politics

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What if government was good, actually?

To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.

George Packer on government.

2020-04-22T11:33:29+10:0022nd April, 2020|Tags: covid-19, politics|

Is-ought.

The more disturbing corollary is the attitude among the right that takes a step from “the government can only cause harm” to “the government should cause harm”. The idea of a punitive government, Orwell’s vision of the future as a “boot stamping on a human faceforever” is why I refer to ‘pseudo-libertarians’ because when the notion of what minimal functions they believe the government should have they are almost always the punitive functions. This is yet another reason why the step from internet-libertarian to internet-fascist has never be difficult or inexpiicable or requiring complex re-writings of political spectrums. Slipping from the proposition that government is bad to government should be bad is like rolling down hill.

Camestros Felapton on government.

So originally I was going to quote this post for the bit about, The sense that things can’t last and that change can only mean destruction is a recurring thread within American fringe beliefs. That 2020 has brought an apocalypse that has a slow, laid-back script where people stay at home and watch Netflix is almost seen as an offence to the classics.

But then I got to the paragraph above and… oof.

2020-04-21T10:53:13+10:0021st April, 2020|Tags: covid-19, politics|

Common good.

I don’t have kids, so I don’t personally “use” the public school system. I don’t have friends or family members in substance abuse programs, or in need of assistance fleeing domestic abuse. I don’t (yet) need aging services. But the idea that I should only pay for things that benefit me directly is anathema to me. Every single thing on that list benefits me in some way, because it benefits the community around me. Kids’ education matters not because they’re my kids, but because education matters, in general. I might not need rescue services in the woods out in the corner of the county, but some day, maybe I would. Maybe I would need help in some way that’s currently unimaginable to me. Paying taxes means caring for other people, even if their circumstances aren’t identical to your own.

Anne Helen on paying for it.

This reminds me of an encounter we had recently with our accountant, who made some comment to the effect that purchasing private health insurance was “obviously better than paying extra tax.”1 To which my husband and I, baffled, immediately answered, “No?”

Taxes are great. Taxes pay for parks and libraries and roads and schools and doctors. Private sector fees pay for CEOs to buy extra Ferraris. Pay your fucking taxes.

  1. Australian has both private and public/universal healthcare systems. While private healthcare isn’t compulsory—and is generally overkill for the young and/or those without certain chronic medical conditions—not having it incurs a “levy”, i.e. extra tax, for people in certain income brackets. There’s an entire industry of effectively useless private health insurance policies that are priced just far enough below this levy cost that not buying one is a non-negligible financial hit, effectively turning into free money for the private healthcare industry. []
2020-01-07T15:33:06+11:0016th April, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|

Three-by-three (and one).

And just as nobody can spend a billion dollars in their lifetime, nobody can earn it either. People have taken to saying “every billionaire is a policy failure”, because that sort of money makes nakedly obvious the truth Marx tells us about all wealth accumulated under capitalism: that it’s part of a process that is only possible because the people who own the means of production are, effectively, stealing it from their employees, by paying them a wage worth less than the value said employees’ labor bequeaths unto things. If you find yourself in possession of one billion dollars, and keep it, then you are wilfully refusing to stand in solidarity with the whole of the rest of the human species.

Tom Whyman on $1,000,000,000.

2020-01-07T11:07:20+11:0012th April, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|

Weaponized dunking.

Asymmetric advertising is content that is designed to hijack a user’s social media feed, to become amplified on the platform. The rise of fake news in 2016 is an example of asymmetric advertising in action, with outlandish or hilarious headlines encouraging political opponents to share that material, if just to point out its absurdity. This served a purpose. A political opponent likely has a smaller crossover following compared to a political ally, and so by hijacking the former’s feed, you get more eyeballs on the content. This is only half the strategy, however. By being amplified, the content is increasingly likely to appear in the feeds of users who are out-of-the-loop and will take it at face value, while the increased scrutiny galvanises the existing base to support the post.

By being built-to-break, asymmetric advertising turns opposition on its head, allowing the message to seep through.

Stuart Mills knows the propaganda is coming from inside your feed.

Tl;dr stop reposting bad content just to “dunk” on it, because all you’re actually doing is helping it spread further, which was the intentional strategy all along.

2020-01-06T09:55:38+11:0010th April, 2020|Tags: politics, social media|

Incivility.

The capitulation of Republicans restored civility between the major parties, but the political truce masked a horrendous spike in violence against freedmen. “While the parties clearly move back from confrontation with each other, you have the unleashing of massive white-supremacist violence in the South against African Americans and a systematic campaign to disenfranchise, a systematic campaign of racial terror in the South,” Manisha Sinha, a history professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, told me. “This is an era when white supremacy becomes virtually a national ideology.”

This was the fruit of prizing reconciliation over justice, order over equality, civility over truth. Republicans’ acquiescence laid the foundation for the reimposition of forced labor on the emancipated, the establishment of the Jim Crow system, and the state and extrajudicial terror that preserved white supremacy in the South for another century.

Adam Serwer on the price of civility.

Worth reading the whole article, which makes the case that political “civility” is basically a by-product of white men making deals over issues that violate and oppress groups of which they are not part…

2020-01-06T09:24:34+11:007th April, 2020|Tags: culture, politics|

Rents.

Gates is a very good business man and would have been wealthy regardless. But there’s a difference between having $100 million and $100 billion. He has massive amounts of power because he captured control of a very important tollbooth in the economy at a very early stage in its creation. We call him a billionaire because when you measure what this power is worth, it comes to $100 billion or so (plus whatever he’s put in the Gates Foundation). But the dollar figure is just the accounting system. There’s no swimming pool of gold coins, there is a tollbooth called Microsoft Windows.

And that is true for most billionaires. They are not people with a bunch of dollar bills stacked to the moon, they are (largely) men with a strategic position of power protected by public laws and rules. They aren’t better or smarter than anyone else, they are simply politically adept and in the right place at the right time. There’s no reason we have to enable such people to run our culture. At the end of the day, tollbooths are nothing but bottlenecks on a road on which we would otherwise travel faster and more freely.

Matt Stoller on rentseeking.

2020-01-06T09:03:11+11:006th April, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|

Facebookian excuse.

Amazon doesn’t sell cigarettes. Whole Foods doesn’t sell cigarettes. One could argue that this is a Maoist form of overreach, a repudiation of the system of free enterprise, a brazen attempt to enact central planning on a terrifying scale. One could argue that a single person—Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, a gatekeeper among gatekeepers—should not be in a position to decide what average American citizens can or can’t do with their bodies. One could argue that the inalienable rights of smokers, or of tobacco companies, are being violated. But nobody makes these arguments. It seems perfectly natural that Bezos chooses not to sell tobacco. It’s possible that this reflects his principled belief that some things are not worth profiting from, that even world-conquering companies can make moral distinctions when the stakes are clear enough. More likely, it’s a straightforward cost-benefit decision. In any case, it has little to do with gauzy abstractions about freedom.

Andrew Marantz on excuses.

This is, of course, an analogy for Facebook et al.’s continued insistence that it would be a “violation of free speech” to, for example, kick antivaxers or neo-Nazis off their platforms…

2020-01-06T08:54:36+11:004th April, 2020|Tags: culture, facebook, politics, social media, tech|

Cancelling cancel culture is cancelled.

But the problem with criticism of the “cancel culture” is it ignores that the ones doing most of the cancelling are conservatives.

Conservatives in this country have cancelled progressive taxation, have tried for 40 years to cancel public health and education, have cancelled any attempts to increase Newstart, been doing their best to cancel the NBN and have cancelled a price on carbon, any effective action on climate change, and tried in vain to cancel moves to allow gender equality.

Most recently we had conservatives in New South Wales trying with all their might to cancel legal abortion.

And of course the most egregious example of cancel culture in Australia was by the Australian newspaper, which used a short Facebook post by Yassmin Abdel-Magied as an excuse to hound her out of work and in the end the country.

On the other side, progressives get annoyed when Alan Jones uses the N word, Sky News and the ABC interview Nazis or far-right extremists, and political parties continue to mouth platitudes about climate change and then seek to foster growth in the coal industry.

Greg Jericho on cancelling.

I mean, look. I’m the first person who’d admit I have problems with cancel culture1 but, like. Jericho’s not wrong, so…

  1. Pretty much exclusively when it ignores existing power structures. “Cancelling” a teenage indie creator on Twitter because they drew an art you don’t like is… qui-ii-ii-ite a bit different to “cancelling” a millionaire media personality, or multi-billion dollar corporation, for supporting far-right extremism, for example. []
2019-12-18T09:52:59+11:0026th March, 2020|Tags: culture, politics|