21 January 2021

Roxane Gay: “This is the last day of Trump’s presidency. He leaves an unfathomable amount of devastation in his wake and may not face any consequences for all the wrong he has done. He will leave no legacy beyond the stench of rank incompetence. I am tired of reciting all his crimes, misdeeds, and failures. Trump was a cruel, petty tyrant of a president who surrounded himself with similarly terrible people, slobbering sycophants, and political operatives who knew they could advance their agendas so long as they told him what he wanted to hear. Trump is the living embodiment of shamelessness. He cannot be shamed. He does not care about the 400,000 dead Americans he has barely acknowledged. He does not care about the suffering he has caused. He does not care about anything that happens beyond the country’s borders. He does not care that he has disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He is a catastrophe and he does not care. His children are exactly like him. His wife is exactly like him. I wish nothing but the very worst for them, for the rest of their days.”

Jessica Irvine reckons Australia Day should move to the last Monday in January, and “let’s chuck in an extra public holiday on the Friday, too, and officially rebrand Australia Day to the Australia Day Long Weekend, more akin to Easter. Who could argue with that? … [T]he Productivity Commission, in a recent review, conceded: ‘There is … empirical evidence that more shared days of leisure enrich the relationships of people with their friends and acquaintances, which then improves the quality of leisure on other days, such as weekends.’ Too right, mate. Longer term, I’d like a bigger discussion about the appropriate level of annual leave for the modern age. In Finland, they get six weeks. In France, it’s five. Our last annual leave increase — to four weeks — occurred under the Whitlam era.” I don’t think shifting Australia Day to a date on or about 26 January is enough to address the fundamental colonial problem with it, but the broader point about more coordinated leisure time is something we should be pushing for.

20 January 2021

Andrew Leigh: “When the pandemic hit, billionaire Solomon Lew was quick to plead for government assistance. In one telephone call, he reportedly cried when asking Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to establish the JobKeeper program. Lew’s firm, Premier Investments, temporarily shut down many of its stores, including Smiggle, Dotti, Portmans and Just Jeans. The company applied for JobKeeper and ultimately received more than $40 million in taxpayer assistance. Then Lew’s business came roaring back. Stores reopened and online sales boomed. In 2020, Premier Investments made a bigger profit than it had in 2019. The company paid shareholders $57 million in dividends. As the largest shareholder, Lew himself received more than $20 million. Despite receiving a handout from the taxpayer, Premier Investments also paid its chief executive Mark McInnes a $2.5 million bonus, taking his total pay packet to more than $5 million. … Solomon Lew isn’t the only Australian billionaire to have benefited from JobKeeper. Gerry Harvey (Harvey Norman), Jack Cowin (Dominos), Nigel Austin (Cotton On) and James Packer (Crown) also own substantial stakes in companies that received JobKeeper assistance and paid out multimillion-dollar dividends.” Parasites.

19 January 2021

Tim Soutphommasane: “Our culture has shifted. For a country so sharply defined by our egalitarianism, we’ve grown relaxed about inequality. Maybe this is what happens when neoliberalism shapes our sensibilities. Rather than seeing economic inequality as a symptom of the system going wrong, many of us now see it as a reflection of the natural order of things, as determined by free operation of markets. If the rich enjoy special advantages, enough of us believe they deserve it. Our tolerance of inequality is tied to our faith in meritocracy: the idea that people are rewarded and promoted in society based on their ability. … It’s no accident that we’re seeing so much callousness towards our fellow Australians who’ve been stranded overseas, unable to return home. We’ve heard the refrain that these people should have known better, should have come home immediately — essentially, that their failure to make it back must be counted as their just deserts, and not their misfortune. … If anything, though, the pandemic should challenge us to have greater generosity towards our fellow citizens. We shouldn’t lapse into thinking that the coronavirus and its effects reflect divine judgements about virtue. And nor should we when it comes to income and wealth. Seduced by the ethic of aspiration, many of us have been complacent in accepting meritocracy, without considering that it also serves as a moral justification for the status quo.”

15 January 2021

Lidia Thorpe: “Since James Cook first set foot at Kamay (Botany Bay), there have been at least 270 massacres of First Nations peoples in this country. We will never know the true number of casualties — only that many thousands of First Nations people across this nation were massacred in numerous frontier wars, over many decades, often in cold blood. Today, black deaths in custody only serve to remind us that this period of violence and injustice has not yet finished. That’s why, for Aboriginal people across this country, January 26 marks a day of mourning. When Aboriginal people speak up about the realities of colonisation, often the response to this reality is the same — casual racism and a collective denial that tells us our lives don’t matter. But I know that we are not alone in wanting to believe that this country is capable of telling the truth about its violent history — reckoning with its past, so it can better deal with its present. As with ANZAC Day, we ask that all Australians join us in acknowledging January 26 as a day of respectful reflection and mourning for those who died fighting for country. … [W]e can’t do this alone — we need all Australians to come on this journey of truth-telling with us. Ahead of this year’s Invasion Day, we’re asking you to turn up for us. To stand with us — to turn this day of mourning into a day of healing so we can move forward together as a nation.”

Details of Invasion Day rallies (including Covid-safe plans) around the country are available through the organisers, the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance.

13 January 2021

Gabriel Winant: “Joe Biden’s promise of a fifteen-dollar minimum wage might mean little to a given voter if everyone around thinks Biden is a pedophile and a crook, while Trump is a working-class hero. The former’s nattering about higher wages will seem duplicitous no matter how many times the campaign slogans are reiterated. But the situation is even more straightforward than this example suggests: if your experience of the world bears no residue of popular power, and no residue of that power having brought about any improvements in the quality of your and your neighbors’ lives, it is natural that such promises sound fraudulent. Even without the excessive layer of conspiracy theory and hysterical grievance, what politicians say only succeeds if it checks out against social reality as it’s lived. … The working-class majority still exists, of course, but only as an economic category — not a social one. … Sanders told us to ‘fight for someone you don’t know,’ and we did. … Thousands repeated it to someone else. But not enough thousands. Not in enough contexts where it made sense and matched the data of the world — and in particular, and most painfully, not enough of the members of the Black working class without whom American socialism is an absolutely impossible project. … Such a belief changes only when the world around its bearer changes. Fighting for someone you don’t know is a beautiful idea; fighting for someone you do know is how you win.”

12 January 2021

An unnamed senior lecturer at Kent Law School responds to the storming of the Capitol: “[T]here is something unsettling about the way it is this ramshackle effort on the part of Trump and his supporters to circumvent the ‘peaceful transfer of power’ — not the ‘Muslim ban’; not the ‘pussy-gabbing’; not the abandonment of the Kurds; not  the ‘fine people on both sides’; not the attack-dogs called on BLM ‘rioters’; not the ‘China virus’ (etc) — that has turned out to be the final straw for American law-makers and world-leaders alike. The actions of the protesters were undoubtedly criminal,  ‘bordering on sedition’, but the election was decided on a knife-edge. Trump received 46.82 per cent of the popular vote; more than 74 million individual ballots. Just over seven million more votes and this ‘mob’ would have been correct to describe the House of Representatives as ‘ours’. There would have been no public outcry; no ‘assault on the citadel of liberty’. On the contrary, ‘liberty’ would have been vindicated. No wonder poor Elizabeth got such a shock when she was maced in the face. … But the point is not only that fetishising the procedural helps to render the substantial continuity of white supremacism, dispossession and violent discrimination uncontroversial, if not completely invisible. The point is also that under a system of law which allows the individual’s  ‘fundamental’ right to liberty to be elevated so easily to the point at which even taxation becomes a tyranny to which death is preferable (quite literally, on the part of at least four of the 6 January protesters) — ‘democracy’ will inevitably resurface as ‘fascism’ at a certain point. This is usually a point of acute material inequality.”

Fintan O’Toole: “This was never a dark conspiracy. It was an undisguised insurrection. Trump’s one great virtue is his openness. On September 23rd, asked whether he would ‘commit here today for a peaceful transferral of power after the November election’, Trump replied, ‘Get rid of the [mail-in] ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.’ What more did anyone want? Read his lips: there will be no peaceful transition of power. Like every other autocrat, Trump understood the sole purpose of an election as the endorsement of his rule. Any other possibility could not be entertained. Almost the entire Republican Party went along with this declaration of war on the democratic process; a majority of its congressional delegation actively supported it. And nearly 75 million people voted for Trump in the full knowledge that he would never, ever, accept the result of the election unless he won. … This was not a rush of blood to the head. It is the logic of a post-democratic Republican Party that has given up hope of being able to win a majority in fair presidential elections. Nor is this a passing phase. Even after the mob stormed the Capitol, a majority of Republican members of the House, including House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and House minority whip Steve Scalise, voted in support of Trump’s bogus claims that Arizona’s election results must be invalidated. The only surprise about what happened on Wednesday, therefore, is that anyone can claim to be surprised. What do they think a post-democratic political party looks like?”

7 January 2021

David Hayward on the fruits of neoliberal privatisation: “What might once have been delivered by public servants paid and educated rather well has been replaced by a privatised system using a largely casualised workforce that is undoubtedly underpaid. Aged care and child care are other examples, where governments provide most of the cash used by privates and not-for-profits to pay workers, cover costs, pay management and in some cases deliver to shareholders a nice return. They might be government funded, but they get classified as private firms. They often use silly names that hide the identity of the actual owner and are often as interested in making a buck from property development as much as they are from the services that are meant to be their main concern. Their often male owners and managers get paid handsomely, while their typically female workforce stays underpaid. … The idea was to use private sector efficiency to deliver government services better than before. It never occurred to advocates that wage cuts are not an efficiency gain at all. It never occurred to reformers that markets bring with them marketing departments whose purpose is to sell, and that it is in the sales effort, not service delivery, that private sector providers often excel. We now spend far more on rent assistance, negative gearing and other tax breaks for private landlords than we ever did on public housing. But we have no public assets to show for it, most tenants endure unaffordable and insecure housing, and homelessness is still rife. Private balance sheets have been beefed up at the expense of the public purse.”

6 January 2021

Dennis Altman: “It is a myth, assiduously pushed by Joel Fitzgibbon and his supporters, that Labor needs to calibrate its climate and energy policies to attract voters dependent on coal and gas production. This might be true in half a dozen federal electorates, including Fitzgibbon’s own seat of Hunter. But an examination of election results from last year suggests a quite different picture. Of the 20 most marginal government seats all but four are essentially metropolitan, spread across all mainland capital cities. The most marginal of the lot, Bass, is centred on the city of Launceston; the only regional Queensland seat now in play is Leichhardt, centred on Cairns, where there was a slight swing to Labor unlike the rest of coastal Queensland. Because Morrison has been so effective a politician, we forget that he holds government with a majority of three, although this includes the five from minor parties and independents. The emphasis on Labor’s appalling performance in Queensland disguises the reality that had Labor performed as well in other capital cities as it did in Melbourne it would have won a comfortable majority. Even in Queensland there are more marginal seats to be captured in Brisbane than in the regions.” Sadly, the dim bulbs in the Otis Group are impervious to reality.