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Tag Archives: Neoliberalism

Send a peace-keeping team where it’s needed most, ScoMo

Em şîv in hûn jî paşîv in,” or, if we are dinner you are supper,  Armenians warn Kurds before Turkish massacres – a recurrent motif in Kurdish oral history.


As Donald Trump abruptly withdraws US air support and a trip-wire of US troops from North-East Syria, in the vast Kurdish-controlled triangle, locals call Rojava or “The West”, Sunday, he clears the way for Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to begin Operation Peace Spring, a long-planned, long-threatened military offensive to purge the Kurds. Erdoğan’s blitzkrieg starts Wednesday 9 October.

Turkey is pressing on with its alternative buffer zone concept, trashing the neutral corridor plan the US and Turkey say they’ve been working on for a year – at least. Erdoğan’s plan is to invade Syria and fill the illegally occupied territory along Turkey’s southern border with 2 million Syrian refugees – or “up to half the 3.6 million people”, the UN registers as currently taking refuge in Turkey. The EU can pick up the tab. Ankara’s pitch is far-fetched, impracticable and threatens to re-ignite ISIS but Trump buys it.

ISIS is more acceptable to an anti-Ataturk Erdoğan than Rojava, a Kurdish radically decentralised and democratic social revolution which embraced gender equality and inspired activists worldwide. Rojava’s the antithesis of the more common Middle Eastern patriarchal despotism. It’s easy to see why its radical egalitarian political and social structure is ideologically repugnant to the conservative autocrat Erdoğan.

On top of ancient hatreds are grafted newer layers of distrust. And on top of these are military realities. Former legionnaire and YPG (Peoples’ Protection Unit) volunteer, Jamie Williams successfully volunteered to fight with the Kurds against Daesh in 2017,  he writes in The Saturday Paper. He soon realised that the Kurds were as much at risk from Turkey as from Daesh or ISIS as it prefers to be known.

Kurdish force YPG has its women-only counterpart the YPJ. Our government has provided air support to the group – yet it is linked with PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, whom Erdoğan regards as terrorists, responsible for acts of terror in Turkey. To many commentators they are one and the same group.

Propaganda from Turkey is all about fighting terrorists, spin which our own PM repeats even as civilians are indiscriminately killed in the first few days of the Turkish onslaught. Trump sets off a powder keg.

“All hell breaks loose” says The Washington Post after a Sunday phone call between the two populist presidents. Talk turns to trade and help with defence in the exhausted superlatives Trump favours. Only late in the call, does the topic turn to Erdoğan’s impending invasion and grander aims.

Trump offers a “really good package”, of F35 jets, lemons at $100m a pop, from Lockheed’s $1.5 trillion defence boondoggle, the most expensive in the world, even though Turkey will still buy a missile defence system from Russia, and keep a multi-billion dollar plan to dodge US sanctions on Iran. A presidential visit is thrown into the deal. Trump tells Erdoğan not to invade, he insists. Turkey’s actions attest otherwise.

A White House statement issued after the phone call certainly appears to confirm the withdrawal.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The US Armed Forces . . . having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

Turkish officials maintain Trump privately gave Erdoğan the go-ahead. Trump ups his bluster.

Congressional Republicans erupt in protest. Trump denies all report of any such undertaking. Hapless administration officials are scrambled to explain, ineffectually, that Trump’s yes means no; the US does not consent to Turkey’s plans to invade Syria nor collude in Erdoğan’s fantasy of an Ottoman Empire 2.0.

A bipartisan group forms to devise sanctions; put Turkey’s war machine genie back in its bottle. As if.

By Monday, having provoked outrage from even the typically recumbent if not supine Republicans in the House and the Senate, Trump threatens to “obliterate” his NATO ally’s economy, if Erdoğan doesn’t stop invading Syria; rhetoric he quickly tones down.  Turkey is now warned not to do “anything outside what we think is humane” – or the country will “suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy.”

What we think is humane? Pressed for time to interpret Trump’s double-speak, Ankara could do worse than glance at Amnesty International’s summary of the Trump administration’s human rights abuses in its immigration policy alone. Amnesty says the Trump administration’s policy and practices have caused,

“..catastrophic irreparable harm to thousands of people, have spurned and manifestly violated both US and international law, and appeared to be aimed at the full dismantling of the US asylum system.”

Meanwhile, a new wave of 2000 US troops is deployed in Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon announces, topping up a thousand recently deployed there to pot-shot the odd drone, all part of the US bogus war on Iran which Trump & Co are trying to gin up, purely to help his 2020 re-election prospects. The troops will be on hand to “assure and enhance” Saudi Arabia’s defence and no doubt help its women learn to drive.

It’s a low blow to Canberra’s attempts to paint Trump’s capitulation to Erdoğan as consistent with The Donald’s avowed isolationism; his public wish to “get out of these ridiculous endless wars”. Someone needs to tell ScoMo and Co not to confuse Trump’s performance shtick with any deeper conviction.

ScoMo tells Nine Newspapers and others that there’s nothing to see here. The most erratic president in US history is just acting consistently. It’s all going to plan. A po-faced ScoMo claims Trump outlined his aim to withdraw troops from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq a year ago and is now acting on that message.

“I think it would be wrong to not draw an element of consistency between those statements almost a year ago and the action the United States has been taking since, including most recently,” ScoMo bloviates.

“As is the nature of alliances and friendships, you work through these issues together and you understand them together and you speak frankly to one another and you do that in the spirit of that relationship.”

Bunkum. Part of the outrage amongst even his own party, is Trump’s total lack of consultation. Left out of the loop, say Politico and others, were foreign allies, Congress even some in his own administration.

Trump is working nothing through together, ScoMo. Nor is there any element of consistency. Trump’s administration has, in fact, increased US involvement in what he calls their “ridiculous endless wars”.

US Air Forces central command reports late last month, it launched the most airstrikes in Afghanistan over a single month in roughly a decade. American troops have ramped up airstrikes in Libya targeting ISIS fighters there. And the US continues its shadow war in Somalia to repel terrorists there. The new wave in Saudi Arabia means a total net increase of 17000 US troops in the region since May.

Stung by accusations of incompetence, Saturday, Trump appears on Fox’s Justice with Janine to utter his most pathetic self-justification yet, “He (Erdoğan) was going to go in anyway. They’ve been fighting the Kurds for 200 years. He was going in anyway,” Trump professes US impotence to host Jeanine Pirro.

In doing so, Trump unwittingly confirms that he’s given in to Erdoğan’s demands. It is unlikely to boost his party’s trust or Trump’s self-appointed role as super-patriot and nationalist. His wimpy surrender to Turkey’s territorial ambitions makes America great again? Like his protégé, Scott Morrison, when the chips are down he doesn’t give a toss about principle or consistency or even plausible deniability.

As with any of our current crop of political monsters, the winner-take-all strong men thrown up by neoliberalism’s decline, sky-rocketing inequality and the rise and rise of hyper-nationalism, it’s all about political survival – at any price.

Trump needs a diversion from his impeachment narrative and Rudy Giuliani’s erratic stunts are not helping. He puts on his isolationist mask when it suits. Only Murdoch hacks and ScoMo take it seriously.

Isolationist Trump is stymied because continuous war is vital to the United States military industrial complex if not the economy, a neoliberal supreme being second only to the free market in the cult’s articles of faith. Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul – even more of an embarrassing Trump fanboy than our own PM, rushes to defend his president’s isolationism but, as with toady ScoMo, his credibility is low.

As Republicans and Democrats alike bag Trump for enabling Turkish attacks on U.S. Kurdish allies which could enable ISIS prisoners of war to escape and reform, Paul declares that most Americans would actually agree with President Trump that this is not a war that has our national interest at stake.”

Even if national interest can mean whatever you choose it to mean, it’s difficult to agree with Paul that America’s national interest will emerge unscathed as its reputation as an ally is trashed – and as the Kurdish body count mounts – so far, Turkish authorities claim to have killed 277 terrorists.

Kurdish sources claim that most of those killed or maimed by bombs and air strikes are civilians.

Does Trump give “a green light” or “a trigger” to Turkey’s military ambitions? Experts differ. Trump, himself, is increasingly incoherent and – like his disciple, Scott Morrison -consistently fast and loose and with the truth. What is certain is that the US betrays its military allies, the Kurds who have lost eleven thousand men and women fighting America’s Syrian military intervention in the last five years at least.

What is also clear is that Trump crafts a week of utter confusion over US Middle-East policy in a desperate bid to stem the growing movement to impeach him for enlisting Ukraine’s sad clown, former comic turned President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to help him smear Joe Biden and the whole Mueller inquiry.

Zelensky is now rapidly running up a trust deficit in polls reported this week. His dealings with Trump; his proposals to end the Kremlin-backed war in Ukraine’s East – don’t help. Ukrainians see him less as a running gag on Ukraine’s hopelessly corrupt political system and more like a puppet of a local billionaire.

“Never get into a well with an American rope,” goes a saying, The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn reports, is spreading across the Middle East. Will Trump’s treachery also be an object lesson to Canberra?

It’s unlikely given the obsequious fawning of ScoMo’s recent Washington junket, to say nothing of Titanium Man’s subsequent mimicry of Trump on how China is a developed nation and expect no favours over Kyoto targets such as Australia enjoys. But ScoMo knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this week sees him morph even further into a Trump even without fake tan or combover.

On song with Donald, ScoMo also rails against “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracies” which UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reminds our PM, Australia helped set up. The scrutiny Morrison’s government rejects is based on international standards it helped create.

We’re also backing out of the UN Climate fund, Morrison decrees, following Trump’s inspiring example. Money saved can go to the Pacific, (it would, anyway, under the fund), especially our fruit-picking Fijians who will love their rugby until Fiji’s playing fields are underwater courtesy of our heroic contribution to global warming as we squib our commitment to our Paris Agreement target with carry-over credits.

Heroic? When we take into account our exports’ carbon dioxide emission potential, Australia ranks as the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia reports The Australia Institute. Wherever our exported fossil fuels may be burnt, they emit more carbon dioxide than the exported emissions of all but two of the world’s biggest oil- and gas-producing nations.

Helping galloping Trumpism sweep the nation in their own self-righteous, dismissive way on Sunday’s ABC Insiders are Murdoch’s Michael Stuchbury and mining lobby tool, The Sydney Institute’s, merry Gerry Henderson who talk up ScoMo’s climate leadership and still find time to defend Peter Dutton for just stating the obvious about how China does not share our “Australian values”.

Gerry scotches all notion of ScoMo criticising his mentor and BFF Donald Trump.

“There is no reason why the Australian government should criticise the American President” says Henderson, airily, ignoring years of utter chaos, corruption and racist violence since January 2017.

Certainly no criticism of Trump appears in ScoMo&Co’s fabulous Dr Doolittle routine, the Payne-Morrison Foreign Policy Pushmi-pullyu duo who sing from the same ponderous song-sheet, in eerie fidelity.

“The Australian Government is deeply troubled by Turkey’s unilateral military operation into North-Eastern Syria. It will cause additional civilian suffering, lead to greater population displacement, and further inhibit humanitarian access. While Turkey has legitimate domestic security concerns, unilateral cross-border military action will not solve these concerns.”

Take that, Erdogan and your domestic security concerns. Neville Chamberlain couldn’t have put it better.

Or as Orwell warns, “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details…. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

Weasel words and the vexed question of his aiding and abetting mad elected-King Donald aside, ScoMo and Co are “deeply troubled” only by having to fake moral outrage at Turkey’s turpitude. It’s a tough gig.

Causing “additional human suffering” bothers a PM who plans to revoke Medevac legislation in November? Hardly. “Humanitarian access” worries the gate-keeper of our asylum-seeker gulags both on and off-shore where mandatory, indefinite, detention is denounced by the UN as be a form of torture?

Greater population displacement worries the architect of the Cambodian Solution? A government which opens Christmas Island for one family is averse to additional civilian suffering? A key aim of our mandatory detention of asylum seekers is to punish those on Manus and Nauru or those locked up on the mainland and deprived of any social welfare payments -as a deterrent to other aspiring boat people.

Shunning the UN and similar international bodies is a retreat from co-operative globalism into barbarism. It is also, as the UN makes clear, a denial of our own humanity, a futile attempt to evade our own conscience; our sense of accountability and social responsibility.

Trump’s sudden withdrawal is a triple betrayal. The Kurds are now at risk not only from Turkey but from ISIS fighters they have captured, five of whom already liberate themselves after Turkish shelling from nearby. Kurdish fighters also face hostility from Assad’s regime – and will lose their homes to strangers.

Many of Syria’s Kurdish people live in cities and towns such as Qamishli, Kobani and Tal Abyad just south of the Syrian-Turkish frontier. By Sunday, hundreds of thousands are fleeing south, terrified by the prospect of a Turkish occupation, backed by bands of Syrian Arab paramilitaries with links to al-Qaeda type groups. CNN reports that the bombardment could displace 300,000 people. Some say more.

Operation Peace Spring is Ankara’s Orwellian title for Turkey, and its Syrian proxies’ air strikes, heavy artillery, rocket fire and land assault; a campaign to illegally annex a “peace corridor” of Northern Syria thirty kilometres deep and some say 480 kilometres along Turkey’s entire Southern border with Syria.

Some sources suggest a more modest but no less illegal 120 kilometres of lebensraum is Turkey’s aim. But how can anyone be sure? In a Rafferty’s Rules-based world of disorder only might is right.

Is this what we’ve become?

Ankara has plans to relocate two million Syrian Arab refugees from other parts of Syria it currently has within its borders immediate aim is to seize Rojava; embark upon further Kurdish ethnic cleansing. As it happens, President Erdoğan announces, he’s just discovered that the land doesn’t belong to the Kurds.

It’s not his first invasion. On 20 January 2018, Turkey attacked the Kurdish city of Afrin in Operation Olive Branch, an offensive which displaced 300,000 Kurds who lost family homes to strangers resettled from eastern Ghouta, an urban suburb of Damascus. Human Rights Watch reports that armed Syrian paramilitary groups were permitted to detain and “forcibly disappear civilians.

Nothing to fear from a “mafia, murderer and serial killer” Turkish state mobilising its armed forces to massacre more Kurds? Hurriedly, publicly walking back any commitment he has made privately to Erdoğan, Trump says he’ll keep the Turks in check; “obliterate” their economy if they try any funny stuff.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” the USA’s Tweeter-in-Chief warns Ankara via Twitter.

His Stable Genius has it all under control.

Erdogan gets a hand, meanwhile. Prior to withdrawal, CNN reports, the US persuades Kurds to dismantle fortifications and to move troops away from the border whilst helpfully giving Turkey airspace access and intelligence on the area to improve its aim – or in military newspeak, formulate its target lists”.

Our own Trumpista, Scott Morrison has only recently returned from a brief but sell-out US tour where he did a star turn as Trump’s muppet. It’s a stunt, as Bernard Keane puts it, in which all of Australia’s foreign policy is outsourced to The White House. Now ScoMo must come up with something. He fails.

He rushes to urge “restraint of all those who are involved” – lest Kurds throw themselves rashly under Turkish tanks, or rush to put themselves or their families in line of fire of bullets or mortar attacks.

It’s all in a good cause. More grandiose plans and delusions aside, Erdogan and Trump are both down in the polls. Trump happily abandons US allies, Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, (SDF) and Kurdish civilians to Turkish genocide. It’s certainly diverting attention from moves to impeach him for seeking Ukraine’s help, for his own political advantage; to dig dirt on Joe Biden’s son. He has to be prepared. What if Joe Biden should win the Democratic nomination and not Elizabeth Warren?

Trump’s dumping of former US allies ought to be a wake-up call to those who fetishise the ANZUS alliance- merely an agreement to consult in times of crisis, despite the reverence our MPs bestow upon it.

The world sees clearly both the limits of US authority and how Trump treats US allies, an object lesson unlikely to be missed by Asian nations. Yet the warning is unlikely to be heeded by ScoMo and Co. Morrison’s government and its Murdoch mouthpiece is now so much part of the Trump cult that not only does our PM’s speeches on foreign policy now mimic the US President’s pre-occupations; lecturing China on trade and climate, he reneges on Australia’s commitment to the UN Green Climate Fund.

“I’m not writing a $500 million cheque to the UN, I won’t be doing that. There’s no way I’m going to do that to Australian taxpayers,” ScoMo tells reporters, an antipodean Zelig aping Trump’s 2017 decision.

In other words, ScoMo, you’ll sell us short. Don’t copy Trump. The UN Green Climate Fund -decades in the making – was inspired by the urgent need to support developing nations in responding to the challenge of climate change. It helps developing nations curb their emissions and adapt. It provides for our children and grandchildren – and their children and grandchildren.

Above all, aping your mentor Trump in attacking the UN and other international bodies designed to promote global citizenship and co-operation, you are betraying all Australians and especially those who helped create internationalism; a set of rules and responsibilities, which might help us to act according to our higher instincts. These include resolving conflict, offering refuge, respecting human rights and applying  the rule of law so that we might all benefit from a civilised international society.

The least Australia can do, for starters, is to censure Trump for colluding in Erdoğan’s invasion of Syria; giving the green light to his genocidal plans towards the Kurds. Other nations are already applying sanctions on Turkey. It is imperative we also take a stand against Erdoğan’s invasion before it is too late.

Prevailing on your BFF Donald Trump to resume control of the skies over North-East Syria would be a start while an international peace-keeping team could follow. You can send a team to the Golan Heights on Israel’s border. Surely you can also send a team where it’s needed most.

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Now is the Time for All Good Men and Women to Come to the Aid of the Party

By Allan Patience

This article has been re-blogged from ‘Pearls and Irritations’ with the author’s permission.

Richard Di Natale has called on the Greens to get ready for government. Well and good. The direction in which he is prodding his party is a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak Australian political landscape.

Whether in a coalition (likely with Labor), or in its own right (unlikely), what sort of public policy agenda would a Greens government pursue? It is time for it to come up with a broad and innovative policy agenda; otherwise a completely new political party will have to be created.

The other major parties, Labor and Liberal, have become ossified under the thumb of ideologically blinkered, self-perpetuating elites, the consequence of what Robert Michels once called the “iron law of oligarchy.” The Nationals are mostly irrelevant to mainstream policy debates, but they too suffer from the same organisational malaise as the ALP and the Liberals.

For over three decades now Labor and the Coalition parties have been in obsessive thrall to a neoliberal mindset, utterly insensitive to the havoc that neoliberalism has been wreaking on our economy. However, what they are clearly incapable of comprehending today is that the whole neoliberal (or “economic rationalist”) project is about to come crashing down.

Some of the catastrophes that neoliberalism has unleashed on us in Australia include: stagnating economic growth rates; sharply increasing socio-economic inequalities that are undermining capitalism itself (though, as with most subtleties, this irony escapes most neoliberals); the running-down of vital public services and the devaluing of public goods (for example, hospitals, schools, public transport); the appalling expansion of what were once termed “repressive state apparatuses” (increased powers for police and border protection authorities, state-sanctioned human rights abuses on Manus Island and Nauru, draconian meta-data gathering laws, the use of legally prescribed secrecy by governments to hide what they are really up to); and a society in which a range of social pathologies (family violence, depression, narcissism, drugs, begging, violent crime) are becoming thesine qua non of everyday life.

The licence that big private sector corporations have been granted by successive neoliberal regimes has not resulted in better services, cheaper credit, or widely shared prosperity across the community. As Milton once observed, licence is not the same thing as liberty. Markets are now being crowded out by start-up ingénues and fraudsters while being bullied by big local and overseas corporations intent on feathering their own profitability nests and with little interest in the needs or rights of their employees and consumers.

For example, the billion dollar profits that the big four banks are presently announcing (even as they increase their lending rates) point to the abject failure of the principles of deregulation and privatisation – that neoliberals have boasted endlessly will free up a shackled market, to benefit everybody. In the case of the banks, the only beneficiaries have been their obscenely overpaid executives and a narrow grouping of major shareholders. And, remember, many of those shareholders are offshore corporations.

Consider, too, the myriad private providers of electricity that have exploded on to the scene since the privatisation of energy generation. Neoliberals promised that privatising the delivery of electricity would bring vigorous competition into a previously lazy and cosseted industry, driving down the price of electricity in household budgets. But, as every household knows only too well, this simply isn’t happening. In fact there are now far too may competitors in the market devising all sorts of byzantine schemes to woo customers, while investing in costly advertising and hustling campaigns to cajole bemused and confused customers into signing up with one or other of them. The result has been a shocking escalation in the costs of a fundamental public good – affordable electricity. The privatisation of electricity has been one of the most spectacular of neoliberalism’s disasters.

These are only two examples of many failures by neoliberalism to progress our economy and enhance people’s lives.

So what sort of agenda should the Greens espouse?

Their first priority must be to counter-attack in neoliberalism’s war on public goods and services. Reimposing regulatory constraints on a private sector that is out of control is an impossible task. That horse has well and truly bolted. However, neoliberals love to extol the virtue of competition in the economy. So why not give them some real competition?

This is where Greens should enter the policy debates. They should can mount a political campaign explaining that there is no competing mechanism in the neoliberal quiver to challenge the social destructiveness and economic vandalising that neoliberalism’s privatising and deregulating have unleashed. They need to explain that the only achievement of neoliberal policies has been to oversee capital roaring up the system, not trickling down.

This should be the prelude for advocating a policy of strategically targeted public competition into the so-called “free market.”

The first item on the post-neoliberal policy agenda should be the setting up of a publicly owned bank, to provide genuine competition in the banking industry. Of course the neoliberal beneficiaries of the current banking order will scream like stuck pigs about the unfairness of a publicly owned competitor in their midst, insisting that only they be allowed to compete on that most sacred of neoliberal cows – the fabled level playing field.

Anyway, why must a publicly owned bank be seen as unfairly tilting the economic arena? Its establishment would simply provide more competition to bring the banking field back to an even keel, while returning profits to the community either though cheaper, more consumer-respectful services, and/or profits being invested in public goods (for example, better schools, railways, medical services).

Another strategic area in the contemporary economy is legal services. Thousands of Australians are locked out of the justice system because of prohibitive fees charged by the big law companies that as greedy as the banks. A publicly owned law firm providing cheap and friendly (dare one say compassionate) legal advice would help address the unjust over-representation of social minorities and the poor who are routinely and unjustly the majority victims of the pointy end of the country’s legal system. When did you last hear of a senior partner in a law firm, or a distinguished surgeon, or a bank CEO going to jail?

Other strategic areas in the Australian economy in urgent need of tough public competition include the real estate industry (agents’ costs and fees are a significant factor in pushing up already escalating house prices), medical (including psychiatric) and dental clinics, a publicly owned pharmaceutical corporation (once a dream of the Whitlam government), childcare centres, a government airline, and a comprehensive news and entertainment media agency (an expanded and properly resourced ABC and SBS).

A cautiously progressive introduction of public competition into strategic sectors of the economy would certainly contribute to improving the barrenness of our contemporary public policy environment. As each new public competition agency is settled in, further competition could be contemplated – for example a publicly owned supermarket chain.

And once people realise that this kind of state intervention doesn’t cause the sky to fall in, then even the nationalisation of certain crucial industries could be considered – an obvious example is urban rail networks and road tollways.

Indeed with the institutionalisation of a healthy culture of public competition in the post-neoliberal economy, further private competition could even be encouraged. But any new private enterprises will have to operate on a truly level playing field. Regulators will require them to demonstrate that their services are consumer-respectful and that the efficiencies they promise are genuine, not bogus as so many are right now.

If the Greens are unable to mount a public policy program for the coming post-neoliberal era, then a new political party will be necessary. That will be the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party.

Allan Patience is a political scientist at the Asia Institute in the University of Melbourne.


A Country under Siege: A Brief History of Neoliberalism in Australia.

During the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II, crimes for which Nazis were hanged included the “inadequate provision of surgical and other medical services.” I think on this as I consider the billions of dollars stripped from hospital funding in the recent federal budget.

Ideology is a word that seems to get tossed around a lot lately. I was pleased to hear Bill Shorten make use of it in his budget reply speech. But what exactly does it mean? Let’s stop for a moment and see if we can’t put some substance to this rhetoric, starting with a few possible definitions:

1. The body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.

2. Such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation.

3. Philosophy: The study of the nature and origin of ideas.

4. Theorising of a visionary or impractical nature.

Neoliberalism is the name given to a school of economic thought which emerged between the two great wars of the last century, and is usually attributed to Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and the Austrian and Chicago schools of economics. For the purposes of this inquiry I will refer primarily to the former.

In the 1930s British conservative Harold Macmillan speculated a ‘middle way’ between the perceived threat of Marxist collectivism and the laissez faire economics which had led to the great depression. In contrast to this, Hayek’s capitalism-on-steroids boasts of the virtues and rigour of a global market economy, privatisation, deregulation and free trade, demanding nothing less in return than the systematic destruction of the institutions of the sovereign nation state. With all resources, (labour, minerals, food, water, air, you-name-it) surrendered to private capital, and services (finance, welfare, healthcare, education, etc) supplied by private industry, the problem reduces to an elegant equation.

Forget every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard. Forget the Zionists, the Illuminati, Rothschilds, Reptilians, UFOs and the aliens who walk among us, forget HAARP and geo-engineering, nothing will prepare you for the nightmare ideology of Neoliberalism and its powerful acolytes, from the early postwar propaganda of the Walter Lippmann Colloquium to the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS), an elite clique of businessmen, bankers, statesmen and academics who’ve done more to overtly influence political thought and shape the foreign policies of governments in the last 75 years than all the great economic theorists of the last two centuries combined.

For a better historical account you could refer to Philip Mirowski’s work, or any of Adam Curtis’ great documentaries; however for the sake of this argument I find myself reaching for a Brodie’s Notes version, so here goes:

Neoliberalism stretches Adam Smith’s idea of rational self-interest and competition about as far as it can be stretched, stating that “only the mechanism by which prices are determined by the free market allows the optimal organisation of the means of production and leads to the maximal satisfaction of human needs”. In a nutshell it places individuals as consumers at the bottom of the food chain with corporations their rightful rulers. Within this paradigm the free market mechanism is sacrosanct, and the sole purpose of government to ensure that whatever money wants, money gets. This is the true blueprint for corporate statehood; a brave new world of milkshake sized lattes and 14 hour work days.

It’s fair to say that Hayek was not a huge fan of democracy, and terrified of socialism. He was similarly unimpressed by notions of altruism and the common good. By all accounts if Hayek was ever confronted by a noble savage he would probably stab him in the back and steal his purse. You might say that his was a rather pessimistic world view, or perhaps he was simply a product of his time. Markets by contrast he perceived to operate with mathematical precision, and when freed from the distortions of state intervention would be impervious to the boom-bust cycle that had plagued generations of economists.

How this ideology played out across the political landscape of the last century is a story deserving of much more thorough investigation, but crucial to its success was the establishment and proliferation of independent neoliberal ‘think tanks’ across the world, including London’s Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) and closer to home the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), of which Gina Rinehart is a member and major financer (the Liberal Party was the brainchild of the IPA, c. 1943.) The MPS agenda found powerful allies in media types like Sir Keith Murdoch, funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and popular support within the old European aristocracy. Clandestine operations like the dismantling of the Bretton Woods monetary system, achieved in 1971 when Richard Nixon floated the US dollar and abandoned the gold standard, subsequent control of the global resource market, and the expansion of Thatcherism throughout the West in the 1970s, provide some idea of the scope of the programme

One doesn’t have to look far to see the reach of the MPS in Australia. (In the 1930s Murdoch Sr. had used his papers to run a fierce campaign against the Scullin Labor government, sound familiar?) It is not so much a secret society as hidden in plain view, among its many public faces the aforementioned Institute of Public Affairs, the Centre for Independent Studies, the Tasman Institute, H.R. Nicholls Society, and The Sydney Institute. All fairly innocuous sounding names, but the honour rolls of these debating clubs read like a who’s who of Australian political life, and I don’t mean just the usual suspects. They are all there, from academic advisors to financial sponsors to key speakers. Names like Murdoch, Kerr, Howard, Kennett, Costello, Hewson, Bolt, Keating, Reith, Greiner, Kemp, Abbott, Abetz, need I go on?

The Liberal Party of Australia held office for a record 23 years from 1949 to 1972. With Menzies electoral victory secured amid cold war hysteria, media backlash against the Chifley government’s plans to nationalise the banking sector, and widespread public opinion that Labor had become ‘soft on Communism’, a double dissolution election and referendum to outlaw the Communist Party was called in April of 1951, returning Menzies to power with control of both houses of parliament. The Liberal-National Coalition was now unstoppable, and throughout the fifties and sixties Australia moved gradually toward military alliances outside of the British Commonwealth, committing troops to the Korean War and later Vietnam, signing the ANZUS treaty in 1951 and SEATO in 1954, and stepping up trade agreements, particularly with Japan.

By the end of the sixties the post war boom was showing signs of decline. Typical of fashion trends in the pre-internet age, Australia’s sixties revolution happened in the early seventies. With American Pie at the top of the charts and the troops safely home from Vietnam it was an age of optimism. Whitlam’s promise to buy back the farm had captured the mood of the electorate and no doubt caused some minor irritation to the powers that be, but his threat to blow the whistle on Pine Gap, (a secret U.S. intelligence installation in Australia which was most recently used to coordinate drone strikes on civilians in Pakistan), was the final straw. As history tells it, Governor General Sir John Kerr exercised his vice-regal powers, Whitlam, Cairns, and Connor were swiftly removed from office, and it was back to business as usual. (Ironically it was Labor’s own policy think tank, the Central Policy Review Committee, which stymied many of the Whitlam’s government’s reforms, effectively eroding the party from within.)

My argument that the ALP has long pursued a neoliberal agenda should not come as a shock to anyone. Neoliberalism is a perverse and pervasive ideology which has woven itself into the political culture over decades, and the ALP has not been immune. Hawke and Keating were in it up to their eyeballs, beginning with the serious business of labour market deregulation and leading up to the big asset fire sale, with national institutions like Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank (both established under the Chifley Labor government) the first off the lot.

The Howard government continued the trend taking a more direct approach to wages through an open attack on unionism, and liquidated over $100bn worth of public assets. With the mining boom in full swing, so too was Howard’s profligacy as he played to the electorate tipping money back into the private sector through tax relief, sadly too little too late to save his political career.

If one thing is abundantly clear it’s that Australians have short memories come election time. Fast forward to September 2013 and we see another big Murdoch campaign and the Abbott government picking up where Howard left off, with $100m thrown at a Royal Commission into union corruption set to drag out for most of the electoral cycle and hopefully deliver a few Labor heads just in time for the 2016 election, and another one into the pink bats scheme which would seem to have no objective other than to smear Kevin Rudd. Whichever way you call it, the prime ministerial gloves are clearly off, but you can rest assured there won’t be a Royal Commission into Commonwealth Bank fraud, as the Abbott government seeks to further deregulate financial services. Privatisation continues, but in true Orwellian doublespeak it’s now dubbed “asset recycling”, a game where the Commonwealth puts the squeeze on the states by offering a 15% cash bonus for the sale of assets, while taking $80bn out of school and hospital funding with the other hand. Well played I have to say.

Meanwhile the real protagonists of our story are still hard at play. The IPA’s policy wish list is being delivered one item at a time, with the imminent repeal of the carbon and mining taxes, the abolition of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and delegation of major environmental impact decisions to the states and territories. Health services are on the chopping block with pending changes to Medicare and a bill before parliament to remove the National Preventive Health Agency (cigarettes and alcohol are bad for you, but good for business; so apparently is gambling, and no prizes for guessing which son of a media mogul has his finger in that pie.) Other items which can be checked off the list either now or in the near future include removing subsidies to the car industry, removing family tax benefits, cutting funding to the Human Rights Commission, downgrading the NBN and cross-media ownership laws to allow the News Ltd an even greater stake in Australia’s media, and of course negotiating new regional free trade agreements including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Attorney General George Brandis remains steadfast in his determination to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act in spite of substantial public outcry and a raft of submissions to government which won’t be made public due to privacy laws. (How many is a raft? I wrote one, did you?) This move should not be mistaken as a defence of freedom of speech, nor excused as just another downsizing of state power, rather it should be seen for what it is; a direct attack on one of the true freedoms afforded by civil society, the freedom from persecution. (Also conveniently getting Andrew Bolt out of a lawsuit.) How sad, how thinly veiled, and how hard to swallow, when at the same time we see Queensland and Victorian state Liberal governments removing our rights to public assembly and peaceful protest.

You see, the first principle of Neoliberalism is freedom, but probably not freedom in the sense that you or I know it. Rather it is the freedom to take what you want, from who you want, when you want. The appointment of Tim Wilson, cherry picked from the ranks of the IPA to the newly created, high salaried position of Freedom Commissioner has scarcely raised an eyebrow, meanwhile Graeme Innes has been unceremoniously dropped from the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and will not be succeeded.

A brief look at coalition attitudes toward the fledgling clean energy industry serves to further highlight the divergence between classical and neo-classical economics. In our neo-classical world view the value of a tonne of coal, nickel or iron ore is what a company in China, India or Japan is willing to pay for it. (In real world terms, a tonne of iron ore costs $50 to produce while its price has fallen from a height of $150 per tonne and is predicted to bottom at $75.) Hence it is undervalued, as the Greens rightly argue, not just in terms of environmental cost, but in opportunity cost. Renewables is the next boom industry. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation which the Abbott government is currently seeking to abolish has been an absolute bonanza for the private sector. The carbon tax itself has returned some $7bn in the last financial year, well ahead of expectations, and as a result of global investment solar PV and wind alternatives are now cheaper than coal.

Last year the future seemed bright for Australia. How do we find ourselves suddenly chained to a resource economy certain to be left behind as the rest of the world embraces renewables and prepares to cap and trade emissions? Rather than confront the problem of adjusting to inevitable change, (How long before India is able to source its thermal coal from one of its northern neighbours ending in ‘stan’?) the men in blue ties are hell bent on expanding mining, logging, roads and ports. With the carbon tax certain to be scrapped when the new Senate sits, and direct action likely to be blocked by the Greens, Australia will soon find itself without a climate policy. How many extreme weather events does it take to change a conservative’s mindset? When will they get it through their heads? Genocide is no doubt a policy outcome deserving of more than cursory investigation, but even for a conservative, the false economy here is simply mind boggling. The resource boom is over, already!

Once again the body politic has proven its incapacity to address long term problems, and shown its complete ineptitude in the face of certain and catastrophic risk. The coming collapse of the mining economy is as plain as the shit on Abbott’s nose, and mother nature will most assuredly have her day. Whist Howard’s battlers, weak at the knees but with staunch backs go on dutifully digging their own graves, we can only hope the former comes sooner.

Now let’s take a peek at the proposed $7 GP co-payment. Forget the fact that none of that $7 will be used to address Labor’s so-called debt and deficit disaster; would anyone care to guess the administration cost of collecting that $7 per patient, per visit? Will employing 10,000 extra public servants make up for some of those they’ve recently laid off? Seriously, let’s take a modest guesstimate that $4 out of every $7 will go in administration costs alone. That leaves $2 to go to the GP and $5 to a medical research future fund that doesn’t exist yet. Who do they think they are fooling? It doesn’t take a degree in applied math to show you that this policy will lose money. The Coalition have already blown this one out of the water by leaking the words ‘price signal’. The policy is so plainly vindictive that I refuse to even argue the case against it, but suffice it to say, if it is implemented, people will die.

If one three word slogan could perfectly capture the current political mood, it would be inequality for all. However Neoliberalism never promised us equality, instead we are offered equality of opportunity and the freedom to screw whoever gets in our way. To me this speaks less of Hayek’s promised free market utopia and more of Thomas Hobbes “war of all against all” in which men’s lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Austerity is not the way forward, but to a neo-feudalist dystopia.

While it’s tempting to believe that electing a Labor government tomorrow might somehow slow the rate of decay, the truth is, whether you’re a Liberal or a Labor voter, our successive elected governments have been committing treason against the people of Australia for generations. Maybe we still have a chance to put some things to rights, (if for example, Labor would let go of the boats issue and show some moral leadership,) but industry and wages are almost certainly a lost cause. Sometimes I think if we could go back a couple of centuries to when modern economics began, when price bore a fixed relation to labour rather than marginal utility, we might go some way toward a fairer society, but then I suppose the global economy is probably too far gone to be saved by fair trade coffee and free range eggs.

As long as our politics is based on a cruel and arcane ideology of paranoia and greed, with government-by-proxy and a world class conservative wingnut steering the ship, we the people are little more than spectators, powerless to do anything more than grumble in dissent. Any greater undertaking would require that a million or so Australians get off their backsides and take to the streets in outright defiance of this pathetic excuse for leadership, which is unlikely to happen, especially during footy season.

Given to flights of fancy I sometimes find myself thinking about possible worlds. More specifically, a world where our puppet democracy is finally exposed for what it is, Gina and Rupert are stripped of their wealth and power, and Abbott, Morrison and the rest of their scumbag cronies are tried and convicted of their crimes against humanity.

Blundering Toward Mass Psychopathy

Image courtesy of fightback.org.nz

Image courtesy of fightback.org.nz

As a society we prey upon the weak and the vulnerable, writes Michael Topic. How has it come to this?

I don’t like authoritarians. I think they’re unwell. I also think that the outcomes, for most people, of a predominantly authoritarian society are extremely poor. So, it was with despair and alarm that I read the analysis contained in this article; ‘Neoliberalism’s War on Democracy‘.

The article, which I believe is, in fact, the introduction abstracted from a whole book on the matter, makes its points with such accuracy, lucidity, truth and honesty, that I found it excessively difficult to read on.

The article’s thesis is that we are being deluged by lawmakers and corporations that are leading us toward an undemocratic, authoritarian life. We increasingly, as a society, prey upon the weak and the vulnerable. We blame the victims. We consign whole sectors of society to disposability, based on their ethnicity, immigration status, skin colour, age or economic misfortune. There are some elites calling the shots, who have bought and paid for the entire project to hoover up the world’s wealth and call it their own, while saying screw the rest of us. We are increasingly dancing to the tune of the corporate-military-industrial-national security complex. We’ve succumbed to a brutal, cruel, uncaring, selfish, merciless regime of governance.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon. Adolf Hitler’s project had the same hallmarks. So did Napoleon’s and Alexander the Great, not to mention the Mongol hordes, the Plantagenet dynasty, the Crusades and any number of empire building projects of previous centuries. In each case, the weak and the vulnerable, the innocent and peaceful, were crushed under the wheels of a conquering machine, in the name of selfish enrichment and the accumulation of power and wealth.

What nobody has ever done, to my knowledge, is analysed whether or not all of this was sane and hence, whether the present course of events is sane either.

Last night, on one of the channels on my television, it was ‘Psychopath Night’.

The show presented a series of investigations into and portraits of psychopathic people and their telltale characteristics. Some argued that we need psychopaths, because they “bravely” rescue people under certain circumstances, but this apology for their generally highly antisocial behaviour neglected the fact that a psychopath doesn’t do anything for other people’s benefit. They only appear to be the brave hero, if it means they gain something, usually material, for having done so.

What you begin to see when you juxtapose the article on Neoliberalism’s war on democracy with the telltale characteristics of the psychopath is that the leaders of Neoliberal policy and thought are, in fact, acting psychopathically. Let’s call it out for what it is. These people are not sane. They’re dangerous and have diseased minds. They want everything for themselves and don’t care who they crush to get it. The weaker the victims, the easier it is to take what’s theirs.

Worse than that, though is the fact that the Neoliberal project is actually a means of turning us all into psychopaths. At every confrontation with this authoritarian skein of thought, each of us must react. We can either save our own skin or stand up to it. Our choice is that we can either comply with or resist this sweeping, epidemic contagion of psychopathy coming from the authoritarian top. We either help the psychopaths get what they want, which is, in the final analysis, total domination and ownership of everything and everyone, or we hinder their progress.

Unfortunately, as in all previous centuries, there are legions of willing accomplices, who imagine themselves as James bloody Bonds or Gordon frickin’ Gekkos that are only too willing to chime in and support the psychopathic project. They want a piece of the action and they’re prepared to act psychopathically too, because they have been authorised to do so. They’re only following authoritarian orders, after all. They’re complying with the authorities. They don’t need to heed their personal consciences, ethics, morals or empathy for other human beings. That can all be suspended, because they have license to act like unconstrained psychopaths, just like their heroes.

In other words, the authoritarian, neoliberal, political project, which appears to be in the ascendency in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and to a large extent in the European Union, is actually a means of unleashing and spreading universal psychopathic behaviour. Every last man, woman and child gets to stab (metaphorically or physically) any opponent or obstructer, for personal profit. Is that really what we want? Is it even what a majority of people really want? Would we want it if we had the ability to think through the consequences, even personal consequences, of following such a path? Sadly, people have become not so much stupid as authentically lacking the ability to think clearly and critically. This has been by design, of course. Authoritarians like it this way. It preserves their project.

However, think of the gut wrenching remorse and heart breaking regret suffered by the German people after the Second World War, when they seemingly snapped out of their collective psychopathic states. Or perhaps there was no genuine remorse. Who can say?

Only the artists and academics can save us. Only the people still capable of critical analysis and thought, of imagining better alternatives, of articulating different, innovative choices and the problematic nature of widespread psychopathic behaviour, who can see things for what they are and see things differently to the authoritarian thought leaders, can guide the rest to an awakening and an awareness of the horrendous project many are blindly, blunderingly signing up to propagate.

The authoritarians, for their part, will do everything they can to shut them up.

Under authoritarianism, ‘everything they can’ becomes ‘anything they want’.

What choice will you make?

This article was first posted on Michael’s blog ‘tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com‘ and reproduced with permission.

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