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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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Fraser Island: Senator Anning Responds to NZ Mosque Atrocity

Earlier this afternoon, over forty people were killed at two Mosques in New Zealand. This horrific tragedy is, of course, abhorrent, and has drawn the usual responses from the usual suspects. I want to respond to Queensland Senator Fraser Anning’s statement issued in response to the massacre. He has been rightly slammed for his vile comments, and I wish to add my voice to his chorus of detractors.

Anning’s Statement: Dog Whistle or Foghorn?

He starts out in the usual fashion by taking the stance that he is opposed to ‘any form of violence in our community’. Can you not see this next part coming? He says

‘However, whilst this kind of violent vigilantism can never be justified, what it highlights is the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence’

Any statement that takes the form ‘this is bad, but (or however)’ rarely ends well. Think of statements like ‘I’m not racist, but’ – never ends well. Second, who is ‘our community’? Do Muslims not count as part of ‘our community’? Who are ‘we’ exactly? Careful, Senator, your dog whistle is a little low pitched. It is noteworthy as well that Senator Anning used the term ‘vigilantism’ to describe the actions of a man identified as white. Do you think he would have used a different term if the suspect had been, say, Muslim? I know he would have. Call this what it is, Senator: Terrorism!

As if he were not already a Liberal is disguise, Senator Anning then stokes fear around ‘the increasing Muslim presence’. Need I point out that the victims were themselves Muslims? Finally, that statement, whether he means it or not, is an endorsement of the actions of the shooter! Whether tacit or otherwise, even if he says the violence is not justified, he did say there was good reason to be afraid. People who are afraid do not think. They shoot first and ask questions later.

Easier to Fight Strawmen

The Senator proceeds with two pearlers that must be quoted in full before responding

‘As always, left-wing politicians and the media will rush to claim that the causes of today’s shootings lie with gun laws or those who hold nationalist views but this is all clichéd nonsense. The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place’

Ok, in order. Nobody, either on the left (whatever that means in Australia) has mentioned gun laws as having anything to do with this attack. You made that up, almost as if you are reading from the American right-wing response to any form of mass violence. No-one mentioned gun laws. Kindly cease setting up strawmen and knocking them down. Blaming those who hold ‘nationalist views’ is clichéd nonsense, he says. Alright, the shooter was white and the targets were Muslims. Looks pretty nationalist to me.

Next, as if to read off all the right-wing talking points in response to violence, Anning blamed immigration which allowed ‘Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place’. Need I point out again that the victims were Muslims, and by blaming them for the violence against them, you are agreeing with the shooter? In addition, this bigot assumes that all Muslims are violent, as if this somehow justifies violence against them. Further, he also assumes that these particular Muslims, who, again, were the victims, were immigrants! Yes, because there are no Muslims living in New Zealand who have children! Mr. Anning is a clown.

Ignorance of Islam

Senator Anning then offers his ‘insights’ into Islam. These are every bit as informed as one might think. He says

‘While Muslims may have been the victims today, usually they are the perpetrators. World-wide, Muslims are killing people in the name of their faith on an industrial scale. The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader, which…calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates’

One would require a shovel to get out from under all those lies. Usually Muslims are the perpetrators he says, without citation. Muslims are by no means the only ones killing in the name of their faith, and given our technological age, murder on an ‘industrial scale’ usually means some form of extermination using machinery: gas or some other form of mass extermination technology. While there is certainly violence carried out in the name of Islam, it is not on an industrial scale. Even if it were, that would be a red herring, designed to distract his audience from the point that the Muslims were the victims here. Even if they themselves had done violence (no evidence for that) it would still not justify violence against them! So all these claims about the violence carried out by Islam are irrelevant.

Islam is, he says, ‘simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader’. The prophet Mohammed died in the year the west calls 632AD. That was in the 7th century, not the 6th, you historical ignoramus. As for the calls to murder the non-believers and apostates, yes, the text does say that, but it also says in 109:6 in reference to the atheist ‘To you be your way, to me be mine’. The implication of peaceful co-existence is unmistakable. But Senator Anning does not mention that as it does not fit the narrative.

More Islamic Insights 

Senator Anning then suggests that Islam is ‘the religious equivalent of fascism’. While it is true that Islam does have some concerning practices concerning its treatment of groups such as women, homosexuals and Jews, and it has been used to establish (still-existing) theocratic regimes, this is by no means unique to Islam. Indeed, medieval Europe was by and large a christian theocratic state, with what we would now call Roman Catholicism being the only legal religion until the reformation, and many punishments (and indeed crimes) being based on religious teachings.

Religions are very much like the humans that are involved in (or, according to some circles create) them. They go through an innocent phase, parallel to childhood. Then they become teenagers, with all the self-righteousness and ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ that goes with that. They often obtain some sort of state power during this phase, and become very sure of themselves. Later on, in the case of Christianity this took a very long time, they mellow and lose their state power (albeit reluctantly) and learn to integrate into society as just another element. Think of this as the reformation and its aftermath. Political Islam (to separate it from the garden-variety believers) is very much still in its teenage phase.

A Final Islamic ‘Insight’ and A Lack of Self-Reflection 

Anning said ‘Just because the followers of this savage belief [Islam] were not the killers in this instance, does not make them blameless’. Sigh. Islam is not, for all its flaws, a savage belief system by definition. He made that up. Religions contain texts written by humans. Whatever their source of inspiration, there is inevitable human contribution, and the resultant flaws, in many religious texts.

Also, when he says that even if the Muslims were not the killers in this case, they are not blameless. That is exactly what they are. A nut walks into their house of worship and targets the worshippers based on nothing other than their religion even though there is no evidence of any of them having done anything wrong. They are blameless. To put this nonsense to bed, let us grant his premise. Even if they had done violence, that is a job for law enforcement, not a random bigot with a gun.

To end, Anning quotes from, of all places, the Christian New Testament: the gospel of Matthew, 26:52 ‘all who take the sword, shall die by the sword’ and then he says ‘those who follow a violent religion that calls on them to murder us, cannot be too surprised when someone takes them at their word and responds in kind’.

Ok, first of all, it is unwise to quote a religious text when arguing against a different religion. This makes you look like the foolish hack that you are. Second, if those who ‘follow a violent religion’ are not allowed to be surprised when someone kills them whether they are violent or not, by that logic all members of the Dahmer family should be killed because of what Jeffrey did, whether they supported him or not. As a principle, this is called guilt by association. But once again, these particular Muslims did not do violence! Even if the text does call for this, they did not do it!

Mr. Anning is an ill-informed bigot who has no place as a Senator in the Australian Parliament.

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Loud Speaker, Part One: An Interview with Nancy Pelosi

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave an interview yesterday to the Washington Post. I want to respond to her answers since I think they demonstrate much about the (corporate) Democrats as a party and Mrs. Pelosi herself as Speaker.

She first spoke of public sentiment as her guiding principle as Speaker, citing the line from Mr. Lincoln ‘With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed’. So, Madame Speaker, you will be implementing Medicare4All, tuition-free university, a living wage and be bringing an end to the costly and unnecessary wars? All of these issues have massive public support, so you will be doing that? No. None of these things is on the agenda despite their immense popularity. And why would they be? After all, that way lies long-term electoral success. Who wants that?

To their credit, certain Democrats in the House, including AOC, have used the power of oversight to gain vital information about President Trump and his alleged crooked financial dealings. We saw this during the Michael Cohen testimony. Going after Trump on financial dealings, including money laundering as well as tax and insurance fraud, may seem equivalent to getting Al Capone on tax fraud. My response to that is simple: it worked, did it not? How you get the criminal does not matter, only that you get them.

The Interview, Part One: The Agenda

Returning to Mrs. Pelosi, asked what her and her party’s agenda was now that they were back in the majority, she responded

Lower health-care costs, bigger paychecks, building the infrastructure of America, cleaner government. We have H.R. 1 on the floor, and in the first 100 days we will have had introductions, hearings, markups or floor action on everything in our agenda: lowering health-care costs by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, building infrastructure, bigger paychecks

Let us partially unscramble the political speak here. Lower health-care costs (along with better access to care) is code for maintaining the Affordable Care Act passed under Mr. Obama. This was originally a right wing idea. Indeed, this was the conservative response to Clinton Care, an original Democratic plan for universal coverage. As for HR1, this sounds good, even if, in typical legal fashion, it has the clarity of mud.

Turning now to lowering prescription drug prices, this is a good idea. A common approach is the proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders to import cheaper drugs from Canada. The true shame is that in the past, Democrats (including Presidential candidate Cory Booker) have not supported it. Worse, the argument that was used against it was that the imported drugs would not pass FDA regulations and so their safety was not assured.

Ok, ignore the fact that regulations in Canada are more stringent than the US. Focus on the fact that, as the Intercept pointed out, drugs sold in Canada were often originally created in the US. They surely met FDA standards then. Sending a product to Canada does not remove its FDA rating. Thus, the Democrats do not have a good record on this issue, and Presidential candidates trying to turn over a new leaf should have their claims put under a microscope.

The Interview, Part Two: The Political Climate

Asked about the current political climate in Washington, Mrs. Pelosi responded as follows

We have a very serious challenge to the Constitution of the United States in the president’s unconstitutional assault on the Constitution, on the first branch of government, the legislative branch. … This is very serious for our country. So in terms of divisiveness…this is probably the most divisive and serious.

Like so much political speak, those are words, and they follow each other, but their meaning is not clear. Unconstitutional assault on the Constitution? Even her attempt at clarification is vague, defining her terms as Trump’s assault on the legislative branch. With respect, Madame Speaker, the legislative branch is subject to far more popular oversight (the house is up for election every two years) than, say, the Supreme Court. Trump’s assault on the judiciary, both through his attacks on judges that rule against him as well as this appointments to the Supreme Court, has far wider implications.

The Interview, Part Three: Vacuousness is Not Vision

For my next comment, I want to focus on Mrs. Pelosi’s remarks about the 2020 election. Naturally, she seeks Democratic control of the House, Senate and White House. Fair enough. But her reasons for ousting Trump are so vacuous. She says

Not to diminish the importance of the others [previous elections], but because of the actions taken by the person in the White House, disregarding the Constitution of the United States, disregarding our commitments to the world in terms of our commitment to NATO, to Paris climate, to our values

If I hear one more corporate Democrat use the phrase ‘our values’ without explaining, in precise terms, what that means, there will be an incident. Note, too, that she never explains what it is that Trump has done that violates the US Constitution. All she and her colleagues have to do is say what Trump has done. Whether it is emoluments, witness tampering, obstruction or whatever. I do not care. But you must define your terms, if for no other reason than to short circuit the charge that your criticism of Trump actually is ‘orange man bad’.

The right was accused for a long time of having Obama Derangement Syndrome, the idea that their disagreement was not policy based (how could it be, he was a right-winger in many respects) but based rather on a visceral, personal hatred of Mr. Obama. Try to avoid looking as crazy as the other guys, Madame Speaker.

This is a long interview, so more of The Speaker next time.

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John Bolton and American ‘Diplomacy’

Recently, there was a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The meeting represents the newest stage in the much-vaunted denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. The efficacy of this goal is debatable, but an incident in the lead-up to the summit is worth examining. It says a great deal about both American ‘diplomacy’ and why National Security Advisor John Bolton is so dangerous. The summit took place last week, but I wanted to let the dust settle before writing on this complex topic.

Kim travelled thousands of kilometres by armoured train to Hanoi for the summit, and his choice of personnel, according to Newsweek, indicated that he considered this a serious diplomatic meeting. He brought an inner cabal of trusted advisors with him, suggesting that he took the summit seriously. The Americans? Not so much. An envoy who had worked on this meeting, and surely knew the details, was not there. Instead, in his place were John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. The latter makes sense as he is Secretary of State, but Bolton’s presence at a diplomacy meeting given his record is most out of place.

The premise of the meeting seems to have been that, in exchange for partial sanctions relief, North Korea would agree to take concrete steps toward denuclearising the region. Per Newsweek, Trump simply walked out of the talks without an explanation, saying ‘sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times’. As with everything else Trump says, it did not contain any substance. But then theories began to emerge to explain the sudden breakdown in negotiations. Enter stage-far-right John Bolton.

Bolton to War: The National Security Advisor

John Bolton has been Trump’s National Security Advisor since April of last year. He has shown himself to be a hawk on many issues. Bolton was a proponent of the Iraq War and he vehemently opposed, and ultimately oversaw American withdrawal from, the Iran Nuclear Deal signed under Mr. Obama. He seems to genuinely despise diplomacy as an option. Cynics among us would suggest that this is because there is no money in it. Bolton is also a warmonger and an ideologue. Even after the WMD/Al-Qaeda rationale for invading Iraq was no longer true, he continued (and continues) to defend that war. Mr. Bolton lacks the quality his job as National Security Advisor demands most: mental flexibility.

The former South Korean Unification Minister, in a conference call to CBS, said that it was Bolton who added an extra stipulation to the talks, unannounced, and it was this that caused the whole endeavour to fall through. The premise, as stated above, was to link denuclearisation to sanctions relief. Bolton added the stipulation that this also had to extend to North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons as well. The key to diplomacy is consistency. You should say what you mean and mean what you say. Mr. Bolton did not do this when adding in that stipulation. To take the side of the cynics again, one could be forgiven for thinking that Bolton knew (or banked on) the North Koreans rejecting this demand as unreasonable and so, would you look at that, diplomacy just is not going to work.

The True Nature of American ‘Diplomacy’

But there was still hope. Kim, who, in a bitter irony was the reasonable one at the table, was not taken aback by this. He even agreed, but upped the ante with a demand of his own: sanctions relief. This is usually how negotiations work: each side makes demands and you seek common ground. But this America we are talking about.

Mr. Kim evidently does not understand how ‘negotiations’ with America work. They set the terms and you ask for seconds. You don’t make demands as if you are two nations. They say ‘jump’ and you say ‘how high, m’lord?’. You do as you are told and you remain in power; maybe. Unless they get sick of you, or decide to topple you like they did Gaddafi in Libya. I have written about Bolton and his attempts to sabotage previous diplomatic efforts with North Korea in another place, and it seems that little has changed.

John Bolton is a dangerous war hawk and criminal who never met a war he did not like, chiefly because he will never have to fight.

As Bismarck said ‘Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think very hard before starting a war’

To the battlefield with you, Mr. Bolton, and then, perhaps, you will be less in love with war.

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Dangerous Libertarian: Rand Paul and Vaccines

Recently, Republican Senator Rand Paul (KY) made a curious statement on the topic of vaccines. Senator Paul is a doctor (even if his accreditation is under a cloud), and he says that the ‘benefits outweigh the risks’ when it comes to vaccinations. However, his inner Libertarian does not allow him to support state-mandated vaccinations. On this topic, he said ‘But I still do not favor giving up on liberty for a false sense of security’.

So it is ‘liberty’ to place not only your own children’s lives, but the lives of the entire community as well, in danger? Such is part of your ‘liberty’? Who are you to make decisions for other people and their children, and by extension the rest of the community? I must have missed that memo.

I want to make a brief point here on the concept of ‘herd immunity’. When herd immunity is in place, the odds are reduced that preventable diseases will break out because enough people are vaccinated. This appears to mean that there are fewer candidates to be patient zero for a particular outbreak.

Senator Paul knows this, and in far greater detail and with far greater specificity than I do. As a physician, he knows better. He knows that herd immunity is critical for maintaining a healthy population. It is his Libertarian politics (quite possibly combined with fear of his lunatic base in Kentucky) that is influencing his view here. Medical training be damned, he says, politics is more important.

The Dark Side of Libertarian Politics

Have you ever heard the joke that Libertarians make lousy lifeguards? It plays on the idea that Libertarians (the principled ones anyway) sat ‘let people do whatever they want as long as they don’t hurt anyone else’. In other words, a Libertarian lifeguard would say ‘if they want to drown, who am I to stop them’? Now, as a disclaimer, I too am (partially) Libertarian, but of the left-wing variety. As someone whose political views have a Libertarian streak (although I am no Milton Friedman), this ‘doctor’s’ comments are vile and, more to the point, wrong. Someone of his political importance lending credence to the pseudoscience (even when its central claim has been debunked), and this is what he is doing since he received applause from some of these nuts in the room) is extremely dangerous.

Vaccines and The State

One would think that my own Libertarian views would see me agreeing with Paul that state-mandated vaccinations amount to ‘the removal of liberty’. Sadly no. I actually take the polar opposite position. This may be controversial, but it is my opinion that vaccines should be mandatory. It is inappropriate to compromise herd immunity because of the uninformed opinions of a few nuts (and that is what they are). Your right to ‘liberty’ does not extend to placing other people in danger. The only way I see this working is to utterly segregate the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated.

To reiterate: mandatory vaccinations unless there is a damn good medical reason (your opinions based on a twenty-year old flawed and debunked study do not count) under penalty of child removal. You may see this as extreme, and perhaps it is. But there is no greater resource a society has than its next generation. Indeed, it is the very basis for its perpetuation. Refusing to protect that resource against diseases that have, until recently, been wiped out (polio, measles, mumps, rubella) is the height of irresponsibility. I say recently wiped out as there have been over 200 confirmed cases of measles in the US. Yes. In the US. In 2019.

Conclusion

Failure to vaccinate places large groups of people at risk because of a choice you made. Consider driving under the influence of alcohol. It is legal to both drink and to drive a car. But the combination is illegal because of the unacceptable risk it poses to others. It is this same principle that compels me to reach the conclusion that vaccinations should be mandatory.

To you, ‘Dr.’ Paul, I quote a line from that oath you allegedly took

‘I will do no harm or injustice to them [my patients]’

Bishop Departs, Makes LNP Chaos Worse

The Roman historian Tacitus coined the phrase ‘fortune can bestow no greater reward upon us than discord among our foes’. Recently, Julie Bishop announced her retirement from politics. She is the latest example of a rat departing a sinking ship. I view the category five storm that has erupted as a result of Ms. Bishop’s recent interview as a fine example of fortune’s greatest reward. So, I want to look at the five takeaways from the interview offered by the West Australian in a recent piece and what they mean for the Liberals moving forward.

Self-Aggrandisement and Deflection

First, Ms. Bishop said, somehow with a straight face, that she believed that her popularity with the voters (source unknown) could have ‘saved the coalition at the coming poll’. The immediate issue, as the article noted, is Ms. Bishop’s unpopularity with the group Julia Banks called the reactionary right. It is unlikely that such a group would tolerate a female leader, even from their own side (to say nothing of how they treated Julia Gillard). Ms. Bishop appears to live in a parallel universe.

Second, Ms. Bishop blames fellow departing rat Christopher Pyne for undermining her attempt to assume leadership during the LNP civil war last August. In the leadership ballot, she received a mere eleven votes. How this is Pyne’s fault is less than clear. If you wish to blame Dutton that is something else, but as big an annoyance as I think Pyne is, I do not see the evidence that it was Pyne who kept Ms. Bishop out of the lodge. A far more likely reason, as the article makes clear, was the reactionary right.

Civil War 

Third, as much as the article is trying to frame this as essentially an inter-WA struggle, I think it misses the larger point: the LNP is at war with itself. Barnaby Joyce said the Nationals should take a separate Senate ticket to the election in NSW. Now Ms. Bishop has made quite the parting shot. This is not, evidently, the case is only one state. Their leadership is ineffective, with ProMo (Morrison) and Friesenburger (Josh Frydenberg) having the communication skills of Helen Keller. In addition, the rest of the party is either nowhere to be seen, or publically separating themselves from the plague-infested corpse that the LNP has become.

Ineffective Government

This is not purely a partisan criticism (valid as that would be). Rather, this is a critique of governmental effectiveness, which can, to a great extent, be measured. There are several issues on which no LNP policy is defined, from climate (ProMo reanimating the corpse that is the former Abbott government’s climate policy does not count) to the economy to humane treatment of refugees. They are such ideologues and reactionaries that they are forced to oppose and fear monger about even humane treatment of people seeking protection from bullets and bombs, often fired or dropped by the west.

The theme of the campaign this time (as it has been for the last six years if we are realistic) is fear mongering about race/religion plus a healthy serving of ‘Labor bad because Labor – did I mention Labor? Labor bad’. Examples of this abound, but the best example from recent memory comes from Friesenburger. A journalist asked him about some policy issue or other, and he responded with ‘we can talk for hours about Labor’s faults’ – not the question and a red herring to distract from your own internal chaos. Blaming the opposition for existing is not effective governance!

But back to the plot. The fourth point is that Ms. Bishop’s parting shot prevents the government from getting ‘clean air’ and places it on the back foot. She is undermining the government as she leaves. Talk about a team player.

Conclusion

The final point the article makes is that the government is basically dead, and so the issue now becomes legacy rather than re-election. At first, it may seem curious how such a divine-right, born to rule group as the LNP could ever think that they would lose an election, but the recent spate of resignations suggests otherwise. But let us say the focus is now legacy. What would the legacy of the last six years be? The GP co-payment? Freezing the Medicare rebate? Utter climate inaction? Cutting penalty rates? The cashless welfare card? Making Tony Abbott the indigenous envoy? Michaelia Cash and her Whiteboards?

Ms. Bishop’s parting shot and the rest of the LNP’s internal chaos reminds me of a saying my grandmother used to us;

Fight you buggers, I hate peace.

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Perspective Matters: The Use of Socialism as A Political Insult

You may have noticed that the word socialist and its related terms are tossed around a lot as political insults. Typically, the right-wing does this to place their opponents in a political phylum for ease of dismissal. They make no attempt to engage with the actual arguments of their opponents. The mere application of a label is supposed to make them go away. Such a tactic is, of course, a red herring. A shiny thing designed to distract from the actual issue.

A Local Example: Bronwyn Bishop

Some may recall former House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop using the term socialist to deflect criticism away from a minister who abused her parliamentary entitlements. The mere use of socialist, which was utterly unrelated to the issue, was supposed to make the detractors vanish. The tacit admission here is that Ms. Bishop could not actually defend what the former minister had done, so she resorted to name-calling.

Murica: Bernie and AOC

The term socialist is commonplace in US politics, even more so than it is here. Essentially, anyone to the left of you can be (and often is) considered a socialist. Common targets of this alleged barb include Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). I have written about AOC in another place, but a brief recap might be useful here. She is a new breed of politician who ran on a popular platform, took no donor money and serves the people. Shocking in a democracy I know. She has been the subject of torrents of abuse as a socialist with ‘radical ideas’.

The Shift of The Overton Window

The reason both of these politicians have the label socialist and ‘radical left’ attached to them is because, compared to the rest of the political establishment, they are. The overton window, that is the acceptable range of political opinion, has moved so far to the right that common sense social democratic positions are now viewed as ‘socialist’ and ‘far/radical left’. Perspective matters. When the default position, along with the underlying political and economic assumptions, moves increasingly to the right, middle of the road positions look increasingly left wing. The details of the positions have not changed at all, but the political conversation has shifted so much that formerly accepted policies and positions are now viewed as radical. This is a result of corporate influence on politics through money.

Politicians and Socialism

There is deep hypocrisy in politicians’ attitudes to socialism. Despite how they rail against it when it comes to the social safety net, they quite like their own pensions and perks. They also seem to quite like corporate subsidies (coal in Australia, oil and the banks in America) and tax cuts for the rich. The reality is that politicians do not actually hate socialism. In reality, they hate socialism for the wrong people. Socialism itself is not the problem, it is the recipients.

There is never any talk of cutting politicians’ pensions or pay. There is never talk of ending corporate subsidies in an allegedly capitalist system. The idea of ‘how will we pay for this?’ is only ever applied to social programmes such as medicare (and its counterpart in the US Medicare4All) but never to corporate subsidies or the military or any other corporate or rich priority. For those sectors of society, the treasury is their plaything. But when it comes to social programmes for the peasants (even if that term is never used) suddenly politicians evolve into deficit hawks. This hypocrisy must stop.

What is good for the goose, as the saying goes, is good for the gander.

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A Response to John Howard’s Character Reference for George Pell

Former Prime Minister John Howard has written a character reference for Cardinal George Pell, who was recently convicted of child molestation. Mr. Howard is one of many conservative politicians and pundits who have come out in defence of Mr. Pell, with one even going so far as to call his conviction this generation’s Dreyfus affair. Such a comparison is absurd since, unlike Captain Dreyfus, Mr. Pell was convicted based on the evidence. But the focus of this post is to respond to Mr. Howard’s character reference for Mr. Pell.

Following an introduction stating how long the two have known each other, the statement is fairly brief. The entire text of the actual character reference is as follows:

Cardinal Pell is a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character. Strength and sincerity have always been features of his personality. I have always found him to be lacking hypocrisy and cant. In his chosen vocation he has frequently displayed much courage and held to his values and beliefs, irrespective of the prevailing wisdom of the time.

Cardinal Pell is a lively conversationalist who maintains a deep and objective interest in contemporary social and political issues

High intelligence and exemplary character, you say? His conviction would tend to argue against both of those claims. His character is surely questionable in light of his conviction for inappropriate sexual interactions with children! It is amazing how Mr. Howard can continue to defend this man after his conviction. Strength and sincerity have always been features of his personality, you say? This man repeatedly lied and took every possible step to avoid testifying about the issue of his alleged involvement in these matters, including claiming to be too unwell to fly, which inspired comedian Tim Minchin to pen the song Come Home Cardinal Pell. Sincerity is evidently not part of his character. As for strength of moral character generally, the immediate response to this is to quote the cardinal himself. In July of 2002, he said that ‘abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people’. Moral character indeed.

Mr. Howard then says that he has always found Pell to be ‘lacking hypocrisy and cant’. If it is necessary to point out that someone has never applied double standards in your view, that in itself is not much of a standard. Not being a hypocrite is not a virtue; it should be the default position. Principles matter, and not doing something negative does not mean doing something positive. Also, this man is of the cloth. He practices hypocrisy daily by claiming to be the moral compass of the human race while preaching from the bible of all books; a text which quite explicitly condones (indeed, it orders) slavery, mistreatment of women and genocide among other highlights. To say that Mr. Pell does not practice hypocrisy is either a bald-faced lie or it comes from a place of visceral tribalism which demands that the team be defended at all costs.

The statement then says that ‘he [Pell] has frequently displayed much courage and held to his values and beliefs, irrespective of the prevailing wisdom of the time.’ Translation, Mr. Pell has stuck to his fact-free, utterly subjective religious beliefs regardless of how society has progressed and moved away from such ideas. Seemingly, Mr. Pell is a man after Mr. Howard’s own heart, since he did the exact same thing while in office. But back to Mr. Pell. Doggedly sticking to your own beliefs regardless of how well they fit in with an ever-evolving society is not something to be praised: that is being an ideologue. The evidence should guide your actions rather than your beliefs which seemingly are not subject to change. That kind of rigid idealism is, frankly, out of place in a society where information on any topic is available at the press of a button (or, indeed, the use of one’s voice). Mr. Howard’s praising of Mr. Pell’s moral and social rigidity, statements best understood as he opposed marriage equality, is repugnant.

We end with Mr. Howard’s last statement

Cardinal Pell is a lively conversationalist who maintains a deep and objective interest in contemporary social and political issues

To suggest that a religious individual of any persuasion maintains an ‘objective interest’ in contemporary issues is absurd. Their views are determined by the underlying religious beliefs of the institution of which they are a part. Their views are pre-determined, the diametric opposite of the term objective. Indeed, a cynical reading of that statement might be that ‘objective’ is best understood as being in accordance with Mr. Howard’s own views.

So much for Mr. Howard’s defence of Mr. Pell.

This article was originally published on CRITICALANALYSTSITE.

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