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What Hobbes Can Teach Us About Trump’s Lawless Reign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 3:00am in

Photo Credit: a katz/Shutterstock As the losing Trump campaign team extends this election season beyond its typical limits, by continuing...

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MMT and the EU: A Case for Capturing the Prevailing Narrative

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 1:55am in

A political economy take on the EU.

Book Review: Karl Marx’s Life, Ideas, and Influences: A Critical Examination on the Bicentenary edited by Shaibal Gupta, Marcello Musto and Babak Amini

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 10:44pm in

In Karl Marx’s Life, Ideas, and Influences, editors Shaibal Gupta, Marcello Musto and Babak Amini bring together contributors to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth and to discuss the relevance of his theoretical and political legacy today. The book offers an open-minded, informative and thought-provoking collection of contributions that inspires in-depth discussions not only of past Marxian and Marxist legacies, but also of how we learn from them to act upon our present and future world, writes Janaína de Faria.

Karl Marx’s Life, Ideas, and Influences: A Critical Examination on the Bicentenary. Shaibal Gupta, Marcello Musto and Babak Amini (eds). Palgrave Macmillan. 2019.

Karl Marx’s Life, Ideas, and Influences, edited by Shaibal Gupta, Marcello Musto and Babak Amini, brings together a selection of high-quality papers that were presented at one of the largest international conferences organised in 2018 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth and to discuss the relevance of his theoretical and political legacy to today’s world.

As a byproduct of the international diversity of the participants of the conference – held at the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna, India – the book contains sixteen chapters by scholars from and/or based in various parts of the globe and it includes four women among its contributors. This deliberately internationalist approach is undoubtedly welcome and necessary. More fundamentally, it is not a mere formality: the editors do justice to this internationalism in showcasing the heterogeneous nature of the revival of Marxism in the 21st century around the world. This heterogeneity concerns the wide range of complex topics and styles explored in the book as well as its openness to different and controversial (re)interpretations of Marx and Marxism. While the anti-dogmatic perspective can be considered the stamp mark of the book, readers should not expect it to be an easy read for complete beginners in the broad research field on Marx and Marxism.

The structure of the book was designed with consistency by the editors: the various themes are organised under the intertwined umbrellas of Part One, ‘On the Critique of Politics’, and Part Two, ‘On the Critique of Political Economy’. I found this organisation particularly clever because it directly alludes to Marx’s early project in 1844 to write a two-volume work on the Critique of Politics and Political Economy. For reasons explained in his famous 1859 ‘Preface’ to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx’s studies led him to instead begin with an in-depth study of Political Economy, which later culminated in his (unfinished) masterpiece Capital.

However, as Michael Krätke has pointed out elsewhere, Marx’s plan to develop a critique of politics was deferred, but never abandoned, throughout his lifetime. In my view, despite all the efforts and advances made in the past 150 years or so to unfold the mediating elements between the inner laws of capital accumulation and national and international politics, this articulation remains one of the core frontiers for categorical development within Marxism. The editors’ structuring of the book is thus not only appropriate when it comes to the content of its chapters, but also reminds us of the need to strengthen the theoretical nexus between the critique of politics and the critique of political economy.

It is in this sense that I share my reflections on the theory of fetishism and the theory of interest that were triggered by the seemingly unconnected chapters by Paula Rauhala and Jan Toporowski, respectively presented in Parts One and Two. Rauhala’s analysis brilliantly articulates different interpretations of Capital from West and East Germany by providing the historical context of each side of the country both in terms of the general living conditions of the working class as well as the (geo)political structure under which they lived. Rauhala is especially interested in counterposing West German readings of Capital that stress Marx’s theory of money and commodity fetishism but are dismissive of the underpinning role of the theory of surplus value in Marx’s more complex concept of capital fetishism. Toporowski, in turn, is spot on when he emphasises that Marx antagonised both classical political economy – mainly David Ricardo, who regarded ‘interest as determined by the current rate of profit’ (225) – as well as French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who ‘attributed the evils of capitalism to excessive interest or usury’ (215). For Marx, they both held a fetishistic conception of money and interest.

Rauhala is thus absolutely right when she insists that: ‘fetishism is a crucial concept, and it is present in all three books of Capital. The fetishisms of commodities and money are just the beginning of the story, and after the fourth chapter of the first volume, the concept of fetishism is always related to surplus value and to the mechanisms of its production, circulation, and distribution’ (186). In Chapter Four of the first volume of Capital, one reads that:

capital is money, capital is commodities. In truth, however, value is here the subject of a process in which, while constantly assuming the form in terms of money and commodities, it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorises itself independently. […] By virtue of being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself (Capital, vol. I, Penguin ed. 1990, 255).

Indeed, Marx further argues in the third volume that ‘in interest-bearing capital […] this automatic fetish is elaborated into its pure form, self-valorising value, money that makes (breeds) money, and in this form it no longer bears any marks of its origin. The social relation is consummated in the relationship of a thing (money) to itself’ (Economic Manuscripts of 1864-5 [vol. III], Brill ed. 2016, 492-93).

Toporowski particularly discusses Marx’s argument in Capital that capitalist industrial investments allow for the extraction of surplus value from workers, the source of profits, ‘out of which interest may be paid’ (225). It is thus class exploitation that underpins capitalist interest payment but, in contrast to Ricardo’s position, ‘not necessarily from the surplus value produced at the time of the interest payment’ (219). I do have reservations, nonetheless, about Toporowski’s claim that Marx’s theorisation was limited by his ‘time of ‘’classic capitalism’’’ (225), when productive and commercial capitalists depended primarily on past accumulated monetary hoards for loans, through the intermediation of banks. I find this view overlooks the fact that Marx sketched an analysis of the credit system in the third volume of Capital grounded on his concept of fictitious capital, with a particular focus on banking, share capital and public debt assets. Crucially, he was well aware that banks did not rely, in absolute terms, on accumulated deposits and reserves in order to provide credit money for those who demanded it – a feature of the banking system that is today reinforced by post-Keynesians.

In short, Rauhala’s and Toporowski’s chapters highlight that class exploitation and surplus-value extraction cannot be sidelined – they are at the heart of Marx’s critique of political economy’s trinity formula. Capital indeed culminates in revealing that the capitalist mode of production encompasses a particular mode of distribution that reproduces the illusion that revenues (rent, interest, profit, wages) emerge out of things themselves (land, money, machines, labour) instead of from underlying exploitative social relations. The deep political implications of this involve the predominant liberal fetishistic notions of equality, freedom and fairness, which many Marxists may also fall prey to up until today.

Regarding other notable contributions in the edited collection, Ramaa Vasudevan’s chapter on the state-credit standard particularly caught my attention and inspired me to search for her other works. Ajit Sinha’s chapter is very coherent and elaborates effectively on the discussion of the supposedly logical inconsistency in Marx’s exposition of the transformation of value into prices of production in Capital. He takes the standpoint of the Italian economist Piero Sraffa, but readers would have benefitted from a critical engagement with Fred Moseley’s counterarguments on the topic, developed in his latest book, Money and Totality. Kohei Saito’s chapter effectively clarifies the intertwined relation between the economic and political spheres in Marx’s works, and can be read alongside Musto’s and Amini’s contributions, as they complement each other.

I must also mention that I learnt a lot from Miguel Vedda’s discussion on the ‘elective affinity between dialectical materialism and the tradition of essayism’. Vedda convincingly argues that this affinity – ‘not only as a genre but also, and more importantly, as a method of enquiry and even as an ethical and political stance towards the world’ (4) – can be particularly helpful for grasping ‘the possibilities and the limits of Marxism in Latin America’ (5). Finally, it should be noted that Peter Beilharz’s chapter is very impressive, not only when it comes to its academic content, which focuses on the recent revival of interest in Marx’s works across the globe, but also regarding its creative ‘breakdance’ style.

All in all, the book offers an open-minded, informative and thought-provoking collection of contributions that inspires in-depth discussions not only of past Marxian and Marxist legacies, but also of how we learn from them to act upon our present and future world.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Statue of Karl Marx, Berlin, Germany (David Merrett CC BY 2.0).

 


Health Officials Face Death Threats From Coronavirus Deniers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 10:00pm in

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Politics

Dr. Megan Srinivas was attending a virtual American Medical Association discussion around the “Mask Up” initiative one evening in July when she began to receive frantic messages from her parents begging her to confirm to them that she was all right.

“Somebody obtained my father’s unlisted cell phone number and spoofed him, making it look like it was a phone call coming from my phone,” she told Des Moines’s Business Record for a November profile. “Essentially they insinuated that they had harmed me and were on the way to their house to harm them.”

This malicious hoax, made possible by doxxing Srinivas’s private information, was only the most severe instance of abuse and harassment she had endured since she became a more visible proponent of mask-wearing and other mitigation measures at the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic. A Harvard-educated infectious disease physician and public health researcher on the faculty of the University of North Carolina, Srinivas currently lives and works in Fort Dodge, her hometown of 24,000 situated in the agricultural heart of northwest Iowa.

Srinivas is not just a national delegate for the AMA, but a prominent face of Covid-19 spread prevention locally, appearing on panels and local news segments. Fort Dodge itself is situated deep within Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, a staunchly conservative area that simply replaced white supremacist Rep. Steve King with a more palatable Republican.

Basic health measures promoted by Srinivas in Iowa since the beginning of the pandemic have been politicized along the same fault lines as they have across the rest of the country. Some remain in the middle ground, indifferent to health guidelines out deep attachment to “normal” pre-pandemic life. Others have either embraced spread-prevention strategies like mask-wearing or refused to acknowledge the existence of the virus at all. In a red state like Iowa, an eager audience for President Donald Trump’s misinformation about the dangers of the coronavirus has made the latter far more common, which has made Srinivas’s job more difficult and more dangerous.

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Portrait of Dr. Megan Srinivas.

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Megan Srinivas/Erich Ernst

“It was startling at first, the volume at which [these threats were] happening,” Srinivas told The Intercept. “I know people get very heated about politics and the issues that people advocate for in general, but especially on something like this where it’s merely trying to provide a public service, a way people can protect themselves and their loved ones and community based on medical objective facts. That’s surprising that this is the reaction people have.”

“I have trolls like other people, I’ve been doxxed, I’ve gotten death threats,” she said. “When you say anything people don’t want to hear, there will be trolls and there will be people who will try to argue against you. The death threats were something I wish I could say were new, but when I’ve done things like this in the past, I’ve had people say not-so-nice things in the past when I’ve had advocacy issues.”

An untenable pressure has been placed on public health workers thrust in a politicized health crisis — and that pressure only appears to be worsening.

At the same time, as an Iowa native, Srinivas has been able to gain some trust through tapping into local networks like Facebook. Though she has encountered a great deal of anger, she’s also seen success in the form of a son who’s managed to convince his diabetic father, a priest, to hold off on reopening his church thanks to her advice, and through someone who’s been allowed to work from home based on recommendations Srinivas made on a panel.

“At this point, almost everyone knows at least one person that’s been infected. Unfortunately, it leads to a higher proportion of the population who knows someone who’s not just been infected, but who’s had serious ramification driven by the disease,” Srinivas said. “So it’s come to the point where, as people are experiencing the impact of the disease closer to home, they’re starting to understand the true impact and starting to be willing to listen to recommendations.”

Without cooperation and support at the state level, however, what Srinivas can accomplish on her own is limited. Even as the number of Covid-19 cases grew and put an increasing strain on Iowa’s hospitals over the past few months, it took until after the November election for Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to tighten Iowa’s mask guidance. And board members in Webster County, where Srinivas lives, only admitted in November that she had been right to advocate for a mask mandate all along. Though Trump lost the election nationally, he won Iowa by a considerable margin, which Reynolds has claimed as a vindication of her “open for business” attitude and has continued downplaying the pandemic’s severity.

“The issue with her messaging is it creates a leader in the state that should be trusted who’s giving out misinformation,” Srinivas said. “Naturally, people who don’t necessarily realize that this is misinformation because it’s not their area of expertise want to follow what their leader is saying. That’s a huge issue under the entire public health world right now, where we have a governor that is spreading falsehood like this.”

The embattled situation in which Srinivas has found herself is the new normal for public health officials attempting to stem the tide of a deadly viral outbreak, particularly in the middle of country where the pandemic winter is already deepening. Advocating for simple, potentially lifesaving measures has become a politically significant act, working to inform the public means navigating conflicting regulatory bodies, and doing your job means making yourself publicly vulnerable to an endless stream of vitriol and even death threats. The result across the board is that an untenable pressure has been placed on public health workers thrust in a politicized health crisis — and that pressure only appears to be worsening.

Despite the fact that Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order was nullified by the state’s Supreme Court in May, the Dane County Health Department has used its ability to exercise local control in an attempt to install mitigation measures that go beyond those statewide. By issuing a mask mandate ahead of a statewide rule and advocating for education and compliance efforts, the department currently considers itself in a good place regarding health guideline compliance.

These actions have drawn a lot of ire from those unhappy with the regulations, however. According to a communications representative for the department, anti-maskers have held a protest on a health officer’s front lawn, a staff member was “verbally assaulted” in a gas station parking lot (an incident that prompted the department to advise its employees to only wear official clothing to testing sites), and employees performing compliance checks on businesses have been told to never perform these checks alone after “instances of business owners get a little too close for comfort.” They’ve also received a number of emails accusing health workers of being “Nazis,” “liars,” “political pawns,” and purely “evil.”

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, left, confers with Clay Britton, her chief attorney, before a meeting with legislative leaders about an executive order she issued to require people to wear masks in public, Thursday, July 2, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kelly says she's worried that if the state doesn't reverse a recent surge in reported coronavirus cases, the state won't be able to reopen K-12 schools in August. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, left, confers with Clay Britton, her chief attorney, before a meeting with legislative leaders about an executive order she issued to require people to wear masks in public, on July 2, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan.

Photo: John Hanna/AP

In Kansas’s Sedgwick County, Wichita — the largest city in the state — has been considering new lockdown measures after a November surge in coronavirus cases has threatened to overwhelm its hospitals. Though Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly attempted to instate a mask mandate in July, 90 of the state’s 105 counties rejected it, including Sedgwick, though the health board issued its own directive and Wichita had installed its own at the city level.

Now, with cases surging again, just as Srinivas saw the number of believers rising as more got sick, counties in Kansas that previously resisted mask mandates are changing their tune after Kelly announced a new mandate. But Sedgwick County health officials see an intractable line in the sand when it comes to who’s on board with mitigation measures and are focused more on what those who are already on board need to be told.

“It seems like a lot of the naysayers are naysayers and the supporters are supporters,” Adrienne Byrne, director of Sedgwick County Health Department, said. “There’s some people that are just kind of whatever about it. We just remind people to wear masks, it does make a difference. As we’ve gone on, studies have shown that it works.”

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“I think it’s important to acknowledge to people that it is tiring, to acknowledge and validate their experience that people want to be over this stuff, but it’s important to reinforce that we are in a marathon,” she said. “In the beginning, we all wanted to hear that we would reach a magical date and we would be done with this stuff.”

Sedgwick has managed the streams of angry messages but has seen her colleagues in rural counties endure far worse, including death threats. She knows of one public health worker in Kansas who quit after being threatened, and others who have cited the strain of the politicized pandemic as their reason for leaving the public health profession.

“We’re certainly losing some health officials, there’s no question about that,” said Georges Benjamin, president of the American Public Health Association. “In the long arc of history, public health officials are pretty resilient. And while it absolutely will dissuade people from entering the field, we all need to do a better job of equipping them for these issues in the future.”

Benjamin would like to see institutional and public support for public health workers resemble that given to police or firefighters, government professionals who are well-funded, believed to be essential to the functioning of society, and wielding a certain level of authority.

“For elected officials who are charged with protecting the officials and their public officials, our message to officials then is that they should protect their employees,” Benjamin said.

Signs encourage the wearing of face masks Thursday, June 18, 2020, at a Sarpy County office in Papillion, Neb., where face covering is recommended but not mandatory. The Omaha World-Herald reports that Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has told local officials they would not receive any of the $100 million allotted to Nebraska in an economic rescue law if they require the public to wear masks in courthouses and other government buildings. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Signs encourage the wearing of face masks, on June 18, 2020, at a Sarpy County office in Papillion, Neb., where face covering is recommended but not mandatory.

Photo: Nati Harnik/AP

In rural Nebraska, the situation has presented even more complex challenges to public health workers. Outside of Omaha, the rural expanse is ruled by a deeply entrenched conservatism and, like Iowa’s governor Reynolds, Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has resisted a mask mandate. The Two Rivers Public Health Department, which oversees a wide swath of central Nebraska and its biggest population center, Kearney (population 33,000), is a popular pit stop along the Interstate 80 travel corridor and home to a University of Nebraska outpost.

Prior to the pandemic, Nebraska’s decentralized public health system had seen significant atrophy, according to Two Rivers Health Director Jeremy Eschliman, and was wholly unprepared for this level of public health event. There were few epidemiologists to be found outside of Omaha, though the department was able to hire one earlier this year. It also became clear early on that, despite the department’s traditionally strong ties with local media, messaging around the pandemic would be an uphill battle to get people to adapt new habits, especially when the president was telling them otherwise.

“There was one clear instance I remember when I caught a bit of heckling when I said, ‘Hey, this is serious. We’re going to see significant death is what the models show at this point in time,’” Eschliman said. “[The station said], ‘Are you serious? That seems way out in left field’ or something to that effect. That station had a very conservative following and that was the information they received.”

Eschliman has taken a realistic stance to promoting mask-wearing, thinking of it as akin to smoking. (“You could walk up to 10 people and try to tell them to quit smoking and you’re not going to get all 10 to quit,” he said. “Fun fact: You’re not going to get more than maybe one to even quit for a small period of time.”) Over the summer, he traveled just over Nebraska’s southern border into Colorado, where he was struck by the night-and-day difference between his neighbor state’s adoption of mask-wearing and Nebraskan indifference to it, each following the directives of their state leaders.

“It’s become very difficult to do the right thing when you don’t have the political support to do so.”

Home rule is the law of the land in Nebraska, and there’s been strong rural opposition to mask mandates, despite more liberal population centers like Lincoln and Omaha installing their own. It’s taken Kearney until November 30 to finally install its own after outbreaks at the college and in nursing homes. Public health care workers have also been left on their own to make controversial decisions that have caused political friction. In May, the local health board voted not to share public health information with cities and first responders due to what they decided were issues of information confidentiality.

“Mayors, county board members, and police chiefs ran a sort of a smear campaign against me and the organization,” Eschliman said. “So when we talk about resiliency, that’s what we’re dealing with. It’s become very difficult to do the right thing when you don’t have the political support to do so.”

Even having a Democratic governor doesn’t necessarily ensure that support. In Hill County, a sparsely populated region of Montana’s “Hi-Line” country along the Canadian border, Sanitarian Clay Vincent supports Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask mandate, but doesn’t understand why it exists if it’s not enforceable. The way he sees it, if laws are made, they should create consequences for those who refuse to follow them.

But Vincent and the Hill County Health Board also saw what happened elsewhere in the state, in Flathead County, where lawsuits were brought against five businesses who refused to follow Bullock’s mask mandate. After a judge threw the lawsuit out, those businesses launched a countersuit against the state, alleging damages. In order to bring businesses in Hill County into compliance with the mask mandate, the health board is considering slapping them with signs identifying them as health risks or, barring that, simply asking them to explain their refusal to comply.

“These are community members. Everybody knows everybody and [the board isn’t] trying to make more of a division between those who are and those who are not, but I come back to the fact that public laws are put there for the main reason to protect the public from infectious diseases,” Vincent said. “You have to support the laws, or people sooner or later don’t give any credence to the public health in general.”

Regardless of whether they can push the Hill County businesses into compliance, the political winds are already changing in Montana. Republican Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte will take power in January and likely bring the party’s aversion to mask mandates with him. President-elect Joe Biden will take power at the same time, and even if he attempts to install a nationwide mask mandate, it will likely be difficult to enforce and may end up meaning little out in Montana. It will also likely exacerbate ongoing tensions in communities throughout the state. The building that houses Hill County Health Department in the town of Havre was already closed this summer out of fear that a local group opposed to the mask mandate and nurses doing contract tracing are routinely threatened in the course doing their jobs.

Regardless, Vincent is determined to encourage and enforce public health guidelines as much as it’s in his power to do so, no matter the backlash. He sees protecting the public as no different than preventing any other kind of disease. “I don’t care if it’s hepatitis or HIV or tuberculosis or any of these things,” he said. “You’re expected to deal with those and make sure it’s not affecting the public. Otherwise you have a disaster.”

The post Health Officials Face Death Threats From Coronavirus Deniers appeared first on The Intercept.

MMT makes progress in Scotland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 7:47pm in

There was good news from the SNP elections at the weekend.

Both Kairin van Sweeden and Tim Rideout were elected to the SNP policy development committee. Both are committed to MMT and a Scottish currency.

Perhaps as important, Chris Hanlon is the Policy Development Convener and so runs this committee. He also happens to be a cofounder of MMT Scotland and is on the SNP NEC as a result of bein this committee's convenor.

It is not my job to do party politics, and the SNP is not the only pro-independence party in Scotland. But it is good to see MMT exponents winning places where they can influence debate.

I wish them good luck with the frustrations to come.

When abstention is the only option

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 7:24pm in

Tags 

Europe, Politics

Labour is sitting out today’s Covid 19 lockdown vote.

It would be wise of the SNP to do the same. This is an English vote.

Plaid Cymru could use the same logic, as could Northern Ireland parties.

The logic is easy to identify: as the Tories propose action that may well lead to a third wave of coronavirus that goes against scientific advice and the actions of other countries, let them take responsibility for their decisions.

Perhaps more importantly, let their divisions be seen. The electorate needs to know they are not united.

But is there an important precedent in this? Should Labour also be indicating to Johnson that he cannot rely on Labour to get him out of a mess of his own creation when it comes to Brexit?

The possibility of a Brexit deal remains. I have no idea whether it is likely. The UK negotiators are so crazy that anything is possible. But suppose they choose not to sell fisherman out, after all, and do a deal that lets them sell the fish they catch (which will be the excuse offered that, conveniently, happens to be factually accurate), then what does Labour do?

Whatever deal there might be will be bad for the country. Surely Labour cannot support that?

But a deal will be better than no deal. Surely Labour cannot suggest it prefers the no deal option and vote a deal down?

This is a big question for all the opposition parties and it seems that the answer that they should give today is the one that they will also have to deliver on a Brexit deal. They have to make the Tories own the mess, having made very clear why they will not vote for it, whilst not voting it down. Abstention may be the only option to make clear that the mess to come is not of their making.

I am not sure there is another option.

Obama’s Promised Land: Obama Wept (Two Episodes from Campaign 2008)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 10:25am in

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Politics

Obama on the trail in 2008....

Scotty From Marketing Tells The Team To Tag Xi Jinping In His Next Daggy Dad Facebook Post

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 8:23am in

Australia’s Prime Minister Scotty from marketing has told his 1,000 plus media team to tag in Chinese’s General Secretary Xi Jinping in his next daggy Dad photoshoot post in an effort to bring calm between the two nations.

“Scotty really knows how to sell a message so I have no doubt that this idea will work,” said a Government Insider. ”I mean what harm can tagging Xi Jinping into 150 photos of the PM building a cubby really do?”

“Are they going to put a tariff on Facebook shit posting?”

When asked why the PM sought to engage China publicly rather than through diplomatic channels, the Government Insider said: ”It’s hard to engage with someone when they don’t answer the phone.”

”Besides, this isn’t about China it’s about the PM seeming strong to those that really matter, the Australian voters.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, the PM has called an emergency cabinet meeting at Engadine Maccas.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

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Morrison’s selective attitude to human rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 5:58am in

Article 1 of the UN Charter declares objectives to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. But the Morrison government ignores the abuses of its friends, does not care about the ‘without distinction’ principle, and thereby undermines claims to champion human rights.


Credit – Unsplash

Being selective in advocacy of human rights is a hypocrisy easily spotted. Foreign Minister Payne’s and Prime Minister Morrison’s trenchant criticism of China’s human rights record is coupled to their friendly attitudes towards India, silence about Israel plus failure to acknowledge abuses to Australian citizens and to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees.

Before considering Australia’s friendship with Israel and India, the government’s domestic human rights record merits summary evaluation.

The Domestic Record

Years of cruelty towards asylum seekers and refugees suggests an assumption about national sovereignty which gives a carte blanche sense of entitlement to place the country above the rules of international law.

The chest-beating stance of John Howard about deciding who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they arrive persists in the mindsets of politicians responsible for observing the Refugee Convention. Removing asylum seekers to endure years on remote Pacific Islands, let alone the enormously expensive idea that authoritarian Cambodia would be an appropriate destination for a few classified refugees, illustrates Australia’s concern with cruelty as policy.

The imprisonment of Australian Indigenous citizens in disproportionate numbers, the morbidity and mortality rates of first nation peoples is another damning example of a poor human rights record. However significant Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations, Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people makes it difficult to be taken seriously when standing up for protesters for democracy in Hong Kong, Tibet, or elsewhere.

In efforts to not offend the US and UK, Australia has remained indifferent to the Australian citizen, journalist, and whistleblower Julian Assange who had revealed murder and mayhem by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A grand jury in Virginia spent years trying to concoct charges against Assange, and who on earth dreamt up the idea that punishment could involve 175 years jail? US politicians had already demanded that Assange be taken out by a drone, shot, or killed by other means.

UK politicians claimed that British justice was beyond question. The Australian government has said and done nothing. In the same breath, Australia and its allies condemn the sadistic punishments dished out in Saudi Arabia but remain indifferent to Assange being contained in a top security prison.

The Morrison government mouths platitudes about the rule of law taking its course and that Assange has been given access to appropriate consular support, but the government dare not criticize US aims to seek revenge against Julian Assange.

Friendship with India

In courting Indian leader Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Morrison declares that India and Australia are like-minded democracies, natural strategic partners and that the governments of the two countries are in full agreement that strong bilateral relationships are the key to a more open, prosperous, and inclusive Indo Pacific region.

A glance at the Modi regime would make even the casual observer question the notions ‘democratic’, ‘open’ or ‘inclusive’.

The people of Kashmir have been locked down for over twelve months, their freedom of expression stifled, their media censored, their political leaders detained.

To suppress dissent and to implement the ideology of Hindutva – the definition of Indian culture only in terms of Hindu values – the Modi government has total control of the judiciary, law enforcement, and mass media. Across India, new citizen laws give preferred treatment to Hindus, Christians, and other religious minorities but exclude Muslims. Anyone deemed a non-citizen is judged to be in India illegally and can be sent to a detention centre.

Australian Greens spokesperson on foreign policy, Senator Janet Rice identifies Modi’s erosion of civil liberties, police oppression, persecution of religious minorities and of Indigenous peoples. Opinion in the London Economist says Narendra Modi threatens to turn India into a one-party state. NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge forecasts that India is becoming a fascist state.

Making friends with India to counter hostility from China does not excuse Morrison and his Ministers from ignoring these anti-democratic developments, including violence towards women plus cruelties in the embedded caste system. Millions of untouchables, the Dalits, continue to do work that Hindu society considers filthy. They must live outside the boundaries of villages and are not allowed to come near sources of drinking water used by other castes. They are not allowed to eat sitting next to a caste Hindu or to use the same utensils. Author Sujatha Gidla reports that every day in an Indian newspaper you can read of an untouchable beaten or killed for wearing sandals or for riding a bicycle.

Support for Israel, Disdain for Palestinians

Commitment to human rights requires consistency but the only obvious consistency in Australia’s foreign policy is that it always does what the US and Israel want, irrespective of the rights and interests of Palestinians.

In June 2020 at the UN, Australia refused to condemn Israel’s proposal to annex over one-third of the Palestinian West Bank. Most European countries and the developing world voted for the UN motion condemning annexation but Australia along with the Marshall Islands voted against, even though Foreign Minister Payne had insisted that Australia preserves peace, promotes human rights, and the rule of law.

In the same June 2020 UN sessions, Australia and the Marshall Islands also opposed UN Human Rights Council resolutions for Palestinian self-determination, against Israeli settlements and settler violence, and on Israeli human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories.

Ben Saul, Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney judged annexation a reversion to the pre-1945 law of the jungle where violence not law prevailed, and people everywhere were fair game to predatory neighbours. He identified annexation as a crime of aggression under customary international law, hence the challenge for an Australian government to warn Israel that if annexation proceeded, it could impose sanctions on Israeli banks, travel bans on Israeli leaders, and an arms embargo.

When Russia seized Ukrainian Crimea, Australia imposed sanctions on Russia, but it seems unimaginable that the government would take the same stand against Israel.

Armed with a chutzpah smirk, Australia seems unembarrassed when appearing in international forums that consider human rights and the rules of international law.

Prime Minister Morrison’s silence about human rights abuses by friends, but his pride in posing as a champion of those rights in relation to enemies, is ‘without distinction’. His selective interest in human rights leaves Australia vulnerable to the accusation, ‘put your own house in order before making criticism of others.’

A bridge too far for Cormann?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 5:58am in

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For the OECD, improved world health is as important an outcome as an improved world economy. Managing that, or contributing to that debate, is not, as with climate change action, Cormann’s long suit.


Credit – Wikipedia

Mathias Cormann is not the sort of leader, chief executive, or economic thinker that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the world needs as we seek a post-coronavirus economic recovery. The ideas that Mattias Cormann represents are not the sort of ideas that Australia wants or needs one of the chief engine rooms of economic recovery to have.

His social and economic ideas are likely, if followed, to retard world growth, urgent adaptation to the challenge of climate change or imagination in developing new policies in health, social welfare, and education — destined to be the chief levers of future economic growth. And the idea that he has the cred to promote action on climate change or a green economy is tosh.

One must assume that the prime minister, Scott Morrison, is 100 percent committed to Cormann’s getting the job and that he will lose in prestige if, as is likely, he doesn’t. But it might not be the greatest personal blow Morrison has ever suffered. Cormann did not want Morrison, more or less a moderate, as prime minister. Indeed, had Cormann been able to count, Peter Dutton would probably have the job, gained on a different day.

It is not even true, as Dutton has suggested that getting Cormann up as Secretary General of the OECD would be a tremendous feather in the cap for Australia, or might somehow give Australia an additional friend at court at any time Australian interests needed a push along.

As Secretary General he would not be a delegate for Australia, and if he was seen to be, it would be in clear breach of his terms of employment as a voice for all of the advanced liberal economies represented in the OECD.

And anyone who thinks that prestige and credit flow automatically to the country of his origin should remember the departing secretary general, Angel Gurria. Gurria is very well regarded and his third term is about to end. He comes from Mexico, whose economic reputation or performance has not markedly improved.

It may be a conceit to regard Cormann as a front-runner, even before his credentials are submitted to close scrutiny. He has a very large campaign budget, something I would not begrudge if we had a good candidate or one with much chance. But Canada, Switzerland, Greece, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Denmark, Poland, the United States, and Sweden have also nominated candidates, most with impressive backgrounds. No lobbying by Cormann, or Morrison, has seen any withdraw.

Selection is a process of several stages, usually without any formal election. It begins with a beauty contest among each of the heads of national delegations to the OECD. These discuss the choices with their governments back home. Most of the candidates will have lobbied these as well as the diplomats in Paris. Then, in a somewhat Vatican style, the British Ambassador, as chair of the selection committee, will take confidential “soundings” among member countries to gauge broad support for individual candidates; he will be seeking to get a short-list of two or three.

Even then, it does not usually go to a formal vote. Cormann may never know whether any of the pledges, promises, or arm-twisting worked. Instead, the chair now attempts to seek a “consensus candidate”, around which most can agree, over which no great and powerful country, such as the US or Germany will try to exercise a practical veto. That might not be the person with the most support if he also has significant enemies; the winner might be everyone’s second-preferred candidate, with no real enemies.

The OECD does regular country reports, in which they compare economic and social performance with other member nations. But Cormann, if he wins, will have no influence over these. More significantly, the organisation monitors the economies of all of its members, and other nations such as China to make informed predictions of economic growth, and trade growth, overall, as well as in individual countries. It also analyses factors that affect its predictions. Right now, these might include the Covid-19 pandemic, the slow and asynchronous movements to social and economic recovery, the increasing threat from climate change, uncertain signals from China, the balls-up that Boris Johnson is making (with our help) in a Britain that has exited the European Union, and uncertainties about post-Trump America.

OECD members hold lots of conferences on all aspects of OECD activities, some at ministerial level and some at officer level. The thinking and experiences of members help inform economic, political, and social assessments of social and economic indicators published by the organisation.

 The collective of nations ultimately controls the organisation. But they do not act as a parliament settling OECD assessments. Were Cormann to be chosen, he would have a significant say in some OECD priority setting, and in representing and promoting the general views of the organisation. But not in preparing technical reports.

His economic background is not of a depth that it could challenge institutional views — unlike in Canberra, where his view as minister for finance prevailed over any views proffered by bureaucrats — simply because he was the minister. His political and organisational clout will depend rather more on his diplomatic, organisational and bureaucratic skills — as well as his adroitness in discerning the general will of member nations. He has shown some talent in negotiating with cross-bench senators available for rent, and in playing a masterful dead bat to any questioning. But his political and strategic skills are not so strong — and the “vision statement” he has produced in the OECD job is a first for him.

The OECD is about much more than making growth assessments or promoting the idea of freedom of trade and the operation of market forces rather than close government controls on the economy.

It is also an academy of good policy in almost every area of government. In agriculture and in agricultural trade. In aid and development policies. In education. In health care, whether out in the community or in hospitals. In research, and taking advantage of innovation and using modern technology and communications.

And in energy and the environment, including dealing with climate change — suddenly the subject on which Cormann, with his eye to OECD members, has great zeal, though he has been generally regarded as a denier, and certainly an opponent of real action, or cohesive Commonwealth policy. In general terms, indeed, Cormann is not policy-oriented, nor has he a reputation for breadth, or depth, of his political achievements.

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