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Is Macron Being A Pr*ck? France’s New Vaccine Law

The French Parliament has approved a new law that effectively prevents citizens who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 from going out in public. I want to look at a couple of reports on the law and then consider whether this new law crosses a line.

No Jab? No Social Life

Euro Weekly News reports the following

Under the new law, unvaccinated French residents are barred from entering all restaurants, sports areas, tourist sites, and even trains, if they can not provide proof that they are fully vaccinated against the virus. Up until now, unvaccinated people have been allowed to enter these establishments if they showed a recent negative test or proof of recent recovery.

So unless citizens can prove they are vaccinated, they are effectively confined to their homes. The law removes the previous options of being able to show a recent negative test or recovery from the virus. This serves the purpose of banning those who made the choice to not get vaccinated (think of the decision what you will) from leaving their homes.

Macron’s Motives

The following is taken from a piece in Le Parisien Magazine, which recently interviewed French President Emanuel Macron. He said

I really want to hassle them [the unvaccinated], and we will continue to do this – to the end.” He however did say that while he would not “vaccinate by force”, he hoped to encourage people to get jabbed by “limiting as much as possible their access to activities in social life”.

He said: “I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison. So we need to tell them, from January 15, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.

Interesting, is it not? He is intentionally doing this, as he sad in another context, to ‘p*ss off’ the unvaccinated. The claim to not vaccinate by force is weasel language at its best, since he is not technically forcing them. But it does leave out rather important context, would you not agree? Moving on to his suggestion that he would not send the unvaccinated to prison, give that man the humanitarian award. Not sending people to prison for making what is supposed to be a free choice? Is he not merciful?!

There is a degree of gaslighting going on here too, since by listing a series of places these people are not allowed to go (read anywhere outside their home), he is essentially confining them to one place from which they are not allowed to leave. Just because there are no orange jumpsuits does not mean it is not prison, Monsieur President.

Depressing Disclaimer

A quick disclaimer before moving on: I am not an anti-vaxxer. Science has illustrated time and again that vaccines aid in the protection against severe disease and death. So I do not oppose vaccines. But ‘consequences’ for not ‘making the right choice’? You might say all choices come with consequences (agreed), but a ‘choice’ made with a gun to your head is hardly a free choice. Further, the category ‘unvaccinated’ is quite broad and lacks nuance. Allow me to explain.

The law treats the unvaccinated as a monolith. It does not seem to draw a distinction between those unable to be vaccinated (immunocompromised and other medical grounds) and those unwilling to be vaccinated (the nuts). You are unvaccinated? You are under house arrest. How does this not create a two-tiered hierarchy of French Citizens? So much for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, Monsieur President.

I called this section Depressing Disclaimer because it is depressing that I have to make such a disclaimer saying I’m not anti-vax as I decry a vaccine mandate. The N-word and the F word are no longer what you think they are: they are Nuance and Facts. Think of this as me burning the strawman before someone sets it up and knocks it down.

Is Macron Being A Pr*ck? The Vaccine Mandate

This one is complex. France currently has tens of thousands of cases per day, and its health system is under intense pressure. Many of the patients in the ICU are unvaccinated. So I understand what he is trying to do: protect as many of his citizens as possible from this highly contagious and deadly disease. But is a mandate the way to do it? A well-intentioned idea poorly executed loses its shine, and on this, I believe the President is wrong and has crossed a line into authoritarianism.

Citizens can be encouraged to get vaccinated in many ways, not all of them using the ‘stick’ approach of punishment for non-compliance. Consider the vouchers that the NSW Government made available last year for people to use once they were vaccinated. Was that an incentive? Yes, it was. And good. Sometimes citizens need a little encouragement to do the right thing. Think of this as catching more flies with honey than vinegar.

The French President is instituting punitive measures for anyone who made the choice to not get vaccinated, seemingly regardless of why. Are the conspiracy nuts who think the vaccine is a plot to turn humans into purple cheese so Bill Gates can put 6G in the water supply and turn horses gay manifestly incorrect? Yes: they are ill-informed and seek to arrogantly substitute their judgement for that of Doctors, Epimediologists and other experts. These people have no place in the discourse and should be ignored. But house arrest? France’s vaccination rate is 90%. You can encourage, you can incentivise and you can ask.

But confining people to quarters until they ‘make the right choice’ strikes me as quite authoritarian. This may not be a popular opinion, but it is my opinion.

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The Court Conundrum: SCOTUS and Institutional Breakdown

After a quite chaotic last few months, I am back to contribute once more to this fine project. I trust you have all kept safe and well (mentally as well in these trying times). The issue I want to look at this time is the Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS). Specifically, I want to look at suggestions from certain Democratic lawmakers and commentators that additional Justices be added to the Court.

The Argument, Part One: A Court Hijacked

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, commentator EJ Dionne begins to make the case for Court expansion. The insightful opening of the piece is worth quoting in full

Liberals are…, by nature, institutionalists.

They are wary of upsetting long-standing arrangements for fear of mimicking the destructive behavior of the other side and, in the process, legitimizing it.

But the aggressiveness of the right has turned this procedural delicacy into a rationalization for surrender.

This commentary is interesting because it exposes, intentionally or otherwise, Democrats’ (they are not liberals) obsession with procedure, decorum and civility. Democrats are, as he states, institutionalists. They are wary of rocking the boat and upsetting the delicate balance holding the system together. Quite a conservative outlook really, but I digress.

Republicans, by contrast, have no such quibbles, as Dionne outlines

Without fear or shame, McConnell (1) blocked consideration of then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to replace Antonin Scalia for 10 months until Donald Trump took the oath of office in 2017 and could name Neil M. Gorsuch; and (2) McConnell rushed through Trump’s final appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, holding a confirmation vote just eight days before Election Day 2020 – even as millions had already cast their ballots

The United States Senate’s role in the appointment of Judicial nominees is to provide ‘advice and consent’. Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) utterly abused the process by blocking Mr Obama’s nominee to replace that wild-eyed partisan Scalia, saying that the election should happen before any other judges were confirmed. Hypocritically, Mr McConnell ‘rammed through’ Trump’s nominee, Justice Barrett, eight days before an election. The double standard is amazing. McConnell effectively stole two seats on the highest Court in the land.

What do We Make of This? Part One: They Did it First!

It is difficult to see past a charge of ‘but they did it first’ in the justification for this Court-packing suggestion from Dionne, Senator Elizabeth Warren and others. The difference is that McConnell did, in fact, do it first. His considered decision to place power over institutions was (or perhaps is) the cause of the current situation. But does that legitimise the Democrats doing the same thing? Dionne mentioned this too: does ‘packing the Court’ in emulation of McConnell legitimise his behaviour? He disagrees, but I am not so sure; particularly in light of what we said above about adding precisely the number of Justices to the Court necessary to flip the majority.

What do We Make of This? Part Two: Knife to a Gun Fight

The other side of the coin here is that Democrats’ ongoing insistence on what is essentially insutitonalism, with its focus on norms (good Sir), decorum and all that is the political equivalent of bringing a knife to a gun fight. The Republicans simply do not care about all that crap you prattle on about. They care about power, and will do what is necessary to gain and perpetuate it, institutions be damned.

This brings to mind for me an aspect of the politics of the Late Roman Republic: so much of their politics was grounded in custom (mores) and expected patterns of behaviour. A form of institutionalism if you will. The arrival on the scene of a young man named Julius Caesar who said ‘the Republic is but a word; a concept without substance’ was the true death knell of the Republic. Caesar saw through the crusty old elitists who insisted on tradition for its own sake. The analogy is not perfect, but the Republicans have seen that power can be gained and maintained if you utterly ignore institutions that have only expectation and custom backing them.

Conclusion

I hope I have presented a somewhat balanced view of the issue of ‘Court-packing’ here. The issue is complex, and there are arguments for and against. To not respond in some way to a crude power grab such as McConnell’s makes you look weak. But then there is the idea of responding in kind and legitimising such behaviour. The conservatives appear to have their opponents over a barrel here: do nothing and look weak, do something (which is actually more counter-institutional) and become the monster you oppose. As a side note, the concept of ‘they did it first’ is how wars start, so let us not go there.

Perhaps the compromise (the Democrats’ favourite word) between doing nothing and instituting a power grab is to add two Justices. This avoids the accusation of a crude power grab (that is actually worse than the Republicans since the Democrats will have given themselves four seats). Unfortunately, a charge of hypocrisy (which would be forthcoming if McConnel raised hell) when you do something more extreme kinda makes you look like an idiot. The Democrats are caught in a bind here, and I do not envy them their decision.

 

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A John Clarke Inspired Sketch: Mia from PMO

Brian: Thanks for your time tonight.

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

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

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

Brian: And what’s your name?

John: My name’s Mia, Brian.

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

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

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

John: He gets his inspiration from Jesus, Brian.

Brian: How so?

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

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

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

John: What’s that?

Brian: Just the crew.

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

Brian: I really wouldn’t know, Mia.

John: I represent the Prime Minister.

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

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Rupe’s Tantrum: NSW Edition

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

The Takedown, Part One: Joke Headline

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

HEALTH HAZZARD

YOU’RE OUT OF ORDER

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

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

Epic advice fail let limo drive us to disaster.

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

Legal Eagle slams lax language, calls for reform

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

The Takedown, Part Two: The DPP for the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calling for Hazzard’s Head: The Editorial

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

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

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

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

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

What is Going on Here? Analysis

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

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

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

Dog Column, Part One: Lazy Scott?

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

The first section of note is this little gem

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

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

Dog Column, Part Two: Scotty from Marketing

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

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

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

Dog Column, Part Three: The Greatest Hits

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

I don’t hold a hose, Jen

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

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

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

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

Dog Column, Part Four: A Real Jab

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

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

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

Continuing, Jen says

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

The Study, Part One: Happy Workers

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

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

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

The Study, Part Two: Muh Profits!

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

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

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

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

Analysis: What of the Future?

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

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

Conclusion: A Long Time Coming

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

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

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The Case for Social Media as a Public Utility

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

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

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

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

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

Corporations with Too Much Power, Part Two: YouTube

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

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

A Counter-Argument: They are Private Companies

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

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

Proposed Solution: The First Amendment on Social Media

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

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

Conclusion: A Cautionary Tale

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

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The More Things Change: President Biden in Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: It’s the Corruption, Stupid

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

Epilogue: Why Must We Vote for Biden Again?

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

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

Nothing will fundamentally change.

 

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

Prologue: This Is Not New

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

Origins of the Freedom Caucus

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

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

The Resignation of John Boehner

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

The Parallel to House Progressives and #forcethevote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Jimmy Dore and the Future of US Politics

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

The ball is in your court, Progressives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Gotcha Comin’ and Goin’

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

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

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

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

Prologue: Historical Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basil: ME? You started it!

German: We did *not* start it

Basil: Yes you did you invaded Poland

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

Analysis: Missing the Point

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

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

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

Conclusion: Wokeness as Distraction

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

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

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

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

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

Removing, Part One: Preservation away from Public View

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

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

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

Removing, Part Two: Destruction

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

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

Trump and the Confederate Bases

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Addressing the Hypocrisy Charge

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

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US Goes Full Fascist: Trump and The Floyd Protests

Disclaimer:

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

Background: The Protests Around the Death of George Floyd

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

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

Fascism, USA, Part One: The Framework

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

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

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

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

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

Fascism, USA, Part Two: Martial Law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bernie Drops Out: A Post Mortem

America’s Dad Bernard Sanders has ‘suspended his campaign’, which is politician speak for dropping out. The result is that former Vice President Joe Biden is the Democratic Presidential candidate for 2020. I wish you luck, Mr Vice President, for you shall need it. But I digress. This piece is about the Sanders campaign, the lessons to take from it and its legacy. I am going to lay some blame at the foot of the media; I do not think we can legitimately deny that the media’s bias against Sanders played some role in his lack of success.

That said, any suggestion that I writing an apologia for Senator Sanders and his campaign will hopefully be mollified by the criticism I will level at both him and his campaign. They, and indeed Senator Sanders himself, were far from flawless in their campaign strategy. Both proved inflexible and to some extent politically tone-deaf in their reactions to circumstances on the campaign. I am sad that his run is over, but there are lessons to learn. Some of what follows may not be pleasant for Sanders’ supporters.

Dad Drops Out: What Happened

Folks are well aware that, following the simultaneous withdrawals of Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar, Biden did extremely well on Super Tuesday. Following his predictable win in South Carolina, the former Vice President had the momentum. The withdrawals of Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar and the establishment coalescing around Biden is what Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski called Bloody Monday. Sanders stayed on, however, despite petulant screeching from the establishment that he drop out. Well, you got your wish, you bastards. To paraphrase Sir Robert Walpole, you have your candidate, I wish you well.

Dad announced his withdrawal, citing the painful truth that no viable path to the nomination exists. He is behind by 300 delegates and the numbers simply do not work. These are the facts of the situation, facts that he expressed very eloquently and I encourage you to read his statement.

Dad Drops Out: Why, Part One: The Media

We need to consider many factors to explain why a candidate who is in line with mainstream American voters’ opinion faced such a struggle. Note that I said voters’ opinion. Mr Sanders’ policies are popular among the people (even a Fox News audience cheered for M4A). The corporate sycophants in the media, who are as corrupt as the politicians, could never support a populist. So the media consistently portrayed Bernie in the most negative light possible. As critical as many people are of the media (guilty), we must accept that they do have a wide range of influence.

Despite terrible levels of trust in the media, they still have massive amounts of influence. Like it or not, the way the media portrays a candidate shapes their image. The flagrant dishonesty in the media’s coverage of Sanders is well known, but this example I think illustrates it well. Sanders praised former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro for his literacy programme. Naturally, this drew outrage from the professional pearl-clutching brigade and suddenly it was ‘Sanders loves Dictators’. What he actually said, if you intentionally dishonest actors could remove your heads from your rectums for a moment, was that Castro’s literacy programme was a good thing. That is all. Sanders still condemned the regime, he still said authoritarianism was evil, still said political prisoners in gaols was inappropriate. But the media did not care.

The N-word and the F-word are no longer what you think they are. Instead, they are Nuance and Facts. Both are every bit as taboo as ngger and fck and neither has a place in ‘polite’ and ‘civil’ corporate media conversation. The narrative is what matters, in this case, Sanders Bad. The media has much to answer for in the fall of the most popular candidate in recent memory.

Dad Drops Out: Why, Part Two: Strategic Flaws and Weaknesses

For all the flaws of the media, and they are legion, the Sanders campaign, and indeed the Senator himself must bear ultimate responsibility. In the early states, meaning those before Bloody Monday, Sanders’ strategy had been to secure a solid 30% of the vote. This is because, simply put, that was all he needed in such a crowded field.

But once it was a 2 man race, the strategy needed to evolve; and it did not. Sanders’ stump speech did not change, not did his labelling or marketing. He continued to appeal mostly to younger voters, openly calling himself a Democratic socialist. In addition, he started the #nomiddleground campaign. This portrayed him as uncompromising and, yes, somewhat of an extremist. Right or wrong, this would not play well with older voters, who are the more likely voters. These were major strategic blunders on the part of the campaign.

Dad Drops Out: Why, Part Three: Tactical Problems

There were tactical blunders, too. When Sanders was asked if he thought Joe Biden could beat Trump, he responded ‘I do’. Wrong answer, Dad. You were in a primary, Sir. When the media asks you if your opponent can fulfil the role the two of you are competing for, you say No. You say that you are the better candidate. What kind of alternative says that the other guy can do the job? The primary is a job interview for the role of Nominee. If you were at a job interview and they asked you ‘Do you think the other guy can do the job?’ you answer ‘I am the best candidate’. You make your case, which you did not do. Your inability or unwillingness to make your own case cost you dearly.

Finally, Sanders displayed considerable personal weakness on the campaign. He frequently referred to Joe Biden as ‘my friend’, called him ‘a decent guy’ and so on. This lack of a ‘killer instinct’ crystalised in his utter refusal to call out Biden’s corruption. Biden openly said that he had ‘prostituted myself’ to moneyed interests. Bernie allowed his personal friendship with Biden to get in the way of doing his political duty, which was to expose Biden for the corrupt corporate insider that he is. Sanders had no such problem exposing Mrs Clinton’s corruption. No friendship there, I guess.

Bernie Sanders as Prophet: The Way Forward

As critical as the previous paragraphs were of America’s Dad, his campaign is still a watershed moment in American History. As Chomsky said, Sanders has fundamentally changed the conversation. Ideas that were unthinkable even two years ago are now part of the conversation. The media largely dismisses them, but the very fact that they have to respond at all speaks volumes. Politicians, too, are forced to respond to the ideas of M4A, tuition-free public college and eliminating student-loan debt. The conversation is changing. Sanders’ focus on the issues, sometimes unfortunately to the exclusion of smart politics, has brought that style of campaign back to the forefront of politics. Long may this continue.

The Sanders campaign also received donations not from Wall St or other corporate interests, but from regular Joe and Jane citizens, averaging, per his suspension statement, $18.50. Thus a populist campaign funded by small-dollar donations is possible. With a few minor tweaks and adjustments, great success may be had using this model.

Bernie Sanders is the canary in the coalmine, setting many a useful precedent for his successors to follow. Who those successors are remains to be seen, and we must acknowledge that a void in left leadership does exist since Sanders will not run again. The Presidential campaigns of America’s Dad Bernard Sanders represent major milestones in American history. His legacy is considerable and must not be forgotten. Forward, Progressives. Dad showed the way, and it now falls to you to pick up the baton.

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Krystal Ball Demolishes Joe Biden

Krystal Ball of Rising on The Hill TV recently made a comment that perfectly encapsulates Joe Biden and the Democrats. I want to give her comment, delve into the details and extrapolate a little.

The Krystal Ball Looks into You, Part One: Swing that Axe!

On a recent edition of Rising, Krystal offered this pearl of wisdom on Joe Biden. For full context, he was on MSNBC doing an interview about COVID-19 among other topics. Krystal said

He [Biden] is actually perfect. He’s a perfect emblem of a dying, gasping, hollow husk of the Democratic establishment. He’s the perfect emblem and mascot for that. When I see him out there [in the media] I think ‘Yeah. This is exactly what they want. It’s exactly who they are. Just some empty husk, reading from notes so that they can push and direct in the right direction. Ultimately what is he promising? Nothing will fundamentally change. You don’t need to do anything. Just man the ship, and put the regular people back in place. That’s all that they’ve ever promised

That was a barbed-wire wrapped sledgehammer strike to the skull. What a brilliant encapsulation of the rotting hulk that is Joe Biden and the Democratic Establishment. Ok – praise over, let us delve into this.

In Biden, we have a rich, old, white, corrupt candidate who is politically illiterate and quite incompetent. He openly serves the donor class (see this segment about his donors having veto power over his VP picks) while paying lip service to the liberal base through identity politics. He promised to put a black woman on the Supreme Court and pick a woman for his VP. Could there be a better encapsulation of the Democratic Establishment? Corporatist economics under a veneer of wokeness.

The Krystal Ball Looks into You, Part Two: A Propped Up Puppet

Krystal has provided insight into Biden’s true role in this process. His role is basically as a puppet for his younger VP pick. Mr Biden has clear cognitive decline, and it looks increasingly unlikely that he would serve one full term, never mind two. His Vice President, whoever it may be, would likely serve out his term when his cognitive decline renders him unable to serve.

Krystal and Saagar (her co-host on Rising) also discussed the possibility of a Reagan-Bush style situation, where the VP becomes the presumptive nominee to replace their boss. The result would be twelve years of Democratic rule, specifically of the neoliberal variety. When Joe Biden told a room full of wealthy donors that nothing would fundamentally change, his role was thus crystalised: he was a status quo manager. He was not an agent of change (even Obama had the good sense to run on that)

Showing how little she cares for the norms of Washington DC, Krystal even added that Biden’s role was to ‘put regular people back in place.’ A sort of ‘return to normalcy’ if you will. See, these inept and out of touch clowns think that Trump is the problem. His lack of civility and mean tweets (ignore his policies since they agree with him there) are the problem. If we can remove Trump, even if we have to put the corpse of Joe Biden in there, things will return to normal. Why Joe Biden though, you may ask?

The Krystal Ball Looks into You, Part Three: Status Quo Joe

Extrapolating from Krystal’s comment slightly, Biden’s coronation at the expense of Bernie Sanders is easily explained. In contrast to Trump, who has the annoying habit of saying the quiet part loud when it comes to Washington serving the corporate elites, Biden knows the score. The former Vice President has been in this town for nearly half a century and knows (or used to know) how to do the elites’ bidding without being so open about it. Trump lacks that subtlety. Sanders was never an option for the corporate media since he represents the people and not the corporations. So Biden was the only option. He will restore dignity to the oval office. He will say ‘America’ as he bombs the sh*t out of brown people. Biden will say ‘freedom’ as he cuts corporate taxes. He will put a corporatist black woman on the Supreme Court.

Conclusion: Joe Biden, the Base and the Future of the Democratic Party

Never wonder why various lefties, notably Kyle Kulinsky of Secular Talk, are saying not to vote for Joe Biden. It does not matter, they say, whether you live in a swing state or a safe state: do not vote for Biden. Lest you think this is sour grapes for the establishment screwing Bernie Sanders, what motivation does the left have to vote for Joe Biden?

He does not agree with them on policy, which is what they care about the most. Biden said he would veto M4A because of ‘its price tag’. That is such a bogus talking point since M4A actually saves money. I ask again: why should the left vote for Biden? Because Orange Man Bad? What policy-based argument do the Democrats have to entice their base to vote for Biden? The party is not, contrary to their own beliefs, entitled to the votes of their base. They must earn them, something Biden has no intention of doing.

Joe Biden thus represents perfectly not only the ‘dying, gasping, hollow husk’ of Krystal’s comment, but the wider disconnect between the Democratic Party and its base. The base is focused on policy, and they have a very specific agenda. Failure to meet them where they are, to say nothing of being openly hostile to their agenda, does not bode well for the future of the party. In addition, no amount of shaming them, or threatening them with Trump if they do not vote ‘the right way’, will bring them on side. The fundamental disconnect between the Democratic Party and their base could not be starker. Joe Biden is the perfect representation of that disconnect. Do not be surprised, Democratic Establishment, when the base does not vote for you when you gave them no reason to.

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