Tuesday, 22 May 2007
The Liberal Party's Murdoch helper monkeys have come out in force recently, spinning to a degree that could be measured in g-force. The Australian's latest propaganda piece, is, appropriately enough, about the Liberals' latest propaganda piece. Entitled 'Getting the right message across on IR', it begins with a reasonable-enough question, then moves into 'hard sell' mode:
At what point does public information become government propaganda? This is
the delicate road along which the Howard Government has embarked in a bid to
claw back the support of voters spooked by a spirited ACTU campaign against the
new industrial relations laws.
The reality is the Government remains under pressure on industrial
relations in the face of a fierce and misleading campaign by the ACTU and Labor.
But as today's Newspoll shows, exactly how the industrial relations issue will
play out come the election remains unclear. What is certain is that public
confusion over Work Choices remains, including a widespread misunderstanding
about whether it has yet been introduced.
The Government argues that the campaign is needed to counter the high-spending
negative campaign being waged against Work Choices.
The sort of workplace flexibility that is supported by both employees and
employers has never required people to be unfairly stripped of pay and
conditions. And if it was not the Government's intention to drive down working
conditions there is no reason why a no-disadvantage test should not have been
included in the original legislation.
Attempting to place limits on the ability of any government to
communicate with its people should be discouraged. The risk that such
advertisements may prove counterproductive if voters concentrate on the money
being wasted, rather than the message, should be deterrent enough to
Monday, 21 May 2007
To my way of thinking, the art of good blogging may require more than simply recounting other people's facts, or reciting the contents of one's day, but must, of necessity, be brief. To that end, a precise and innovative juxtaposition is a useful tool.
On the topic of tools, today's juxtaposition is that of far-right ideologues, and their histrionic allegations of 'fascism'.
The progressive side of politics has often between too quick to throw out the 'f' word when denouncing an opponent. Today, 'fascism' has been re-appropriated by the right, and is used in conjunction with the term 'Islam', on a variety of racist and imbecilic sites of which these are but a limited sample. (Less often, but nonetheless regularly, such sites also peddle the utterly disproved notion that fascism is a variant of progressive, or even Green thought. This accusation is not even worth the time of refuting again). Before venturing to any of these sites, please be sure to wear gloves.
It is for good reason that 'fascism' is a term of fear and abuse - despite Marx's assertions to the contrary, fascism is the spectre that is haunting Europe, and much of the rest of the world, given that the destruction unleashed by the Nazis was without precedent or successor.
So what is fascism? I can think of no better, succinct definition than that provided by historian Robert O. Paxton:
Fascism may be
defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with
community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of
unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist
militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional
elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and
without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external
Where have those of us of Antipodean extraction seen such a definition made manifest? We could start by point out certain riots that occurred in the Anglophone enclaves of suburban Sydney. Despite the post-hoc apologetics offered by the usual cohort of media brownshirts, who moved swiftly to blame the riots on the 'problem' of olive-skinned victims, evidence emerged of far-right nationalist groups attempting to galvanise support for a proto-fascist movement. The rationale for rioters was one of retaliation for alleged crimes by Muslim Lebanese youth. The reprisal consisted of street (or beach) rioting, by violent drunks, egged on by Australia's own bogan stormtroopers.
Whilst the riots themselves have, thankfully, not been repeated elsewhere in the country, the mentality underlying this has persisted. I shall call this the 'fascist mentality', without any attempt to be ironic or melodramatic. For, if we look at Paxton's definition, and examine some of the unpleasant media/Internet sources I listed above, we find a disturbingly close correspondence:
- 'Obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation and victimhood'; particularly in terms of the perceived evils of 'multiculturalism', and the perceived benefits apparently afforded to minorities. There are no shortage of examples from the sources above of commenters who loudly proclaim that white, middle-class Australia (or America) is the 'victim' of Islam. Note also that the 'elites', according to the perverse logic of far-right ideology, are not those with money or power, but with 'culture', that is, the intellectual left, compared to whom everybody is supposedly impoverished.
- 'Uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites'; we have seen how one such elite, Alan Jones, had his wrist slapped for his encouragement of the riots, and we have also seen how our fearless leader, Howard, was more than willing to accommodate such encouragement. The enablers of thuggery in the media (Bolt, Blair, Devine, et. al.) also reflect collaboration with 'elites'.
'Internal cleansing and external expansion'; It must be said that examples of 'internal cleansing' have been mercifully few and far between. All the same, the calls for such cleansing are sounding increasingly less like 'dog whistles' and more like outright barking. The will to 'external expansion' is expressed through Australian military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and through vicarious support for US and Israeli expansionism. It is profoundly ironic that many of the rightards who express the most virulent contempt for Palestinians, and the most uncritical support for Israel, are precisely those who, 70 years ago, would have been baying for Jewish blood, and debating, in the German and Austrian broadsheets, possible solutions to the 'Jewish problem'. Today they content themselves with the 'Islamic problem'.
One of the best refutations of anti-Semitic stereotypes that I have encountered is in James Joyce's Ulysses. In it, a character responds to the alleged financial deviousness of the Jews by retorting that a merchant is he who buys low, and sells high, Jew or Gentile. Whilst this is pure 'common-sense', it is also, incidentally, the properly Marxist response. We might also say, today, that a criminal is he who commits terror against others, whether Jew, Christian, Gentile, Muslim, or American Republican. Unfortunately, our rightards do not read Joyce; still less do they read Marx.
A contemporary fascism in Australia needs enemies, internal and external. The external enemies are to be found in the Middle East, whilst the internal enemies (Muslims, 'liberal elites') are relentlessly demonised in the media. 'Mooslims' now assume the place that 'the Rooskies' once held - an uncontrollable menace that is supposedly supported by the cultural elite. This is in spite of the fact that, even in the face of a monolithic superpower such as the USSR, communism never came remotely close to taking root in Australia or the US.
So what are we to make of this nascent fascism amongst our rightard friends? Slavoj Žižek mentions, in his latest book, The Parallax View, that the American expansionist project, of delivering Judeo-Christian values, 'freedom', 'democracy', 'justice', is not without its 'other'. That is to say, the sexual sadism, and senseless torture of Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib is not incidental to America's project, nor is it a case of 'a few bad apples'. Rather, it is what Žižek calls the 'obscene underside', the perverse but inevitable corollary of American values of 'justice', 'freedom', etc.
The 'obscene underside' of this neo-fascism can be found in those conspiracy theorists who contend that 11/9 was the work of Jewish intriguers, who also, incidentally, control world finance and the media. These sorts of statements, quite rightly dismissed and ridiculed, are formally identical to the ravings of degenerate nationalist psychopaths, who pontificate about the 'growing threat' of conspiratorial Islam, and who cite the birth rates of various nations as 'proof' that the world is in the midst of an Islamic takeover. This, however, is no different to the 11/9 nutters who contend that the sciences of engineering or ballistics are 'proof' that the collapse of the Twin Towers was an 'inside job'. No reasonable person could abide by either theory, or accept the gross politicisation of science for such unenlightened ends.
It is striking that one paranoid conspiracy theory is routinely dismissed by individuals of all political persuasions, whilst the other is not merely tolerated, but openly supported by many sections of mainstream politics and media. Nonetheless, these are merely two sides of the same paranoid, proto-fascist coin, and are strictly equivalent. For an Australian or American to allege that Muslims are taking over the world is no different to the 1930's anti-Semites who ranted about Jews controlling world finance. That some terrorists and criminals have been Muslim is no more proof of the former than is the fact of some Jews being wealthy a proof of the latter. Of course, evidence makes little difference to these deluded souls, these botched human beings.The sooner such things are realised, the sooner the venom of these budding brownshirts, will be neutralised.
Or take Chomsky. There are two problematic features in his work — though it
goes without saying that I admire him very much. One is his anti-theorism. A
friend who had lunch with him recently told me that Chomsky announced that he'd
concluded that social theory and economic theory are of no use — that things are
simply evident, like American state terror, and that all we need to know are the
facts. I disagree with this. And the second point is that with all his criticism
of the U.S., Chomsky retains a certain commitment to what is the most elemental
ingredient of American ideology, individualism, a fundamental belief that
America is the land of free individuals, and so on. So in that way he is deeply
and problematically American...
I think that basically the facts are already known. Let's take Chomsky's
analyses of how the CIA intervened in Nicaragua. OK, (he provides) a lot of
details, yes, but did I learn anything fundamentally new? It's exactly what I'd
expected: the CIA was playing a very dirty game. Of course it's more convincing
if you learn the dirty details. But I don't think that we really learned
anything dramatically new there. I don't think that merely "knowing the facts"
can really change people's perceptions.
Wednesday, 16 May 2007
Perhaps somebody is familiar with an old Bob Dylan song, 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll'. In it, the narrator tells the (true) story of the wealthy, white heir to a tobacco farm, 24-year old William Zanzinger, who kills his black servant, Hattie Carroll, 'with a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger'.
The two central figures of William and Hattie are placed in sharp contrast throughout the song. William Zanzinger is the privileged son of politically-connected parents, and is bailed 'minutes' after being arrested for the killing. Hattie Carroll, on the other hand, is depicted largely in her status qua servant, and in her familial roles; she 'gave birth to ten children'.
The contrast between the two characters emphasises the sense of injustice that characterises the murder. No motive is given for the senseless killing, except that Zanzinger 'just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'. Nonetheless, depictions of injustice give way to a pending justice. At the end of each verse but the last, the narrator sings the refrain -
'But you who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears/Take the rag away from your face. Now ain't the time for your tears.'
The justice of those who 'philosophise' and 'criticise' however, is not merely deferred, but does not arrive at all. The legal system dealing with Williams' crime, eager to show that 'the courts are on the level', delivers a judgement that is 'handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance'. This retributive 'justice' turns out to be a mere 6-month sentence, at which point the narrator closes: 'Now's the time for your tears'.
I was reminded of this song by some of the many articles one finds in The Australian and other papers on a regular basis. I'm not referring to articles on black/white inequality, or class difference, (one doesn't find these in the Murdoch media in any case), but the so-called 'war on terror'.
Our philosophers of disgrace remind us of the need to remain vigilant to the forces of senseless brutality, of the would-be terrorist that could be hiding in any mosque. One of our stalwart and evergreen keyboard crusaders, Greg Sheridan, put it this way:
The war on terror, the long war, just now is going badly. Very badly. Our
enemies are making solid progress, geographically, organisationally and in their
brilliant public relations campaigns. The West is divided and in key
battlefields losing resolve.
Mr Sheridan explains in greater detail just how the weakened West is being 'divided':
The Western commentariat, not least in Australia, has embraced the pro-terrorist
proposition that almost the only people not morally responsible for terrorism
are the terrorists. Downer's comments also show how very difficult it is to make
a strategic assessment of Iraq...The ability of the terrorists to create
dramatic international events that feed into its single narrative, and play on
pre-existing Muslim paranoia, which is greatly amplified by the anti-Western
bias of much of the Western Left and media (as outlined in the seminal book
What's Left by Nick Cohen), makes it extraordinarily difficult for the West to
win the hearts and minds battle at the centre of the war on terror.
I shall pass by the supposed 'pro-terrorist' tenets of the 'Western Left', and I will not ask, for the time being, what precisely it is the Mr Sheridan means by 'pre-existing Muslim paranoia'. Sheridan explains that the mission to put Right the injustice of Islamic terror had one, apparently self-evident and inevitable conclusion:
The US was thus impelled to go into Iraq for three separate sets of
reasons: traditional geo-strategic concerns about the extreme danger of Saddam
with WMDs; war on terror reasons concerning the danger of Saddam co-operating
with al-Qa'ida; and humanitarian reasons to rid the Iraqi people of the worst
and most brutal dictator of the past several decades.
Is it even worth the time of critiquing such a statement? About non-existent WMD's, or ties to terrorist groups? Or the even more brutally non-existent lack of humanitarianism in Iraq at the moment, as reported, for instance, by a fellow blogger? Or the fact that the chief architect of this 'humanitarian' intervention, the US government, has a track record on foreign policy that is only marginally better than Saddam's? Perhaps we intellectual ingrates should be content in the knowledge that the Great Powers are so concerned safety and justice.
Let us turn instead to another writer who philosophises disgrace, to the shame of the "western Left'. I refer here to Melanie Phillips, in self-imposed exile from progressive intellectuals, and, apparently, in self-imposed exile from reason and reality (which, like our ABC, reportedly has a 'Leftist' bias). Melanie presents an acute diagnosis of the malaise that has infected those who question Coalition tactics:
So much of our political class is paralysed by guilt for what it perceives
to be the West's original sin of colonialism. Throughout the West, there is
currently a major problem of political leadership. The political class is
incapable of disinterested statesmanship because it is no longer sure in what -
if anything - it still believes.
She cites, by way of counter-example, that man who is the very paradigm of principled politics; none other than our own John W. Howard. The courageous Howard, 'comfortable in his own cultural skin', like the US liberators in Iraq, is a role model sufficiently worthy to put the decadent Western Left, with their questioning, hesitations, and introspection, to shame.
After reading all this, I then, fortuitously, turned my attention to a non-Murdoch paper, paralysed by guilt at how the ever-divisive Left had impeded the noble missions of Howard and the US, and how intellectuals had wilfully hindered justice. Obviously, the mighty Coalition doing the killing is doing so for security and justice, and courageously, without fear or favour, as evidenced by this article:
One October day in 1976, a Cuban airliner exploded over the Caribbean and
crashed, killing all 73
people aboard... Investigators in Venezuela, where the doomed flight
originated, quickly determined that a famous anti-Castro terrorist, Luis Posada
Carriles, had probably planned this attack. More than 30 years later,
however, Posada remains amazingly immune to prosecution. Instead of going to
jail, he went to work for the CIA.
The author concludes:
"If you harbour a terrorist, you are a terrorist," President Bush famously
declared after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States is now
harbouring Luis Posada Carriles. His continued freedom mocks victims of
terrorism everywhere. It also shows how heavily the "war on terror" is overlaid
with politics and hypocrisy.
So there you have it. Justice is entirely relative, and its appreciation requires that one be relaxed and 'comfortable' in one's own 'cultural skin'. Our system for dealing with international crimes is 'on the level'. Our lone prophets in the wilderness, such as Phillips or Sheridan, are warning the intellectual Left of its wicked ways. May these treasonous peaceniks heed that warning!
Or, perhaps, like Hattie Carroll, some victims are merely worth more than others, or are not even considered victims at all. As our troubadour might conclude:
'Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears.'
Friday, 11 May 2007
Anyone sufficiently unfortunate to have come into contact with the Murdoch media in recent times will have observed a distinctly histrionic, anti-Labor agenda.
GrodsCorp has noted that Rudd is Bolt's newest whipping boy. The Australian no longer even bothers with a pretence of fair and balanced reporting or editorialising.
Given that Rudd is probably Labor's most conservative leader in recent memory, and given that virtually all progressive aspects of Labor's politics are being kept off the public relations agenda, one has to wonder what all the fuss is about.
All of the topics that were 'at issue' in 2004 are still at issue in 2007 - Hicks, the environment, interest rates, Iraq. On none of these issues are Rudd or Labor threatening to do anything radical. The key difference between the two elections is that industrial relations has since become a major issue, but even on this topic, Rudd is promising a watering-down of Howard's laws, rather than a wholesale overthrow. Labor is hardly signalling a return to protectionism or industrial domination by so-called 'union bosses', the ludicrous claims of Shanahan and co. not withstanding.
The past 11 years has seen Ugly Australia come to the fore. The Prime Minister has demonstrated amply that he is content with the misogyny, homophobia, and racism of the likes of Heffernan, Laws, and Jones. The Liberals feared the Rise of Pauline Hanson not because of her ideology, but because she pinched some of their votes. The Australia of Patrick White and Sidney Nolan has been effectively suppressed. Muslims are routinely mocked and demonised in the press and blogosphere, in a manner not unlike Jews in pre-WWII Austria and France. The words 'inner-city' and 'intellectual' are habitually used by the commentariat as terms of abuse. The cosmopolitanism of our great cities has continued in relative silence, amidst the hysterical din of our far-right politicians and media.
There is some hope, albeit meagre, for those hoping for the more equitable and progressive elements within Australian politics to emerge. If the Liberals win the next election, they should do so far with a greatly reduced majority, and with Howard likely to step aside as leader. There are few senior Liberals vying for leadership who would be as conservative as Howard. Both Costello and Turnbull are progressive when compared to our sadly backward-looking current leader. (Abbott has no chance at Liberal leadership - he is the Liberal equivalent of Mark Latham, and even less electable). Alternatively, should Rudd win, we will see a very similar Australian government, but at least Workchoices will be made history. Labor may spout its 'democratic socialist' credentials on its website, but we will not see anything remotely 'socialist' in Labor's politics. I would imagine the focus would be on a managerial, fiscally conservative Labor government, somewhat similar to Bracks in Victoria.
In short, rather than being brazenly shafted by our federal politicians I suspect we will merely be slapped around, a velvet glove mediating the iron fist. Small mercies, I suppose, though in such times, one takes what one can get.
Monday, 7 May 2007
It was only a short time following my previous post on this topic that I noticed another glaring instance of incompetence within the same ministerial portfolio, namely, Community Services.
This portfolio is often handed to up-and-coming ministers, but in this case is being 'managed' by one of the leaders of the Victorian parliament, Gavin Jennings. The Community Services portfolio is one which impinges upon the lives of thousands of Victorians, but doesn't seem to get the high profile of areas such as health, education, or policing.
I am aware of information that strongly suggests that the latest crisis in the Community Services sector has been 'managed' by senior bureaucrats, who have demanded that an already chronically under-resourced staff group simply work more, in order to take the spotlight off the minister.
Obviously, that powers-that-be are not taking these sorts of issues seriously. Hopefully Jennings will come to his senses and learn from the mistakes of his predecessor, Christine Campbell, who was demoted for an arguably less serious case of ministerial neglect.
UPDATE: Stateline in Victoria ran an article on this very issue. Jennings appeared particularly bumbling and incompetent. See the transcript here.
Thursday, 3 May 2007
It hasn't received a great deal of media attention, but the State Government of Victoria is proudly extolling the virtues of its new legislation to deal with issues of child abuse and protection. This is an issue about which I might write some more at a later date. For now, I thought I would offer some cursory remarks.
Mark Latham, whilst currently derided in media circles as a 'nutter', made some interesting comments about this issue on ABC's Enough Rope a couple of years ago:
I reached the conclusion that a lot of our problems are not so much
material, they're not economic. Australia's a very prosperous nation. A lot of
the problems are in the relations between people, the community and family
breakdown, the isolation, loneliness, child sexual abuse, mental illnesses. A
lot of these are social problems, where it's not so much what government can do
for the people, it's what the community and what society needs to do for
Nonetheless, on the issue of child abuse, we know that State Governments around the country (and indeed, in most developed nations) do have a statutory responsibility to address child welfare concerns. As Latham said, a Government cannot necessarily address 'community and family breakdown', at least, not without a major overhaul of the 'community' itself.
As is well known, child abuse is a worsening problem across Australia, with services in crisis. Obviously, in the current political climate, there will be no attempts to provide for a more equitable 'community'. Indeed, there will not even be any attempts to patch up the relevant services, struggling beneath the burden of unmanageable workloads. So whilst child abuse worsens, politicians provide more rhetoric and glossy, but insubstantial legislation, without even the necessary financial backing to make it mean anything. To be continued.