral dandies who reserve unto themselves and subsequently weaponise moral values.

There is a parallel to this among conservatives: so-called ‘freedom’. If you oppose some conservative idea or other you were ‘anti-freedom’ or ‘a tyrant’. A useful way to silence dissent. Turning to Liberals, if you say or do anything of which the new aristocrats disapprove, you will be ‘uncivil’, ‘impolite’ or whatever other BS term they care to throw at you. Once again, a useful way to silence dissent. Decency itself is now a weapon of the upper class. As long as the veneer of civility is maintained, these privileged aristocrats do not care if the country burns. We truly live in dangerous times.

Conclusion: Let them Eat Cake

YouTube commentator Kim Iversen uploaded a video in which she noted the media parroting the ‘back to brunch’ line. All is well now that Orange Man is gone. Complete and total ignorance of the underlying problem. Trump did not create these problems, but he did make them worse. The problem, at the end of the day, is neoliberalism. The American government has utterly abandoned its people when they needed it most. And now you pompous pr*cks have the nerve, the undulating balls to turn around and breath a collective sigh of relief?

Your irrelevant problem of an ‘uncivil’ President may be gone, but there is a 9/11 worth of deaths every single day from COVID-19. Your pseudo-solution to this problem is to rejoice in the civility of Joe. You are even worse than Marie Antoinette. As out of touch as her apocryphal comment was, at least she mentioned the peasants! Your response is to focus, just for a change, on yourselves. How relieved you are that Orange Man is gone. Please do not act surprised when the pitchforks and torches come out. You thought Trump was uncivil? Wait until the peasants come and put your neck under a guillotine.

Wise up, you feckless clowns. Even a despotic system like the Roman Empire at its height had the good sense to provide panem et circenses (bread and circuses) to keep its people fat and entertained. You preening dandies just expect them to fall in line because civilitah. They will come for you if their situation does not improve markedly.

It is up to you. Progress and reform can come through legislation or violence.

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Suicide Squad: Pelosi Returned as Speaker

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been returned as Speaker of the House of Representatives. She earned the requisite number of votes, suffering only five defections in her ranks, per the New York Times. Of those defectors, none of them was from the so-called Squad. This small subgroup within the Democratic Caucus consists of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. Each of these women voted to return Mrs. Pelosi as Speaker.

What? No Concessions!? The Failure of #forcethevote

I realise I am focusing on the Squad here, but the entire Progressive Caucus should come in for fierce criticism. The decision to support Mrs. Pelosi without demanding anything for your support is pathetic. Eternal and unremitting shame on all of you! You fell in line like good little spineless Democrats, and for what? You will not be rewarded for your shameless complicity. Even before the vote was taken, AOC was snubbed for a House Committee seat. What possible motivation did AOC have to vote for Pelosi? Playing the game is not going to get you on their team.

Democratic insiders hate you and everything you stand for. They do not see you voting for them as justification to offer greater responsibility. Quite the opposite in fact: they are entitled to your vote! You are insurgents against an occupying force of corrupt corporate sellouts. Once you realise that they will hate you no matter what you do, you can use that to your advantage. Of course, doing this takes a political spine, something you pseudo-progressives seem to lack. The label Progressive means ‘in favour of progress’. It implies representation of the people rather than the corporations. You were intended to be populist firebrands who would make the powerful uncomfortable. Your failure to do this is both bitterly disappointing but also instructive.

Populism and ‘Institutional Capture’, Part One: AOC

AOC is very much the public face of the pathetic surrender of the pseudo-Progressives and their capitulation to Pelosi. However, it would go too far to suggest that it is only brazen personal weakness on display here. There is also the political science term Institutional Capture. This is where someone begins as an idealist (as AOC did) and a populist but is worn down by the institution the longer they are there. You do not change the Congress, so the saying goes, the Congress changes you. This is not to say that AOC is now a corporate Democrat, but she does appear to have lost some of the populist shine that she once had.

The beginnings of this were visible when she called Nancy Pelosi ‘Mumma Bear’ a few months back. But why? Why and how did this young, aggressive, hopeful representative come to fall in line with a notoriously corrupt Speaker?

I would speculate that part of the answer comes from wanting to fit in as ‘the new girl’. This natural inclination is understandable up to a point. As one person among 435 members in the House, one can see her point of not wanting to make too many waves. Maybe you make a friend or two. But you must be careful, lest you become overly influenced. You must also take care not to worry about being unpopular, particularly among the corporatists. Voting against corporate tax cuts, deregulation or even the holy military budget is not something to be shied away from. Indeed, these are populist moves that will play well with the base. Ms. Cortez appears to have forgotten why she was sent to Congress in the first place.

Populism and ‘Institutional Capture’, Part Two: Bernie Sanders

One politician who has been in Washington for decades but largely retains his populist label and voting record is one, Bernard Sanders. Sanders is not perfect by any stretch, indeed he appears to lack the political killer instinct and he voted for the CARES Act. But Sanders is unapologetic in his calls for M4A, tuition-free college, etc you know the list. He lacks political judgement as his ‘negotiations’ with Joe Biden demonstrate, but he still casts what are called ‘controversial’ votes and is known as the ‘amendment king’ in Washington. Why is it that Sanders can ‘hold his own’ to such a greater extent than AOC and the Squad?

The precise reasoning behind this is not clear, but I would suggest the fact that he is an Independent is quite important. While it is true that Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, he is not, as pundits during his two Presidential runs never tired of pointing out, a Democrat. He owes Chuck Schumer (leader of the Democrats in the Senate) precisely nothing. Sanders is not ‘playing for a team’ unless the people count as a team. He also has much more political experience than AOC and the other members of the Squad. His experience has taught him that the Republicans think he is a Socialist and the Democrats are not far behind.

Further, if he ever cared at all about the opinion of his colleagues, he no longer does: f*ck them and their donors, I represent the people appears to be the ethos. Sanders’ IDGAF approach to politics is something from which AOC could learn a great deal.

Conclusion: Suicide Squad

As much as I have tried to provide broader context and explanations for the capitulation of the Squad, I am not carrying water for them. This vote shows the utter political spinelessness not only of the Squad, but of the Progressive Caucus as well. Now many of these are what we might call PINOs (Progressives In Name Only), but it is still bitterly disappointing. Molded by the institution, you fell in line behind the corporate candidate.

The achievement of great things often involves throwing caution to the wind. You are either afraid that the vote on M4A will fail (for reasons known only to yourselves) or you are not willing to be hated by your colleagues and the media. Newsflash you blind fools: such is already the case. You gave up all your power and you got nothing. Hone your political instincts or you may find a primary challenge is on its way.

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House Progressives and #forcethevote, Part Two: Historical Precedent and the Future

Prologue: This Is Not New

As precedent for what the House Progressives can do, I want to consider the example of the so-called Freedom Caucus. This was a small group of hyper-conservative Republican Representatives who, by using their numbers and sheer political will, forced former Speaker John Boehner to resign. An intransigent group of separatists not loyal to the GOP, they realised that leadership depended on them to get business done given how partisan Washington was. I want to examine sections of a monstrous Rolling Stone piece on these people and use that as precedent for #forcethevote.

Origins of the Freedom Caucus

Contrary to popular belief, the origins of the Freedom Caucus occurred late in the Bush Administration. Specifically, in response to the Wall St and auto industry bailouts. The Tea Party wave of 2010 presented itself as populists in opposition to the corporate bailouts. But these policies took place under Bush. This provides key context for the Freedom Caucus that we sometimes overlook. They defined themselves more in opposition to establishment Republicans than Democrats. This was a GOP civil war. The members of the Caucus formed a subgroup within the larger GOP Conference in the House. Further, they recognised the power this gave them.

The Rolling Stone piece notes the partisan and racial makeup of Freedom Caucus districts: deep-red and very white. I draw attention to this only for reasons of comparison with the Progressives in the House. They are a racially diverse subgroup within the Democratic Conference, so their appeal is much wider. It is easier for them to appeal to wider groups because of how they campaigned: populist without the wingnut aspect. As an example of the wingnut aspect, refer to the Rolling Stone piece about defunding planned parenthood and all that ‘dead baby parts’ garbage. The analogy between House Progressives and the Freedom Caucus goes only so far, but the parallel is apt.

The Resignation of John Boehner

The great achievement, if one may call it that, of the Freedom Caucus was the resignation of former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). This hardline subgroup made life so difficult for Boehner that he was forced to resign the Speakership. The reason, according to the Washington Post at the time, was that Boehner and his leadership team did not take a hardline enough approach when dealing with President Obama. Specifically, the focus of their ire was how Boehner and his team dealt with issues such as ‘government spending, abortion, immigration, and Obamacare’. In other words, Boehner and his team were concerned with governing rather than ideological purity. We note here that Boehner was not entirely blameless in the situation: there were also Democratic members in the House. Building a coalition could have led to more stable government in the House, but Boehner and his team refused.

The Parallel to House Progressives and #forcethevote

This article has officially taken on the form of a classic Rachel Maddow segment: historical parallel leading to the discussion of a contemporary issue. I want to be careful though: the parallel only goes so far. I am not suggesting that House Progressives act precisely as the Freedom Caucus did. As much as I would like to see Nancy Pelosi replaced as House Speaker, the issue for the moment is #forcethevote. If that causes her to resign, if she is that petulant, so be it. But such is not the purpose of the movement.

I am also not the first person to notice the parallel between the Freedom Caucus and House Progressives/Justice Democrats. One of the original founders of Justice Democrats, Kyle Kulinski (host of Secular Talk on Youtube) wanted to call the movement The Left Teaparty. Thus, the concept of a subgroup within the Democratic Party that would ultimately take it over was there from the start.

Where to Now: #forcethevote and Beyond, Part One: The Present

The idea of subgroups existing within political conferences is hardly new. One need only consider the cabal of hard-right lunatics in the Liberal Party. These clowns toppled a Prime Minister. But there is a difference between influencing policy (particularly in the correct direction as #forcethevote would do) and causing leaders to resign. As unpopular as Pelosi is on the left, no-one is suggesting that life be made so intolerable for her that she resign. She should leave of her own accord. All that is required, Madame Speaker, is a few policy concessions that are, you know, in line with what the majority of the electorate (across the aisle) actually wants.

Turning the Democrats into a populist party that would win elections should not scare you. You should welcome it with open arms. But you cannot allow such a vote, and you are counting on the Progressives to fold on cue like good little Democrats. The exposure of the establishment wings of both parties as whores of oligarchy (which you are) is something you simply cannot abide. The entire corrupt edifice would collapse once the peasants knew just how broken, rotten, and corrupt their government is. You must stop this movement with all possible force because some actual populist worked out how to expose you.

Where to Now: #forcethevote and Beyond, Part Two: The Future

But alas, the genie is not going back in the bottle. This movement, no matter how much you slander it, or how much AOC or some other apparent pseudo-progressive stands in the way, is here to stay. As efficiently as you will try to derail this, and even if it ultimately fails this time, you cannot kill an idea. Politics, like the law, is built on precedent. This idea is not going anywhere, and it has the people on its side. I suggest that all corporate politicians get with the populist programme. The very existence of the House Progressives indicates that corporate donations are not necessary to run for office. Therefore we must conclude that taking corporate donations is a choice.

Conclusion: Jimmy Dore and the Future of US Politics

Jimmy’s plan to #forcethevote exposes both the tools of oligarchy as well as their enablers who say ‘not right now’. Is this a little cutthroat? Perhaps it is, but America is desperate. Waiting for ‘the right time’, best understood as when the establishment runs out of delaying tactics, is not an option. Riddle me this: did MLK wait for ‘the right time’ for the Civil Rights Movement? Did Rosa Parks wait for ‘the right time’? The very point of rocking the boat, as those icons knew, was to create trouble and make people uncomfortable. Power surrenders nothing without a demand.

The ball is in your court, Progressives.

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House Progressives and #Forcethevote: A New Way in American Politics, Part One

Recently, comedian Jimmy Dore, formerly of The Young Turks, has generated waves in Progressive politics. Many Progressives have much to say on the problems in America (diagnosis) but are light on solutions (cure). On the contrary, Jimmy actually has a solution to the healthcare crisis. His approach is well thought out and works on both the strategic and tactical planes. In the first part of this piece, I want to discuss what Jimmy has in mind. Then, in another piece, I want to follow up with what I consider useful historical precedent and context for such an approach to politics

The Approach, Part One: A Vote for a Vote, Madame Speaker

Jimmy’s approach focuses on the fact that the Democrats, through their unique brand of corrupt corporate crapness, actually lost seats in the recent congressional elections. They still hold the majority (just), but the margin is slim. The Progressives, which include AOC, Ro Khanna, Rashida Talib, Cori Bush among others, obviously form part of that majority. In Jimmy’s formulation, the slimness of the Democrats’ majority combined with the number of true Progressives in the House gives the Progressives leverage.

He would have them withhold their vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker until she agrees in some tangible way to bring Medicare4All to a vote in the House. Their numbers are sufficient to deny Mrs Pelosi the Speakership. This is the power that the Progressives have. They have sufficient numbers to cause serious problems for leadership. In addition, it need not stop with a vote on Medicare4All: legislation also requires a majority. Something to contemplate.

This is brilliant, but it will require political courage, something the aforementioned Progressives have not been willing to show. The choice is yours, Mrs. Pelosi. 90% of Democratic voters want Medicare4All as policy. You claim to represent the people, so represent them.

The Approach, Part Two: It Works on So Many Levels!

If Mrs. Pelosi brings the issue up for a vote and it passes, fantastic. This represents a tactical victory. I say this will full knowledge that it will die in the Senate. Why pass something if you know it will die in the Senate, you may ask. 69% of Americans want this as policy. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kills this bill, fine. This provides campaign fodder for the next election. Something along the lines of ‘Mitch McConnell went against something nearly 7 out of 10 Americans want. Vote him out’. As an aside, any corporatist who opposes this based on its death in the Senate but voted for articles of impeachment is free to leave the room and not return.

If the bill actually comes up for a vote in the Senate and it dies, this campaign ad naturally extends to all Senators who vote against it. In other words, and I use this formulation often, but in reference to the popularity of Medicare4All, you take that fact and you break them with it! America is supposed to be a representative democracy: in this formulation lies great power if you are willing to use it. Jimmy has tapped into this.

But what happens if it dies in the House? So much the better there, too. The exact same data that I just placed in a campaign ad against Senate Republicans is transplanted into ads against every single House incumbent who voted against Medicare4All.

Conclusion: Gotcha Comin’ and Goin’

So, if the bill dies in the House or in the Senate, the Progressives have a considerably large stick with which to beat the corporatists of both parties at the next election. Strategically, this is brilliant. If Progressives actually have the courage to take their activism into the real world, there is a golden opportunity here.

To recap: Pelosi blocks the bill and the Progressives stick to their guns, she loses her Speakership. She lets it come to a vote and it dies, this exposes the corporatist wing of the party. It comes to a vote, it passes but dies in the Senate, the corporatists there are exposed. It passes both Houses of Congress, Joe Biden has already said he will veto it. Biden and the entire political establishment of both parties would thereby be exposed as the corrupt tools of oligarchy we have long suspected they were.

This is a fantastic plan and all it takes is the political courage to carry it out. In the next post I will delve into the so-called Freedom Caucus, a hyper-conservative subgroup within the Republican majority in the House during the Speakerships of John Boehner and Paul Ryan. This group, for all their political flaws, establish useful precedent for what the Progressives can do if they use their political leverage.

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More Than Meets The Eye: The Media and Politics

After a long hiatus, I am back to contribute once more to this fine site. I trust you all have been as well as can be expected given the ongoing trash fire that is 2020. This post will be a little more abstract and methodological than my usual posts, and I hope you will indulge me this time before I return to standard political analysis in future posts.

((The) Past is) Prologue: The Media as Historians

Many on this site are rightly fiercely critical of the actions of politicians. They are self-serving, corrupt hypocrites who care nothing for government or governance. This is all true. However, something occurred to me recently while reading through the Roman Historian Tacitus and doing my usual analysis. There is much more going on in what Tacitus describes than he actually writes. The author assumes the audience knows the procedural details of government and so makes limited comment on these procedures. This relates to how the media reports modern politics in the following way: they do not report the full picture either.

Indeed, the version of politics that the media presents is so oversimplified and omits so much of the detail as to border on the comical. It is necessary for consumers of media to be able to analyse what they read, not merely for bias cough Murdoch cough cough but to get at what is actually going on. The media are historians of contemporary events. The media of today becomes the archive of the future, so the decisions that the media makes have lasting consequences.

A Hypothetical Case in Point

Consider the following made-up News headline:

Brandis Passes 18C Reforms

Ok who is Brandis? What is his role? How were these reforms passed? What is 18C? What were these ‘reforms’? How did people react? etc

These questions are just the first ones that come to mind on initially reading that headline. The point of this hypothetical is to say that there is far more to this situation than is contained in that headline. Now you might ask whether headlines are meant to contain the detail. While the answer is no, it is not as though the details are present in the articles either.

More than Meets the Eye: What the Media Does Not Say

The case I want to consider is that of Scott Morrison, the current Lodge Occupant. I have been viciously critical of this man on this site, and that is not going to stop. The purpose of this piece is to request consideration of the broader context. I am not defending this pseudo-religious conman who personifies the phrase ‘style over substance’. This is rather a request to all of Mr. Morrison’s detractors, myself included, to consider all that the media does not say about the job of being Prime Minister. Like Tacitus reporting on Roman governance, there is far more going on than the media reports. This is a curiosity in light of the access that the media has to these people.

The point of all of this is to say that, like any leader, Morrison has one of the toughest jobs imaginable. Furthermore, the media does not report the details. Whether this is for nefarious reasons (the ABC or the Murdoch media does not want to make the LNP look bad) or some other reason, the media presents a skewed version of the political reality.

A quick international example: some leftie commentators accused President Bush 43 of spending one-third of his term in office on vacation. This sounds very damning until you consider the fact that the President is always ‘on-call’ lest anything should require their attention. This is the very definition of the term ‘working holiday’. Now, unlike Morrison and his decision to, borrowing from Friendlyjordies, f*ck off to Hawaii, Bush was, ya know, in the same hemisphere (and indeed country) during his ‘working holiday’ and was constantly on-call. But Bush’s detractors often left that crucial fact out because it did not fit the narrative.

What Do We Do? What Are We to Do?

I want to quickly clarify the comment I made above about the media being historians of events. They are the primary sources of events, the most contemporary with the events they describe. It is up to us, as political observers and commentators, to be the secondary sources. It is our job to analyse, unscramble and assess the reports of the primary sources and try to fill in the details not present in the articles for whatever reason.

As an example of what I mean, consider the following brief passage from the Roman Historian Cassius Dio

And wishing in some way to bring Gaius and Lucius to their senses still more sharply, he [Augustus] bestowed upon Tiberius the tribunician power [important civil political power] for five years, and assigned to him Armenia [a military command]

The framing of this incident is fascinating. The honours granted to Tiberius are not to honour him, but to chastise Gaius and Lucius. This framing diminishes Tiberius’ clear role as second to Augustus in the state. It is through the work of secondary scholars that we have identified this issue in Dio’s account and put forward a more accurate version of events. Tiberius did indeed receive the powers Dio mentions, but to clarify and put beyond doubt his role as Augustus’ colleague and successor. Would Gaius and Lucius have noticed that Tiberius had been advanced ahead of them and been perturbed? Perhaps, but this was not Augustus’ intention.

Conclusion: The Usefulness of the Media

For all their flaws, the media does serve a purpose: they are the primary sources with access to the politicians. The media reports their actual words, and while the media does spin the facts, the ability of intelligent people to see the spin, bias and other shtfckery is our power. The media provides the primary evidence, on which we use our analytical scalpel to get at a far closer approximation to the truth than these propagandists will ever proffer.

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What was Old is New Again: Twenty-First Century Iconoclasm

Prologue: Historical Background

In the period from roughly 641AD to the so-called Triumph of Orthodoxy in 843, the Byzantine Empire, based in modern Istanbul, went through a period of instability, both internal and external. The period is known as the Byzantine Dark Age or the Iconoclastic Controversy. As a result of the rise of Islam and its expansion, the Byzantines lost the rich eastern provinces which they ruled since the first century BC. The Byzantines lived in a religious age, and so to explain this collection of failures, they turned inward.

Specifically, they believed that they had lost god’s favour because of some sin or other. The sin that the Emperors of this period chose to focus on was Idolatry. Orthodox Christianity assumed an increasingly visual form as it evolved across the centuries. Depictions of important religious figures, including Jesus himself, were common. This many in the clergy, and eventually the government, saw as idolatry.

Iconoclasm in the ‘Modern’ World, Part One: ISIS

During 2015, as they waged war on anything non-Islamic, the so-called Islamic State destroyed precious historical buildings and statues. The world quite naturally responded with revulsion. Here we saw the destruction of buildings and monuments because they did not fit into a group’s preconceived ideas. In this case, it was religion which has quite the history of cultural destruction in the name of faith, but religion is by no means unique. Ideology, with its rigid demands that reality conforms to it rather than the reverse, creates the desire to destroy any icons/images that are antithetical. ISIS was just a particularly egregious example. This is but one example of people’s feelings getting hurt having widespread destructive consequences.

Iconoclasm in the ‘Modern’ World, Part Two: Literature

As recently as 2019 (although this controversy is quite old) we witnessed attempts to ban classic works of literature from study at school. The targets were Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Their crime? Use of the N-word dramatic chord. These gems of American literature – the land of the free home of the timid it seems – contained ‘language’ that ‘made some students feel uncomfortable’. As Harper Lee herself noted, the irony of refusing to study books with anti-racism themes over the use of racist language is explosive. The language is designed to make people feel uncomfortable. It exposes the horrific nature of racism.

Refusing to study this book because it contains a particular word is a form of iconoclasm. Even if we do not burn the book itself, because people are uncomfortable with it we must exclude it from the curriculum. What is the difference between the Byzantine Iconoclasts destroying images they saw as blasphemous, ISIS doing the same thing and these literary examples? In all three cases, something has to go because muh feels. Screw – you. The world is not required to accommodate your feelings. Things are going to make you uncomfortable. Get used to it. Cotton wool is not a sustainable living environment. Grow up.

Iconoclasm in the ‘Modern’ World, Part Three: Entertainment in 2020

The example I am about to discuss, that of the Fawlty Towers episode The Germans, has been abandoned and the episode remains available. I want to discuss what I see as the Iconoclasm at play here, so some background is necessary.

There were demands that the BBC remove the Fawlty Towers episode The Germans. This is where Basil (John Cleese) famously does a parody of Hitler including a funny walk reminiscent of The Ministry of Silly Walks from Monty Python. It also includes this brilliant exchange around ‘the war’

German Customer: Will you please stop talking about the war?

Basil: ME? You started it!

German: We did *not* start it

Basil: Yes you did you invaded Poland

Calls to ban this episode, like those with Lee and Twain’s books, utterly miss the point. First of all the ‘you started it’ scene is brilliant and typical of the misunderstandings common in Fawlty Towers. Second, the ‘woke mob’ misses the point that Cleese is making fun of Hitler by speaking gibberish and walking around like an idiot. Cleese’s physical comedy adds much to the scene.

Analysis: Missing the Point

The fact that the mob utterly missed the point of the scene and saw ‘comedy around Hitler’ and yelled ‘BAN IT’ says much about the current state of popular culture. Comedies about World War 2 abound: Hogan’s Heroes, ‘Allo ‘Allo and Dad’s Army among others. These comedies were actually part of the grieving process after the war. Through satire, these shows demystified the war. They portrayed on screen a version of what it was like (edited appropriately for television).

This concept of missing the point actually applies, in two ways, to all forms of Iconoclasm discussed here. First, you cannot kill an idea. You may destroy statues, you may censor books from the curriculum, you may get comedy episodes banned, but the ideas live on. No matter how many books you burn (give them time) the ideas behind them are not going anywhere. The tighter your grip, to paraphrase Leia, the less you hold onto.

The second way these ‘woke’ clowns miss the point is their failure to ascertain the message behind what they seek to ban. Whether it was satirising and criticising racism with Lee and Twain or satirising Hitler with Cleese, failure to understand satire does not invalidate it. There is a saying that if you do not like what a sign is advertising, do not buy the product. The modern, pithier version of this is keep scrolling. People are going to say things you do not like. No individual is the arbiter of what is acceptable. Moving to ban things that even large groups of people find offensive is not the height of ‘wokeness’, it is the height of ignorance and virtue-signalling. This leads to my conclusion.

Conclusion: Wokeness as Distraction

Prediction: there will be support for this new Iconoclasm from both the corporate sector and the corporate politicians. We have already seen this in the case of the protests around Black Lives Matter. Corporate politician Nancy Pelosi as well as corporate big-wig Jamie Dimon both ‘took knees’ in solidarity. Pelosi’s fake wokeness is well known, and the reason for this is simple. Solidarity with the protests, and even supporting banning certain things, keeps the focus away from the corrupt kleptocracy that passes for a government in the west.

So I have two gripes with the new Iconoclasm: you criticise art without understanding it and you are way too easily manipulated.

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The Past and The Future: Monuments in The Age of Black Lives Matter

In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, protests against racism sprung up around the world. One notable target of these protests has been monuments in major cities commemorating their often less-than-stellar history. Some even went so far as to suggest the renaming of military installations named for Confederate leaders in America. We will deal with Trump’s reaction to this below, but for now, I want to ask a question. What specifically is meant by ‘remove’ as The Guardian used in reference to these statues? One definition I can support, the other I oppose in the strongest possible terms.

Disclaimer: I am an historian by training, and this has influenced my take on this. I cannot abide the destruction of any form of historical documentation, no matter how it makes people feel or the contemporary climate. This includes the preservation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and statues of slaveholders. History is not just the good bits. There is a lot of savagery, barbarism, persecution and violence in human history. To destroy monuments to, and commemoration of, the unpleasant parts of history is to be a Ministry of Truth. It would be, if you will pardon the expression, a whitewashing of history. Over the next few paragraphs, I hope to make my position clear. You are free to disagree as always, but I ask that you hear me out.

Removing, Part One: Preservation away from Public View

As the title suggests, seeking to remove statues of Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Davis and others while preserving them is something I can support. If you do not wish for black people to have to look at statues of men who fought to preserve slavery, I understand. But put the monuments in a museum, please. Destroying statues does not show how ‘woke’ you are. Now here is where you might see some ‘preservation of arr heritage’ or similar argument. If your heritage is one of fighting to keep human beings as property, you need better heritage. But preservation serves history’s other main purpose: the warning sign.

Monuments commemorate individuals, achievements and past events. They do so with an agenda since many are propaganda, granted, but they commemorate never-the-less. Commemoration serves as a warning for future generations. The camps of the Holocaust were not destroyed, but rather became terra sacra (sacred ground) to ensure those atrocities are never forgotten and never repeated. Europe did not hide its anti-Semitic history but rather used the sites of its culmination to ensure the worst crimes were not repeated.

Monuments can serve the same purpose. When a child asks her mother ‘Who’s this Lee guy?’ she can tell her. Such a discussion cannot take place if the statue is in pieces in a landfill somewhere. As Churchill said, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Preservation of these statues outside public view is surely the best way to preserve the evidence of the past so future generations can learn history’s lessons.

Removing, Part Two: Destruction

What I have no time for is the wanton destruction of monuments. Not because I agree with the beliefs of the figures or any other Sally Strawman anyone might invent. As I said above, monuments are commemorations of the past: good and bad. The Res Gestae of Augustus is a brazen piece of political propaganda that tapers over some of the clears throat less savoury moments of his career. Some of these include taking over the state by force, proscribing his opponents and permanently exiling his daughter. Indeed, there is a famous bronze statue of Augustus (2.08m tall) in the Vatican Museum in Rome. Should this be destroyed because Augustus owned slaves, waged wars of conquest and ordered executions? Is he not ‘woke enough’ to survive in the Age of Black Lives Matter?

You might think the previous paragraph somewhat fallacious, but I ask you to consider why these statues are being targetted. These figures were racists, misogynists and all that. That is true. But so were figures from the much more distant past. Here comes the potentially fallacious argument: where would it stop? If statues of Lee and co can be potentially destroyed, what about Churchill? That man had myriad flaws yet his monuments are prominent. Before we get to Trump and his response to calls to rename military bases named after Confederate officers, a reiteration of my overall point seems appropriate. History is not merely the good bits. Indeed, history is, remarkably enough, the story of humans. Humans are flawed. To forget them is to forget their lessons.

Trump and the Confederate Bases

Calls have come forth, as I said above, calls to rename military bases named for Confederate officers. Trump’s response was, per The Guardian

These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a … history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom…The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations … Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!

That man is an idiot. Ok, in order. Great American Heritage? These are bases named after bigots and slaveholders! That is your ‘Great American Heritage’? A history of ‘Winning, Victory and Freedom’? They lost the war! Really! How can they be part of a history of winning when they lost the war? Also, freedom? Freedom for whom? To do what? The freedom for white people to own black people as property? Actually, do not answer that.

While it is true that many American heroes were trained on those bases and forts, changing the name attached to them has no consequences for the future or past heroes trained there. Further, changing the name of a base does not ‘tamper with history’ you wilfully ignorant simpleton. The history is still there even if you change the name. Finally, respect our military? You really do have the mentality of a child: changing anything, even a name, is to ‘disrespect’ the military. What an utter fetish patriot you are.

Conclusion: Addressing the Hypocrisy Charge

I want to end by addressing any potential charges of hypocrisy over my criticism of Trump in light of earlier paragraphs. There is no double standard here. The bases have monuments, plaques, signage and other ways of identifying them. We should put all of these things in the museum along with existing confederate monuments. I am also not suggesting that these bases be destroyed, merely renamed. It is surely the height of hubris and racial entitlement to expect black soldiers to train at Fort Lee, Fort Bragg (named for a terrible general by the way) or any other Confederate-named fort. Renaming them while preserving their history, rather than destroying them, is surely the compromise between doing nothing as the Idiot-in-Chief wishes to do and tearing them down.

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US Goes Full Fascist: Trump and The Floyd Protests

Disclaimer:

As an historian, I do not throw around the word fascist lightly. It has a very precise meaning but is so often used to describe anyone to the right of you. I am not using it in that sense. Fascism, as I am using it here, refers to an authoritarian and repressive government using military force to enforce its will domestically.

Background: The Protests Around the Death of George Floyd

Protests have erupted across America in response to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota. The protests have been largely peaceful, but there has also been some violence, looting and property destruction. The latter is obviously to be condemned, but we cannot ignore the wider systemic issues to which these protests are responding. Consider the following brief list. The blatant use of excessive force by the police. Systemic wealth and income inequality. Political corruption and the government’s pathetic response to COVID-19. Rank corporatism in the government. The death of Mr Floyd may have been the spark for these protests, but the powderkeg has been there for a long time.

What was the response from the police, you may ask? Violence, in a word. Jimmy Dore has covered multiple instances of police violence throughout these protests. The police have become a militarised force who are not to be questioned, just ask them (or maybe not). The issue here is not about responding to the issues the protesters are upset about. This is about maintaining and exercising power and control. The Mayors of many of the towns have backed the actions of the police, despite the violence. This should not surprise anyone: a unified front in response to criticism is a common political trick.

Fascism, USA, Part One: The Framework

In a speech from the White House, President Trump declared that

In recent days our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, rioters, criminals, ANTIFA and others.

He then described acts of violence against the police while omitting any mention of acts of violence by the police. He added this little gem too

These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror.

While the claim about violence being anathema to peaceful protest is true, domestic terror Mr President? Recall his false equivalence of ‘very fine people on both sides’ in reference to Charlottesville and the infamous ‘Jews will not replace us’ clowns? No such claim here. What could it be that is different about this situation? I cannot seem to put my finger on it. Somone will work it out I am sure.

Fascism, USA, Part Two: Martial Law?

He then gets to the point of the speech that is garnering the most attention. Having outlined (in suitably propagandistic terms) the nature of the situation, the President said this

I am taking immediate Presidential action to stop the violence and restore safety and security in America. I am mobilising all available federal resources (civlian and military) to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruciton and arson and to protect the rights of law-abaiding Americans including your Second Amendment Rights

Yes, Mr President, because the protesters were coming for people’s guns. That man is an idiot. He lives in a reality completely of his own creation. But more to the point, mobilising federal troops (that’s what federal military resources means)?

As if this point were not explicit enough, he added this

I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets. Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the steps that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them

That last clause is decisive: sending the military into states to quell protests. The President has now gone full fascist. To deploy the military against unruly citizens is the height of tyranny. It is the very definition of a dictatorship; the very form of government America claims to oppose.

Cease Quoting the Laws to Us, For We Carry Guns, Part One: The First Amendment

The title of this section is a modernisation of a line from the ancient biographer Plutarch in his life of Pompey the Great. It refers to the fact that when you have troops at your command, the law means nothing. Well, I am going to do it anyway. This blatant violation of at least two laws that I can think of off the top of my head must be called out. Trump’s claim to be able to deploy the armed forces against American citizens contravenes many laws (the First Amendment chief among them). Now before anyone tries to strawman me and say that the First Amendment does not protect rioting, I never said it did. But Trump has conflated the issue of rioting with protest broadly defined, which is protected by the ‘beautiful law’ to quote him. The text of the much-vaunted First Amendment says (in full)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

Note the word ‘peaceably’ in that quote. It is perfectly legal to assemble (gather and protest) and to petition for redress of grievances (cry out for change in some form). You can, indeed you must, arrest the rioters and criminals and leave the non-violent protesters alone. Trump’s conflation of non-violent, civil protest with the rioters, intentional or otherwise, allows him to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Nuance never was his strong suit however, so the precedent is set: protest is bad. Any other rights you would like to curtail, you fascist?

Cease Quoting the Laws to Us, for We Carry Guns, Part Two: Posse Comitatus

Of greater interest than the First Amendment violation, however, (where the hell are you constructionist and states’ rights conservatives?) is the violation of Posse Comitatus. Under this 1878 law, it is illegal for active duty (federal) soldiers to perform law enforcement functions inside US borders. In other words, federal troops cannot be used as a make-shift police force. Note that this only applied to federal troops. The state governors are Commanders in Chief of their respective National Guard regiments and can deploy them to supplement existing law enforcement. The prohibition is on using federal troops for law enforcement purposes inside US borders. The problem is clear enough: state governors have no authority over federal troops.

Trump’s policy of deploying the military to quell the violence (and by extension the protests) by definition means he intends to have the soldiers shoot people. They cannot enforce the law, so what other purpose do they serve? This is truly dangerous and must be opposed with all possible (non-violent) force.

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