Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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Now watch... as my hands never leave my arms...
Just for the record
Again with the class thing
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
July 26, 2016

I think it’s understandable at moments like this to long for a return to the status quo, but let’s remember that the status quo, whatever its advantages and disadvantages, was not survivable. We cannot survive an endless escalation of inequality, not even physically. Many areas that voted to leave Europe will probably within our lifetimes be forming a much more challenging union with the sea. Neoliberalism has taken a stranglehold on our societies by seeing chaotic events as opportunities. Well, maybe we should take this opportunity to do something decent. To elect a government that will retain the best parts of EU legislation and strengthen them in the direction of workers, rather than corporations. There is a reason that so many banks, multinationals and, of course, the United States feared Brexit. I think if I had to say what the most feared thing in the course of human history is, it’s probably a good example.
Remain’s leaders would have kept us straitjacketed into the EU’s current death-by-a-thousand-cuts version of corporate neoliberalism. At least now, shed of that distraction, we have our governmental elites much more clearly in our sights. How smaller, shabbier and curiously more vulnerable they look, without that EU cloak they avowed to detest draped around their shoulders. And this is as it should be, as they’ve basically put everything into play.
I’d like Clinton more if she told the truth about herself: that she is a smart, amoral and competent steward of American empire, who understands material reality and the laws of physics. And that – although it is perhaps not the most exciting case one can make for a leader – this is more than you can say for her Republican opponent. I wonder if Clinton wishes she were running in a different country, one to which she could speak frankly. She’d look it in the eye, and say: “Yes, I believe in nothing. But I’m an intelligent adult. No Rome will burn on my watch. I’ll keep us on the slow decline to which you people are accustomed. I’ll make nothing better – but I won’t make things radically worse.”
Gosh, three cites all from the Guardian; that is strange. I usually find their opinion pages as tiresome as I'm finding the bien pensant wailing wall of latter day Twitter, now spiralling into the tu quoque event horizon that presages an American election.

July 10, 2016

Much of the content of this populism is, simply, nothing other than what an ordinary member of the ALP or Liberal Party believed a half-century ago. The political–media caste imagines that social-historical time flows the same everywhere. It doesn’t. The revival of Pauline Hanson’s fortunes is not a sign that the new senate system is “a disaster” or that “the genie is out of the bottle”. That’s nasty, elitist stuff. What it means is that people knew who they were voting for, and got them, rather than whichever carousel creation of insiders the ticket-voting system dished up. Hanson’s vote – about 8 per cent – is not an unusual showing for a nativist party, with the usual obsessions, in a Western society. The new system didn’t conjure her supporters into being. They were always there. Now their reasonable arguments can be debated, and their more noxious and wacky ones vociferously challenged. Finally, the 2016 election got exciting. It just happened after the voting stopped.
- Guy Rundle in The Saturday Paper
At this stage the only thing that seems clear is that Malcolm Turnbull’s days as prime minister are numbered. The Coalition may be returned in its own right, or Turnbull may be able to form a minority government. But his ability to placate the rabid right wing of his party depends on him delivering clear electoral victories. He has failed his first test. He is unlikely to get another chance. How did it come to this?

The better question is: why did Turnbull get even this close? On its record, the Turnbull-led Coalition should have lost in a landslide. But we live in a mediated age ... [and] during the 2016 election campaign, mainstream content was virtually silent on the government’s record over the past three years. Even the most trusted of outlets, the ABC, was little more than a conduit for the parties’ narratives.
- Russell Marks in The Monthly
There’s a lesson for Australian media here. Journalists need to stop seeing themselves as players. Their job is to represent the public to decision-makers, not the other way around. We don’t want them to make forecasts; we want to them to demand answers to simple questions. We want them, beyond rare exceptions, to stop reporting self-serving anonymous scuttlebutt and to insist that people go on the record.
- Mr Denmore.

Mr Marks' and Mr Denmore's complaints about the news media are sufficiently valid that I will forgive their usual error of imagining the function of journalists (at least those who work for the commercial side of the legacy media) as genuinely something other than to provide content for an advertising platform.

July 06, 2016

When the economy necessarily determines policy, why waste time with conferences and branch meetings and the other rituals of old fashioned political engagement democracy? You don’t lobby the seasons to change, you don’t protest at the ebb and flow of the tides. Once the market’s entirely naturalised, what’s the point, other than nostalgia, of a trade union or a pressure group?


[F]or the new mandarins, the shrinkage of such bodies doesn’t matter. On the contrary, it was all to the good, since it allowed the duly qualified experts to do their thing undistracted – and they had the business of governance entirely under control.

Until, suddenly, they didn’t.
- Mr Sparrow
Since when did the primary role of government become providing “certainty” to the business community? In fact, it’s hard to read a newspaper or turn on the TV these days without some rent-seeking plutocrat whining about the democratic process getting in the way of the grubby business of making money.


In short, “certainty” must be denied everyone but the wealthiest and most powerful members of the community. The rest of us, through three decades of neoliberalism, have gradually been stripped of our life protectors and told to sink or swim.


Now, with another indecisive election outcome, the business cassandras are out in force again, blitzing the media with doom-laden press releases – each of them faithfully recycled by a media that has come to accept uncritically the message that business interest and the public interest are one and the same.
- Mr Denmore.

Amusing also to see the media cheerfully doing the (ex-)government's work for them in spreading the Mediscare lie. While serving the Coalition's agenda to delegitimise their (near) loss, for our commentariat it, like the "Howard fatigue" nonsense of 2007, serves their neverending efforts to delegitimise democracy itself, and bury any suggestion that voters might be motivated by rational views on substantive issues, rather than being gulled by the scams of the campaign, sheep that we are.

June 25, 2016

See - if people had only been informed...

Now watch... as my hands never leave my arms...

{I]t is important to keep two things in mind. First, it was Johnson himself who suggested, when he joined the Leave campaign in February, that a vote to depart could be used as a stick to negotiate not a full departure from the EU, but a better deal for the UK...

Second... the measure Britons just voted for ... is not legally binding on the government. No matter who the prime minister is, he or she is not required by the outcome to trigger Article 50. And, despite what senior figures in the EU and its other states might say, there is no way for them to force the UK to invoke Article 50.
But, by all means, let our elites not pass up this opportunity to wax hysterical about "the economy" and demonstrate their abiding contempt for the public.

June 04, 2016
Just for the record

The odd thing, of course, is that if Obama wasn't black, he would be a conservative's dream. He's opened up more offshore drilling than Bush, expanded fracking, deported more people than any president in history, killed thousands of Muslims (and is currently bombing seven Muslim countries), raised military budgets, cut federal taxes to their lowest levels in 60 years, cut social programs, spent almost 8 years trying to strike a "grand bargain" with Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare (until this week when, in his last months in office, he's suddenly decided we should increase Social Security), worked hard to derail public healthcare in favor of a program drawn up by a conservative think-tank and first used by a Republican governor, put troops on the Russian border, beefed up US military presence in Asia to threaten China, supported right-wing coups in Latin America, gave Wall Street trillions of dollars in bailouts and credits, refused to prosecute any CIA officials for torture (despite admitting "we tortured some folks"), jailed more whistleblowers than any other president, pushed fanatically pro-business trade treaties, and so on.

May 04, 2016
Again with the class thing

But the definition of “working class” and similar terms is fuzzy, and narratives like [Donald Trump’s candidacy being a “working-class” rebellion against Republican elites] risk obscuring an important and perhaps counterintuitive fact about Trump’s voters: As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.
I suspect he may be right but, without wishing to get all Marxian on you, absent any demographic breakdown of actual class, rather than income level, the claim that the working-class support of Trump is a myth (as the FiveThirtyEight post's title states) remains un-demonstrated, at least conclusively. Are Trump's supporters more likely to be self-employed, or small business types, than wage-earners (however better paid)? Do they represent labour, or capital? Because, historically speaking, it's true Trump's kind of nativist pitch does tend to play best with the petit bourgeois (in the Marxian sense). A person's class is often (yeah, yeah, not always) related to their sense of self, who they consider the In group and who the Other, and whether they have a tendency to punch downwards when feeling threatened. Confirmation that this is about the "local notables" yet again, and again giving the lie to the usual anti-worker prejudices of decent liberals, would be nice to see, but I fear we will never know. The surveys analysed do not ask the class question, of course, because the US media does not believe such a thing exists, hence the educated guessing Mr Silver must engage in based on income levels.

May 01, 2016

Regardless of who leads it, the professional-class liberalism I have been describing in these pages seems to be forever traveling on a quest for some place of greater righteousness. It is always engaged in a search for some subject of overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness with which it can identify itself and under whose umbrella of virtue it can put across its self-interested class program.


You can find dozens of examples of this kind of liberal-class virtue-quest if you try, but instead of listing them, let me go straight to the point: This is not politics. It’s an imitation of politics. It feels political, yes: it’s highly moralistic, it sets up an easy melodrama of good versus bad, it allows you to make all kinds of judgments about people you disagree with, but ultimately it’s a diversion, a way of putting across a policy program while avoiding any sincere discussion of the policies in question. The virtue-quest is an exciting moral crusade that seems to be extremely important but at the conclusion of which you discover you’ve got little to show for it besides NAFTA, bank deregulation, and a prison spree.

This book is about Democrats, but of course Republicans do it too. The culture wars unfold in precisely the same way as the liberal virtue-quest: they are an exciting ersatz politics that seem to be really important but at the conclusion of which voters discover they’ve got little to show for it all besides more free-trade agreements, more bank deregulation, and a different prison spree.


The other great diplomatic initiative during Hillary Clinton’s years as secretary of state was to recast the United States as the world’s defender of women and girls....

Like so many of the administration’s high-minded initiatives, this one turned out to be pretty mundane: the Hillary Doctrine was concerned largely with innovation, with foundations and private companies who would partner with us to do things like “improve maternal and child health,” “close the global gender gap in cellular phone ownership,” “persuade men and boys to value their sisters and their daughters,” and “make sure that every girl in the world has a chance to live up to her own dreams and aspirations.”

Above all, the Hillary Doctrine was about entrepreneurs. It was women-in-business whose “potential” Hillary Clinton wished to “unleash”; it was their “dreams and innovations” that she longed to see turned into “successful businesses that generate income for themselves and their families.”


Among other things, the Hillary Doctrine helps us understand what Hillary really thinks about the all-important issue of income inequality. Women entrepreneurs as the solution for economic backwardness is not a new idea, after all. It comes directly from the microfinance movement, the poverty-fighting strategy that has been pushed by the World Bank since the 1990s, and Hillary’s idea brings with it an entire economic philosophy...

It was all so simple. While national leaders busied themselves with the macro-matters of privatizing and deregulating, microlending would bring the science of markets down to the individual. Merely by providing impoverished individuals with a tiny loan of fifty or a hundred dollars, it was thought, you could put them on the road to entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, you could make entire countries prosper, you could bring about economic development itself.

What was most attractive about microlending was what it was not, what it made unnecessary: any sort of collective action by poor people, coming together in governments or unions. The international development community now knew that such institutions had no real role in human prosperity. Instead, we were to understand poverty in the familiar terms of entrepreneurship and individual merit, as though the hard work of millions of single, unconnected people, plus cellphones, bank accounts, and a little capital, were what was required to remedy the third world’s vast problems. Millions of people would sell one another baskets they had made or coal they had dug out of the trash heap, and suddenly they were entrepreneurs, on their way to the top. The key to development was not doing something to limit the grasp of Western banks, in other words; it was extending Western banking methods to encompass every last individual on earth.


These ... sentiments ... suffer from one big problem: microlending doesn’t work. As strategies for ending poverty go, microlending appears to be among the worst that has ever been tried, just one step up from doing nothing to help the poor at all... It doesn’t empower women...; it makes them into debtors. It encourages people to take up small, futile enterprises that have no chance of growing or employing others...

There’s a second reason the liberal class loves microfinance, and it’s extremely simple: microlending is profitable. Lending to the poor, as every subprime mortgage originator knows, can be a lucrative business. Mixed with international feminist self-righteousness, it is also a bulletproof business, immune to criticism. The million-dollar paydays it has brought certain microlenders are the wages of virtue. This combination is the real reason the international goodness community believes that empowering poor women by lending to them at usurious interest rates is a fine thing all around.
You can find another extract from Listen, Liberal!, Thomas Frank's recent book on the DPUSA's transformation from a party of the working majority to that of moneyed technocrats, here, and his recent Guardian piece on Bill Clinton's crime bill also refers. Or you could just buy and read the book like I did, you cheap bastids.

The image is from here as re-tviited by Nick Mamatas. Oh, and great minds sorta think alike.

April 19, 2016

This new fad for calling anything you don't like "Marxist" reminds me of something.

I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

April 07, 2016

In much of the pre-modern world, ritual sacrifice was framed as necessary for the good of the society at large — the only way to guarantee, say, a plentiful harvest or success in war.

But the priests and rulers who sanctioned such killings may have had another motive, a new study suggests. An analysis of more than seven dozen Austronesian cultures revealed that the practice of human sacrifices tended to make societies increasingly less egalitarian and eventually gave rise to strict, inherited class systems. In other words, ritual killings helped keep the powerful in power and everyone else in check.


Lots of sociologists have theorized about this connection, the researchers say, but there haven’t been many rigorous scientific studies of how it came about...

[T]he link between the sacrifices and social hierarchies seemed to transcend [cultural] differences. The victims were almost always of low social status, and the more stratified the culture was, the more prevalent ritual killings were likely to be.


The [research] illustrated that ritual killings tended to precede social hierarchies, and once stratification occurred, they served to reinforce it. It was very difficult for a culture to return to egalitarianism after class differences had set in.
What's being investigated here is apparently called the social control hypothesis. In the past, whenever I contemplated addle-pated statements about the necessity of accepting moral relativism* when considering the extremes of human ethical diversity, such as the ritual human sacrifices of pre-Columbian Meso-American empires, I wondered why no-one ever considered that said ethical norms may not have been norms for the majority of the people in those societies at all, but merely behaviours embraced by a political elite and then imposed on everyone else for coercive purposes. (Which shows how little I know of the field, as this is apparently a commonplace explanation.) This would be something to bear in mind when faced with an argument that there are no universal moral norms (such as "murdering people is bad") at all: that a diversion from such universal, or widely held, ethical positions may not ever have occurred in any particular society as a whole, but was just notable among the psychopaths in charge.

*Not to be confused with cultural relativism, although every one does. All societies - "cultures" - are equally capable of atrocity, and arguing any is better invariably requires an embrace of actual moral relativism: when we do exactly the same bad thing as that other group it is actually good, or at least excusable. In fact, there are no good or bad "cultures", societies, nations, tribes, peoples or people; there are only good or bad acts. And I lean (with a concerted effort of optimism) to the position that absent the mental pathologies promulgated by ruling hierarchies, certain basic ethical positions would remain broadly held.

March 29, 2016

For the last 40 years, we’ve been preparing for this generation without a future. We’ve weaned and fed them on the idea that life doesn’t get better, that there are no plans to be made, no futures to be had. So that when that reality actually hits, when they inherit the world they’ve now inherited, they’ve been readied for the nothing that lies ahead...

Strangely, this is the generation that is now making the Bernie Sanders moment. Which, whatever else it may be, is a bid on the promise that the future can be better. Radically better. For the millennials, this is not a promise born from any economic experience. It is a purely political promise, distilled from the last decade and a half of failed protest against neoliberalism and austerity, and some strange phantom of socialism conjured from who knows where.

Progress is an idea that has died a thousand deaths, none more permanent, it seemed, than the one it suffered at the hands of There Is No Alternative. Yet here it is, brought back to life by a generation that has the least reason to believe in it.

February 04, 2016

Such nettlesome facts count for little, though: the media tells the paint-by-numbers story of the establishment’s certain redemption in the polls because it’s the story that the media was built to tell. And Iowa is, in its twisted way, the perfect showcase for this tale because the Iowa caucus process is the most obdurately undemocratic balloting ritual this side of the Florida pageant of hanging chads and disfranchised African Americans. To tease any sort of abiding civic-republican moral from the seamy conduct of the caucuses requires some truly epic lurches into wish-fulfillment fantasy.


... That Iowa City caucus, like many in the eastern half of the state, went overwhelmingly to Sanders, but his commanding margin there didn’t translate into correspondingly fulsome gains in the delegate column. That’s because the caucus voters aren’t voting for candidates at all so much as for recondite formulas by which party bosses eventually allot delegates to a major party convention. ... This is all to say nothing of the outlandish ways in which caucus votes are weighted to favor past trends in a precinct’s voter participation — as if that had any bearing on anything — and the eventual nomination-rigging practice known as super-delegate apportionment.

On the Republican side, shenanigans likewise abounded. When Ben Carson announced he was leaving the state ahead of any final tabulation of returns, Cruz apparatchiks pounced to circulate the unfounded rumor that Carson had bagged his presidential run altogether. Suppressing turnout for your rivals, and opportunistically poaching their supporters in the caucus cattle call — it’s all just more of democracy’s rich pageant.

As thuggishness like this transpires, media onlookers typically wander off to play with shiny new things...
Chris Lehmann in The Baffler.

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