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An Opposition With A Majority: The Legacy of Tony Abbott

Now that he has been successfully excised from Parliament, it seems fitting that we discuss the legacy of one Anthony John Abbott. The former member for Warringah in Sydney will cast a long shadow on Australian politics, and not all of it for the better. Indeed, his time in politics serves as a major game changer in the history of Australian politics. He rewrote the playbook on political strategy and governance, and we suffer as a result.

Leader of the Opposition vs Alternative Prime Minister

As Leader of the Opposition, Abbott’s ostensible role in the House of Representatives was two-fold. First, his job was to hold the government to account, make sure they do their job effectively. Second, as Opposition Leader, his job was to put forward alternatives to the policies of the incumbent government. Remember, the Leader of the Opposition is the person who would be the Prime Minister if their party had a majority. They must be a viable alternative to the government. Abbott did not do this.

Now, as much as I personally despise the man for what he did to Julia Gillard, I must praise him for one thing. Never, in the history of the Australian Parliament, was there a more effective Leader of the Opposition than Tony Abbott. His relentless campaign of negativity, partisan bashing and opposition for its own sake backed by a partisan media – worked. He was the best Leader of the Opposition that I had ever seen. Note that I said Leader of the Opposition and not Alternative Prime Minister. Abbott had no idea what he would do if he ever got into government. All he knew how to do was be an attack dog; and he was good at it.

Transition Problems: Opposition to Government

Abbott and his not-so-merry band of troops formed a government in 2013. As with many new governments, they blamed their predecessors for the situation they inherited. This was not unique to the Liberals of 2013. What was different was that they never stopped blaming Labor. Indeed, their entire governing mantra was that they were the adults coming in to clean up ‘Labor’s Mess’ – which of course was crap. The legislative agenda, if you can call it that, was almost entirely negative: Repeal the Carbon Tax, Repeal the Mining Tax and essentially cut everything that anyone who was not rich valued.

Governments are supposed to have a positive agenda for the nation, not one that consists of undoing everything the previous mob did. Abbott and his troops were perpetually in campaign mode, even a full year after coming to office. Recall Joe Hockey, treasurer at the time, saying that he would have a surplus in his first year and every year after that. When his words proved to be lies, Hockey blamed Labor and said that Labor had said that he would have a surplus. That was a lie, of course, but he said it anyway. Political victory at any price. Speaking of politics, they politicised anything and everything, they were responsible for nothing and everything was somehow Labor’s fault.

An Opposition with A Majority

Blaming your predecessors is standard practice – for a while. But it eventually wears off. The Liberals do not appear to have understood the transition from opposition to government. Such was the legacy of Tony Abbott. He was such an effective Leader of the Opposition that his tactics became the new norm. The Liberals learned that this approach to politics worked and, typically conservative, thought ‘if it is not broken, why fix it’? A relentlessly negative and fear-based approach to politics had worked. It had the ethics of Eichmann of course, but it had worked. The immediate result of this political approach was that the Liberals had the power of government with the accountability of the opposition: none.

They achieved this through their relentless blaming of Labor for all their ills, which often resulted from their own policies. The Liberals justified their draconian fiscal policies (for the non-rich) by, you guessed it, blaming Labor. This despite the fact that Labor had managed the economy to the top of the OECD rankings. But no; everything was still their fault. Abbott’s legacy of relentless negativity and blaming the other side was now the norm.

A Long Shadow: Abbott out of Power

Even after Abbott’s removal as Prime Minister, little changed. This despite Turnbull previously being quite the affable salesman. However, the flavour and demeanour of the Turnbull government hardly changed at all. The idea of Abbott and his wing of the LNP controlling Turnbull finds further support in Abbott’s claim that Turnbull was ‘in office, not in power’. But even with Turnbull in office, the campaign of blaming Labor and the culture of fear, loathing and division remained. The legacy of Tony Abbott.

Even in the 2019 election, the Liberals put forth not one single policy, but instead ran a campaign on why the electorate should not vote for the Labor party. The entire campaign was negative, fear-based crap and was the campaign, as I said in my last piece, not of a government, but an opposition. An opposition that now has a majority.

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The 2019 Election and The Need for Media Reform

Scott Morrison has, somehow, been re-elected as Australia’s Prime Minister. After six years of astonishingly corrupt and inept government, the electorate, in its wisdom, has seen fit to re-elect the LNP. As the title of this piece suggests, the major take away from this election for me concerns the media. In particular, the open hostility of the print media, 70% of which Rupert Murdoch owns, to Bill Shorten and his Labor opposition. The television and radio were not much better; even the ABC, which any conservative will tell you ‘leans far left’, was openly hostile to Mr. Shorten. This bias in favour of one political party leads me to call for new legislation necessitating greater diversity of media ownership as well as the appointment of a truly independent ABC board.

The Loudest Voice: Rupert Murdoch

Let us be perfectly clear here: this is not about partisanship. The need for greater diversity of media ownership has nothing to do with the fact that Murdoch’s politics lean drastically to the right. If a raving leftie media mogul existed, and propagandised the electorate to the extent that Murdoch does, that would be a problem too. Rather, this is about whether one man, whatever his politics, gets to be the loudest (and essentially the only) voice in the debate. Murdoch’s extreme right wing politics has poisoned the electorate and installed a government that had no business winning this election.

To address the counterargument ‘isn’t Murdoch entitled to his opinion?’, two points. One, I never said he was not; you made that up. Second, while he can have his opinion, he is not entitled to turn that into the opinion of the nation. It is for this reason that greater diversity of media ownership is necessary. This is, as I said above, not about partisanship. This is about the undue influence of one man on politics. That man’s personal politics are irrelevant: a variety of opinions are necessary for a flourishing debate. The fact that any serious left-wing voices are either silenced or non-existent means we get far-right or right wing voices. Some debate.

Other Loud Voices: Clive Palmer

Clive Palmer spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money on ads not only for himself, but against Bill Shorten. You may recall the ‘Shifty Shorten’ campaign from the election. Now you might argue that Palmer is entitled to do as he pleases with his own money. I disagree: he should not be able to buy his way into parliament. A self-funded personal campaign is one thing, but to openly attack one of the major party leaders in ads you spent millions of dollars on? I do not think so.

We must institute reforms that limit the amount third parties, whether individuals, corporations or unions, can spend on elections. Wealthy individuals buying ads and funding campaigns in support of one party is anathema to democracy. Remember the anti-carbon and mining tax campaigns? In an actual democracy, if Rinehart and Forest disagree with government policy, their recourse is to vote like everyone else. They cannot deploy their wealth to get their way. That way oligarchy lies.

National Broadcaster Turned Nationalist Broadcaster: The ABC

It is remarkable that the Coalition can accuse the ABC of leaning ‘far left’, particularly in light of pieces like this one from Patricia Karvelas. This propaganda piece would make Sky News after Dark blush with how pro-liberal it was. Morrison is a ‘legend’ and ‘brilliant’ and ‘demolished’ Labor’s agenda. This is not journalism; this is a woman who works for an outlet that the government funds trying to keep her place as a line-item in the ever-reducing ABC budget. The ABC does not know, or is intentionally ignoring, the fact that the LNP does not care what they actually say or do. They have made up their mind: privatise the ABC. This network, once a bastion of actual journalism, is towing the government line for the privilege of temporary survival. Shame!

The solution to this problem of the ABC as a political football is to put in place a truly independent board, fund the network in five year blocks and chain this funding to inflation. Such an independent board would exclude any and all current or former News Corp employees and would, in accordance with the network’s own charter, represent all points of view. These provisions should be written into binding legislation and be subject to ongoing review. The government, regardless of its persuasion, would have no say in who is on the board, and oversight would make sure the board was working in the best interests of the ABC.

Solutions: Media Diversity and Clean Elections

Lest I should come across as purely critical, unlike the Morrison government, I actually want to offer solutions. First is legislated diversity of media ownership. Whether that means creating more print outlets or breaking up Murdoch’s empire, the percentage of the media he controls must reduce. Any voice that is as dominant as Murdoch’s requires balance. Perhaps Truth in Media laws might help as well. Laws that effectively say ‘You cannot make up stories to suit an agenda’. These are but two suggestions to bring actual diversity to Australia’s media.

As for clean elections, Clive Palmer’s multi-million dollar outlay surely demonstrates the need for a cap on election expenditure. The idea that a wealthy citizen has greater influence over elections than someone poor is not democratic. For reasons of consistency, this would need to extend to unions as well. The solution is for public funding of elections: ban all third-party expenditure. The treasury allocates a fixed amount of money to both parties and they make of that what they will. To hell with this idea of wealthy magnates buying the policies they want while the rest of us get the scraps.

Conclusion

I realise that all of these ideas may not be practical, and I have not worked out all the details. Rather, I hope to start a conversation here. Australia needs to get its democracy back. A major way we move towards this is by removing the poison that is Murdoch’s media empire and banning the wealthy from purchasing elections.

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The Bubble Bursts: The Shapiro Interview, Part One

Well known conservative figure Ben Shapiro was recently interviewed on the BBC by Andrew Neil, a fellow conservative. The interview has generated much talk online, with many on the political left mocking Shapiro for his poor showing. In this and a future post (since the interview is sixteen minutes long) I want to look at the exchange, focusing on the political substance, and dissect what he said, and then address a larger point about what the interview exposes about the modern right wing.

The Interview, Part One: Introduction 

Neil opened the exchange by asking Shapiro about his popularity, noting correctly that millions of people follow him on social media. He asked ‘what are you tapping into?’ Shapiro’s response, said in his usual mile a minute style, was as follows

‘Well I think there are a couple of things. One, there is actually a hunger for different ideas; the monolithic nature of the United States’ media is pretty evident in terms of its politics. People tend to agree on essentially the liberal points of view, and increasingly a radical leftist point of view in the media, and obviously I speak in response to that. At the same time, I try to provide an honest take on the issues of the day, and that means that I’m not beholden to the Republican Party for example. It means that I’m going to speak out when I think that a principle has been violated, no matter who is doing the violation’

The idea that the US media is ‘monolithic’ in its’ liberal points of view’ and is going ‘increasingly…radical leftist’ is laughable. The media in the United States is controlled by corporations who, while they may be liberal on social issues (hey, gays and blacks are consumers too), they are deeply conservative on economic issues and are out for themselves. What an absurd claim. Second, the idea that Shapiro provides an ‘honest take’ and is beholden to principle over party is also a crock. Shapiro is fond of calling anyone who criticises Israel, for any reason, an anti-semite. That is not principled, Mr. Shapiro. That is, in fact, the direct opposite. A principle, such as free speech, stands until you disagree with what is being said. Spare me.

The Interview, Part Two: GOP as the ‘Party of Trump?’ 

Neil asked Shapiro if the Republican Party is now the party of Trump. Shapiro’s response was, intentionally or otherwise, telling. He said

I think that the Republican party is the party of whomever is the President, technically speaking; but, in terms of who are the thought leaders inside the conservative movement, who are the people who are driving a lot of the discussion inside the conservative movement, I don’t think that’s correct at all. I think most Republicans see President Trump as a vehicle for their policy preferences, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they agree with all his personal foibles’

The GOP is the party of whomever the President is, provided that President is a Republican. He does not say that, but it is clear in light of their hatred for Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton. Now to the point: that last clause is decisive: most Republicans (by which he means the establishment and the elites) see Trump as a means to get their tax cuts and deregulation implemented but they object to the mean tweets. They object to the removal of the mask. The issue is not Trump’s policies, they agree with those (as Shapiro seems to). The issue is the fact that he is not polite and civil. An actual true statement, Mr. Shapiro, even if it was unintentional.

The Interview, Part Three: GOP out of Ideas?

Neil asked Shapiro if the conservative movement in the United States was ‘out of ideas’, stating accurately that ‘all the new policies; the medicare4all, $15 minimum wage…seem to be coming from the left’

Shapiro’s response was long, but the essential section is

[There is debate among conservatives over] what is the appropriate action to take in regard to the medical system? Should global warming be considered a real threat, or should global warming be considered as something that technology will solve?

What is the appropriate action to take concerning the health system? There is no debate on the right about this issue: your policy is clear. Get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

Also, two things on the issue of conservatives debating climate science. First, there is no debate among the people who matter (scientists). So, conservative opinions are not relevant. Second, if global warming is something that ‘technology will solve’, what does that actually mean? You will notice another of Mr. Shapiro’s debate tactics here: an utter lack of specifics so he cannot be pinned down. To end this section, if he means green technology then support the Green New Deal.

The Interview, Part Four: New Abortion Laws and Shapiro Cracks

It is worth quoting Andrew Neil’s next question to Shapiro in full. Neil says

Some of the ideas that are popular on your side of politics would seem to take us back to the Dark Ages. Georgia: new abortion laws, which you are much in favour of. A woman who miscarries could get thirty years [gaol]. A Georgia woman who travels to another state for an abortion procedure could get ten years. These are extreme hard policies

Neil’s question cites specific penalties to be enacted under this barbaric and draconian law. The question is not antagonistic in any way to Shapiro. It is critical of the policy, true, but that is what the media is supposed to do: subject government action and policy to scrutiny.

Shapiro’s ‘response’ and the exchange that followed is worth quoting in full

Shapiro: Well, ok a couple of things. One: I’m not sure – I mean quite frankly – are you an objective journalist or are you an opinion journalist?

 

Neil: I’m a journalist that asks questions

 

Shapiro: Ok, so you’re a supposedly objective journalist who calls policies with which you disagree ‘barbaric’ and suggesting only one side of the political aisle has ideas so I just want to point out…I just wish you would be honest in your own biases

 

Neil: I know that broadcasting in America is now so polarised that on one programme you only have the left and on one programme you only have the right. My job is to question those who have strong views and put an alternative to them

The exchange goes on, but you get the idea: Shapiro, seemingly unable (or unwilling) to defend his position (which he could have done – he had the floor), attacks the journalist. Much of what Neil said in that exchange was true: the new abortion laws in the United States are barbaric, the right wing is bereft of ideas. The fact that Mr. Shapiro does not like being confronted by an actual adversarial journalist does not change the fact that Neil did a good job interviewing him. Mr Shapiro is used to being in a right-wing echo-chamber where he is coddled and asked softball questions with barely an opposing view in sight. He is clearly out of his comfort zone here.

More of this pseudo-intellectual next time

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Uncle Joe’s Campaign Slogan: Oh, Here We Go!

Former Vice President Joe Biden has officially come out with his campaign slogan. In a direct response to Trump’s Make America Great Again, Uncle (or perhaps Grandpa might be more appropriate) Joe has announced his campaign slogan: Make America Moral Again. Sigh. I want to break Uncle Joe’s campaign slogan down and try and get at whatever it claims its substance is.

The Slogan in Its Full Context

Mr. Biden appeared on Good Morning America, alongside his wife, Jill. The interviewer asked him if he had a campaign slogan. He replied with Make America Moral Again, and then proceeded to define it in these terms, taken from the Washington Examiner

‘Make America return to the essence of who we are, the dignity of the country, the dignity and treating our people with dignity and this God-awful deliberate division that’s being taken in order to separate people to aggrandize his own power’

Spoken with a most deliberate soft voice and slow cadence, Biden’s words ring every bit as hollow as Trump’s vacuous crap about making America great again. Say what you will about MAGA and its emptiness, humans at their core would, I think, rather be great than moral. So Trump is appealing to something that resonates at a visceral level. Morality is also a subjective term. It means different thing to different people. This allows voters, much like they did with Trump, to read what they want into Joe’s candidacy. This gives Biden the freedom to do what he wants (or more accurately what he is told) and the people have no recourse. He never said he would do Medicare4All, living wage etc. The electorate projected that onto him. Such is the freedom of empty campaign slogans.

The Essence of Who We Are

To parse his words in the quote above, a return to the essence of who we are, Mr. Biden? Would that be a nation founded on liberty that maintained slavery, and indeed had to fight a civil war to get rid of it? A nation which, since the end of world war two, has invaded dozens of countries, some multiple times, in order to install dictators and establish or defend corporate interests? Would that be a nation that supports Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their legion crimes against humanity? Would that be a nation that has 1% of the world’s prison population and maintains for-profit prisons? The essence of who we are, no matter how soft a voice you use, is a nation with myriad flaws and gallons of blood on its hands. I would drop the moral argument, Sir, you will lose it!

The Breakdown, Part One: Meaning

Joe’s campaign slogan, much like the Trump slogan it is responding to, is devoid of meaning. Now, you might argue that all campaign slogans are devoid of meaning, and there is a degree of truth to this. However, Joe has chosen a particularly bad version of the substance-free campaign slogan.

Make America Moral Again. Some questions, Mr. Vice President

  1. What does it mean to be ‘moral’? Moral in what way? Joining the rest of the civilised world in creating a universal healthcare system for your citizens? Getting out of unnecessary, unproductive and prohibitively expensive wars and reinvesting that money at home?
  2. Make America Moral Again? Analogous to Trump’s claim of making America Great, I must ask when America was moral, exactly? I outlined a brief description of America’s many flaws above, so when was America moral? Every nation has its flaws, so the evidence often lays waste any claim of moral superiority.
  3. The personal targeting of Trump as the problem is another aspect of this slogan that I must address. The suggestion is that things went downhill (or fell off a cliff) once Trump came to power. No. The Republican Party has been the problem for years (if not decades). Trump is, as I said in a previous post, simply the id of the Party. Even if you get rid of Trump, the party of racism, plutocracy and war remains in place. Trump is not the problem here; he is a result of the symptoms that brought him to power. Even if you want to argue that Trump has made things worse, there had to be something to make worse. Trump is not the problem.

The Breakdown, Part Two: Optics 

There are two chief criticisms of Uncle Joe’s Make America Moral Again that immediately come to mind.

The first is the fact that the slogan is clearly derivative, or perhaps even a rip-off, of Trump’s Make America Great Again. A cheap knockoff is never as good as the original. MAGA, for all its flaws and the cultural supremacy it implied, was an effective slogan. It worked, because greatness as a topic makes people take notice.

The second criticism is the unfortunate acronym that is attached to Make America Moral Again: MAMA (mumma). Could there be anything more profoundly corporate Democrat in its nature and structure than this slogan? Nothing is going to make conservatives say ‘soy boy’ and call Democrats weak than a slogan that can be vocalised as ‘mumma’. This campaign slogan was clearly not thought through. Corporatism to the core. Pathetic, weak, defeatist.

Conclusion: What it Really Means

Far be it from me to attempt to actually read the minds of the corporate establishment (or anyone else for that matter), but I do think I know what this campaign slogan is designed to convey, and who the intended audience is.

The intended audience is the corporations and the elite, and the message is that the veneer of civility will be re-established, as the country continues to be governed in corporate interests. Biden, Hillary and the rest of the corporate cronies agree with Trump on the policy, and so the criticism is centred on dividing the nation and the racial issues (see my previous article about Safe Topics). What they hate about Trump is the fact that he ripped the mask off. They despise the fact that he is ‘uncivilised’; in short? They hate the mean tweets.

What Joe Biden’s Make America Moral Again really means is ‘we will be civilised and polite as we allow corporations and the elite to loot the treasury and take all the benefits for themselves and screw over the people.’

One word for you Joe

Next

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Cult 45: President Trump

Since the start of his presidency, Donald Trump has been a highly polarising figure. Like his predecessors in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, he is subject to constant and quite critical coverage. However, he has never lost the support of that hardcore Republican base. These are the voters who supported (and still support) Trump not despite his bigotry, racism and general lack of intelligence (all true), but because of it. They support him not because they see him as the brick through the establishment window; they do not care about that. No; they support Trump because he is the Id of the Republican party. He is the unrestrained, unapologetic representation of those core values that they espouse. After seeing Republicans for decades being coded in their bigotry and social regression, these rubes now have the real thing in Donald Trump; and they love him for it.

The ‘Values Voters’ and Trump

You might be asking yourself ‘what is this id of the Republican party’ that Trump represents so perfectly? It is quite simple: unfiltered, unapologetic white, male Christian supremacy. In his rhetoric, Trump constantly attacks women (using terms like pig and dog), people who are not white (black NFL protesters were ‘ungrateful’ – not quite uppity – but pretty close) and Muslims (the ‘total and complete shutdown’).

The hardcore base, what Keith Olbermann many years ago called ‘those poor, dumb, manipulated bastards’, loves this part of Trump. Indeed, they love it so much that they will look past (or even ignore) his constant lies, his faux populism and his genuine stupidity. He gives them what they want, and it makes the Libtards cry. What more could a rube ask for? To borrow from Animal Farm, Trump is the Napoleon to the Sheep that are the Republican base. He panders to the very worst of their impulses and desires and they mindlessly support him, even if it kills them. Four legs good, two legs bad.

‘Fighting Trump’, Pt One: The Media’s Role 

Part of the reason I think Trump pursues this strategy (assuming there is any planning involved) is because of how the media attacks him. It is the equivalent of fighting a fire with gasoline. Look at this racist/sexist thing the President tweeted, they screech. What they do not seem to realise is that this is precisely why his base loves him. You are not going to turn them away from him by pointing out what they like about him. As for the rest of the nation, I imagine they have known the terrible person Trump was since early in the campaign, to say nothing of what he has done in office. So to whom are you speaking? Who is your target audience for all this outrage over non-issues?

Now while it is true that there are examples of Trump being genuinely unintelligent, and the media does give those some attention, a lot of the criticism is trite nonsense, particularly around the racist and sexist content (keep reading). Ok, so the President is a racist. Even if we grant that, it does not break the country, except as it translates into policy. Now, Trump’s policy has been far from ideal, but it is not as though he is the first racist to ever be President. To hear the media tell it, Trump is the most racist President in American history.

‘Fighting Trump’, Pt. Two: Safe Topics

Let us back up here. I am not defending the man by any stretch: I believe his term in office has been marked by a hawkish foreign policy, environmental destruction through deregulation and an utterly oligarchic and plutocratic economic policy. But that is precisely the point. Do you notice that you rarely, if ever, hear any criticism of the President on those matters in the corporate media? Do you ever hear any substantive criticism of his deregulation? His tax cuts for the rich? Or his utter selling out to the military industrial complex? Or Wall St?

No – and I will tell you why. Those same corporations to whom Donald Trump is beholden either own or have serious influence with the media companies. Whether it is Comcast or some other media conglomerate, they are doing quite well out of this kleptocracy thank you very much, so those topics are best left undiscussed if you plan to keep your job. The media has essentially gone from the watchdog of those in power, to their lap dog. Avoiding like the plague any substantive conversation of policies that would actually help the wage slaves.

This partially explains the focus on Trump’s racism, sexism and other non-issues. These topics are safe for corporate media to discuss because they involve no actual concrete policy issues. I would even extend the plethora of non-issues to Russia. What policy result does endless speculation and drumming up of Russia and the threat it does not pose achieve? Looking at you Rachel Maddow. When substance-free conversation takes up all the oxygen in a room, actual serious policy issues like Medicare4All, free university, a living wage, ending the wars and the actual substantive issues are drowned out.

Conclusion: Trump as the Ultimate Safe Topic

It is a strange irony indeed that Donald Trump himself is proving to be the ultimate safe topic for the media. They can discuss him personally until the proverbial cows come home and nothing will change in terms of policy.

Final observation: during the Republican primary in 2016, Hillary Clinton put Donald Trump forward as a ‘pied-piper candidate’. This refers to a candidate who was such a buffon that he would be easier to beat in the general (election). In a strange way, she turned out to be right. Donald Trump did indeed turn out to be the shiny distraction. Indeed, he was perhaps better at it than she intended.

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Deconstructing Pauline Hanson’s ACA Interview

After the latest political embarrassment to engulf her party, Senator Pauline Hanson went on A Current Affair for what Junkee media aptly called ‘a giant sook’. All of a sudden, the great ‘keepin it real’ and ‘no-one cares about your feelings’ candidate became the very social justice warrior she decries. Whether it was playing the victim, poor me, overly emotional, conspiracy theories you name it; she did it. I want to look at selections from the interview and deconstruct this incoherent woman’s victim complex along with the other crap she spewed.

The Background: The Resignation of Steve Dickson and Other Clowns

Now former One Nation candidate Steve Dickson tendered his resignation after footage of him groping an exotic dancer and making wildly inappropriate comments about women came to light. What is worse, he actually used the excuse that he was drunk when he said and did those vile things. No excuse, genius. Indeed the phrase in vino veritas (truth in wine) comes to mind. At least he had the good sense to resign.

Dickson joins a long list of truly well-vetted candidates, including a homophobe, a conspiracy theorist and one genius who threatened to murder an employee. Clearly, Senator Hanson, who acknowledged that she is the leader of the party and thus the buck stops with her, does not vet her candidates. These candidates are examples of what John Doyle once called ‘any half-baked dickhead who string two sentences together’.

The Interview, Part One: Muh Feels!

The resignation of Mr Dickson seems to have been the last straw for Ms Hanson, who went on the intellectual powerhouse that is A Current Affair to get her rantings out to the base.

Speaking to Tracey Grimshaw, Hanson opened with this gem:

I’m just so upset, Tracey. I’ve worked for this for twenty-three years, since I was first elected to parliament in 1996. I’ve had my ups and downs with this, and I just feel I’m getting kicked in the guts time and time again … this was a sting three years in the making to discredit One Nation and pull us down. This [footage of Steve Dickson]was done last September. Now it comes out now, just on the cusp of an election?

Oh, cry me a river. Getting kicked in the guts? You chose terrible candidates to run for office, seemingly without doing basic research. The fact that people point out what horrible candidates (and human beings) these individuals were is not kicking you in the guts. You are not the victim here. Indeed, your incompetence is on glaring display. Despite the actions of the Liberal Party, we live in the information age. The entirety of human knowledge is in the palm of the average person’s hand. Candidates must, like Caesar’s wife, be above reproach. The fact that your candidates turned out to be violent and bigoted nuts does not make you the victim. Next.

Ms Hanson then proceeded to criticise the fact that Channel Nine played the tape from Al Jazeera without permission. Grimshaw explained that it was a leak, and that is how leaks work. Hanson’s response is quite similar to other politicians’ reactions to leaks that make them look foolish: ignore what is in the source, criticise the fact that it was reported in the first place.

The Interview, Part Two: The Circus Roles On

Hanson then asked:

Why is everyone so frightened of myself? Why is everyone so frightened of One Nation? And it’s quite evident in this election now, because the Lib[eral]s are preferencing One Nation below the Labor Party.

First of all, the pronoun you seek is ‘me’, not myself. The question is ‘why is everyone afraid of me’?, but even that is wrong. What you see Ms Hanson, is not fear, but unrestrained contempt. People are afraid only of the lunatics you inspire with your hateful rhetoric; they are not afraid of you or your party per se.

In perhaps the only true thing that she said, Ms Hanson added:

At the end of the day I am leader of this political party, I don’t care what Steve Dickson goes over there and says. I am the leader of this party.

Correct. As the leader of the party, you, and not Dickson, speak for it. Just how much that helps your party in light of all the crazy nonsense you yourself have said and done is not clear, but I digress. She was quite right to say that she leads the party and not Mr Dickson. A broken clock, as the saying goes, is right twice a day.

The Interview, Part Three: Deflection

Senator Hanson then attempted to throw the audience off when she spoke of other instances of corruption. Specifically, she said:

I cop all this shit all the time, and I’m sick of it. Kevin Rudd goes to a strip joint. You’ve got Craig Thomson using the credit card of the unions in a brothel. You’ve had corruption, you’ve had Eddie Obeid, you’ve had paedophiles, you’ve had everything. But they just sail through it. No, let us give Pauline Hanson a kick in the guts

Ok, in order: Rudd went to a strip club; that is true. Despite the moral outrage bile from the Murdoch press, that is not a crime, even if a Labor politician does it. This is also a false comparison since, unlike Mr Dickson, Mr Rudd did not grope a dancer and say vile things about women! Dickson was not decried because he went to a strip club! He was decried because of what he did in the club! Hanson is known neither for her intellectual rigour nor her grip of the facts, but that was a hard fail even for her.

Next, Craig Thompson resigned! He literally lost his seat in parliament! Thompson did not, as Hanson put it, sail through that affair. He resigned! Wow, this woman is ignorant. Finally, Eddie Obeid is in gaol. He, too, did not sail through his scandal. I would ask you, Senator, not to speak about topics about which you know nothing, but then your entire life would be silence!

Conclusion: The False Victim Narrative

Senator Hanson is, in a supreme irony, attempting to play the victim in order to distract from the fundamental political incompetence that she displayed in selecting her candidates. The media exposing these clowns as unfit for office is not, contrary to your victim narrative, kicking you in the guts. This rant was clearly not thought through (like much else that she says) and is even wrong on simple facts.

Three more years of this? Senate voting changes now!

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Power at Any Price: The LNP’s Preference Deals

The LNP has made what the AAP calls an ‘in-principle preference deal’ with Clive Palmer and his United Australia Party [UAP] for the forthcoming election. Also, the Queensland Nationals have struck a similar deal with Pauline Hanson and her One Nation outfit. Such deals reveal not only these respective groups’ dropping primary vote, but their (even more) petulant (than usual) desire to cling to power at any cost.

The First Preference Deal: LNP and UAP

As usual, Scott Morrison’s rationalisation for this abhorrent deal was an attack on Labor. Speaking in Dubbo, Mr. Morrison said

‘Labor and the Greens present a far bigger threat to the Australian economy, to people’s jobs than the UAP does. That’s just a simple fact’

He has the simple bit right. That is vacuous, partisan crap that, much like many other things Mr. Morrison says, has no basis in reality. He defends a deal with a guy who owes his workers millions by attacking the party of the workers. The Prime Minister is no political genius, but this justification is nonsense. He either does not see how ridiculous this statement is, or he is so desirous of power that he will say anything to retain it.

Morrison and the federal Liberals seem to see Palmer as a means to get them the votes to form government. Such cynical exploitation of a minor party is nothing new, and it demonstrates once again the desperation of the LNP to cling to power. They simply cannot tolerate the idea of Labor forming a government. It is so anathema to them that they would sell their political soul (assuming such a thing actually exists) to prevent that. Anyone but Labor and the Greens. You collective of children.

The ALP on Palmer: Albo Speaks

The Labor Party’s response was perhaps best encapsulated in Anthony Albanese’s quote when he said, referencing the LNP-UAP preference deal

‘Scott Morrison had a choice between standing up for ripped off workers or sucking up to a tosser who ripped them off and he chose the tosser. He chose Clive Palmer.’

I suspect Albo already knows this, but the Prime Minister cares not a fig for ‘ripped off workers’. The business class would never say this (yet anyway – give them time), but the reality is that paying workers is a running cost, an overhead similar to health, safety and other regulations that eat into profits, which is all with which Mr. Morrison and his rich mates are concerned. Given the choice between doing a deal with one of the owner class and the party that represents the serfs clears throat I mean workers, the tea-leaves were not hard to read. Morrison’s contempt for workers and his desire to remain in power has led to him politically selling his arse, to borrow a phrase from Tony Abbott. I said this in a previous piece, but it bears repeating: power trumps principles.

The Second Preference Deal: The Queensland Nationals and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation 

In a fascinating political move, the Queensland National Party has decided, per the Weekend Australian, to preference One Nation ahead of Labor. This is in direct defiance of Morrison’s directive, which would have placed Labor ahead of PHON on voting cards. This latter point, as discussed in the UnAustralian, deserves some attention.

The reason for Morrison’s directive was not because of any of the odious crap that Pauline Hanson and her party have said and stood for. Rather, it is because of their alleged dealings with the NRA in the United States to influence Australian elections. Does that not tell us all we need to know about Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party? The issue for them was not all the bigoted crap that Hanson and her chapter of the collective functional neurone society comes out with, but rather that they unsuccessfully sought to influence our democracy with foreign money.

It must be said that even this is illegitimate. Given the LNP’s own corruption, they would be well advised to remain silent on the issue. In purely political terms, keeping their mouths shut and doing nothing would have been the wiser cause of action. Given their policies in multiple areas, they have both bigotry and the corruption in spades. There was no easy way for them to distance themselves from Hanson and her crowd. They, therefore, had two options. First was to lie as Morrison has done and take the corruption route. Second was to say nothing. Morrison, being the political clown that he is, naturally took the worst of two bad choices.

Analysis

As if preferencing One Nation over Labor were not bad enough, the Queensland Nationals have put PHON second on their how to vote cards. Now you might argue that PHON is more closely aligned to the Nationals than the more centre and left-wing parties. Not sure that helps in one’s estimation of the Nationals, but let us grant that. There are surely better parties to align oneself with than Pauline Hanson and the rest of the nut brigade. If they are your closest political parallel, may I suggest a realignment of your own party fundamentals? Even if this is a political calculation in light of Ms. Hanson’s popular appeal in Queensland, that does not say much for the Nationals’ scruples. Nor does it speak well of their ability to attract voters on their own merits. If Pauline Hanson is your conduit to political success, I say to the scrapheap with you.

Conclusion

These two preference deals show the conservative parties either playing disgusting political games or exposing their true roots. Whatever the motivation/s, the point is clear: power at all costs. Such unscrupulous deals, and the odium of the proposed partners, surely undermines the legitimacy of any government so formed.

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The Not-So-Happy Clapper: Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has fired back against what he called ‘gutless…keyboard warriors in their mother’s basement’. Specifically, he is responding to some online likening images of him in church with his hand in the air to a Nazi salute. Now, is it fair to suggest that anyone with their hand in the air is imitating a Nazi salute? No. Mr. Morrison was in church and was, after his own style, reaching his hand out to his god. This is not a Nazi salute. That particular comparison was wrong. However, since Mr. Morrison has put his faith in the public domain, it is subject to analysis, criticism and, yes, mockery and scorn if one sees fit. Faith is not, despite its demands, subject to a different standard simply because it is a faith position.

Full disclaimer here before we proceed. Not only do I despise Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, so I am not inclined to be kind to him, but I am also a non-believer. In quoting Christian texts, I make no claim as to their veracity, I am merely attempting to meet Mr. Morrison on his home turf. I will do my best to be as impartial as possible; no promises.

By Their Fruits, You Shall Know Them

The suggestion that the campaign was suspended for the Easter season turned out to be a lie. Colour me surprised. Mr. Morrison invited the media into his church. If his faith were a personal thing, as he claims, he would not have brought the media in. He does not appear to appreciate the nature of his current position. Anything the Prime Minister does is necessarily political. It is not possible to separate the man from the position. If his goal was to humanise himself or make himself look like a regular person, there were surely better ways to achieve this. Pentecostalism, his religion, is, to put it mildly, a bit of an odd group. Indeed, in some circles, it is viewed as a cult. Clapping and tears streaming down the face as they reach their hands out is, frankly, a little goofy.

I mentioned above the inappropriate comparison between Morrison and the Nazi salute. That was not the only criticism aimed at the Prime Minister around his church stunt. The CFMEU first created, and then for some reason removed, a caption mentioning ‘false prophets (or should that be false profits?’. While it is true that Mr. Morrison never claimed to be a prophet, he does not practice the tenets of his religion, and is thus at the very least a false acolyte. He would be aware of the gospel attributed to Matthew, chapter 8:15, which talks of those who ‘praise me [jesus] with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’. In other words, those who say all the right things but whose hearts are unchanged. Surface Christians we might call them.

Whatsoever You Do For the Least of These, You do For Me

Mr. Morrison is the ultimate surface Christian. He might say he loves Jesus and has faith, but faith without works is meaningless (James 2:17). That is, you actually have to do the right thing for your faith to mean anything. His time in office does not reflect his faith in many areas, but immigration is perhaps the most blatant. The Christian bible is actually remarkably pro-immigrant. Of all the texts that could be used, the most concise is Leviticus 19:34, which states in part ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt’. Indeed is all I have to say to that.

Morrison, in fact, typifies the very Pharisees that Jesus struggled against; those who tithe mint and dill, that is, those who follow the little details of the law, but still treat others like garbage. Not living their convictions while at the same time pretending to be so pious. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus blasted those who mistreated ‘the least of these’ by saying that they treated him the same way. I do not believe that Mr. Morrison would pass muster either.

Was the Criticism of Morrison’s Faith Valid?

All over social media yesterday, various photos of Mr. Morrison in church were circulated, photoshopped and captioned in various ways. His level of offence at his faith being criticised must be considered hollow, given that he voluntarily put it into the public domain. Earlier this year, he said that he has never hidden his faith. Alright, then it is subject to criticism, mockery and scorn. In addition, given how his faith has informed his political opinions, which influence public policy,  he has no right to then turn around and cry foul over it being subject to criticism and scorn. When you stand in a building that pays no tax and pedals at best quasi-historical tales based on limited evidence, you have a great deal of nerve acting outraged when Australians, who are wont to mock things that take themselves too seriously, make fun of you.

A Light Conclusion

Scott Morrison was somehow able to say, with a straight face, that

The thing about my faith is it teaches you humility.

The Prime Minister is, bluntly, the most arrogant politician in recent memory, and that includes Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott. Mr. Morrison constantly passes the buck, blames his predecessor and has an excuse for everything. If your faith teaches humility, Sir, may I suggest going back for another class?

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Shorten Sweet: Bill Tells Murdoch to Walk The Plank

Bill Shorten has blasted the Murdoch media’s coverage of him and his party. This shows a spine lacking in previous Labor leaders. When it came to the Australian Montgomery Burns, previous Labor leaders attempted to bring him onside during their campaigns. Presumably since picking a fight with the media is rarely a winning endeavour since they always have the last word. Mr. Shorten broke with this tradition this week, blasting what the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as calling the ‘dishonest scare campaigns’ and ‘usual propaganda from News Corp’.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

Mr. Shorten is perhaps a little late to the party on this one, but he is correct nevertheless. For years, the Murdoch press has been openly hostile to Labor governments and run interference for the LNP. This is presumably because those Labor leaders had the temerity to replace the Murdoch-ordained LNP toady in The Lodge. As examples of Murdoch’s media interference, there was the infamous ‘Kick This Mob Out’ headline from 2013 in reference to the then Labor government and the ‘Australia Needs Tony [Abbott]’ headline of 2010. Murdoch’s opinion is clear. While he is entitled to his opinion, it does not need to be the nation’s opinion. Murdoch media’s blatant LNP propaganda campaign is the strongest argument yet for legislation instituting greater diversity of media ownership.

Culmination of A Long-Term Trend

You may recall from a few months back Mr. Shorten declined to meet with Murdoch personally. This was a wise political calculation (or he actually believes it) since the optics of such a meeting are terrible. Given the influence over politics that Murdoch has, such a meeting would have looked like receiving your orders from the guy who truly runs the country. The present push-back against the Murdoch media empire is thus not only a response to their crap of the last however many decades, but it represents the destination that Mr. Shorten has needed to reach for some time: he is not a Murdoch toady. One of the many reasons the public despises the LNP is because it is so clear they take their orders from the Australian Oligarchs. It is in Mr. Shorten’s interests to present himself as the antithesis to that.

Push-Back: The Truth Exposed

One senior ALP source said it plainly: Murdoch and his media empire are ‘acting as a propaganda arm of the government’. This is not bellyaching over hostile coverage; the evidence shows this claim to be true. Consider a recent Murdoch headline about the budget. There were two road signs; one pointing to the Liberals saying ‘reward’ and the other pointing to Labor and saying ‘risk’. Ignore the pun on ‘risk-reward’ and focus on the bias in the headline. The implication is clear: Labor is bad with money and voting for them is a ‘risk’ rather than an inalienable right. The point here is to play into the myth (and it is a myth) that conservatives are better economic managers because shut up. This despite a Guardian report saying that recent Liberal governments have been the worst economic managers in decades.

An Alternative: Social Media

As newspapers decline in circulation and relevance, a new means of getting one’s message out has emerged: social media. This is far less monopolised; more of an open platform. While this has its drawbacks, it is a way of speaking directly to the people without the interference of a third party. The Labor party sees this as an alternative to the declining print media, and they may well have a point. While it is true that there are trolls on social media, if one observes political posts, we see many true comments coming to the fore. It is also true that the same hacks who strawman and otherwise advance terrible arguments have a social media platform, but the linked tweet shows the pushback.

Old Media ‘Responds’ to Shorten, Pt One: The Errorgraph

The editor of The Errorgraph, Ben English, had this to say about the alleged ramping up of the propaganda leading up to the election

It’s certainly not a considered strategy on our behalf to become more polemical or more strident one way or the other

That statement needs to be carefully parsed. Even if it were true that they are not becoming more polemical (which is highly dubious), what he does not say is more interesting. He did not say that they were not polemical, they are just not being more polemical. Nice unintentional showing of your hand there, Mr. English. He did say that he sees Mr. Shorten’s attitude to the conservative media (also known as the media) as a political tactic. In other words, this is a stunt and once he gets in he will fall in line. Time will tell; this would not be the first election campaign stunt. That said, I am inclined to believe Mr. Shorten since the evidence supports his claim.

Old Media ‘Responds’ to Shorten, Pr Two: The Un-Australian

Next came Chris Dore, editor of The Australian, who said

It’s a curious tactic one week into the campaign to question the motives of an inquisitive media who are simply asking questions

Just asking questions. We see this regularly in America: the media? We’re just asking questions! This is a way to be able to say what you like and have a ready-made response to any criticism. As an absurd example, consider this: does Barack Obama kill puppies? We are just asking questions. It is not clear if Obama kills puppies, so we are asking the question. Do you have a problem with the media asking questions? And there we have it: the media insulated from any criticism as they say any half-baked nonsense that serves their agenda. But back to the plot: inquisitive media? No. Inquisitive is designed to get to the truth. Mr. Dore and his paper are more adversarial, at least when it comes to Mr. Shorten.

Conclusion: Bill Sees the Light

Mr. Shorten has taken a large step in the right direction, and praise is due for this. He and his party finally seem to have realised that Murdoch and his media empire were going to be hostile to them no matter what they did. So they would gain nothing by trying to bring Murdoch and his hacks onside. Politically, the optics serve his purposes well also: he is presenting himself as a man of the people rather than a political sycophant going to daddy for permission to temporarily occupy the highest elected office in the land.

Keep it up, Bill. Forward.

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Standards are Not Purity Tests: The Democratic Civil War

Since the primary campaign of 2016 between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, a civil war has been brewing within the Democratic party. Now, you might argue that fighting for the soul of a political party is like looking for unicorns in your front yard. But there is a serious ideological struggle for control of the Democratic party. The two competing camps are the establishment wing and the progressives. To define my terms, establishment and corporate Democrat are interchangable. These are the corrupt politicians who do not represent the people, but their donors. Examples of the progressive camp include the often slandered Ilhan Omar, Ro Khanna, and AOC.

Ever since Mrs. Clinton won the 2016 primary, the call, nay, the demand from the corporatists has been ‘unity’. This means the progressives are to fall in line and do as they are told. Despite the progressive policies being overwhelmingly popular, the corporatists demand submission. Indeed, the idea of primarying AOC and her colleagues, while not official policy, is certainly on the table. It would suit the Democrats’ political purposes to unify around policies that are actually popular, but that would involve defying the donors. No luck there. That sweet, sweet corporate cash just means too much to them. Considered another way, they value their poxy political careers more than putting policies in place that would benefit the people.

The Corporatists: Placating the Progressive Base

The corporatists’ call for ‘unity’ has generated a backlash against the progressives for essentially failing to do as they were told. However, in a strange irony, the corporate response is not entirely unified. Many corporate candidates running for President, at least those who wish to be taken seriously, have had to adopt a more left-wing venir to their candidacies. The reason for this is that the base of the party, which aligns with Bernie Sanders, is considerably more left wing. So these candidates have had to appear to be more to the left. This includes supporting Medicare4All. There seems to be a fine line for the corporatists between acknowledging that the progressives are right on the policy and not being seen as capitulating. This often involves saying what they think are the right words to placate the progressive base.

However, this base is the internet generation, with all of human knowledge at their fingertips. They also have highly functional bullshit detectors and can smell ‘weasel words’ a mile off. The go-to example here is ‘access to healthcare’. What is left unsaid is ‘provided you can afford it’. It will not be possible to fool this base, at least not easily. There is thus a struggle between the base of the party and the entrenched interests. Those entrenched interests have a major speaker on their side. Enter stage right former President Barack Obama plays Hail to the Chief

Obama Gaslights the Left

At a recent event with emerging European leaders in Berlin, Mr. Obama spoke on the issue of Democratic unity, saying

One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States … is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, ‘Ah, I’m sorry, this is how it’s gonna be,’ ”.

“Then we start sometimes creating what’s called a circular firing squad, where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues

Mr. Obama speaks of ‘rigidity’ among progressives. This refers to a kind of ideological purity, whereby there are certain positions a candidate must hold and certain policies they must promise to implement. What Mr. Obama fails to realise is that this is called having standards. The base is not going to ‘vote blue no matter who’. They want a candidate who agrees with them on the issues. They do not care about ‘leading with our values’ and ‘uniting America’ and all the other standard political clap-trap that corporate candidates use to cover for their utter lack of substance. Standards are not purity tests, Sir.

The other lie here from Mr. Obama is that this ‘rigidity’ is precisely what the corporatists are doing to the progressives. Yet it is only the progressives that he chastises for this behaviour. Much like conservatives with socialism, Obama and the corporatists do not oppose rigidity itself, they just oppose it from the other side. The difference is the progressives are right on the policy, being as they are largely united with the electorate on the major issues. I say again: standards are not purity tests, Sir.

The Civil War: The Battle of The Primaries 

The progressives have not been entirely silent on the war front. According to an article in The Hill, members of the progressive wing of the party have ‘bucked party leadership and called for primary challenges to Democratic incumbents deemed insufficiently liberal’. That is ridiculous. The challenges are not because they are ‘insufficiently liberal’, which the article implies is somehow bad, but because they are corrupt. It is the money, Lebowski! They care about the issue of corruption. If their corruption leads to them being less liberal, so be it. But that is not the issue. Corruption and not representing the people are the issues.

The establishment pushed back, by refusing to do business with any vendors who work for candidates involved in primarying corporate Democrats. Such is their right, of course, but the optics are awful. There is a none-too-subtle sense of entitlement to their seats and a desire not to be challenged in that push back from the establishment. It is also an admission that they cannot win on the issues. If they were confident they could beat back the primary challenger, they would welcome such a challenge. The progressives do, and that is why they will ultimately triumph. Corporatism has had its day. Time for progress.

To end, you might say compromise is the essence of practical politics. However, I would point that, in the words of Bill Maher ‘Whenever a Democrat finds ‘common ground’, it seems to be right where the Republican was already standing’. Further, taking this triangulating approach to politics has resulted in the Democrats losing more than 1000 seats under Mr. Obama and Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer. As Dr. Phil would say ‘How’s it working for ya?’

Tax Cuts: The Great Conservative Scam

Conservatives have run on an economic message of tax cuts for a long time. Keep more of your hard-earned money, they say. I would like to discuss two issues around the policy of tax cuts and then look at their implications. Given what I am going to say about tax cuts in this piece, I believe a disclaimer is in order. Please do not take this to mean that I oppose all tax cuts. I simply believe that they should be targeted and done in a fiscally responsible way. I insert this disclaimer both to provide context for what follows, and to avoid potential charges of being a conspiracy theorist.

Part One: The Targets

The first is the fact that the tax cuts rarely, if ever, apply to the peasants. The tax cuts offered by conservatives are very often for the rich and corporations. This is, simply put, because conservatives believe (or are paid to believe) the great lie that is ‘trickle down economics’. This policy is the con that more money in the hands of the rich will result in job creation.

The fact that the last forty years of reality has shown that this does not work means that the decision to keep going back to this well is ideologically driven and not about actually helping people. Two examples will illustrate the point. First is Trump’s tax bill, in which 83% of the benefits went to the top 1%. Second is the Australian Liberal Party’s attempt to pass tens of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts. I do not believe it is conspiratorial to suggest that conservatives seek to create a feudal society of lords and serfs.

Part Two: The Hidden Agenda

The second aspect of tax cuts as an ongoing economic policy is what I see as the truly sinister element. Tax cuts as a policy plays on the natural human impulse to benefit from your work. Cynically put, it plays on human greed, something that is never in short supply. However, what the wider society is seemingly too blind to see is that tax cuts, while benefiting the (rich) individual, deprives the government of revenue. This is what American Republicans in the 1990s called ‘starving the beast’. You deprive the government of money so it is unable to provide those pesky unprofitable services for the peasants. This is an example of what Noam Chomsky referred to as ‘the standard technique of privitisation: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital’.

The argument here is that tax cuts, when done irresponsibly, can be (and indeed have been) used by conservatives to justify massive cuts to government services. We cannot afford this, they screech. But you will notice that they are hypocrites on this issue. The services that they cut are only ever things that matter to the wider society, including the ABC (NPR in America), medicare (pick your country), the NDIS and other things that help the disadvantaged. There is never any talk of cutting defence (again, pick your country), or politicians’ pay, or corporate subsidies. There is seemingly unlimited money for these things, but the government seemingly has no money when it comes to services for the peasant underclass for which they have already paid. Spare me.

Political Implications

This playing on human greed, intentional or otherwise, allows conservatives to present themselves as an ally to the everyman. It is, of course, a lie, but it serves as effective propaganda for Sky so-called news to disseminate to the masses. They believe this allows them to portray the left, who often want to actually pay for their policies, as ‘tax and spend’ radicals. Indeed, the very notion of tax, and especially tax on the rich, has been demonised so effectively that the idea of government services is something to be decried. The fact that the left (or even the centre-right) actually wants to pay for their government policies, which requires taxation, is bad by definition (or, if you prefer, because reasons).

Consider the recent example of the Liberal Party criticising ‘Bill Shorten’s $200B is new taxes’. This number, like so much propaganda, lacks vital context. Indeed, a google search for ‘Bill Shorten tax’ brings up as the initial result a website devoted to ‘Labor’s (insert issue here) Tax’. In Liberal propaganda then, Labor is associated with tax, and tax bad, ergo Labor bad. This is hardly a recent invention: recall the ‘carbon tax’ and ‘mining tax’ against which the LNP moved so vociferously. Essentially, for the conservatives, tax is bad because it funds government services. However, this is only a problem when it funds government services they do not like. See how consistent their ideology is?

Conclusion 

We need to set this anti-tax nonsense aside. Tax is how government pays for itself. Indeed, it is necessary to fund all the crap that conservatives love. On a wider scale, tax is citizens contributing financially to their society. This in turn pays for the government services those citizens enjoy. This is Rousseau’s social contract. In the modern world, this means that everyone contributes to the cost of, and enjoys, health, education, infrastructure, transportation and other essential services. But that’s communism according to conservatives. My response to that is if you hate socialism so much, resign from office immediately and claim not one penny of that big, fat pension. As I have said previously, conservatives do not hate socialism per se, they hate certain recipients.

The anti-tax propaganda needs to go and we need to, as the line goes, be a society, not just an economy.

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‘Centrism’ and The Overton Window

The media often presents politics as a horse race, with the left and the right competing. However, said media, with the exception of the ABC, is ultimately under corporate control. Corporations tend to lean to the right in their politics since they favour profits over people. Politics itself has, in the last thirty years, moved drastically to the right. This fact leads to a discussion of the term ‘Centrist’ and its implications for the Overton Window, here understood as the acceptable range of political opinion.

Moving the Goalposts

There is a two part strategy to control the debate. First, the right wing, with the support of the media, continues to stake out positions further and further to the right. Since the media is under either corporate or, in the case of the ABC, government control, they do not question the positions of the right wing. The second part is demanding that the ‘left’ meet them in the middle. The weak and corrupt ‘left’ parties do not want to be excluded from the debate, so they reach a ‘compromise position’. This position typically exists somewhere between the extreme right position and their own centre-right position. Compromise might be the essence of practical politics, but the ‘middle’ between the extreme-right and the centre-right is the far right. All other ideas are dismissed as radical left-wing nonsense.

‘Centrism’ as Stagnation

While it may seem reasonable to be ‘Centrist’ in one’s politics. this is a relative term. The ‘centre’, particularly in American politics, is really the centre-right. This often takes the form of corporatism without the bigotry. Continue to deregulate, cut taxes for the rich, and gut the social safety net (see Mr. Obama’s ‘grand bargain’) but without saying nigger, kike and fag. Politics should reflect the nation it represents. Candidates that serve corporate interests with a nice venir as the antithesis to candidates who serve corporate interests with a horrid social agenda is not an effective two-party dichotomy.

It is true to say that this desire to be ‘in the centre’ is not useful in practice. Despite how ‘reasonable’ the ‘left’ is expected to be, the right is held to no such standard. We thus have a situation where the political conversation is continually dragged further and further to the right. Think of this as playing a game of football always inside one team’s quarter line. The other end of the field may as well not exist. The result of this is that the best result the electorate can hope for is stagnation. Whenever the ‘left’ gets into power, it is the end of the world and the conservatives mindlessly oppose whatever policies are put forward. They repeat this process until they get back into power and then the right-wing governance starts again.

The Origin of the Problem

What is the basis for all this ‘centrism’? Why is the left just assumed to be outside the realm of respectable political opinion? The American example illustrates the point. In 1992, former Arkansas Governor William Jefferson Clinton ran for President as a ‘New Democrat’. The Democrats had previously been the party of the hippies and other so-called ‘radicals’. Clinton sought to overcome this by bringing the Democrats back to political respectability. The image he presented was that he was the consensus candidate for the entire nation. Sometimes, he said, he agreed with Democrats and sometimes with Republicans. He was, so to say, above the fray.

The result, partially based on his corruption and partially based on his own political sensibilities, was that Mr. Clinton governed as what was essentially a moderate Republican. He deregulated Wall St, which included signing the infamous Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. This law had created a wall of separation between personal and investment banking which had prevented a banking sector crash for decades. That was apparently not something that Washington could tolerate, so the Act was repealed. In addition, Mr. Clinton signed the Crime Bill, which is perhaps most famous for the coining of the phrase Super-Predators by Mrs. Clinton. This was your Centrist President.

This set the pattern for the next generation (and beyond) of Democrats, up to and including the 2016 election with Mrs. Clinton and her corporate colleagues. Using this strategy, specifically in the Obama years, the Democrats lost one thousand seats, between Governors’ races, state legislatures and federal seats. This ‘centrist’ strategy, whereby the ‘left’ must be reasonable to be taken seriously (which never happens by the way) cost the Democrats hundreds of seats and much political capital. What to do?

Solution

The solution to our Overton Window problem is actually quite simple. The actual Left, headed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Ro Khanna and their colleagues need to continue to stand up and refuse to be ‘reasonable’, a term best translated as ‘well-behaved’ and serving corporate interests. Since these candidates are not corrupt, they have the political freedom to move the Overton Window back to the centre or even, gosh, to the left. Conservatism is nothing but selfishness masquerading as a political ideology. It is utterly incorrect on so many of the issues, and is either too ignorant, too corrupt or just too stupid to notice. The actual Left, who are not corrupt, have the freedom to ditch ‘centrism’ (which was always illegitimate) and move towards actual progressive and Left wing change.

Forward, Uncorrupted Ones.

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That’s It, Big Smile, Everybody’s Happy: Malcolm Turnbull as PM

Journalist Peter Hartcher has offered an interesting perspective on Malcolm Turnbull’s time as Prime Minister. Now, political junkies knew that Turnbull was not his own man while in office. He flagrantly violated his own beliefs, seemingly selling his soul for the top job. This partially explains why the 2016 election was as close as it was. That election should have been an easy win for Mr. Turnbull and his colleagues. The power of incumbency combined with Mr. Turnbull the affable salesman should have resulted in an easy win. So, why was the election so close? Simply put, the reason was because Turnbull was not allowed to be the affable salesman.

The assumption was that the hardline members of his own party held a Sword of Damocles over Mr. Turnbull’s head. An ongoing threat of the form ‘what had been done, could be undone’ in reference to making him Prime Minister. This turned out to be true, but the initial threat came not from Abbot, Andrews and the other hardline nuts in the Liberal party, but rather from (then) Nationals leader Warren Truss. According to Truss, the coalition agreement was a personal one between himself and Abbott. This agreement, Truss said, did not necessarily transfer to the next Liberal leader. Mr. Truss seems to have seen this situation as an opportunity to extract greater concessions for the increasingly junior partner in the coalition. Nothing says ‘national interest’ quite like playing petty politics with the nation’s government.

Malcolm Turnbull and The Threat of New Leadership

The Nationals were, to quote one of Mr. Turnbull’s senior aides ‘suspicious about Malcolm bringing all the gays in and doing climate change’. If that does not reveal the Nationals as hard-right social conservatives and deniers of reality, I do not know what will. They feared that Mr. Turnbull would bring ‘all the gays in’, a statement best translated as implementing a conscience vote on marriage equality, rather than the hate platform that was the plebiscite. As for the statement about ‘doing climate change’, this is perhaps best understood as putting in place some sort of climate policy. As if it were not clear, the Nationals represent the mining industry.

The sheer social, political and scientific regression on display in the Nationals’ fear around Mr. Turnbull embracing reality is palpable. Turnbull’s acknowledgement of the existence of ‘the gays’ and his acknowledgement of the very climate science his predecessor Mr. Abbott called ‘crap’ put him at odds with the political dinosaurs of his party. The rewrite here comes in the idea that it was the Nationals, rather than Abbott and his crowd in the Liberal party, that posed the initial threat.

Both Hands Cuffed to A Table

Hartcher adds the extraordinary line that

to win the final votes he needed for the Liberal leadership, Turnbull had already promised some conservative MPs from Queensland that he wouldn’t alter Abbott’s policies… Otherwise, there would be no Coalition. Turnbull argued for more flexibility, especially on same-sex marriage, but the Nats weren’t yielding

This exposes Malcolm Turnbull as what many suspected he always was: an acceptable venir on Tony Abbott’s policies. A palatable salesman for the same fact free, ideological, regressive and bigoted crap that had gone before. Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership was intended as a palace coup that consisted of putting a mask on the Emperor everyone hated. Nothing else was expected to change.

Turnbull had first had to make promises to the hard-line Liberals, and now the Nationals. Given that the government was a coalition, a ‘broad church’ as the faithful like to put it, either party governing in their own right was impossible. This partially explains Truss’ ability to extort concessions. One of those concessions was forcing Turnbull, the ostensible Prime Minister, to take the water portfolio and add it to the purview of Barnaby Joyce, who was then Truss’ deputy. A Liberal held the ministry, but if Turnbull wanted a coalition to lead, he had to comply. Mr. Turnbull had paid the piper but was not allowed to call the tune.

Lipstick on A Pig: The New Regime

Hartcher sums up the situation aptly when he says

The restraints he [Turnbull] wore were not yet visible to the public, but the new leader was shackled to the very policies that the Australian people thought had been discarded along with Abbott

Exactly. A palace revolution where nothing changes. There is something profoundly conservative about that. Speaking of things that are profoundly conservative, Abbott was quoted at the time as saying that Mr. Turnbull was ‘in office, not in power’. Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister was nothing but a figure head. To reiterate what I said above, he was the public face of the same crap that had gone before. The curiosity was Abbott being arrogant enough to admit that this was the case.

Some Liberals, such as Simon Birmingham, thought about calling the Nationals’ bluff, and some did talk tough at the time. But power trumps principles, and so the moderates (a relative term) yielded to the demands of the Nationals that nothing change. As for Abbott, despite being deposed, he took up residence in the Prime Minister’s suite to sulk and drink. Sore loser.

The Colleagues’ Response: Birmingham and Abetz 

Hartcher says, quoting Birmingham

That issue [marriage equality], more than any other, gave strength to Labor’s narrative that Malcolm had capitulated to the Right. It didn’t hurt immediately, but the symbolic power was huge

That was not ‘Labor’s narrative’, Senator, that was reality. By continuing Abbott’s policies, Turnbull was living proof that the hard right still ran the show and that he had, in Eric Abetz’s words ‘sold everything he believed in’ in order to be Prime Minister. Seem to recall Abbott saying something quite similar. Power trumps principles.

Turnbull’s weakness, motivated by the obsession with being Prime Minister, meant that he pre-conceded on many issues. Loyalists suggested that he might have attempted to lay down the law with the Nationals, or use his personal popularity to bring pressure to bear on his coalition colleagues. But he did not do so. An explanation for this lies in the fact that, until he was Prime Minister, all of that was meaningless. Personally popular as a politician or not, one man against a party was not going to get far.

The Detractors

Turnbull and his new regime had many enemies. Voters were frustrated with him because he turned out to be a nothing burger. In addition, Turnbull never had the support of the hard-right nutbags to begin with. This fact was jarringly exposed by the hostility of Alan Jones toward Mr. Turnbull, specifically in a telephone conversation where Jones repeatedly, and with increasing volume, told Turnbull ‘Everybody hates you!’ – best translated as the hard-right hates you. During a notorious interview, Turnbull refused to ‘take dictation’ from Jones when the radio host demanded that Turnbull swear fidelity to ‘the Abbott-Hockey strategy for budget repair’. Way to read the talking points there, Alan. Turnbull told Jones to get stuffed, which set the tone for the relationship.

Conclusion

Hartcher ends his great piece with the following summary

Yet, for most of the conservatives in the Coalition, and among their media cheer squad, Turnbull could never be given any credit. He was, at best, a temporary vehicle who was tolerated in order to carry the Coalition to win the next election, but never embraced, never trusted. The electorate felt increasingly let down by him and the conservative faction detested him

Right. Turnbull was a means to an end; a ploy to win the next election. Neither the electorate nor his own faction saw him as particularly effective or useful. To the extent that he was trapped, a degree of empathy is due Mr. Turnbull. Had he been allowed to govern in his own right, he could arguably have been quite effective. But he craved power itself, and thought more about that, than how he would use that power to better the country. He was shortsighted, and paid the political price.

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Sociopathy as Strength: The Modern Right

Sociopathy is a broad term that refers to various personality defects. In this instance, I am using the term in the popular sense to mean one who is devoid of empathy for their fellow humans. Sociopaths cannot place themselves in another person’s situation and imagine how they would react. The resultant lack of empathy often leads to cruelty. This has largely been the approach of right wing governments over the decades. Instead of taking a compassionate and humanistic approach to the issues of the day, the right demands conformity. Indeed, conformity is the price for safety. Any deviation from the expected lock-step compliance will result in ostracism. This often takes the form of social ostracism.

As examples of the ostracism principle, consider how Trump treats anyone who looks at him sideways. Alternatively, consider Morrison’s or Canavan’s response to the protesting climate kids. Even if brownshirts do not yet exist and our so-called leaders are not yet actual fascists, they are hardline ideologues who are about using fear to control the population. We will keep you safe from this thing over which we keep stoking fear. Don’t believe me? Let us take a look back.

Historical Precedents

You may have noticed that, in recent history, the right wing has portrayed itself as the strong party against the issue or group that is the focus of the fear in a given era. Examples of this fear focus group include communists in the 1950s, hippies in the 60s, drug users in the 70s and 80s, crime in the 90s and immigration in our own day. You know the type: The House UnAmerican Activities Committee, cracking skulls, reefer madness, super-predators and now stop the boats and build the wall. So little has changed in the last seventy years. You know, one of the worst things about being an historian is watching society not only fail to learn the lessons of history, but actively repeating the flaws of the past.

Dealing with Opposition

If the other party has the temerity to oppose the draconian right wing response to an issue, it is weak on these issues which means that you cannot elect them. This approach erodes democracy, since a vote for the other guy is now self-destructive rather than in inalienable right. In addition, how would you prove them wrong? They have set up a situation whereby you either agree with them and become as bigoted and cruel as they are, or you do not care about the safety of the nation or, heaven forbid, the children. We saw this in the marriage equality debate: insert Helen Lovejoy’s ‘Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the CHILDREN?’ here.

The Response: How the Right Deals with Issues

The right wing response to the issue of the day has often involved taking a hard line and being ‘tough’, which usually involves picking on the powerless and the outsiders. Such groups include the poor, immigrants, blacks, gays and other minorities who lack money and power. This response is often immoral and cruel for its own sake. The problem with such a a hardline approach is that, to put it crudely, it involves being a d*ck. Mistreating people, acting with prejudice and bigotry and often acting with excessive force.

The right wing parties portray themselves as tough, strong and the only ones who can keep you safe. Now, this the definition of terrorism itself (using the threat of danger to advance a political agenda). In addition, it also represents a no compromise, cold and detached approach to what are often very complex, and very human, issues. As an example, we continue to deal with drug addiction as a criminal issue rather than a medical problem. In addition, the governments of the 60s and 70s viewed the protest movements as criminal entities ripe for suppression rather than a human desire for change. We observe in our own day governments viewing immigration as a problem around ‘illegals’ and ‘boats’ (note the utter lack of humanity in both of those terms) rather than as a human issue of desperate people fleeing violence and persecution. In a cruel irony, the violence these people are fleeing is often instituted by the west.

What Does it Mean?

The narrow nature of the conservative approach to issues leaves nuance to the side. The N word and the F word are not what you think they are, rather they are Nuance and Facts. Neither of these things has any place in a hardline, cookie-cutter response to every problem. The issue is not individual circumstances, but rather the question becomes ‘do you fit into this category? Right – this is how we deal with you’. No thought goes into their approach to issues; it is simply about being as cruel as possible and masking it as ‘keeping you safe’. Well I for one resent this sociopathic and cruel approach to issues being passed off as ‘strength’. This is not strength. Indeed, it is the exact opposite. The tighter your grip, the more desperate you seem.

Lest we think this is ideological, HBO’s Bill Maher laid this one to rest when he said ‘there is no ideology here; it’s just about being a d*ck’. I agree. They may say it is ideological, but cruelty is not a function of ideology. Stalin ruled a communist regime (ostensibly of the left) and Hitler a National Socialist regime, which was of the right. Both were monstrous and cruel regimes which led to the deaths of millions. Cruelty crosses ideological lines.

Conclusion

The right wing has set up a false dichotomy whereby showing any human compassion towards the fear focal point is seen as weakness. We must resist this. It is entirely possible to show compassion without being ‘soft’ on an issue. Examples of such an approach include rehabilitation over punitive criminal punishment and medical treatment for drug addicts. On the contrary, the right wing approach says ‘you have two choices and this is why the other one is stupid’. In response, I would point out that there is indeed middle ground between being cruel for its own sake and being ‘weak’. We may understand this latter term as ‘not doing our policy’.

Compassion is not weakness, and we need to stop viewing in this way. It is possible for humanity to do better than this. We need to stop seeing governmental sociopathy as strength. Rather, we need to see it for what it is: vindictive cruelty designed to maximise fear, breed conformity and maintain the current power structure.

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Peeling the Potato: Dutton, the Greens and Fraser Anning

The responses to Fraser Anning’s asinine statement following the Christchurch Mosque Massacre have come thick and fast. But none is ridiculous, or more dangerous, than Peter Dutton’s recent spat with the Greens. Get your potato peelers out, ladies and gentlemen, for we are going into the veggie patch to confront Spud on his home turf.

The sourced article opens by quoting Spud drawing a direct equivalence between the Greens and Fraser Anning. This was in direct response to the Greens accusing Spud of having a role in fueling the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment that underlined the Christchurch attack. Specifically, Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, who is a Muslim, accused Spud of contributing to ‘creating an atmosphere where hate is allowed to actually incubate in our society’. Given Mr. Dutton’s rhetoric on boats and national security as well as his comments on Lebanese immigrants, this is not an unreasonable claim.

Spud Replies #adultgovernment 

What was Mr. Dutton’s mature, well thought out response? He said as follows

“I’m hardly going to take morals lectures from the extreme left who frankly are just as bad in this circumstance as people like Fraser Anning, they should equally be condemned. We have people on the far-left or the far-right trying to extract political advantage. I think it’s a disgrace

Ok, the Greens are not on ‘the extreme left’, but even if they were, that does not invalidate their opinions. This quotation from Spud exposes two of the right wing’s favoured tactics when it comes to dealing with their opponents.

Right-Wing Tactics and The Stunting of Discourse

The first is to place a label on their opponents, which, by its very existence, will make them go away. An American example of this is the attachment of the slanderous label ‘anti-semite’ to anyone who dares to criticise Israel for anything, whatever the evidence. If you criticise Israel, you are an anti-semite by definition. This tactic has the added bonus, so they think, of preventing the right from having to engage with the actual arguments that their opponents advance. Sorry, but this is called ad hominem (toward the man), and it means attacking the person making the argument rather than the argument itself. It does not work on anyone with even the most fundamental grasp of logic.

The second tactic this calm, mature and even-handed response exposes is the dangerous habit on the right of false-equivalence’. This is the idea that both sides of an issue are equally to blame. This is intellectually lazy and requires very little actual thought or analysis. We see this in politics constantly ‘they’re all bastards’ or something to that effect. While no side of politics is perfect, it is the height of laziness to simply say ‘both sides’. This tactic, like the ad hominem approach, prevents us from having a serious discussion and actually placing blame where it lies, since neither side is more responsible than the other.

False Equivalence: ‘He did it Too!’

Mr. Dutton is drawing an equivalence between criticising someone for yelling ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theatre and actually doing so. The Greens rightfully called out Dutton, Anning and the rest of their right-wing nutjob (RWNJ) colleagues for their bigoted rhetoric. His response was to say ‘Well, you’re being bigoted as well’. No. They are not. You are simply trying to drag them into the mud with you so the Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and Sky so-called News crowd will think the whole thing is a wash. To respond directly to Mr. Dutton’s false equivalence, pointing out the bigotry of those who fanned these fires is not ‘extracting political advantage’. If it happens to be to their political advantage to take a stand against prejudice, so be it. But that was not their intent.

The point rather was to point out the bigotry of those who seek to actually make political hay of the issue of immigration and to politicise religious tension. If that happens to render Mr. Dutton and his ilk uncomfortable by getting too close to a nerve, that is on them, not on the ones pointing it out. To take a somewhat less abstract approach, how can criticising a thing be the equivalent of that thing? Mr. Dutton’s comparison is ridiculous. As a side note, I am not asking for parliamentarians to be Vulcans, but some basic knowledge of argument and logic would not go astray.

Little Awful Anning and The Censure Motion

The man at the centre of this storm, apparent Senator Fraser Anning, will have a censure motion brought against him when Parliament resumes. Notably, fellow bigot Pauline Hanson, from whose Senate ticket Anning emerged following the ousting of Malcolm Roberts, will abstain from the motion. This means she will not vote. Her grounds? The motion will ‘not prove a damn thing’ as she said. Hanson went on to say that ‘He [Anning] is an elected member of the parliament. He has a voice’. Indeed, as does the rest of the parliament. The motion is not to silence him, so you can put the ‘free-speech’ combination strawman and red herring away. This is a censure motion condemning his ill-informed bigotry. Nothing more. He retains his right to spew his bile, and any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate.

This incident, for all its horror, has successfully shone a spotlight on both the bigoted rhetoric and the terrible ‘argumentation’ of the right. This group of increasingly disconnected radicals are being pushed out to the fringes where they belong. The real shame is that it took an incident as tragic and vile as this to achieve a result which, in any functional democracy, would have been achieved decades ago.

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