When I left for the States in 1976, Australia had 15 million citizens who enjoyed the ninth highest per capita income in the world. The nation’s wool, meat, and wheat provided the largest share of export earnings followed by mineral ores and coal, both of which were firmly controlled by multinational corporations.
In April this year I wrote an article headlined “On the brink, and at the mercy of a pair of mass-murderous buffoons”. I was of course referring to Trump and Kim, and some said my language was over the top. But I believe that anyone who advocates or even seriously contemplates exploding nuclear weapons anywhere anytime, is a threat to humanity. And anyone who is self-evidently a buffoon, and who advocates exploding nuclear warheads in the open air, on cities for example, is an aspiring mass-murderer.
Kim Jong-Un, more mad physicist than buffoon, is threatening Trump because he believes the US is determined to force North Korea, under threat of annihilation, to be penetrated and pillaged by the same corporate and military forces that have, in the past 50 years alone, done this to dozens of other countries who didn’t have nukes with which to counter-threaten the US. Most famously, in the ‘50s and 60s, Guatemala, Iran, Cuba and … North Korea … Vietnam, and Laos (those last five beat back the US juggernaut). In the 60s and 70s and more recently, Grenada, Chile, Serbia, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Congo, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen et al.
The Koreans want “peaceful relations with the United States and their neighbors, [because they are] convinced that [the US plans] a pre-emptive military strike against their country. … and [they want] to end the economic sanctions that had been very damaging to them.” That’s the opinion of former President Jimmy Carter who visited Korea three times to understand what they want.
North Koreans have lived through half a century of American bombing, spying, harassment and threats, and are absolutely correct in believing that some in the US power elite are willing to blow them and their 26 million citizens to smithereens – because they won’t kowtow to Washington/New York. North Korea’s government structure and modus operandi are brutally authoritarian, but they aren’t the ones to have exploded nuclear bombs on two big cities – the US did that, and they never invaded the US, it invaded them.
Former US Secretary of State Dean Rusk recalled, in 1985, that the United States bombed “every brick that was standing on top of another, everything that moved,” during their war on North Korea in the early 1950s. General Curtis LeMay, chief of US strategy in that war said, in 1984, “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—twenty per cent of the population.”
New Yorker reporter Evan Osnos just spent 10 days in Pyonyang interviewing top North Korean officials and concluded that “our grasp of North Korea’s beliefs and expectations is not much better than its grasp of ours.”
When Trump told the UN two weeks ago that he was ready to nuke Korea – and withdraw from the agreement with Iran under which they forgo building nukes -- PM Netanyahu of Israel (which has numerous nuclear bombs but won’t admit that they do) said “I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech [at the UN].”
One of Kim’s lieutenants explained their position to the New Yorker: “A lot of people would die. But not everyone would die … As long as the United States is destroyed, then we are all starting from the same line again.”
Our PM Turnbull said that if Kim attacks the United States “many, many thousands of innocent people will die.”
A person who believes science would know that any exchange of nuclear weapons is likely to kill millions on the Korean peninsula and millions more globally as the radioactive dust settles. Trump either doesn’t know this or doesn’t care. I assume Turnbull knows it but is just too chickenshit to say it, or to say boo to the latest incarnation of Uncle Sam, rhymes with Rocket Man.
Sand has always been an irritant, specially when it gets inside engines or bodily crevices. Right now in Byron Bay it’s irritating because it’s one of several factors delaying the rebuild of Byron’s Palace Cinemas complex -- nearly two years late with no reopening in sight. What’s sand got to do with it? Because from 1935 through to the 1980s, mining companies scooped up sand from our local beaches and inland dunes to mix with cement (calcium silicate or ‘lime’) to make concrete – and bricks, and asphalt, and mortar.
What wasn’t widely known until the 1980s was that while sand is mostly silica, it is laced with traces of rare minerals including titanium, rutile, zircon and monazite – and those last two contain radioactive uranium and thorium. When the Byron beach sands were sold to concrete-makers, the rare minerals were filtered out and left behind. Well, they were actually left in fills, anywhere there was a hole to fill. One of the hundreds of these radioactive dumps is the site where the Palace Cinema was supposed to be rebuilt and the Woolworths parking area alongside it. In the 1980s, Byron area activists including Anudhi Wentworth raised alarms and campaigned for remediation, particularly under the (now closed) Byron hospital and the Byron primary school.
Apart from radioactive car parks, there’s a much bigger issue about sand, which is that from the early 20th century to this day we humans have demanded increasingly massive amounts of it, to make concrete – and glass, which is also mostly composed of silica, from sand.
Most of our modern era environment is made of concrete and glass, in the form of shopping centres, condos, office blocks, parking garages, airport terminals, dams, and houses. Plus asphalt, in highways, suburban streets, tarmacs, tennis and basketball courts, and footpaths.
In the May issue of the New Yorker enviro-writer David Owen reported that: “A typical American house requires more than a hundred tons of sand, gravel, and crushed stone for the foundation, basement, garage, and driveway, and more than 200 tons if you include its share of the street that runs in front of it.”
The problem is global. Bill Gates recently blogged that China used more concrete in the past three years than the US did in the entire twentieth century, and Shanghai now has more skyscrapers than New York City does. Gates points out that all this concrete will have to be replaced in the coming decades, helpfully predicting that mini-sensors in the concrete mix will alert us when it starts disintegrating.
All of this was lamented back in 1966, in the haunting pop song ‘Tar and Cement’ that made number one on the Australian charts. Where are the meadows? it asked. Tar and cement the chorus answered. Where are the lilacs? And where is the tall grass? The laughter of children?
Nothing but acres (tar and cement) (Quiz: name the singer, answer at end of story)
And that song didn’t even mention glass, nor other human activities that pile on to the demand for sand. People with large investments in beachfront properties believe that local, state and national governments should replace “their” sand when it erodes -- and this happens the world over not just at Belongil Beach.
Then there’s fracking. When frackers drill wells (which can be several kilometres deep), they blast millions of kilograms of sand into the rock to help force the fossil fuel to the surface. And they’re drilling hundreds of thousands of wells.
We are now using more sand than any other natural resource besides water, and we’re running out of usable sand. As the New Yorker’s report explained, “usable” is important. When the princes of Dubai built the world’s tallest building, on the Arabian desert, they had to import the sand for the concrete because their own sand is too fine – so fine that golf balls sink in it – so they imported sand from Australia!
A 2014 United Nations report concluded that global sand grabbing “greatly exceeds natural renewal rates” adding -- guess what? -- “the current level of political concern clearly does not match the urgency of the situation.”
As my longtime publishing partner Jim Hightower says in the latest issue of his Lowdown newsletter, “the general attitude of the shadowy sand extraction industry is that if brute force isn’t working, you’re probably not using enough of it.”
Much of the global sand grab happens in remote places, the southwestern coast of Cambodia for example, where dredging corporations ripped up entire human and natural environments to send barges filled with sand to Singapore, not just to build the skyscrapers that house 7000 plus multinational corporate headquarters, but also to expand the island’s real estate by dumping sand into the sea around it.
There is one uplifting aspect this tale of sand: ‘Tar and Cement’ (lyrics by Pockriss and Vance) was Verdelle Smith’s only hit, reaching #38 in the USA. Verdelle came from a morally righteous black family in Brooklyn, and she quit the music business after releasing one album and became a pastor caring for the disadvantaged. She learned only recently that her song went to #1 in Australia all those years ago. She’s thrilled.
Me and John Rickard, a cabinet maker who’s a bit younger than I am – maybe 26, stand on a window ledge 10 stories above 5th Avenue in Greenwich Village wrestling two redwood planter boxes into two curvy wrought iron balconies. This is because the magazine that hired me and got me a green card, a lefty newsmag called Seven Days, has lasted not much longer than its name. Instead of editing for a living I do whatever I can for a few bucks an hour. Like most of my friends -- lower Manhattan artists, writers and filmmakers -- I look for craft work. I’m registered with an employment exchange for freelance graphic artists, given that writers get less than a few bucks an hour, and yesterday they told me to report for work at a midtown address which, it turns out, is Rolling Stone magazine’s office.
At 1pm I’m on the job, cutting and pasting galleys onto layout sheets for an issue with Rod Stewart on the cover. It’s two years since I quit being publisher of the Australian edition of this magazine, and I think about telling my co-workers this curious fact but don’t. Why would they care? And besides, the art director is cruising the layout tables checking our Oxford rules with a magnifying glass and expecting heads down and conversation minimal.
The article I’m pasting up is about the passage in Congress of the Hyde Amendment, which essentially allows states to make abortions punishingly expensive or just impossible to get, subverting the recent liberalization of abortion laws nationally. The story, by Ellen Willis, sounds a warning that the right-wing/Christian backlash against feminism is unleashed.
After work I head down Fifth Avenue, stopping to read recipes in a bookshop since tenuous finances dictate I must henceforth cook my every meal. I conclude that Thai is the best bang for buck taste-wise, with minimal prep time. I head down to Tribeca, my stomping ground until a few weeks back when I moved to a loft in Chinatown. P kicked me out of her loft on Park Place because my new relationship with a co-worker (now also unemployed) at Seven Days displeased her. P is an artist whose latest work is a cardboard model of the World Trade Centre stapled to the floor over a map of surrounding streets showing where the towers would land if they were to fall over. Our loft (now hers) at 25 Park Place, is one block north and would cop it for sure.
Well after midnight I’m in Barneys, the smaller of the only two bars in Tribeca, telling Cara how I’d been dangling over Fifth Avenue holding one end of a planter box, and I see her eyes narrow and she says, “Yeah OK I get it, you said that already,” and walks away. Too many beers, but I tell myself I had good cause to blab on about the boxes, never before having dangled like that.
Barneys, whose full name is Barnabus Rex, has a pool table leaving room for 30 people if everyone’s elbow to elbow with sucked-in guts, which we are as 4am closing time approaches. The crowd is all local artists since no one else wants to live in Tribeca. I’ve noted that Cara gets angry at the right things, and that that’s a good way to assess a person.
Walking home in dim street-light on Mott St I see an address I remember from the Hansard transcripts of loan documents Doug Anthony dropped on Whitlam when Gough revealed that Anthony had rented a house to the CIA’s man in Canberra Richard Stallings. The words “Commerce International” are typewritten on a business card in the grubby directory by the front door. This part of Chinatown is mostly retail shops spilling onto the narrow sidewalks and washing hanging on lines strung between tenements – and this is where Jim Cairns and Rex Connor were trying to get a multibillion dollar loan to buy back Australia’s natural resources? I’ll come back in daylight and ask questions. I’m writing a longish article for Mother Jones on the American role in the dumping of PM Whitlam and his three-year term that changed everything.
A few doors from my new home at 50 East Broadway, I see through the still darkness a guy illuminated by a single lightbulb inside a 4 ft x 4 ft alcove. He’s sitting on a plastic chair with his back to me, leaning over a beat-up metal table. At his left elbow is a stack of what looks like drink coasters, but soft and beige coloured. He picks one up and I see it’s dough, then he takes a tiny slip of paper from a cardboard box to his right, folds the dough around the paper and puts it on a tin tray. His job, I realize, is putting the fortunes into the fortune cookies that come with your change at the end of every meal in all of New York’s thousands of Chinese restaurants.
In bed I wonder what he thinks about as he folds the fortunes of people he neither knows nor shares a language with. I bet he doesn’t get even one full dollar an hour.
Australia and America are both destinations for people of the world hoping to start a new life, free and full of possibilities. Both have populations rich in multiple ethnicities and backgrounds.
But what do you do if the economy fails to deliver prosperity, or if serious infighting among the multiple cultures threatens to bring down the system?
Right now the US is facing that problem and when the USA threatens to lose its centre, it reaches for the solace of its most crucial common notion – its own exceptionalism.
This is a belief that America is the global exception: the richest, most democratic, most inventive and entrepreneurial, cleverest, and all manner of best-ests. French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville first used the word “exceptional” 200 years ago, referring to the fact that immigrants to America wrote a series of declarations in the 1700s on which not just a new nation but a new society was to be built. Abe Lincoln took it a step further in his plea that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth", meaning that the USA is responsible for globalizing democracy – which clearly means it’s the best of all nations.
When the Americans drove their tanks through the wreckage of Europe and dropped two atom bombs on Japan, they laid claim to the idea that they won the second world war, which super-charged the idea that America’s mission is to save us all.
Early on in my 40 plus years living in the US I realized that it was hard to name the nation’s top comedian because the sub-cultures of these 300 million folks are so many and varied that you can’t hit the spot with all of them unless you narrow the spot down to what everyone shares, which isn’t much. So, back then, Eddie Murphy was the top black comedian, Joan Rivers the top New York comic, no one was the nation’s top.
Politicians face a similar challenge. Bill Clinton won the Presidency in part because he had absorbed a rare portfolio of the references, preferences, expressions, and even facial and bodily gestures of multiple subcultures. He could weave them all into his national TV appearances, or put them on like costume changes at rallies across the nation. Hillary never had that talent, though she knew its value and tried like hell to do it better.
The problem with this pan-cultural dance is that you end up not saying much of anything. National politicians deliver bland messages in bland prose (Hillary), or we now see that they can mumblefuck their way to victory (Trump). In the end, the Trump campaign was rescued from incoherence by Cambridge Analytica, a marketing firm funded by hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, which aggregated facebook likes and other online data to fine-tune their pandering to individual voters’ preconceptions: people who regularly “liked” online posts about Hillary adopting a baby from outer space (seriously) would then be urged to vote Trump to keep the aliens out of the White House. That’s the latest twist on targeting messages in pluralist societies, and – WARNING -- the Liberal-Nationals have hired a marketing outfit with the same metrics for our next election.
Now, the Trump circus has fallen apart. What’s left is a bunch of retired generals and global finance crooks from the Goldman Sachs school of finagling (from which Malcolm Turnbull also graduated), and these guys know that the only button they can push to keep the wild and disconnected citizenry from burning down the house is the we-are-exceptional button. The mad king Trump himself is getting it – he got to be President with his Make America Great Again caps (made in China), but now he sees he needs to crank it up a notch -- bomb the shit out of North Korea or Syria?
Trump’s response to the Charlottesville disaster was instructive: after days of dithering, he read stilted bits of the manufactured collective myths like “racism is completely unacceptable”, to keep a semblance of commonality to his message, then he dog-whistled to his own personal subcultures, reassuring them that white nationalists and Klansmen are just his kinda folks.
The myth of exceptionalism might yet hold America together. Some of my best friends over there have brilliant and critical minds, but if you challenge the notion that Americans are the most moral, most compassionate, most humane, and wisest of all the world’s people, hackles will rise. It’s that ingrained. James Baldwin wrote 50 years ago that “All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.” Baldwin of course was a gay, black man. He also warned that “White Americans are … the most dangerous people … in the world today.”
Populism is in the news. This month I've talked about it on panels at Byron Writers Festival and at a FedTalks night (in Federal), and I contributed an essay on it to the new Griffith Review.
Populism has become the catch-word for all political positions outside the mainstream, and I believe this is an abuse of a word, and of a noble movement. The American Populist party in the 19th and 20th century fought the Big Business parties, and the same spirit energised Australia's contemporaneous movements for independence and equality. In both countries, reforms such as universal voting, access to health-care and education, fair taxes, wages and working conditions, rights for women and children, and more arose not from beneficent businessmen or wise politicians but from people’s campaigns.
Aside from the damage done to this proud legacy, using populism as a boo-word also promotes the notion the “the people” want all manner of reactionary policies, like strangling immigration, demanding cuts in government-benefits-that-don’t-benefit-me-personally, and generally being ignorant and mean. Yes there are people like Trump and Australian senator Pauline Hanson, and some of their fans, who imagine immigrants and Muslims are coming their way in far greater numbers than they actually are. And they imagine Muslims are inherently terrorists. A big cohort of such people in the US voted for Trump, but he also got votes from staunch conservatives and people who believe Obama is a Muslim or an alien or both.
Today, our pollies and our commentariat are using “populism” in a lazy and unhelpful pretence that they’re making sense of the disillusionment in mainstream politics across the “developed” world. They push the idea that people are voting for nutbars like Trump, Hanson, Le Pen, Corbyn, and Sanders because of “populism”, but Trump/Hanson/Le Pen are guilty of multiple and separate social crimes, while Corbyn and Sanders are old-school social democrats committed to improving living standards for all of us 99%ers -- who each attracted more votes than racist and factually-challenged candidates did.
To rescue populisms past from being unfairly trashed, and to advance debate that illuminates rather than obfuscates today, I recommend that anyone calling someone a populist or any policy populism insert an adjective in front of the word. As in Trump is a SHAM populist, Hanson is a MUSLIM-HATING populist, and Brexit was not any kind of populism, it was a bullshit propaganda exercise financed by corporates to advance their business interests.
So, given that populism isn't what's disillusioning us about politics, what is? Answer: Politics since the 1980s has consisted of big business systematically taking over government by spending huge amounts of money to get its lackeys elected (particularly in the US) and by rigging the rules so that mass media are run by tycoons (Rupert Murdoch above all) who promote government by big business (particularly in Australia).
From Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US through to today, this march to corporatocracy was said to be creating new wealth and spreading it around: mainstream pollies and their talking heads said it repeatedly, telling us the economy was getting better when it wasn’t. Reality was that the corporates exported growth to wherever labor is dirt-cheap and gave themselves increasingly lavish shares of our tax-money – until their globaloney came undone in 2008, making us face the fact that cut-throat capitalism only works for those with very big and very sharp knives.
Now, in the US, UK and the many other “democracies” of the world, people are looking for political programs that redistribute power to the people, and asking how did we get conned into believing that big businessmen make great decisions on our behalf?
When the people have a chance to vote for policies that are based on the principle espoused by Jim Hightower, my long-time friend and collaborator from Texas -- that “Everyone does better when everyone does better” – they tend to vote for those policies. Hightower calls that "progressive populism". Mainstream media (MSM) however daze and confuse every issue their owners are invested in, such as by calling renewable energies bad and coal clean, or saying we can’t grow enough food for the world when we already do.
What’s wrong with our representative democracies today is who represents whom. We now have government by the corporates, for the corporates. Like Abe Lincoln said, we need "a new birth of freedom [so that] government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
Also so the earth itself shall not perish from global warming or from Trump’s fat little fingers fondling the big red button.
The death of former PM Gough Whitlam in 2014 triggered several crucial revelations about “the Dismissal”, and a few weeks from now another piece of missing evidence may be released. The High Court is about to rule on a request by historian Jenny Hocking (presented to the Court by Gough’s son Nicholas QC) that the National Archives should release correspondence between the Governor-General and the Queen from 42 years ago.
Let’s recap what was going on back then: Labor had won two elections under Whitlam’s leadership -- in 1972 and 1974 – driven by public appreciation for his dramatic reforms in health, education, immigration, indigenous rights, and welfare programs, after 23 years of conservative rule.
By 1975, a global oil squeeze was gutting our economy and the mainstream media, led by Rupert Murdoch, were in outrage-overdrive over “scandals” inside Whitlam’s government. The Laborites were waging two huge battles: (1) Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor was trying to borrow billions of petro-dollars from Arab countries to buy back Australia’s mining industry -- and (2) Whitlam had revealed that a facility near Alice Springs that picks up electronic signals from satellites was actually run by the CIA, and that top Liberal-Country Party leaders, the White House and the CIA were all keeping this secret.
In November 1975, Coalition senators blocked funds (“supply”) from the government so Whitlam asked GG John Kerr to sign off on a half-Senate election so he might regain Labor’s Senate majority – stolen the previous year by anti-Labor state governments.
Sir John, however, chose instead to plot with Australian High Court justices Sir Garfield Barwick (a former Liberal minister) and Sir Anthony Mason -- and with Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser -- to sack the PM and his entire government.
Kerr had also corresponded with the Queen’s secretary and assistant secretary (that makes five ‘Sirs’ so far) about his options. The Queen’s secretary Martin Charteris told Kerr that “the Queen [has] to act on the advice of her prime minister”, but what else he or the Queen said is still locked up in our National Archives.
One more Sir intervened in the days before the coup: Sir Arthur Tange, head of the Department of Defence, delivered Kerr a memorandum from the CIA chief of East Asia Ted Shackley, stating that the CIA would excommunicate Australia’s intelligence agencies unless they could stop Whitlam from “blowing the lid off” the CIA’s Pine Gap spy station. Whitlam told Tange he would indeed be revealing those facts to Parliament the next day, the 11th of November. Tange said this was “ the greatest risk to our nation’s security that there has ever been.” The deadline for Australia to renew the US lease on Pine Gap was just four weeks away.
So when Whitlam handed Kerr the documents calling an election for half the Senate, Kerr handed Whitlam his letter dismissing the PM and his Labor government. Outside Parliament House, Whitlam famously urged Australians to "maintain your rage", but rage was all he had left. There was now no parliament in which to blow the lid off the CIA’s Pine Gap base or to pull the plug on the Pine Gap agreement; his party was exhausted, its best minds wasted.
On December 13, 1975, Malcolm Fraser and his conservative coalition were elected, and Labor retreated for what was to be seven and a half years of regrouping.
So, who done it?
While the “Queens’ papers” may or may not be released next month, we already know this: Whitlam was brought down in a pincer movement by the scrum of Sirs eager to play kingmakers, and the CIA cowboys hell-bent to keep the world safe for Yankee imperialism.
In 1977, new American President Jimmy Carter sent an envoy to apologize to the deposed Whitlam for US interference in Whitlam's prime ministership. Whitlam refused to say that this referred to his dismissal, but soon after Gough died Richard Butler, who was at the apology meeting, told journalist Max Suich that: "It seemed to me quite obvious then and it still does today that groups in the Nixon administration … had a role in the dismissal ... eavesdropping, colluding with the actors and people like Kerr ... encouraging them."
Asio’s official historian John Blaxland recently said that in 1975 leading US officials told Asio that the “ALP government is essential to Soviet planning for this area and [the CIA’s] activities in Australia would be tempered by this consideration”. Whitlam demanded a royal commission on US intelligence operations in Australia, in the Sydney Sun in May 1977. When he was asked about how America treated Allende when he tried to reclaim his country’s natural resources, Gough quipped, “Yes, I got off lightly!”
We know that the Queen’s men participated in Kerr’s coup: Prof Hocking is crowd-funding her demand for more to be revealed, so you can contribute if so moved. When will we finally get the guts to cut the cord to the Palace? And nix our slavish obedience to the nutbars in the White House.
On the somewhat hip website crikey.com, politics editor Bernard Keane announced last week that “The surprisingly quick death of neoliberalism in Australia is underway”.
Now because I came back to Australia from the US just seven years ago, I’m still catching up on both our politics and our political commentary, and that’s one term that gives me the irrits – neoliberalism. It sounds like a good thing – new and liberal – so it’s a cheer word not a boo word. But what it means is rule by business elites who believe that anything socially managed, eg public transport, education -- or socially minded eg clean air and water, art, theoretical science – should be run by businesspeople according to their values. In any case, not many pub-pundits lace their epithets with “neoliberalism” except in Mullum’s Couthouse Hotel.
Now, Crikey’s Mr Keane says that PM Malcolm Turnbull and his shaky group of parliamentary supporters have looked at the polls, and at the last federal and state elections, and at what’s happened to Theresa May’s Conservatives in the UK and to both mainstream parties in France, and got it: that giving local and multinational big business everything they want, privatising everything while slashing social safety net programs and abandoning government-funded anything other than war, is NOT creating a trickle-down of jobs and money -- and that a rapidly growing percentage of voters aren’t going to take it any more.
So Turnbull and Co. have discovered that there are good and bad deficits, good and bad debt, and good and bad government spending. Across the floor, Bill Shorten and the Labor Party might be looking for inspiration not from yesterday’s corporate Labor leaders Hawke and Keating, but from old-school democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbin, and parts of Scandinavia.
That said, our ruling coalition government is not about to abandon big business nor is it going to match the Labor Party’s half-arsed new and improved social programs. The ABC’s Leigh Sales wasted a whole prime-time interview last week with Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek trying to make her say “the government is spending more on education”, with no regard for how much more, to whom, or why it should pay church and private schools anything. (Another question that has bugged me since returning from the US: who thought is was a good idea to brand a wide reform of education “Gonski”, as if we all know what that means?)
Okay so we could go into the details of why Aussie politicians have spent decades slavishly copying the awful mistakes of American and European governments, and are typically slow to change when it all goes pear-shaped. Why don’t they lead the world instead of licking big brother’s boots? For example, be the first to institute a real carbon tax?
Answer: Australia’s top politicians have long been too much in love with swanning around Manhattan’s pricey watering holes with their American managers to cut the ties. Now, with voters of the Western world crying out for relief and maybe blood, and with Trump and his gang of mismatched dickheads throwing everyone under the bus because they sell the petrol to the bus, we have to do something different.
But can they? Can Turnbull, whose money is managed by his old bosses Goldman Sachs in New York, really see what’s going on in the world and break out of the myths that bind him?
Most of our pollies are captives of the corporates who fund them, and of the four great myths that underlie our social economic and political systems. To wit:
Myth 1: Nature is free. A staggering number of folks believe that naturally occurring things such as air, water, sunshine and soil are free and infinitely tolerant of whatever we do to them.
Myth 2: We are all white men with Christian values. In fact, Australia has more women than men, and “no religion” is the largest group in the “religion” section of the new Census, bigger than Catholicism -- and it’s closing in on Christianity. Third is Hinduism.
Myth 3: War is inevitable. Globally, war-based industries are estimated to cost US$1.8 trillion each year, plus the damage to human health, ecosystems and infrastructure. We can’t afford war no more.
Myth 4: It’s only money. Der Speigel magazine recently estimated that the entire tangled web of the global “finance industry” transacted $1634 trillion for the year 2010. Lord Adair Turner, chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority, told the magazine that many things the financial industry does are “socially useless” – I dare Turnbull and Shorten to say that.
Our “politics as usual’ cannot face up to these myths, so we need collectively to redesign politics. I'm working on that, but the New York Times' opinion today by Eitan Hersh says that only well-developed professionals, such as his Yale-self, should do that. The rest of us are are engaging in political "hobbyism" which is, I suspect, down there with populism.
by Phillip Frazer, who went to visit the USA for a couple of weeks and stayed longer
July 1st 1970. With a couple of hundred other journalists and editors I fly to San Francisco from Melbourne on the new Tullamarine airport’s inaugural flight. On landing I head out for the Fillmore West to hear Steve Winwood’s band Traffic. The music, the light show, the packed fans half-dancing half-stumbling is all familiar; could be Melbourne’s Thumpin’ Tum or any RSL club in the Sydney ‘burbs, except that every other person here has a joint which is inhaled then passed on to the right as the next arrives from the left.
July 3rd. I pass on the group trip to the Giants baseball game and head for the Rolling Stone offices on Third St. I’ve bought stories from Stone editor Jann Wenner, for Go-Set and Revolution, but this is my first meet-up with the guy and we talk lots. I offer to help install computerized typesetting – they’re still pulling repros from type set in hot metal.
July 5th. Breakfast at Jann and Janie Wenner’s house on Ord Ct. followed by a benefit for the UN featuring Boz Skaggs, Steve Miller, and the Hair cast. Jann flies to New York and I’m set up in their guest room. Next day, Janie and I see the bizarre new Ned Kelly film starring Mick Jagger with appearances by my Carlton mates Linzee Smith and John Hawkes.
July 12th. Drive to Los Angeles via Santa Clara County Fairgrounds where Janis Joplin’s doing songs from her upcoming Pearl album for 10,000 wild’n’crazy fans. With a stage-pass from Rolling Stone I get a full roll of pics on Tri-X film -- many of a raging Janis up close.
July 27th. In LA I interview the Beach Boys at Dennis Wilson’s house and Mike Love tells me they have a multi-million dollar plan to “socialize the rock ‘n’ roll business”. Lots of talk in this town about soft revolution, not much action. I meet Norma Whittaker, an English woman who does PR for Beach Boys and Country Joe McDonald. She’s also an activist in the UK new left. Tells me US filmmaker Saul Landau is filming a drama against the backdrop of Chile’s Presidential election, about revolution versus reform in Latin America. Country Joe plays a one-man Greek chorus in multiple scenes. Half the cast and crew are Chilean, half from the US and all share a rambling house in Santiago. I decide to fly there to watch and report.
July 29th. A PR woman at CBS in Hollywood has press material for me and I find her in a recording studio where J Joplin and band are finishing Pearl. Like on stage in San Jose, she’s drinking Jim Beam while the boys smoke dope. “Who the fuck knew I had fans in Australee-a?” she yells. Her energy’s bursting her seams – it’s a force of creativity, or a cry for help.
August 9th. Santiago, Chile. The Popular Front has set up a stage spanning apartment buildings on each side of a main street and 100,000 workers and peasants have filled ten blocks listening to loud-speakers strung along the light poles. Our crew is on-stage where the warm-up act for Socialist candidate Salvador Allende is the poet Pablo Neruda. Deafening cheers for a people’s poet!
September 4th. After weeks of rallies, dodging troops and water canons, and discovering the sound guy has sabotaged all the sound recorded so far, today is election day. Posters cover every inch of public space and where there’s less than an inch they paint a 1, 2 or 3 signaling their choice of the rightist, centrist, or socialist candidate.
Evening comes and our house is jumpin’, everyone watching the count on tv, passing jugs of red wine. Allende and the rightist Alessandri trade the lead. Cheers or anguish greet each update. The phone rings constantly. Around midnight the Popular Front asks permission to hold a victory rally downtown -- the city says no. At 1:30am city police chief is suddenly on-screen -- permission for victory rally granted. The house erupts and we and half the city’s residents converge on the square where Allende reads a message congratulating Chileans for taking their country back from the bankers, miners and the US imperialists. It’s from Fidel Castro, and the massive crowd roars.
September 6th. I’m headed back to San Francisco and on to New York. Santiago airport swarms with men in suits wanting out of the country – academics and artists in corduroy and youths with backpacks and jeans arrive from all over Latin America, laughing with joy at the new world unfolding.
September 21st. I fly to London, knowing I will return to the USA soon because it’s where our futures are determined.
On October 4th 1970, Janis Joplin dies of an accidental heroin overdose at age 27.
On September 11th 1973, Chilean military units with US support stage a coup, tossing the bullet-riddled body of President Allende in an unmarked grave and executing the first of many thousands.
Trump says global warming is a Chinese plot because, first, he’s happy to take the words of the rent-a-scientists who deny that human activity is causing the warming, because that denial helps his businesses and those of his crooked mates, and second, because he assumes everyone else will make shit up in order to make more money, like he does, so that’s why the Chinese and the Germans etc say that burning fossil fuels has to stop. Why else would they say it?
This guy has lived his life inhaling money and power, keeping at bay his fear of losing or being exposed as a fake by listening to no one except talking heads on Fox News. Rebecca Solnit suggested on lithub.com last week that Trump’s experience now must be “like going mad on a desert island, only with sycophants and room service.”
The two most common questions I get about Trump at the Mullum Framers Market are:
1) Why don’t the sane powerful people in America stop him?
2) Why do so many powerless people who voted for him still love him?
My answers are:
1) Some powerful people are desperately trying to stop him. Others don’t give a damn what he says or does as long as he abolishes government interference in business, such as laws against US industry releasing 6,587,000,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere every year, or laws that make it possible for everyone to go to school or to the doctor.
2) Many don’t still love him, having concluded that he was right when he told them he’d give the finger to the bureaucrats of Washington and the plutocrats of New York, but wrong when he told them he’d get their jobs back. They loved it when promised to drain the swamp in Washington but now they get you don’t hire the Creature from the Orange Lagoon to do it.
Some US intellectuals want him to demolish government in any form, to allow people to be as civilized or uncivilized as they wanna be -- and another intellectual movement reckon those who believe in civilization should stop trying to convert the deplorables and instead focus on fixing the rules and regulations, to save our collective arse.
Meanwhile, arse-savers-of-the-world are uniting, even including a political leader of the West, Angela Merkel, while our political leaders remain fundamentally toadies-to-Trump. And not just toadies but also enablers of the global oil and gas juggernaut. My friend Mark Schapiro reports in his recent article about Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon-Mobil, that “the United States, China, Russia, Canada, Australia and the UK collectively spent $63 billion in taxpayer funds on fossil fuel subsidies in 2014.”
Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor during Bill Clinton’s presidency, says that if “Trump removed Comey to avoid being investigated, that’s an obstruction of justice – an impeachable offense.” When Trump tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” that’s intimidation, also an impeachable action.
So now that Trump has fired Comey and assistant Attorney-General Rosenstein has appointed former FBI boss Mueller to investigate all this, will Trump be impeached?
No, says Reich, because in the present Congress, 22 Republicans would have to join with House Democrats, which isn’t going to happen. He concludes that “barring a ‘smoking gun’ that shows Trump’s complicity with Russian operatives in interfering in the 2016 election – Trump’s fate seems to hinge on the midterm elections of 2018. … If Trump’s poll numbers continue to plummet, 22 House Republicans may abandon him” before those elections. Even then, the House can impeach a president, as it did Bill Clinton for saying blowjobs are not sex, but the Senate has to convict an impeachee, which it didn’t do to Clinton.
Trump still has the support of 75 percent of Republican voters, which makes Republican officeholders reluctant to dump him.
THE CAUSE OF THE KERFUFFLE
The central cause of the current dump Trump frenzy is Russiagate – the notion that Putin and Co., in collaboration with Trump and his campaign managers, hacked Hillary Clinton’s campaign to subvert it. The Clinton faction of Democrats is banging this drum for all it’s worth, and some of the commentariat reckon their goal is to install Pence as President the better to plan wars and bargain away Social Security and Medicare. Noam Chomsky agrees, adding that the Russians-bagged-Hillary story is itself “a joke”, given that the US “doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like” including helping get Boris Yeltsin elected President of Russia.
In any case, Russiagate on its own is not big enough to get a Washington consensus on dumping Trump. Israel, however, could be. When Trump bragged to the Russians that he had intelligence about ISIS plots being hatched in Syria, he said enough for them to figure out that his secret source was Israeli intelligence, which means that a Mossad agent in Syria could now be in mortal peril. And spy agencies cut off their supply of intelligence when they are betrayed -- as the US threatened to do when Whitlam started talking about their spy base at Pine Gap, and Israel might be considering right now.
These days, Republicans support Israel even more strongly than Democrats do, so if Mike Pence and the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus – a new Republican group advocating Israeli “victory” over Palestine – team up with like-minded Democratic congresspersons, they could impeach Trump, especially if Israel wants them to. Of course, even Mossad might be stumped when it comes to figuring out what Trump thinks about Israel or Palestine, or anything else really.
What is widely understood about Pence is that he’s a reliable believer in America’s right to bomb anyone anywhere, and that he would replace Trump’s MadMan-ocracy with a far-right Christian theocracy.
DOES HE HAVE DEMENTIA AND/OR ALZHIEMERS? SYPHILLIS?
Trump is clearly nuts, but there is serious speculation over how nuts. Hordes of dementia experts have listened to tapes of Trump speaking in previous decades and concluded that he now uses filler words such as “like” “very” and “um”, that he rarely finishes a sentence, uses non-specific nouns (“thing”), and has a range of four adjectives (uuge, tremendous, terrific and fantastic) – and that he used to speak more like a normal person.
Dr. Steven Beutler suggested in a recent New Republic article that the President get a blood test for tertiary syphilis, since he exhibits multiple symptoms of the disease and brags about his tremendous number of “conquests”, many with women he paid for sex.
Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, is demanding the White House have a psychiatrist on staff. Lieu, who is a former military prosecutor in the US Air Force, has emerged as the most acerbic Trump critic on social media. Last week, he tweeted a list of dos and don’ts for the President’s current trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican.
HOW DANGEROUS IS HE?
When Tony Schwartz wrote Trump’s first book, The Art of the Deal, he had to listen to hundreds of the then real estate mogul’s phone calls and sit through dozens of his meetings. Schwartz recalls “I can never remember anyone disagreeing with him about anything. … when he feels threatened or thwarted, Trump moves into a fight-or-flight state … [and his] rationality and reflection shut down. ... This is what makes his access to the nuclear codes so dangerous and frightening.”
By law, the only person who can fire American nuclear weapons is the President, and he is not required to consult anyone.
There are innumerable ways this could end badly. I predict the Trump presidency will end with a nightmarish bang, accompanied by a massive chorus of drawn-out whimpers.
I’ve worried lately about the pile of reasons to abandon all hope that’s accumulated in the corner of my office. So this week I went to the orchard of awfulness that our world often seems to be and plucked these precious four cherries of hope, from the ever-unpredictable USA:
1. Seed-lovers and librarians beat Monsanto and DuPont
The world’s three biggest “agricultural” corporations, Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont-Pioneer, keep buying up local seed companies and, as my friend Mark Schapiro writes in PacificStandard (psmag.com), they now mass-produce seeds they have patented “to be planted over vast swaths of farmland, augmented with chemical boosters to compensate for what’s lacking from generations of local adaptation.”
Meanwhile, beneath the radar of Monsanto and the mainstream media, hundreds of seed libraries have emerged across the USA, many of them in public libraries – yes, instead of books you take out seeds and, when you can, return them with suggestions to help the next planter.
But, in 2014, the Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, received a notice from the Bureau of Plant Industry in the state Department of Agriculture that listed several statutes the library could be violating, like “the disseminating of unregistered seeds”.
This story went viral, or fungal, leading the California Climate and Agriculture Network and the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center to ask the California State Legislature to beat back the California seed industry – which they did! Governor Jerry Brown stepped up and signed a bill that protects seed exchanges and recognises that the seed-borrowing farmers are nurturers of plants that belong to the soil, not to Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, or DuPont-Pioneer.
2. Opposition in the business community to burning evermore fossil fuels.
Mark Carney is the governor of the Bank of England, which makes him one of the one percent of the one percent, and he’s warning his fellow bankers about the risks of the “carbon bubble.” And Carney has been joined recently by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and private banks HSBC and Citigroup.
In their banksterish way, these plutocrats worry that we will realise, sooner or later, that most fossil-fuel reserves cannot be burned and will thus become “stranded assets”—things you own that have lost their value. Citigroup estimates that the “total value of stranded assets could be over $100 trillion” by the time high-finance idiots realise that carbon fuels have to stay buried not burned. That dwarfs the stranded assets of the American housing bubble that begot the 2008 financial crisis.
UBS, the Swiss global financial services company, told its clients last year that the fossil fuel disinvestment campaign will succeed. Why? “Because many of those engaged in the debate are the consumers, voters and leaders of the next several decades…this single fact carries more weight than any other data point on the planet for this issue.”
3. American libertarians, rads in BMWs
I listened the other day to a 40 minute talk by a guy in Texas railing against the bankrupting of America by the military-industrial-intelligence-surveillance complex that has hijacked the government – keeping the country and its blind followers like Australia convinced that the warmongers need a trillion dollars a year they squeeze out of the people. What’s hopeful about this video talk is that the speaker is one David Stockman, the guy a few of us over-60 might remember was President Ronald Reagan’s budget director, who popularized trickle-down theory. Stockman is amazed it only took about 80 days for Trump to be co-opted by the warmongers of Washington and suckered into their club, and he explains in accountant’s detail why Russia, China, and Islamic terrorists are NOT significant threats to America – the warmongers of Washington are.
Stockman was addressing a conference of libertarians, which in the US are wealthy people who believe they worked hard for their wealth and it shouldn’t be wasted on public services for not-rich Americans or dropping bombs on poor foreigners. It’s a slim hope, but these particular business types might just win control of the Republican Party when Trump runs out of opportunistic supporters, and they might set about dismantling the warfare state.
4. People power bursting out all over
It is impossible to overstate the fury and despair that tens of millions of Americans, particularly women, felt when Trump was elected. Not just Americans right?
The giant rallies led by women across the US during Trump’s inauguration kicked off a mass movement of ongoing, creative actions against the nut-bars in today’s White House. In New York, next Sunday -- Mothers Day -- an agitprop group called The Reverend Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir will celebrate Julie Ward Howe, who founded Mother's Day as a Day of Peace, in 1870. In her inspiring declaration Ms Howe wrote “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.… We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” You could read her full declaration at your mother’s day event – and if that’s no more than mum gets morning tea in bed, it doesn’t take much longer to read than a cuppa takes. Check it out here: https://tinyurl.com/jcn7b8d
This year, Rolling Stone magazine is celebrating its 50th year on American newsstands. It’s also 45 years since I launched the Australian edition, which is still going strong.
Back in 1967, I was publishing a pop-music tabloid called GoSet, selling 70,000 copies a week across Australia. America had no nationwide music paper until late that year when a uni dropout named Jann Wenner started Rolling Stone. Jann and his writers, designers, and photographers believed that, more than fun dancing music, rock n roll was an expression of an emerging youth culture that would change the world.
In 1970, I stayed for two weeks with Jann and his wife Janie in San Francisco, and apart from having fun we made a deal that I would publish an Australian edition, launching in January 1972. Working out of a group house in Glebe, a few mates and I coaxed the Aussie Stone toward sustainability then, in 1976 I sold the Australian franchise to a trio of Sydney gonzo publishers and moved myself to New York.
My interests were in political, environmental, and cultural upheaval, all of which I was in favour of. I kept up with Rolling Stone during my New York decades through occasional encounters with Wenner and by reading the infrequent outside-the-box political stories he published.
On this 50th anniversary of Rolling Stone, these few major stories from the archives stay with me:
Tom Wolfe’s radical chic. When I arrived at the Wenners’ home in 1970, that night’s real dinner guest was Tom Wolfe, the writer of four books with long titles such as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Jann and Tom talked about The Brotherhood of the Right Stuff, a story about American astronauts that Tom was writing for an upcoming issue of Stone, with photos by Annie Leibovitz on the biggest assignment of her nascent career. Wolfe’s stories, dubbed “New Journalism”, were rich in lively descriptions of characters, places, and cultures in motion, and major critics of media and literature loved that he inhabited the tripping brains of the heroes while containing them in a well-woven story. Given where we are now in terms of fact/fiction/faction, Tom might have been a mixed blessing to journalism. Recently I found this quote from Tom: "I think every living moment of a human being’s life, unless the person is starving or in immediate danger of death in some other way, is controlled by a concern for status.”
Fear and Loathing. When we launched the Aussie Stone, Hunter S. Thompson, the chain-babbling trasher of all cultures, was cranking writing genre-bending up a notch with his epic reports on the 1972 US election and on convention events in Las Vegas. HST and his Samoan attorney (actually Mexican) famously travelled with suitcases of booze, pills and white powders, while attempting to unravel white racism toward Latinos. Thompson did a great job of trashing the suit-wearing, over-eating, know-nothing guys who run much of America, but his ferociously first-person reportage also may have inspired a million online ratbags.
The reporter who died after killing the General’s career. In 2010 Michael Hastings, a 30-year-old freelance writer, spent time on the road with General Stanley McChrystal whom President Obama had put in charge of the US war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. McChrystal and his support crew let Hastings into diplomatic meetings, late-night booze-ups, and heavily armed visits to alienated Afghanis and disillusioned GIs.
Hastings’ story for Rolling Stone faithfully reproduced the General’s no-bullshit repartee, making it stunningly clear that McChrystal and his fellow top brass were appallingly full of shit -- also ignorant, arrogant, crazy violent, and destined to fail at saving Afghanistan.
After Obama read the article, he fired McChrystal and backed away from his “strategy” of having troops occupy villages to hunt down insurgents while simultaneously uplifting the good citizens.
US military and intelligence honchos don’t like being discredited by journalists (or black Harvard-educated Presidents), and they may have had a role in Hasting’s violent death in June 2013. Last month Wikileaks released documents on how the CIA can remotely control recent model cars. Hastings’ Mercedes hit a pole at full speed on a suburban street in LA at 4:25am.
Yes there is a theme in all this – it’s all about men behaving badly, sometimes the writers themselves. Jann always tilted his magazine strongly toward men as contributors, and readers (66% male). In a list of “50 notable current and former staff of Rolling Stone” on Wikipedia, there are only three women. One is a music journalist, one was publisher for seven years and is not well-remembered by the company, and the third is Sabrina Erdely, who wrote the notorious Stone investigative piece titled A Rape on Campus in 2014 which was subsequently adjudged profoundly flawed, costing Wenner Media millions of dollars in multiple defamation and libel cases (still ongoing).
I put Hastings’ revelations about just how crass and dangerous the Masters of War really are, at the top of Rolling Stone's journalistic achievements.
Me, I’m a little bit glad Wenner has published Stone for all those years -- and glad I didn’t.
Footnote: Jeune Pritchard interviews Phillip on ABCTV in January 1972, about the showdown with Rupert Murdoch’s Southdown Press over the launch of the Australian Stone -- here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UBNHDxB9ZM
Among many things people have called Donald Trump, a disturbing number of the commentariat have said he’s a populist. They are wrong.
He certainly isn’t a populist in the American tradition of people and politicians who were exercising populism when they drove the movements of the 19th and 20th century to expand the vote to include all white men and not just landowners, then to abolish slavery, then to extend voting rights to blacks and all races, to grant votes to women in 1920, and to win civil rights and stop the war on Vietnam in the ‘60s and ‘70s. These movements were all driven by people united in their determination to make American democracy live up to its name.
Trump isn’t a movement -- he represents himself – and there’s nothing participatory or democratic about his relationship with those who voted for him. They wanted to kick out the establishment, and in his fetid id, he understood their anger and dog whistled his way into the White House.
While many Americans have had it with corporatist parties promising more prosperity then delivering more austerity, Trump seems to think his being a rogue corporate is enough to keep his followers cheering. Meanwhile, what he’s delivering is a bonanza of infrastructure spending to enrich the construction and manufacturing industries, tax cuts for the rich, and a regulation-demolition derby that will profit corporations and make life more miserable for the poor and middle classes – all wrapped in rhetoric about getting government off our backs.
Now what’s emerging as a major Trump goal, however, is to supplant the Washington/Wall St “deep state” of global corporates, the state department, the intelligence agencies, and the military, with his own deep state whose mission is to contain or crush China and any other nations who are business or military rivals for control of the world. His global compadres in this white-man’s crusade are Putin, a few soulmates like Zeman of the Czech Republic and Orban of Hungary, lapdogs like Theresa May and the Turnbull government, and the filipino thug Duterte.
All this is interpreted by neoliberals as Trump abandoning the liberal international order and returning the world to a nasty and brutish competition among self-interested states. Which assumes that the liberal international world has been not-nasty and not-brutish, which would be a hard story to sell in what used to be called the Third World, especially to, say, the Vietnamese or the Iraqis. It is the brutishness of corporate interests in their pursuit of cheap raw materials, cheap labour, and compliant governments around the world that has engendered angry disillusionment abroad and the metastasizing povertisation of the masses in what used to be called the First World.
In fact, Trump and his gang are willing to piss off just about anyone -- even the large portion of their voters in the rust belt and the south who have long received more government money than they’ve contributed, and will thus be hardest hit by the Republican’s savage cuts in social programs.
Regardless, Trump and his co-pilot Stephen Bannon fly on like hijackers aiming their plane at the towers of power in China, desperate to crash-bomb their way to victory before the “liberal internationalists” and “enlightened interventionists” figure out how to stop them.
Congress, besieged by millions of angry citizens, just destroyed the Republicans’ plan to gut health care while judges have stymied Trump’s ban-Muslims edicts, so the President is reeling from their blows. But he’s going to be a big bull to bring down.
If we-the-people of the whole world could have our say, I reckon we’d tell all these über- corporates and their political enablers that we’d rather they saw their not-so-United States as less exceptional; spare us your enlightened and liberal interventions, please.
Trump’s been President for 45 days and there are now two powerful groups in the USA out to fire him.
Most obviously, there are The People: this includes the three quarters of adult Americans who didn’t vote for him, and the growing number who did who are already having second thoughts. Among The People, women in particular are up in arms: millions have marched, refused to go to work, and more will be radicalized as the profound misogyny of Trump and his appointees unfolds.
Now, every modern US President has come to power supported by a few points more or less than 25% of eligible voters, but Trump won fewer votes than any -- and his opponents are more vehement about him than about any other president in living memory.
The People’s disapproval and outrage will only deepen as Trump’s radical policies unfold, because most of his edicts will please small constituencies, such as arms manufacturers and people who are passionate about which toilet transgender people use, while displeasing larger groups like the 20 million who finally got health insurance under Obamacare and could soon be uninsured again, and residents of neighbourhoods that will be trashed when the Environmental Protection Agency is scuttled.
A very small group might also want to dump Trump – billionaires. He says he’s one himself, but a real estate shark invested in alleged entertainments, like fake wrestling, beauty pageants, golf courses, and casinos, is not a real, truly high-finance guy. A recent commentary on the ABC suggested that a collapse in the $10 trillion US bond market could inspire a trillionaires’ rebellion – however, the Constitution makes it extremely unlikely they could force the Twitterer-in-chief to quit or have him tossed out. (And Pence would be as big a nightmare.)
In any case, manufacturing businesses are not ready to join a dump-Trump movement because he’s promising them huuuge tax cuts and a tsunami of taxpayers’ money for a trillion dollar “infrastructure plan”. This plan will be all about roads, bridges, and old-time power technology – no fast trains, no sustainable energy (though Elon Musk’s hoping for a piece of the pie). And it will be accompanied by what Trump’s Svengali, Stephen Bannon, calls “the destruction of the administrative state”, by which he means abolishing regulations and all forms of welfare or income redistribution.
Last week, Bannon himself announced that someone REALLY is out to stop him and the President: it’s called The Deep State, and Bannon is in full fight mode to beat them back.
Deep State is now the label the American far-right hang on anyone who opposes the Trump-Bannon agenda. Republican Rep. Steve King just told the New York Times “we are talking about the emergence of a Deep State led by Barack Obama, and we should prevent [it].”
Art from medium.com
This is an extraordinary claim -- that Obama heads up a conspiracy of civil servants, intelligence agents, judges, and dog-catchers, united to thwart Trump-the-brave-leader.
Meanwhile, the response of America’s upper crust has been even more extraordinary. Every media outlet with even a toe in the mainstream agrees that this is paranoid right-wing madness -- that the term “deep state” only applies to states like Turkey or Egypt, where the conspirators kill and incite wars to get their way.
In 2014, a former Canadian diplomat named Peter Dale Scott released a book called The American Deep State, which he described as “a second order of government, behind the public or constitutional state… partly institutionalised in non-accountable intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA, but it also includes private corporations like Booz Allen Hamilton and SAIC, to which 70% of [America’s] intelligence budgets are outsourced.”
Scott is not a right-wingnut, nor a left one. He is emphatically not a devotee of American Exceptionalism, which has a longstanding record of sending secret agents to assassinate people, and launching wars on false pretences, to eliminate those who are opposed to American business or strategic interests.
Like most political labels, “Deep State” means what the user wants it to mean.
Unfortunately, the deep truth here is that Trump and Bannon hate the Deep State because it’s not brutal enough; that’s why they rage against Clinton, the New York Times, Obama, and it’s also why Australia should do what Paul Keating said and stop tagging along with the new, more brutal than ever, Exceptional State of America.
Last week Trump pumped up his meme that Islamic terrorists are destroying Western civilization by citing carnage in Sweden. “Who would believe it?” he asked, and the answer is, dopes like him, because he’d swallowed the line of a TV documentary that blamed immigrants for a rise in rape cases mostly caused by Sweden’s recent expansion of the legal definition of rape.
A few days prior to that, the Dingbat-in-chief’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway cited the “Bowling Green massacre” to justify banning Muslim immigrants. (Bowling Green’s a town in Kentucky.) Like Trump, Conway got this fantasy from watching Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News: in the real world, no massacres in Sweden or Bowling Green.
Fox commentators, Trump and his staff, and alt-rightists on breitbart.com and its ilk emit a stream of these factoids, and then rail against the media for lying, and call them America’s public enemy number one.
“Factoid” was a useful word coined by Norman Mailer in his book on Marilyn Munroe in 1973. He meant it to describe nonsense or lies spread to mislead us, but the word has been neutered to mean a small fact, which could better be called “factets” (like owlet, islet etc).
Here are some true factets Trump and Co. might consider:
* In 2015, American toddlers shot and killed 21 Americans, while Islamic terrorist immigrants killed none. Even the right-wing Cato Institute calculated that the annual likelihood that an American will be killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion.
* Trump keeps saying millions of Americans – by his implication, mostly blacks, Latinos, and non-citizens – voted illegally for Democratic candidates last November. The Federal Electoral Commission asked Trump for his evidence but he hasn't submitted any. Meanwhile, investigators continue to amass evidence of large-scale voter de-registration, malfunctioning voting machines, and votes miscounted and lost – mostly by local Republican officials.
* Trump also keeps boasting about how big his mandate is. Actually, only one in four Americans eligible to vote cast a ballot for the guy. Hillary got nearly three million more votes, while half the potential voters were prevented from voting, of chose not to. Of all votes cast across the USA last November -- for President, Congress, and state government -- millions more were for Democrats than for Republicans.
A factet for Australians to consider:
* Malcolm Turnbull was the single largest donor to the Liberal Party’s 2016 election campaign, spending $1.7 million. The American oil moguls David and Charles Koch spent $250 million just to elect Republicans to Congress and state governments. OK, so the US has 13 times as many people, but our super-rich are well behind their brethren across the Pacific in terms of buying power…but they're learning new tricks by the day.
TRUMPLAND will feature periodic short reports on the corporate takeover of American governance. While I'm calling this series Trumpland, I views Trump as a sideshow, distracting us suckers while his henchmen dole out every asset and function of government to themselves and their buddies, for profit.
This week Australia’s anxious secret fear came out of its closet: the US really just loves us for our body. Mounds of ore and energy, sweeps of fertile soil, all on a water-bed spanning half the southern hemisphere. President Trump has now made it clear that’s what Australia’s good for that stuff, also for tagging along to every war America loses, hosting US military bases and their most important spy satellite down-station this side of China, at Pine Gap – and that’s about it.
Other Presidents have implied as much before, but Trump doesn’t mince words -- he whacks ‘em with a meat hammer and spews them down the phoneline. Take 1250 refugees from Australian concentration camps? “Why should we?”
While our last six governments have asserted that our right to vet whoever wants to join the lucky country overrides any and every humanitarian right they might have,
the USA has more or less gone along with the Statue of Liberty declaration: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…"
The telephonic Trumping of Turnbull -- or Trumble as the President’s spokesgoon called him -- released a gush of Australia’s-terrific-despite-Vegemite editorials and declarations from Congresspeople and talk-show hosts across the USA. But in all that gushing few have asked, and none have answered, the underlying question: why did Obama let Turnbull’s government off the shameful hook it had hoist itself on?
Some commentators suggest it was a gift for all our troops who’ve fought in America’s shameful invasions. More likely Turnbull promised more Marines and bases on our shores and/or an agreement to join the US Navy in confronting China in the South China Sea. Because Turnbull and his entire crew don’t get that Trump really wants to fight two wars with China: one with weapons the other with trade.
Trump shredded the Trans-Pacific [Trade] Partnership on Day One in the White House yet Turnbull keeps bleating about saving it.
There are many reasons to trash “free trade agreements”. Fundamentally, they are created to increase the power and fortunes of large global corporations, with small inducements to Australian beef exporters, and enforced by secretive courts overruling laws and regulations of mere nations. So why did Trump’s gang ditch the TPP? Because they don’t believe in any laws and regulations, pretty much. They like trade that’s free of rules, so the biggest and bestest bullies win.
In fact, China is already winning Trump’s crusade to put America back on top of the world because his dumping on NATO and the European Union has launched planeloads of bureaucrats and Presidents off to Beijing where everyone still agrees that free trade is the holy grail. After Chinese President Xi spoke to global business barons last week, one baron told the New York Times: “We just heard a Chinese president becoming the leader of the free world.”
As to the actual bombing type war against China, Trump’s svengali Stephen Bannon said last March: “We're going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years.” That’s the guy who’s now almost running the US (and who might run for President if/when Trump carks it/is dumped), and he’s talking about blowing up Australia’s largest trading partner, China. How serious is this? Trump’s new Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson, told the Senate that China cannot be allowed to “keep pushing the envelope” in the South China Sea. There’s a lot of oil and gas in those seas. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.”
China has said unequivocally and irreversibly, that will mean war.
As the late former PM Malcolm Fraser kept warning us, and the still-alive former PM Paul Keating keeps warning us, in a war between the US and China (or anyone) Australia would be high on the list of places to bomb, to take out Pine Gap and other American “intelligence” facilities on our fair soil.
New Zealand had the guts to effectively quit the ANZUS pact in 1985. We should get out now.
It’s time to face the new real world. The ANZ signage behind Rafa and Roger at the tennis final was in equal size English and Chinese characters, 40% of residential land purchases across Australia last year were by Chinese developers.
That’s the real world we’re in, with Trump & Bannon loading their cannons, while the Coalition still believes America loves us for our … something … and Bill Shorten sounds like a hedge fund. And it’s too damn hot.
Trump, Brexit and Australia
by Murray Frazer
Two articles in Melbourne's The Age recently went a long way towards explaining Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of One Nation in Australia – although neither article mentioned Trump, the USA, Brexit, or the UK.
One reported on gross underpayment of illegal migrant workers on orchards in northern Victoria, and the second told us the pay received last financial year by the CEOs of the big four banks: ANZ $5.07 million, CBA $12.3 million, NAB $6.7 million and Westpac also $6.7 million. (Next to this was a story about the CEO of Goodman Group receiving a bonus of $16 million on top of a salary of more than $6 million.)
To see the connection between these stories and the rise of Donald Trump, consider two sets of numbers.
First, in 1964 the ‘average hourly wage, seasonally adjusted’ in the US was $19.18 in 2014 dollars. In 2014 it was $20.67, a tiny increase in 50 years (data from the Pew Research Center).
Second, in 1964 the richest 1% of Americans received 8% of the national income, but by 2015 the richest 1% received 18% of the national income (data from ‘World Top Incomes Database’).
In other words, over a 50-year period, the real average wages in the US have not increased at all, while the share of national income going to the very richest has soared. Most of the of benefits of globalisation and all the structural changes to the US economy over that period have benefitted the already-wealthy.
So, we have massive disillusionment in the US with globalisation and with the political and social ‘elites’ that are perceived as being responsible for it and along comes a demagogue who scorns and mocks these elites, and promises to tear down much of their work – and now he’s President of the United States.
In the UK the story is similar, though not as extreme. The middle- and working-classes have suffered job losses and limited real income gains, with a higher share of national income going to the already-wealthy. The fall-guy in the UK became the European Union – hence, Brexit.
In Australia, our richest 1% received 5% of national income in 1980 and by 2013 that had risen to 8%. A big increase but nowhere near as large as in the US. Further, in Australia real average wages have increased significantly over the last 50 years, unlike in the US.
But there is no room for complacency here. We have absurdly high salaries and bonuses for CEOs – why should a bank CEO be paid about 80 times the average wage (not the minimum, 80 times the average)? News reports abound of workers being exploited and paid very low wages in fast-food chains, fuel stations, coffee shops, orchards and farms, risking the same disillusionments as in the US and the UK. Plus, every tax reduction for business and the wealthy, and every reduction of a government support for the less well-off or for beneficial community services such as health or education, adds to real and perceived inequality.
We don’t have a Trump or Brexit-level disillusionment, but we do have widespread frustration with the way politics works and of disapproval of the power and influence of ‘big business’ over our political processes – and of all ‘mainstream’ political parties.
Will we execute the major change in direction required to forestall our own Trump/Brexit moment? Why do I not feel confident that any of our political parties are up to this challenge? I hope I will be proven wrong.
Dr Murray Frazer is a semi-retired academic who teaches part-time in the Deakin University Business School and is a former Dean of the Faculty of Business at Swinburne University of Technology. He and this site's publisher Phillip Frazer are brothers.
The inauguration of President Donald Trump, a man whose previous claim to fame was making a small fortune by inheriting a large one, reveals a lot of truths that are shocking to the world at large, and embarrassing, diminishing, and direful to the American nation.
Forget for a moment whether Hillary Clinton would have been a better choice than Trump, or how Barack Obama rates in retrospect as a President. And let’s not try to locate Trump on any map of political ideologies, because he’s too scatterbrained for ideology. What follows is an attempt to organize his excrescences into something like a definition of Trumpism, since he’s incapable and unwilling of doing that for himself – and we need a better grip on what we’re up against.
Here follow 10 key commandments of Trumpism, inferred from deeds and words of the man himself, and of the people he’s selected to run the country under his brand:
1. Men shall, at their own discretion, hold and exert power over women, including but not limited to assaulting wives or partners, dates, employees, and other uppity broads as necessary -- and deciding the fate of fetuses in women’s wombs.
2. People who appear to have European ancestry, primarily with pinkish pale skin color, shall, wherever possible, assert power over people who appear to have other ancestries. This will apply particularly to immigrants, Muslims, and African-Americans making trouble in ghettos, but also to foreign leaders from anywhere other than Britain, Russia, and a few others who look like them and talk our talk.
3. Men’s accomplishments and merits are measured by how much money they can plausibly claim to have, it being unnecessary for those numbers to be publicly verified or taxed if the claimant has sufficient cajones or weapons.
4. No public good, be it a thing such as a park, a service such as education, or an amenity such as clean air, should be mandated, regulated, or financed by government, if there’s a profit-driven business willing to do the job.
5. War and other transnational interactions such as access to land, sea, air and space, and trade, plus all consequences of such interactions, intended or not, will be managed on behalf of the USA by men whose businesses top-prioritize short-term profitability. In this spirit, we will encourage broadening the global market for nuclear weapons.
6. Activities that are not self-evidently beneficial to practitioners or the public at large, such as all forms of art, or whose benefits are attested to by experts but don’t make sense to me, such as controlling greenhouse gases, workplace conditions (including wages), or vaccinations, will henceforth be left to the invisible hand of the marketplace.
7. The United States shall not promulgate notions of inherent rights, or moral or ethical priorities, in either the global sphere (see 5th Commandment above), or -- the US Constitution as amended notwithstanding – domestically, except by Presidential tweet.
8. America belongs in the Material Men’s Sect of Christianity in which Jesus is not Semitic and his teachings are irrelevant but OK except those concerning rich men and needles, and loving the dispossessed, both of which were fake news written by Marxist priests. Other core beliefs, such as requiring that fetal remnants from abortions be buried at funeral homes, as Vice President Pence proposed for Indiana, will be made the law of the land if Christian voters in strategic electorates say so.
9. Given that certain core beliefs of Judaism overlap with our Christian values, eg that Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem and was given gifts by Gulf Kings, the Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu will be more than ever defended by US military as if it were American soil. The fact that my fellow casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is a fundamentalist Zionist who contributed $35 million to my election campaign is also irrelevant. And -- the US will finally take back our oil from under the sands of Iran, Iraq and the other ones.
10. Acts designed to shame or criticize the POTUS, such as suing Him for rape or writing detailed and irrefutable exposes of His corrupt business practices, or suggesting that his election by one in four voting-age Americans does not constitute a mandate, or that hundreds of thousands of voters were systematically prevented or dissuaded from voting, will not go unpunished.
Throughout these Commandments it is assumed that “men” might occasionally include women, at the discretion of the man or men in charge.
Challenges to any or all of these Commandments on Constitutional grounds will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court, now divided equally between “liberals” and “conservatives” but, given that three of eight justices are either over-80 or dead, will soon be the Trump-Supreme Court.
And if you or anyone you know (and might even love) is still saying “give the man a chance” or “anything’s better than the status quo”, show them the bios of the hundreds of people he’s choosing to populate the pyramid of powerful people immediately below him in Washington and around the world. Pretty much to a man, they are proven purveyors of the inhumane agenda embodied in the above Commandments. They are the real deplorables.
Whack #1 – That WTF-have-I-done feeling
Trump won’t be President until the 20th January, and while the election winner usually gets a popularity bump around the glamourous inauguration parties, Trump’s poll approvals have already slumped to 38%. So far the only glamour he’s been able to sign up for his party are a teen opera star, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the Rockettes – several of whom are declining to show up, including all their women of colour.
What’s going on?
Like the day after Brexit, many voters are thinking: OK we sent our fuck-you to the political elite, but now can we get the puffball slug off the stage? Nope, they’ve got him for four years or eight, unless he’s dismissed.
His truly deplorable appointees – the Treasury boss who made a fortune from the 2008 mortgage meltdown; the Exxon-Mobil-Russian-Oil boss for Secretary of State; the climate change deniers running the Environment and Energy departments; the ex-Ku-Klux-Klan creep as Attorney-General – are all at least as scary as Trump. Last week his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway threatened the press with retribution if they keep being disrespectful, which caused a fresh eruption of abuse on the most unpopular man to assume the Presidency in living memory. Of course, Trump and his gang personally spewed incomparably vile insults on the Obamas, like his New York campaign chair who wrote: "I'd like [Michelle] to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie the gorilla."
Democrats in Congress and in other levels of government are planning to resist and reject just about everything Trump does, using most tactics Republicans used to frustrate Obama’s plans, but with deeper thrust. California Gov. Jerry Brown promised to team up with other Democratic states including New York to bring America’s carbon emissions down to what Obama promised the world in Paris two years ago, if Trump goes through with his promise to cancel Obama’s. Jerry, who’s 78 and sharper than three Trumps and a razor blade, reminded the fossil fool President-elect that California has the seventh largest economy in the world, and “more sunshine than Texas has oil”.
Meanwhile, Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren has a bill in the Senate demanding Trump reveal what he’s doing with his billion-dollar businesses while he’s in the White House. Most of these businesses stand to profit hugely from government decisions and Warren doesn’t want Trump committing “high crimes or misdemeanors under the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution”, which bans personal inurement from office. The serious games are already on for Elizabeth Warren.
And these are the polite, establishment Trump-rejecters.
Millions more regular folks, especially people Trump denigrates for their race, youth, and gender, are plotting fuck-yous of new orders of magnitude.
Whack #2 – Trump called John McCain “a loser” for being captured in Vietnam. Smart move?
Last week Obama announced he’d instructed the CIA and the FBI to investigate more to back up their recent contention that Russian spies hacked Clinton-friendly email accounts to damage her election campaign.
Trump was outraged, as usual, but stayed below apocalyptic on this one because a far-right US President can’t really keep on defending Russia’s spies against “our own”.
Trump blamed the whole crisis – it already involves the biggest tit-for-tat US-Russian “sanctions” since the worst days of the Cold War – on American “leftists”. But then, last week, Republican House leader Paul Ryan and Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham all announced they want to investigate the Ruskies even harder than Obama plans to.
So even before he assumes office, Trump has top Republicans lining up alongside defeated Dems to delve into his cosy relationship with Russian money – and, it’s just been revealed, he has his own “man in Moscow”. It’s important to stay skeptical of what the Democratic Party national bosses (the Clintons et al) blame Russia and wikileaks for, but Trump’s financial ties to Russia, and what slimy tapes they may have on him, compromise him beyond Putin’s wettest dreams.
Whack #3 – What Obama will do next
One of several ways Republican billionaires have won control of the US Congress in recent years is by spending big to get their own yes-men (they don’t back women) elected to local and state level posts, because those are the people who redraw the electoral boundaries for the next elections. This old trick, called gerrymandering, has reached new heights in the past 15 years, allowing Republican candidates to win the majority of House seats nationwide while the majority of voters have voted Democratic.
So Barack Obama is planning to use his huge popularity – he just won the “most admired man in America” poll for the ninth year in a row -- to travel around the nation supporting Democratic candidates for local and state government.
Whack #4 – Justice for Hillary?
On 3rd January the US Senate meets to swear in new members, which is usually a formality – but it doesn’t have to be. That afternoon 34 outgoing senators will cease being Senators before the newly elected replacements are sworn in – so Democrat senators will outnumber Republicans for a few crucial hours, and they could decide right there and then to vote in Obama’s choice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland.
But wait, there’s more: Obama could go one further and nominate a new candidate, since the Repubs didn’t like Judge Garland. The outgoing President could nominate, say, a lawyer who has been vetted repeatedly, knows every issue before the court backwards, and has huge popular support, demonstrated by winning the popular Presidential vote by more than three million. Vice-President Joe Biden, who chairs the Senate sitting, could call a vote to confirm Justice Hillary Clinton to the Supreme Court.
Now that would be a fuck-you vote of prodigious and righteous proportion. Unfortunately, it’s also a parting shot of Hail Mary proportion too…