C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Mal Brough is a Joke

And not just to me, either. According to Chris Graham in today's Crikey, Brough has turned 'developer'. Remember those Aboriginal land rights that Brough assured us needed to be abolished to somehow 'save the children'? The rationale for these had little to do with child protection. Rather, according to Brough -

The idea is to make a profit in joint-venture partnerships.
This from a man who, when in charge of Indigenous Affairs at a Federal level, underspent the budget by about one-fifth, that is, $600 million.

In spite of all of this, Graham is correct to point out that our toothless media refused to criticise Brough's 'intervention', despite the fact it rested on little more than tough-talking rhetoric, and a shrill appeal to 'think of the children'. As Graham points out:

It all makes for a great spectacle. But the problem is Aboriginal Australia doesn't need another showman, it needs solutions. Brough doesn't have any now, and he didn't have any in office.
I said much the same thing about the media at the time:

A long-standing, genuinely tragic, but opportunely 'urgent' situation has to entail that all disagreement to the Government's proposal must be shouted down. One of the most authoritarian and hastily-conceived interventions in Australian history is to be imposed upon our most vulnerable people, without a whimper.

Noel Pearson was the most prominent 'bipartisan' (snigger) supporter of the NT intervention. He too has revealed himself completely politically inept, if not equally useless as a 'community leader'. In the May edition of The Monthly, Pearson attributes Obama's popularity in the US to little more than 'white guilt', a familiar trope with which he tried to chastise the left in Australia. Not only is this offensively patronising, it ignores that fact that the majority of whites in Australia undoubtedly feel no such 'guilt'. Australia's arid centre is far from the urban sprawl of the coasts, and on the basis of all available evidence, few citizens in the latter region know of care of the plight of desert-dwelling Aboriginals. Some know, however, that it is not Aboriginals who are the main source of child protection concerns (though they are over-represented), or the much-vilified Muslims or Sudanese. Rather, most child abuse in Australia, at least as far as official statistics report, relates to dirt-poor children of Anglo-Australian origins.

And what did Aboriginals think of the intervention? If the 2007 Federal election is any guide, they didn't think much. Several remote areas recorded 2PP results in favour of the ALP that were well into the 90% range.

Hopefully we can finally put to rest the destructive myth that these clowns, architects of an intervention in which genuinely informed opinion was eschewed in favour of media sensationalism, ever had anything other than their own wheelbarrows at heart.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Smackdown, one lunatic at a time

Since the phony war on terror, we've heard plenty of nutters and propagandists invoke the ghost of WWII to justify otherwise indefensible policy by the US. But WWII rhetoric I mean the constant references to 'appeasement', or to 'Islamofascism', intended to conflate to radically different historical situations. In any case, it's nice to see one such winged monkey humiliated for such stupidity:

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The trouble with libertarians...

...Is that they are seldom 'libertarian' enough. We read once screed after another from angry Hayekians contending that taxation is theft. The welfare state, the public broadcaster, virtually all publically owned and funded assets are an affront to 'liberty', evidence of a society heading down the road to surfdom.

It is curious, then, that the libertarians do not apply the same analysis to precisely those insitutions that actuall can and do deprive people of their liberty, and are paid by the public purse, namely, the police and the army. How could these self-proclaimed defenders of freedom have missed so elementary a point?

History tells us that welfare states are not at all the same as police states, the latter often functioning as model capitalist economies. Fascism requires the population be disciplined by the local constabulary, not government funded schools or art galleries. Should a coup ever occur (and this is unlikely in Australia's near future), do our libertarians think it will arise from the military, who are in possession of genuine force, or by Tony Jones and Red Kerry on the 'tax-eating' ABC network?

The libertarians inevitably (and hypocritically) stop short of this radical juncture, preferring to dismantle the welfare functions of the state rather than erode the state's ability to enforce, brutally if need be, its dictates.

Ironically, it was Lenin who called for the abolition of a standing army.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Australia, Britain and the US continue to fund bloodshed in the Middle East, and the enforcement of unpopular laws, something that would likely go unchanged in the (extremely unlikely) event of a libertarian government.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Sixty Years

Like all his predecessors, Ehud Olmert constantly invokes spurious security arguments in order to defend policies that are indefensible. The Palestinians do not pose a threat to Israel's basic security; it is the other way round. The contest is an unequal one between a vulnerable Palestinian David on the one hand and a heavily armed and heavy-handed Israeli Goliath on the other. (source)

The Kibbutz where we put up our little bivouac tents that day has become an economic enterprise, like any other. The social solidarity, of which we were so proud, has collapsed. Masses of adults and children live below the poverty line, old people, the sick and the unemployed are left to fend for themselves. The gap between rich and poor is one of the widest in the developed world. And our society, that once raised the banner of equality and justice, just clucks its collective tongue and moves on to other matters. (source)

One of the first laws passed by the Israeli state was the so-called Law of Return, which permitted any person of Jewish background from anywhere in the world to immediately become an Israeli citizen. Yet Palestinians, who now constitute the largest refugee population in the world, are still denied the right to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled. The campaign against Israeli apartheid is fundamentally centered upon the right of Palestinian refugees to return. (source)

What started as a small and peaceful demonstration on the boardwalk of Tel-Aviv, ended with clashes with a large and violent police force. The demonstration was against an Etzel reunion convention held nearby at the Etzel Museum. Prior to Israel's declaration of independence, Etzel was one of the Zionist terrorist groups which was used by the Zionists to terrorise the Arab population into leaving their homes and lands. The convention was held to commemorate Etzel's contribution to the "liberation" of the city of Jaffa. By "liberation" the Zionists mean the expulsion of the Arab population from Jaffa by means of military and terrorist attacks with the generous aid of British imperialism. (source)

In 1973 Ariel Sharon boasted that Israel would "make a pastrami sandwich" of the Palestinians by building strips of settlements throughout the West Bank. In 1983 the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi warned that Israel's continued colonisation of the occupied territories would lead to the transformation of Israel into an Arab-Jewish state and the consequent "Belfastisation" of the area. (source)

They are filled with dread here, these people, my friends, the Israelis and the Palestinians both. Part of the dread is the realization that, no matter what direction the conflict takes, the result will in no way justify the violent deaths since 1948 of more than 24,000 Israelis and uncounted thousands of Palestinians. (source)

Thursday, 8 May 2008

We should all get the vote...

As I've said before.

As revisionist as communism

Bolt has plumbed new depths of ignorance today with an attempt to draw parallels between the Federal ALP's new 'alcopop' tax, and Soviet Russia. Apparently, since the tax was introduced, there has been a 'surge' in thefts of the alcopops, leading Bolt to deduce that the ALP policy 'not only fails to stop the boozers, but drives some into thievery.'

Clearly, there are many reasons to be sceptical about a tax curbing a purported binge-drinking epidemic. That aside, however, Bolt has done a remarkable volte-face here for a vulgar Tory, and has gone so far as to attribute criminal behaviour to social conditions. Gone is the moralising rhetoric of 'responsibility', favoured by Bolt and other hacks and shock jocks. Apparently, social conditions and government policy are to blame for crime when this is ideologically convenient.

Let's see how long it takes for Bolt to back-pedal from this position in a future post. I cannot recall Bolt ever displaying such 'understanding' when it comes to the property crimes of Aboriginals, for instance. When drug users feel compelled to steal to support their habit, does anybody seriously expect the likes of Bolt to attribute this to the government policies that keep such drugs illegal (and expensive)?

Finally, in a kind of inverse-Godwin piece of stupidity, Bolt invokes the spectre of Soviet Russia to dramatise his hypocritical observations. This might have been well and good if it didn't directly undermine Bolt's point, and betray his profound ignorance of some basic facts.

Since the fall of communism (1991), consumption of alcohol by Russian men has tripled, making Russians the highest drinkers of spirits in the world. Since Putin was in power, and capitalism was embraced, the rising cost of vodka in Russia has led some impoverished citizens to resort to cleaning fluids, and other dangerous alcoholic material. Since the Iron Curtain was lifted, alcoholism is the primary reason why the life-expectancy for the average Russian male has dropped to just 58 years.

The lesson of all this is to get your lackeys to acquaint you with some basic logical and historical facts before launching into overblown, melodramatic comparisons.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Crises in Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is another name for free marker economic policies. The 'freedom' in question is not one for citizens, but for corporations, as neoliberalism has three fundamental aims, all convenient to business: lower taxes, lower input costs, and lower wages.

The other major pillar of neoliberal policy is deregulation. Again, this deregulation is more for capital than for citizens, and aims to remove barriers and restrictions on the way businesses operate. In this way, the 'invisible hand' of the market comes to the fore.

However, even the stooges of neoliberal, such as Thomas Friedman, have said that 'The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist'.

Different kinds of fists are being brought to bear behind different kinds of markets, both in Australia and across the world.

In Bolivia, the country's elite are threatening to take their bat and ball and go home, as the nation's wealthy seek autonomy from the rest of Bolivia. Money is not the only issue in this instance - the wealthy do not wish to be dominated by 'the Indians'.

The neoliberal policies of yet another US-backed dictatorial stooge, Mubarak, have led to ongoing strikes and protests for months in Egypt, ably reported by this blogger. In addition to strikes, Egypt has recently seen food riots, during which pictures of Mubarak were torn down by protesters. Sadly, free markets do not only provide no guarantee of affordable food, they provide no assurances of a free press: a broadcaster who televised the images of the torn posters is being charged.

In Australia, matters are far less dramatic, but important nonetheless.

In opposition to members, unions, and, most probably, much of NSW, the ALP Government is pushing ahead with plans to privatise electricity. Every ALP leader in the country, and every ALP leader since Hawke has been strongly in favour of neoliberal economic policies, despite the notional displays of support for social democracy brandished on the party's website. Carr and Keating have been vocal in their support of Iemma and the privatisation move. Keating clearly still has a sense of humour, referring to Iemma and Costa as a 'pair of honest souls'.

Meanwhile, in Victoria, the Government is headed for a larger-than-expected budget surplus, of $827.5 million according to George Megalogenis. This is despite a slowing economy, a huge population boom in Melbourne, and the ruinous neglect of the state's public services, which has seen industrial action from nurses, police, teachers, and now disability services workers, in just the last 6 months.

Business as usual, in other words.

Spot the Unfortunate Headline

Friday, 2 May 2008

Collective Identity and the Left

It is true that as a black-hearted blogger allegedly of the 'hard left' I sometimes mock some of the more inane right-leaning bloggers in Australia. God knows there are more than a few embarrassments among them. One blogger with whom I will attempt to engage in this post, rather than mock, is Mark R. of Oz Conservative, in this post on collective identity. Mark took issue with a statement of Ted Ballieu's, leader of Victoria's Liberal Opposition, namely that 'our diversity is at the heart of our collective identity - different people, different views, different lifestyles.'

Mark highlights a 'radical element' in Ballieu's position:

Baillieu has no problem using the term "collective identity", but consider carefully what he means by this concept. It is not a "positive" identity, in the sense that it represents a set of positive characteristics shared by a community of people. Instead, it is a negative identity, in which people identify with the absence of shared characteristics.

In this, I agree, on the proviso that, at a philosophical level, at least, we acknowledge that 'identity' always presumes 'difference', in the Spinozan sense that 'Omnis determinatio est negatio' ('All determination is negation').

Mark appears to be arguing that in loosening, or even negativising the definition of that which constitutes 'our' collective identity, 'we' (i.e. Australian society) risk losing that identity altogether. This is important because, according to Mark:

We gain much as individuals from a strong collective identity in which we enjoy a sense of shared history, of a common culture, of closely understood manners and mores, of a widely shared calendar of festivals and celebrations, of a distinct tradition linking generations to each other, and of art and architecture expressing the character of our own community.

Mark correctly (in my view) places Ballieu's statement within the context of a 'liberal position', but condemns it , as we might expect of a conservative, as 'it represents the mindset of the rootless, modernist individual who has become disconnected from his own communal tradition.'

I happen to think the claims of Australia ever having had a 'common culture' to be incorrect. 'Diversity' existed even among Aboriginal peoples. The first settlers, Irish and English, would have had sharp differences in beliefs in many cases (not that there exists an homogeneous 'English' or 'Irish' in the first place), and the amount and degree of intra-societal differences would only have been greater during the many decades of immigration to Australia, by people from all continents. Diversity was always already there with respect to every aspect of identity, and claims of a 'common culture' seem to me a bad fiction, designed to smooth over historical and societal fact.

On the other hand, Mark has a genuine point when he criticises the 'negative identity' implied by Ballieu, and by many other liberals who are lazy when it comes to metaphysics. We appear to see in the Lib leader's statement a kind of ready-made, philistine version of the Derridean-Levinasian coming to grips with the other, with the outcome being defined by absence and lack. For a conservative, therefore, this approach to collective identity seems to lead to a society that, in terms of 'values', at least, is held together by nothing. Liberal individualism would possibly see society as being held together by (liberal) individuals.

Since I insist on the old 19th Century distinction between 'liberals' and 'radicals' (a distinction sometimes lost when political discourse is collapsed into the left-right spectrum), I think it appropriate to ask what this third perspective might have to say about collective identity. On what might this 'identity' be founded?

Let us put aside, for the time being, the arguments from psychoanalysis and social psychology linking 'personal' identity with the cultural sphere. The ego-ideal is, among other things, an insertion of the 'cultural' into the personal, an appropriation by the self of the other, and it derives chiefly from the strictures and injunctions of one's parents. Still, these parents are themselves embedded in a broader cultural context.

If his tags are any guide, Mark seems to hint that national or ethnic identity is the means to securing a stable collective identity. I happen to think this utterly mistaken. For starters, in the case of Australia, the prevailing 'identity' was made possible only on the basis of the most brutal displacement of the Aboriginal people.

The first white settlers in Australia were from Europe's then-power, Britain, and from Europe's oldest colony, Ireland. The two differed in religion and many other respects; as I said above, 'diversity' existed from the beginning. Sure, we can fabricate some kind of collective 'Anglo-Celtic' identity, as distinct from the next major group of European migrants (Greeks and Italians). Following that, we can construct a 'Western European' or 'Christian' identity as opposed to the Chinese and Vietnamese who still followed. We can even incorporate the Asians into our 'collective', and simply posit Muslims as the out-group. The point is, however, that all of these groupings are ultimately arbitrary, do not remove 'diversity', and require or imply a demonised out-group, excluded from the set, but defining the set's very identity. This is not 'social cohesion', this is, in psychoanalytic terms, collective psychosis.

On what then, can identity be founded? Clearly, ethnic and religious groupings are insufficient. I argue that a 'positive' from which a collective identity can arise is the category of worker, that is, one who does not control the means of production. Further to this, I mean a worker who is self-consciously a worker, and who is self-consciously politicised as a worker, that is, a worker who is a member of the proletariat. As Orwell mused (and as his rightist would-be heirs have apparently forgotten), 'If there is hope, it lies in the proles'.

This category, as the French philosopher Badiou says, 'consolidate[s] what is universal in identities', and is capable of uniting mean and women of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. As Badiou puts it in his paper, it is not about me, the individual, abandoning my pre-existing identity for the sake of some authoritarian cultural norm, but rather, of adapting and enlarging my identity, 'in a creative fashion', to the place in which I find myself. As one of the many for whom value accrues by its expropriation from my labour, my place is with the workers. As Badiou said elsewhere, '"militant" is a category without borders'.

Of course, this solution to the problem is no what the conservatives want to hear, and represents a challenge to the muddy arena of 'identity politics' into which liberal individualism often lapses. Sceptics will not doubt scoff at the suggestion that 'proletariat' remains a valid category. The Left is presumed by media pundits not to consist of the working classes, but of 'luvvies' and 'bleeding hearts', with hand-wringing affectations and pet causes, who munch on hilariously ethnic foodstuffs. In other words, popular political discourse in Australia has only conceived of a leftism that is 'left-liberal', not 'radical left', that dismisses the very possibility of a politicised working class.

Does such a class exist, rather than the effete, inner city class caricatured in our press? I answer that it does. Let us take, for example, Melbourne's outer Northern and North-Western suburbs:

Those familiar with Melbourne will recognise that is a 'diverse' area. There is a strong Aboriginal community in the area. There are many Christians, mostly Catholic and Orthodox, as well as several mosques. A Buddhist temple can be found in the suburb of Reservoir, owing to the significant number of Buddhist Asians in the area. Observers will note that this is a genuinely working class area - peak hour traffic is generally earlier here than elsewhere, owing to the types of occupations often done here.
Take the State Electorate of Thomastown for instance. This area encompasses a number of suburbs. The three most common occupations are as a sales worker in retail, and a machine operator/driver or labourer in manufacturing. Workers are unlikely to work in the city, given the heavy industrialisation of the area. Whilst here, as elsewhere, Australian-born people are a majority, there are plenty of others - Italians are next, with large numbers of Greeks, Macedonians, Lebanese, Vietnamese, and even Iraqis. In short, this is the very model of a poor, working-class neighbourhood, with a high proportion of immigrants.
So how does this area vote? At the last State election, the result was a massive 81% to the ALP, on a two-party preferred basis. If we look at this area Federally, we see the ALP with a 70% two-party preferred vote, which is enormous considering the relative wealth and cultural homogeneity in the north-east outskirts of this electorate. No doubt similar such areas can be found throughout the country.
Obviously, Australia's Labor party stands for labour in name only, but the message is clear - the much-despised Howard Haters are not chardonnay-swilling elites. They may well be latte drinkers, if only for the fact that they hail from a country that values coffee in the first place. They are poor, and 'diverse', and they do not vote Tory - it is little wonder that conservatives are scared of them, and are trying to keep them out of the country, or have them radically 'assimilate'. They have all the makings of a politicised working class.
It is these people who are being let down by the ALP, and who, as far as I can see, have failed to be integrated into the Greens. And it is precisely these people who offer a bright future for the Left in this country, and for this country itself, if only that opportunity can be seized.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

More Blatant Racism from the Radical Right

Local zealot on the topic of Islam:

I’m seeing more and more filthy keffiyehs in the streets than ever.

Nice. Had this good Christian lived in 1930s Germany, we would no doubt have read comments about 'filthy

Conservatives tend to enjoy a good round of condemn-a-thon, so I'll wait for the moderates to rush over and denounce the above trash.