Notes on Trump 24

1. Removing the spending caps to enable larger deficit budgets without regular crises over threats to default was a major development that may have been an important trigger for the stock market “correction”. Wages already rising with inflation and interest rates widely expected to follow.

Not noticed any discussion of the coalition emerging in the House of Representatives. Democrat leader Pelosi spoke for 8 hours against avoiding another shutdown but only 119 Democrats voted no with her. Another 73 joined with 167 GOP yes votes, outnumbering the 67 GOP no votes (presumably Tea Party/Koch brothers but I haven’t checked).

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/115-2018/h69

This tends to confirm my expectation that the program of deficits Trump needs for 2020 will get through. Perhaps with more “noise” than this first major step, but with similar bipartisan majority that relies on Democrats to offset GOP fiscal hawks. Even the Atlantic can see it:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/trump-populism/552923/

Interestingly all officers of the Sanders wing Progressive caucus (with the fascinating exception of their whip) voted no. I would expect them to be more inclined to support deficits for infrastructure, healthcare etc so bipartisan majority could be more comfortable than it currently looks. I haven’t checked the non-officer members.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Progressive_Caucus

Also of course the 8 hour drama from Pelosi was purely posturing about DACA and does not imply any serious intention for Democrats to block larger deficits. Presumably the Sanders wing officials also felt obliged to participate in the DACA posturing.

In fact Pelosi told the Democrat caucus they could vote their conscience and was “relieved” her no vote was defeated.

As the GOP Chief Deputy whip said:

“To me, it’s a fascinating display of a bipartisan win and at the same time Democrats ripping themselves apart about a bipartisan agreement. It doesn’t make any damn sense.”

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/373168-winners-and-losers-from-the-overnight-shutdown

2. But it does make sense, once you grasp that the Democrat leadership is absolutely paralysed and purely engaged in posturing. The above spectacular stupidity was actually exceeded in response to the FBI and DOJ requesting redactions from a Democrat memo. If they were only mildly incompetent they would simply undertake to make the necessary redactions, which have been provided to them by the FBI and DOJ, while repeating their theme that their memo is defending the FBI and DOJ from Trump. Embarassing, but what else could they do under the circumstances? Indeed the ranking Democrat responsible for their memo did just that:

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/373234-schiff-dems-will-to-review-recommended-memo-redactions-from-doj-fbi

But of course he couldn’t resist “blasting” Trump for “hypocrisy” and other Democrats could not resist joining in

According to Pelosi:

“President Trump’s refusal to release Intelligence Committee Democrats’ memo is a stunningly brazen attempt to cover up the truth about the Trump-Russia scandal from the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“The President’s decision to block the Democratic memo from release is part of a dangerous and desperate pattern of cover-up on the part of the President,” she added. “Clearly, the President has something to hide.”

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/373237-pelosi-trump-has-something-to-hide

“The Hill” has a whole stream of this stuff. Follow the links from above to sample the whole chorus. Then you can get more of the same from MSNBC et al.

Best one I noticed was Blumenthal saying Trump not releasing the memo provides the much needed evidence of Trump obstructing justice – “happening in real time”!

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/373239-blumenthal-trump-refusing-to-release-dem-memo-is-evidence-of

CNN’s Cilizza explicitly highlights that Trump ignored FBI complaints of “material omissions” from Democrat memo as proof of hypocrisy in accepting FBI requests for redactions on “national security” grounds of revealing sources and methods. Presumably assumes people who read him dont think about what he’s saying any more than he does. Basically the same mentality as a Trump rally chanting “build the wall” and “Mexico will pay”.

So not only have they enthusiastically continued helping Trump keep them tightly focused on “Russia” as usual. That is merely short sighted.

After all “the Russia thing” might not collapse in a heap for weeks, possibly months and no matter how stupid they end up looking, at this point they cannot really make things much worse by more carrying on this way.

But Trump will release their memo within DAYS, not weeks. So they aren’t just strategically and tactically inept and shortsighted but completely blindly, blitheringly stupid and just going through the motions of issuing press releases without any thought whatsoever.

Of course Trump cannot release the memo within days if the Democrats refuse to make the redactions requested by the FBI and DOJ or can only do so unilaterally while they present the omissions as political censorship. So one theory is that instead of blind stupidity the whole stunt could be a tactical ploy deliberately intended to prolong not releasing their memo so they can continue complaining about it:

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/09/politics/democratic-memo-trump-wont-declassify/index.html

Either way, this is not the behaviour of a party leadership that is confident of winning the mid-terms, but of panic stricken losers.

But it isn’t just Democrats, here’s some brilliant strategic calculation by an anti-Trump GOP staffer:

“The White House’s failure to declassify the House Intelligence Committee minority memo – particularly in the face of unanimous bipartisan vote by the committee – represents a massive strategic miscalculation,”

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/373243-former-bush-lawyer-trumps-memo-decision-was-a-massive-strategic

I really hate explanations of political developments that are based on implausible levels of stupidity on the part of participants.

But the only other theory I can think of would be some desperate attempt by the Democrats to avoid ending up with a majority after mid-terms and having to unsuccessfully impeach Trump in 2019 thus helping him get elected again in 2020. Nope I don’t believe that either. This whole situatiom is fascinating because it is all so completely inexplicable.

Here’s the Associated Press version which seems to be a reasonably accurate account of US politicians carrying on about nothing in particular:

http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/world/trump-memo-russia-probe-1.4530079

Update: Just saw comment from Trump staff that suggests a less implausible level of stupidity:

“We believe that Congressman Schiff potentially put in there methods and sources that he knew would need to be redacted,” he said. “And if we redacted it, then there would be an outcry that said the White House is trying to edit it. So we said take it back, work with the FBI, clean it up, and we’ll release it.” Asked if Democrats drafted a memo they knew would be blocked, Schiff said “of course not”.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/11/house-democrats-to-clean-up-trump-russia-memo-in-bid-for-release

That does seem plausible. It could have just not occurred to them that the natural response to this ploy would be to not comply with their hopes of Trump issuing redacted version while they bleated that he was hiding something and instead send it back for them to make the redactions requested by FBI and DOJ themselves. All the indignant press statements from both Democrats and GOP anti-Trumpers were ready to roll so they just issued them anyway, relying on fact that media would still report it as Trump refusing to release (which they did).

That would just reflect the ordinary level of Democrat and media stupidity and tactical ineptitude that we have become used to rather than the implausible “completely blindly, blitheringly stupid” explanation I was worried about.

Story seems to have promptly disappeared from the headlines. Only noticed this guy today who hadn’t got the memo to move on:

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/373263-van-jones-to-trump-over-memos-you-are-cherry-picking-the-facts

Meanwhile Trump is happily tweeting that even the New York Times has run a story on US intelligence agents paying Russian hackers to return hacked NSA tools plus “unsolicited” kompromat on Trump.

https://theintercept.com/2018/02/09/donald-trump-russia-election-nsa/

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/10/politics/trump-tweet-drain-the-swamp/index.html

CIA denies that US intelligence paid Russian scam artists for Trump kompromat. Some hint in reports that others did.

http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/cia/373323-cia-pushes-back-on-fictional-report-that-it-was-bilked-by

3. Resistance broadens. Snowflakes and butterflies form coalition against wall:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/endangered-butterfly-threatened-trumps-wall-environmentalists/story?id=52973359

4. Collapse of mainstream media into total incoherence is not confined to USA with Trump.

Just seen in today’s Sunday Age p29:

There can be few greater examples of the double standard of reporting in Australian politics than that of Barnaby Joyce’s “love child”.

If it were, say Barbara – or Joyce – Joyce, a married female party leader and deputy prime minister who impregnated a younger staffer, the story would have been pursued with great vigour and determination months ago.

Indeed the first impregnation by any female would no doubt have been headline news worldwide. Even proofreaders at Fairfax would have noticed it.

SMH has a slightly different version:

If it were, say Barbara – or Joyce – Joyce, a married female party leader and deputy prime minister who became pregnant to a younger staffer, the story would have been pursued with great vigour and determination months ago.

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-remarkable-privilege-of-being-a-male-politician-20180209-h0vtwc.html

5. Some hint of gap opening between Trump and Netanyahu

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43025705

(Separate reports indicate Netanyahu could be charged with corruption soon)

6. Psychological explanation of why Trump core supporters don’t care what he actually delivers:

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-s-core-supporters-won-t-reject-him-it-would-ncna846456

Some plausability. Irresistible comparisons with similar phenomena among liberals. But misses key point that bigger factor for both is how much they despise each other.

7. Fox preparing for efforts to increase Hispanic support for Trump or at least reduce their mobilization for Democrats:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/02/10/as-trump-derides-dems-for-using-daca-battle-for-hispanic-votes-reignites.html

Seems plausible to me that if (when) Trump actually delivers some comprehensive immigration reform while Democrats posture about it they will lose a lot from their “identity” based strategy. (Ditto for both blacks and hispanics with employment and wages improving).

8. Sound advice that Democrats should shut up about impeachment at least until after the mid-terms:

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/373362-scarborough-democratic-party-should-pull-funds-from-candidates

Doubt that they are capable of enforcing it.

9. Brookings institute offers some comfort for those worried about decreased levels of dysfunctionality – “Trump is becoming irrelevant”:

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/02/09/is-president-trump-irrelevant/

They are also correctly confirming that public opinion doesn’t support the nativist hostility Trump promoted in campaign but not registering that he can easily adapt to that and shows every sign of doing so (and would need to for any reduction in Hispanic mobilization for Democrats):

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/02/07/voters-to-trump-youre-on-thin-ice-with-immigration-policy/

Lots more open windows to close but I will just post this.

Notes on Trump 23

0. Gallup overall approval of Trump touched 40% again 4 Feb. Been below since May 2017 and above only briefly after inauguration.

The increase last week was coincident with the president’s Jan. 30 State of the Union address, in which he touted the strength of the economy and reminded Americans he kept his pledges to cut taxes and reduce business regulations. Although it is impossible to determine definitively whether the address was a factor in the approval ratings uptick, his approval among Republicans did rise to 90%, the highest rating from this group since he took office. Republicans’ approval had been at 87% the week before the speech. Democrats’ approval [of Trump] remained extremely low at 6% last week, while independents’ 33% approval [of Trump] was unchanged.

http://news.gallup.com/poll/226736/snapshot-trump-weekly-job-approval-edges.aspx

Seems to be widespread acceptance that Trump and GOP incumbents are reconciled and will be defending each other against Democrats in midterms incuding primaries. This is consistent with the significant uptick to 90% Republican approval among potential Republican primary voters following more “Presidential” speech to Congress and lots of analysts claiming he has been delivering a traditional GOP agenda (especially taxes) and not the populist measures promised to his base as feared.

That could be right but I doubt it. He can’t win in 2020 without delivering on populist policies that are opposed by GOP incumbents over remaining 3 years. Even when only 80% approval among Republican primary voters the incumbents had little chance in a direct confrontation with Trump so had to avoid it. With 90% approval he can afford to just pose as party leader against Democrats and leave those incumbents he needs to get rid of unsupported against their Trumpist (and/or Sanders Democrat) challengers, without having to openly campaign for Trumpist replacements. It seems to me mainly Democrats fantasizing on what would suit them best who believe he will just deliver unpopular GOP policies instead of the populist policies he was elected on.

Update: Everything up in the air with stock market developments. Have lots of other Trump links open from last couple of weeks which I intended to add to those below, but will put this out now as there may be too much else going on for next couple of weeks that could clarify or obscure things.

1. Had to pass on guessing what Democrat leaders were up to with doomed shutdown. Still perplexed on what they have in mind for Feb 8.

Schumer has just withdrawn offer of token funding for token portion of Trump’s bullshit wall. If serious that implies they have to do another shutdown shortly since both sides understood that was to be the deal. Here’s Trump spelling it out late last year.

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/12/29/trump-dreamers-daca-deal-border-wall-319627

and again right now:

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/23/politics/mick-mulvaney-daca-exchange-cnntv/index.html

Here’s Talking Points Memo right now saying that withdrawing offer of wall funding will placate outrage from liberal base. This is the site for “Talking Points” discussed by Democrat staffers and their “activist” colleagues. They should have a far better grasp of maneuverings to placate outrage from liberal base than I do. But this doesn’t make much sense to me.

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/schumer-takes-back-wall-funding-offer-immigration

If Democrats were actually willing to fight on the absurdity of wasting money on the wall they would not have gone through the elaborate ritual of pretending that Trump wants to deport dreamers when that was never plausible and he had already admitted it.

Majority of Americans know a border wall won’t work. But they also know the opposition cannot shutdown government based on having different budget priorities. So do the Democrats base.

But oddly, the fight is still being reported as about DACA and whether GOP will agree to it – by Murdoch press as well as liberal media.

Plainly silly as only a small minority of GOP need to agree with Democrats on legislation for DACA in order for it to go through both Houses. However big the nativist wing of GOP incumbents might be they could not sustain deportation even with Trump’s support, let alone without it and there is already an interim injunction removing any urgency.

Not sure why Murdoch press is also pushing this. Perhaps to entrap Democrats? If they were really as stupid as they appear to be they might imagine that near unanimous focus on DACA instead of actual differences over border security in all sides of the media means they could hope to score some “win” with another shutdown?

Or perhaps its supposed to help make it easier for them to announce that they won some concession of DACA in negotiations and call off the next shutdown?

They have just given their base an opportunity to digest how futile a real shutdown would be. So how does withdrawing offer already made help placate anybody? Seems more likely to fire up expectations from “the resistance”. So my guess is that they still seem to be going down a path that leads straight to another shutdown soon with no plausible expectation of healing rather than exacerbating their divisions when they have to cave again.

Anyway, if they do another shutdown on this I can confidently predict it will do them no good at all.

Here’s the sort of pathetic arguments coming from the very few still pretending it was a defeat for Trump instead of a blunder by Schumer:

https://www.theringer.com/2018/1/23/16922100/trump-immigration-government-shutdown

Some others are still spouting the line taken before the shutdown – that it confirms Trump’s lack of skills as a negotiator:

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/17/trump-credibility-capitol-hill-lawmakers-negotiating-342989

The sheer effortlessness of maneuvering Democrats into making idiots of themselves is quite remarkable. No skill required. But one does have to admit that enabling them to keep their focus on how clueless Trump is while they do it could not just be sheer luck. He does have real skill.

Trump already has the TV ads to roll again:

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/369952-new-trump-ad-calls-democrats-complicit-in-all-murders-by-illegal

Above was only a couple of weeks ago and already seems out of date.

2. Even CNN could publish an oped late last year doubting that the FBI is the repository of all Americans hopes and aspirations.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/12/29/opinions/fbi-leadership-to-blame-for-tarnished-reputation-callan-opinion/index.html

But TPM remains outraged at the sheer lack of patriotism of anyone hostile to FBI.

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/devin-nunes-will-do-anything-to-protect-donald-trump

Five hours earlier the same guy persuading himself that latest “revelations” from Mueller are “bigger” than anything for months.

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/todays-mueller-revelations-were-the-biggest-in-months

But he couldn’t quite say what was revealed. These are the people who actually draft Democrat “talking points”. It must be soul destroying to be have to deliver them with a straight face. Trump seems to enjoy keeping kayfabe. But his opponents clearly don’t.

Fox news Judge Napolitano is really enjoying himself discussing the “deep state”:

https://radio.foxnews.com/2018/01/23/video-judge-napolitano-donald-trump-was-victimized-by-the-deep-state/

Some GOP staffers writing a “bombshell” memo touted as likely to end the Mueller investigation has liberals in pre-emptive hysterics, even before release. If that is all it takes to provoke them, how could they NOT continue to believe Trump doesn’t want them to keep hoping Mueller will be their messiah?

Meanwhile the Atlantic heads towards identification of “dividing our national unity” with “the Russians”. Doesn’t spell it out but clearly inclined towards measures to protect national unity from both “black lives matter” and “blue lives matter” tweeters as Russians support both sides of this “divisiveness”. The Russian social media accounts theme also at TPM above. Tends to confirm my suspicion that the outrageous involvement of intelligence agencies doesn’t point to actual “deep state” effort but just some Obama admin clowns going nuts.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/trump-russia-twitter/551093/

What’s this about? “Russia linked twitter accounts” are pushing hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. Some dastardly member of Congress has enlisted the Russians after memo was circulated to Congress members. How do we know? Twitter messages with that hashtag link to Wikileaks page requesting a copy. Wikileaks of course is “Russia linked”. The plot thickens.

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/release-the-memo-campaign-russia-linked-twitter-accounts-2018-1?r=US&IR=T

Here’s an indication of actual relations between Trump and “deep state”:

https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/20/16913534/president-donald-trump-signed-fisa-amendments-reauthorization-act-of-2017-section-702

Update: Unexciting House GOP memo has been released. Also more interesting Senate member referring author of “the dossier” for prosecution. House Democrats memo about to be released. Media has once again succeeded in remaining distracted about “Russia”. Not sure whether they can keep it up or return to “mentally ill/incompetent” but no sign of anything from them that doesn’t help Trump.

3. If the Democrats keep on the way they are going, they could even manage to not gain a majority of the House of Representatives at end of 2018.

I still don’t expect that. But nobody can seriously expect them to get a 60% Senate majority to even get their legislative agenda vetoed by the President, let alone leaving Trump with less than one third of Senators willing to block impeachment.

So the best they could hope for when they get a House majority is endless hearings and subpoenas in one or both houses. Without both Executive and Supreme Court support they could not even enforce compliance with subpoenas. But they have neither. So their current orientation is headed towards just providing two years of daily confirmation of the Trumpist meme that Washington will remain gridlocked until there is a solid Trumpist majority.

Nevertheless they seem to be locking themselves in to that course.

Here’s an La Times oped on how Steve Bannon claim that sacking Comey was a spectacular blunder confirms how right they are to keep going for impeachment, even while ending with the prospect that it won’t actually result in removal from office:

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-litman-russia-year-review-20171229-story.html

4. Some perceptive analysis of “Trump Trauma”:

Donald Trump is staking his presidency, as he did his election, on nothing less than destroying the credibility of the news media; and the media are determined to do the same to him. This is not just a feud or a fight or a battle. It is scorched-earth warfare in which only one side can achieve victory. To a stunning degree, the press is falling into the president’s trap. The country’s top news organizations have targeted Trump with an unprecedented barrage of negative stories, with some no longer making much attempt to hide their contempt. Some stories are legitimate, some are not, and others are generated by the president’s own falsehoods and exaggerations. But the mainstream media, subconsciously at first, has lurched into the opposition camp and is appealing to an anti-Trump base of viewers and readers, failing to grasp how deeply it is distrusted by a wide swath of the country.

These are not easy words for me to write. I am a lifelong journalist with ink in my veins. And for all my criticism of the media’s errors and excesses, I have always believed in the mission of aggressive reporting and holding politicians accountable.

But the past two years have radicalized me. I am increasingly troubled by how many of my colleagues have decided to abandon any semblance of fairness out of a conviction that they must save the country from Trump.

I first got to know Donald Trump three decades ago and never made the blunder of underestimating him during the campaign. I saw all his weaknesses — the bluster, the bullying, the refusal to admit mistakes — but I also saw strengths that most of my colleagues missed, especially an ability to channel the anger of millions of voters who despise the press — including the old-guard conservative press — and other elite institutions.

This is, at bottom, a battle over the truth. Who owns it, who controls it, who can sell their version to a polarized public that increasingly cannot agree on basic facts. Everything you read, hear and see about Trump’s veracity is filtered through a mainstream media prism that reflects a lying president — and virtually never considers the press’ own baggage and biases. Everything you read, hear and see from the Trump team is premised on the view that media news is fake news, that journalists are too prejudiced, angry and ideological to fairly report on the president. Trump and his acolytes use these attacks on the Fourth Estate to neutralize their own untruths, evasions and exaggerations. What many journalists fail to grasp is that Trump’s supporters love his street talk and view the media critiques as nonsense driven by negativity. They don’t care if he makes mistakes. As paradoxical as it sounds, negative coverage helps Trump because it bonds him to people who also feel disrespected by the denizens of the mainstream press. The media take everything literally, and Trump pitches his arguments at a gut level. It is asymmetrical warfare.

Every president gets pounded by the press. But no president has ever been subjected to the kind of relentless ridicule, caustic commentary and insulting invective that has been heaped on Trump. I have a name for this half-crazed compulsion to furiously attack one man. It’s called Trump Trauma.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-trump-trauma-is-crippling-news-media-guest-column-1077062

Am reading related book “Media Madness” by Howard Kurtz. Torrent hash 759A0821B0AE7DC3C055F538C3F334E45789F533

includes small epub 1.1MB and large MP3 audio 261.4MB (torrent client can select either or both)

Am only one third way through but recommend it as more plausible than other accounts. (Though does only partially confirms my view that Trump actually wants the media hostility while also saying opposite).

5. If the “Russia thing” doesn’t seem to be working out, wait there’s more:

Jared Kushner is China’s Trump Card

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/29/jared-kushner-is-chinas-trump-card

PLUS a free set of steak knives!!!

6. More “breaking news” from CNN on Trump’s affair with porn star. Apparently she denies it and Fox had the (complete absence of) story before the election and failed to publish it. Source is impeccable – “four people familiar with the matter”.

The latest devastating bombshell is that Fox has failed to immediately respond to inquiries as to why they don’t behave like CNN.

Does Trump fear that the four are male eyewitnesses so he could get convicted of rape in a Saudi court?

http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/16/media/fox-news-stormy-daniels-trump/index.html

Ok I made that up, CNN said nothing like that. Far less creative.

In fact they even mention that their colleagues at Slate and The Daily Beast had the same “story” and also failed to publish it.

But now, after “Fire and Fury”, there is precisely nothing that liberal media won’t do to discredit themselves.

7. New York Times editorial board on January 19 – “Syria is now Trump’s War”.

Follows low key announcement that U.S. forces will remain in Syria indefinately.

Seems quite resigned to it. As far as I can make out Trump adinistration is only marginally better than Obama’s on this but is in a better position to avoid mobilizing opposition if they ever do decide to do something useful.

8. Newsweek doubles down on Trunp’s mental health. Outdoes TPM and Atlantic. Security of the nation doesn’t just need measures against “divisive” twittering. The National Emergency reuires a telepathic Psy Corps with psychiatric prisons to ensure public safety.

http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-mental-health-exam-unsufficient-785818

9. George Monbiot at the Guardian announces the end of civilization. Not just “western civilization” he stresses. Today there is “nowhere to turn”.

But wait, there’s more:

The wild lands and rich ecosystems that once supported hunter gatherers, nomads and the refugees from imploding early states who joined them now scarcely exist. Only a tiny fraction of the current population could survive a return to the barbarian life. (Consider that, according to one estimate, the maximum population of Britain during the Mesolithic, when people survived by hunting and gathering, was 5000).In the nominally democratic era, the complex state is now, for all its flaws, all that stands between us and disaster.

So what we do? Next week, barring upsets, I will propose a new way forward. The path we now follow is not the path we have to take.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/24/end-civilisation-take-different-path

Who could have possibly guessed that this was a Guardian columnist if they had not been so honest about it?

Another columnist “There is still hope amidst the horror”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/20/year-donald-trump-hope-horror-women-hillary-clinton

10. “Is Money-Laundering the Real Trump Kompromat?”

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/theres-a-potential-for-russian-leverage-here/551024/

Leaving aside the the “Russsia” angle it does seem plausible that a special investigator ought to be able to come up with some financial crimes committed by Trump or even any milder con artist. Would tend to alarm the rest of the swamp and I haven’t seen any sign of prayers being answered. Seems more likely that Mueller will just end up with a “straight” report that leads nowhere.

11. Another State of the Union met with 70% approval by simply reading the usual boring “Presidential” tripe from a teleprompter.

A year ago a similar effort to make Trump look “Presidential” with a teleprompter address to a joint session of Congress was promptly countered by media hysterics over Sessions recusing himself from Russia investigation, Trump criticizing that and Trump twittering that Obama administration had wiretapped his campaign. More recently Trump presiding over televised “Presidential” bipartisan discussion of comprehensive immigration was promptly countered by hysterics over reports he privately referred to immigration from “shithole” countries.

But this time they seem to be too exhausted to come up with anything. So far all I’ve seen to counter 70% approval of the speech is:

11.1 More pre-emptive hysterics about Trumpists intending to declassify a memo hostile to FBI surveillance. Curiously this seems to be related to a continuation of the stuff used to counter Trump looking “Presidential” a year ago by expressing outrage at him claiming his campaign was put under surveillance. Now even more outraged at documents said to confirm it!

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/01/politics/donald-trump-fbi-justice-department-memo/index.html

Meanwhile Andy McCabe, Deputy Director of FBI has steppedaside, apparently because Trump’s complaints of Democrat bias are about to be confirmed either by an internal FBI Inspector’s report or by the memo.

No less than “9 historians” confirm that President undermining FBI is “uncharted territory”:

https://www.vox.com/2018/2/1/16956422/numes-memo-release-fbi-trump

Apparently most prefer the great tradition established by Herbert Hoover in which the elected government feared the secret police.

Actually buried in there, one of them, Ivor Greenberg, got it right:

The claim that the FBI’s “independence” is a thing to preserve is misguided. In the past, much of that so-called “independence” allowed the bureau to go rogue in its spying on Americans and evade congressional or Justice Department accountability.

Update: looks like FBI Inspector General starting to move against Obama administration clowns in FBI. Also one of the missing text messages from Clinton supporting FBI agent Strozk assigned to investigating both Clinton and Trump show him expressing reluctance to join Russia investigation because there doesn’t seem to be any big “there” there.

11.2 Ongoing breathless discussion of affair with porn star who has gone on TV to smirk while interviewer speculates about whether her signature was forged on the denial issued and confirmed by her lawyer.

11.3 Some twittering about Melania Trump travelling separately to the “Presidential” address which is “unprecedebted” and perhaps related to “revelations” about the porn star. This could also explain her wearing a “white dress” which might be joining the #metoo campaign in protest against Trump and/or showing ethnic white nationalism/racism against blacks.

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/01/politics/donald-trump-fbi-justice-department-memo/index.html

If you follow a link from there you too can know what present Melania Trump gave Michelle Obama:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2018/01/31/michelle-obama-reveals-trumps-gave-her-frame-explains-awkward-inauguration-day-exchange-trumps/1082139001/

Fox responds with analysis complaining that the fake media is at it again – Melania’s dress was cream not white and their attempt to undermine her reputation for superb fashion taste has failed.

11.4 Democrat speech in reply was given by a Kennedy. Even if he had actually said something memorable all that could possibly have been conveyed would be their dynastic helplessness. Even the daily roundup of the late night “comedy” version of Democrat talking points had this from Colbert:

“Nothing says ‘party of new ideas’ more than deploying the latest model Kennedy,” Colbert quipped. “Kennedy gave a stirring, thoughtful speech about the importance of fighting for all Americans.

But of course main “comedy” theme was also the main Democrat talking point – item 1. Defend the FBI from Trump (or the Russians).

(Lots of scope for comedy there, but it seems they just said it straight and meant it straight)

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/feb/01/late-night-hosts-call-trumps-state-of-the-union-a-glass-half-full-of-cyanide

12. So my guess is that Trump will successfully execute a switch to “Presidential” whenever he wants to. May have set the scene for attempting to defend GOP majority in 2018 then attempting to implement populist program together with Sanders wing of Democrats and Trumpist GOP minority and running as bipartisan unifier in 2020.

13. Bipartisan agreement on ending the budget caps and sequester ritual that GOP imposed on Obama administration. So Trump will get whatever deficits he needs for relection. First instalment 300 billion increase in budgets for next 2 years. With the basic pretense of attempting to reduce deficits gone, this will increase for many reasons (infrastructure, healthcare etc). Still has to go through House but that just means deficit hawk GOP rump can posture against comfortable Trumpist GOP and Democrat majority.

Update: Several reports that the last item above was major trigger for stock market “correction”. Some “investors” finally realised that Trump would succeed in getting big deficits to help with 2020 and this could result in subsequent major problems inconsistent with current absurd stock and bond prices and yields, so some started getting out now. Presumably they had thought the legal budget caps would be harder to remove.

So posting this now as stock market likely to drown out interest in other news.

“Il est interdit d’interdire”! It is forbidden to forbid! Free speech and the spirit of ’68.

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One of the most positive qualities of the great upheavals of the year 1968 was the assumption that people had a right to free speech. No-one was going to stop us speaking out, no matter how offensive some people found what we had to say – and we definitely were not going to allow the state to determine what could and couldn’t be said. Governments had forced the issue by banning publications – to protect us from ourselves – ranging from seedy crime novels to DH Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.

On the university campuses that helped fuel the ‘cultural revolution’ of that time, it was never doubted that we should have a right to say what we thought on any topic. The global student unrest had been sparked in 1964 by the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, where students and staff defied the University of California’s regulations restricting free speech.

In the People’s Republic of China a similar movement led by the young was underway, with ‘Big Character Posters‘ pasted up on buildings and in streets criticizing reactionary authorities within the Communist Party of China. Mao ZeDong said that  “The big-character poster is a very useful new weapon, which can be used in the cities and the rural areas, in factories, co-operatives, shops, government institutions, schools, army units and streets – in short, wherever the masses are to be found. It has already been widely used and should always be used.”

This was overturned in amendments to the Chinese Constitution in 1982, however, when reference to the right to produce Big Character Posters was removed.

One of my first defiant acts in ‘the Sixties’ took place in 1968, my final year at high school in Melbourne, when I unlawfully distributed to my fellow students a banned publication exposing US war crimes in Vietnam. I forget the exact title but it was banned under Obscene Publications legislation. I was very nervous giving out copies at school, without being part of any organised radical student group, as I was isolated and worried about getting into trouble – especially for distributing ‘obscene’ literature!

In my first year at University, in 1969, the free speech question again arose: a contingent of La Trobe students, organised by the Labour Club (not to be confused with Labor Party!), went to Melbourne’s City Square to defy with other protestors the Melbourne City Council’s bylaw 418, which prohibited the distribution of literature in the Central Business District. The bylaw claimed to be neutral but was really an attempt to suppress the handing out of leaflets opposing the US and allied aggression in Vietnam.

There is some irony in the fact that 50 years later, the assumption that individuals should be free to say what they think is in reversal. Groups who may think of themselves as ‘left-wing’ or ‘radical’ today seek to do what the overt right-wing reactionaries of the 1960s did: namely, protect us from ourselves in the interests of cohesion and harmony. It’s scary stuff – or should be. And especially worrying when it happens on campuses, usually through collusion between official student representatives and University authorities.

Perhaps Australia would benefit from its own version of the UK’s Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), which are conducted by the on-line group, Spiked.

Spiked has just published its fourth annual report, and it shows that campus censorship isn’t going away. Their survey, ranking 115 UK universities using a ‘traffic-light system’, shows that 55 per cent of universities now actively censor speech, 39 per cent stifle speech through excessive regulation, and just six per cent are truly free, open places. What’s more, in some areas, the severity of restrictions seems to be increasing. The FSUR survey found that almost half of all institutions attempt to censor or chill criticism of religion and transgenderism. It concludes that ‘There are blasphemies on campus, new and old, that students commit at their peril’.

The spirit of 1968 – a spirit that boils down to the right to confront and engage in the open exchange and debate of ideas – in a word ‘to rebel’ – is in urgent need of revival, especially if the next global capitalist crisis is ‘the big one’.

The late 1960s to early 1970s were years of success for the Left precisely because we created a milieu in which reactionaries in power and within the movement could be exposed and challenged. There was meaningful debate about what it meant to be left-wing, set against the context of real struggle. We challenged the old revisionist farts of the Communist Party of Australia as well as the old conservative farts of the Coalition Government.

I commenced this post with the words “One of the most positive qualities”. It would not be accurate to say that the whole cultural and political movement from the late 1960s to the early 1970s in Australia, with its many factions and outlets for expression, was consistently imbued with the ‘free speech’ ethos. And after the movement’s quick decline, an authoritarianism set in – among some/too many (though not all) – that ran counter to the earlier rebellious ethos. At its worst, some of us turned into our opposites. I personally regret that very much. It applied to me, too – but not everyone. It’s what happens when you stop thinking and become obedient, a follower rather than a critical thinker. You can be obedient to the state or to the gods or God – or, in my case, to a party leadership. Big mistake.

There were some terrific – poetic – slogans from the French student-worker uprising of 1968. “Il est interdit d’interdire”! “It is forbidden to forbid” represents a certain spirit. Of course, if it is dissected clinically, one can immediately think of flaws and exceptions: is it forbidden to forbid murder? But it is the spirit of that slogan that mattered back then. And still does.

 

 

We need Marx!

images

Arise, you independent artists!
Arise, fair users great and small!

Those evil cartels and their jurists
Have, through their exploits, chained you all!
(To the tune of “The Internationale”)

* * * * * *

The following, written by Bill Kerr, originally appeared in 2005 at LastSuperpower. The context was a challenge at a blog called Harry’s Place to discuss whether Marx and Engels are still relevant in the C21st.

* ** * * *

We need Marx and Engels because they understood things and said some things better than anyone else has since. It’s important to read the original because people who call themselves Marxists have always been in violent disagreement with what it means. If you don’t read the original then you have no chance of working it out for yourself.

Communism has had bad press following the failures of the Soviet Union, China etc. It’s seen as a dull grey world, with no variety in the shops, controlled by faceless, heartless apparatchiks- freedom of thought and expression is not allowed. At one time (the 1930s- WW1, The Great Depression, fascism in Spain destroyed faith in capitalism) it was fashionable to be communist or fellow traveller, but nowadays it is definitely not fashionable.

Personally, I draw these insights from the Manifesto, which help me understand the world today:

  • Capitalism is progressive relative to feudalism/ religious fundamentalism

It’s far better to live in our bourgeois democracy than to live under the rule of fascist Saddam or the religious fundamentalism of the Taliban.

Marx was very clear about the historical progressiveness of capitalism, a point also made by Marcus [who was one of the contributors at Harry’s Place blog] with this quote:

The bourgeoisie historically has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations, It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man his “natural superiors:, and has left no other nexus between the people than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade.

  • The melting, dynamic vision of capitalism and progress

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all the earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All this is solid melts into air, all that is holy of profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his, real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

http://www.marxists,org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/cho1.htm

 * * * * * *

We live in a world where things change, everything changes due to the continual development of productive forces and scientific progress. This provides the material basis for the elimination of poverty and a feeling of optimism and excitement about the future.

‘All that is solid melts into air’ is also the title of a great book about modernity and modern interpretation of Marx and others, by Marshall Berman, which I would highly recommend. Here’s a quote from Berman:

To be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradictions. It is to be overpowered by the immense bureaucratic organizations that have the power to control and often destroy all communities, values, lives; and yet to be undeterred in our determination to face these forces, to fight to change their world and make it our own. It is to be revolutionary and conservative; alive to new possibilities for experience and adventure, frightened by the nihilistic depths to which so many modern adventures lead, longing to create and to hold on to something real even as everything melts. We might even say that to be fully modern is to be anti-modern: from Marx’s and Dostoevsky’s time to our own, it has been impossible to grasp and embrace the modern worlds potentialities without loathing and fighting against some of its palpable realities. No wonder then that, as the great modernist and anti-modernist Kierkegaard said, the deepest modern seriousness must express itself through irony. Modern irony animates so many great works of art and thought over the past century; at the same time, it infuses millions of ordinary peoples lives. This book aims to bring these works and these lives together, to restore the spiritual wealth of modernist culture to the modern man and woman in the street, to show how, for all of us, modernism is realism. (pp 13- 14)

  • Productive forces are held back by capitalist productive relations

After praising capitalism for developing the productive, Marx and Engels then tear it down because the property relations of capitalism periodically (boom and bust) produces slow down and crisis:

                 The productive forces of the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of the bourgeois society; endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of the bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.

The dominant productive relations today in western society are boss/worker. No thinking person much likes working for a boss but it’s what we have to do to survive.

The point about boss/worker relations is that they are anachronistic, they hold back the further rapid development of the productive forces. Workers hold back and do not work at their full capacity, initiative and creativity. In a society where the workplace nexus between people (is) naked self-interest (and) callous “cash payments” it makes no sense to give it your best shot.

The real communist critique of capitalism is that capitalism social relations – boss/worker relations – holds back in the rapid development of productive forces.

For example, the dominance of Microsoft holds back the rapid development of  either superior or potentially superior software development such as the Linux operating system, which has been developed out of gift culture. We seem to have very significant groups of the open source software developers today who practise communist principles from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs- without even realising or connecting to the source.

This surfaced in a recent exchange between Bill Gates and his open source critics after Gates said:

               There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises.

This led to a flurry of design activity in the open source/creative commons community, who renamed themselves “creative communists” and developed a series of red flags and logos in response to the gibe:

 One Gates critic has even adapted the words of ‘The Internationale’ as an anthem for the freedom of information movement.

‘The Free Culture Internationale’

(Lyrics by Andrew Mike (2005) To the tune of “The Internationale” by Pierre Degaytre, 1888)

Arise, you independent artists!

Arise, fair users great and small!

Those evil cartels and their jurists
Have, through their exploits, chained you all!

But we have thought up a new system,

To make the fairer through and through;

Right now, they say, “We’ll never miss them,”

But one day soon, they’ll say “We do!”

So Bill Gates calls us commies,

But he can’t stand the sight

Of information freedom,

Reform of copyright!

So we go on creating,

Joyous and full of mirth,

For our great newborn copyleft

Shall shine upon the earth!

The spirit of communism as envisaged by Marx is alive and well in the open source community but perhaps because communism has such a bad name and Marx is little read by software developers they have not made the connection.

4) Atheism, materialism, facing reality abandoning the hopeful, sentimental approach

The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.

Before capitalism the rulers of society were the religious rulers.

With the development of science our Universe became far more interesting and beautiful place than anything envisioned by religion.

Atheism is strong in the Manifesto through its exposure of religious hypocrisy, as the transition was made into a society dominated by money. The Manifesto is an invitation to think for ourselves and to reject artificial soothings of religion.

Once again the most articulate exposures of these sorts of views comes from people like Richard Dawkins, who don’t personally identify with communism but who nevertheless show the relevance of the views expressed by Marx in 1848.

 

* * * * * *

Notes on Trump 22

1. I don’t really have a good enough handle on American politics to comment on the shutdown. Items below may just express my prejudice on Democrats complete tactical ineptitude, but here goes:

Whichever party starts to get hammered in the polls — like Republicans did in 2013 — will be more likely to cave.

https://www.vox.com/2018/1/20/16912832/government-shutdown-trump-approval

Sounds plausible to me.

Despite recent uptick in approval for Trump there doesn’t strike me as a lot of room for Trump to get much more hammered than he has been. Within Democrat bubble pretending that they really needed to shutdown the government immediately rather than keep negotiating over border security for another few weeks (February 16) may sound plausible. Hard to see how it would impress anyone outside that bubble given Trump had clearly supported allowing “Dreamers” to stay and courts had already ordered temporary continuation. So Democrats more likely to get hammered.

Even if GOP does get hammered that would mainly hurt incumbents who would fear losing their seats at 2018 primaries from caving on border security more than they would fear losing their seats if they got past primaries.

Trump has nothing to lose whichever way the two parties entrench the popular view of Washington gridlock and whichever of them caves. So why should he be worried? Media and Democrats whipping up outrage at Trump provoking them just confirms they still don’t get it.

Trump is the least likely to cave, main thing the Democrats are achieving is yet another opportunity for him to posture about border security to his base while they posture about preventing non-existant prospects of deportation of Dreamers to theirs. GOP incumbents next least likely to cave (especially since that would leave them more vulnerable in primaries to anti-immigration trumpists). That leaves it up to the Democrats who are only making a gesture anyway and are less inhibited about looking ridiculous.

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/18/donald-trump-the-only-man-in-washington-not-worried-about-a-shutdown.html

I was surprised it happened at all so any prediction from me is worthless, but I would not have been surprised if it ended as early as the next opportunity – Monday 1am.

https://www.axios.com/mcconnell-schedules-vote-to-end-government-shutdown-for-1-am-1516494185-b6536c54-cf3c-4437-b8d6-7cea1781f702.html

No real evidence, just a gut feeling, supported by a clueless commentary in the Guardian saying the opposite, that it “could run and run”:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/20/with-government-shutdown-republicans-reap-what-they-sow

Seems a bit less likely to end now as no sign of agreement yet, despite the vote on at 1am Monday being to keep government open only till Feb 9 while negotiating.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-22/shutdown-extends-into-third-day-as-senate-fails-to-end-impasse

Trump’s budget director says could last a week or could end immediately.

http://thehill.com/policy/finance/369978-trumps-budget-chief-says-shutdown-could-last-more-than-a-week

I can’t guess. Should not have happened at all. It did, so who knows how long it could last? Requires estimating Democrat stupidity. Too easy to assume limitless stupidity based on past rather than present. Compensating for prejudice too hard to avoid overshooting and wrongly imagining they would act rationally just because it would be so stupid not to. I give up on prediction. Pass.

2. Certainly Democrat Senators in states that are not solidly “blue” seem to agree that it is bad for them and have already caved. None of them voted for the shutdown. The five who voted against it were ALL from marginal or Republican States where their fear would be defeat by GOP rather than being primaried by their own. Here’s the list:

http://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/20/politics/senate-vote-government-shutdown/index.html

(The 5 Republicans who voted for shutdown were insisting on immediate Democrat cave rather than the compromise resolution letting it drag on to Feb 16. Two already switched to accept Democrat cave by Feb 9 instead of Feb 16. None show signs of switching sides since Democrats pretence they are defending DACA rather than opposing tigher border control is sheer fantasy.)

3. This NYT oped confirms my prejudice that even the Democrats leaders don’t really have much illusions about it and are purely doing it to placate their “base” which they are just as threatened by at the coming Democrat primaries as the GOP incumbents are threatened by theirs.

Interesting idea that transformation of both parties could result in a shift to a Westminster style constitution. I take that to be about ensuring the Executive generally has a reliable majority in legislature. (Shutdowns don’t actually happen – instead executive government gets replaced by whoever can command a legislative majority).

But the historical accident of english speaking countries having a two party system based on single party electorates could itself be vulnerable in any unfreezing of the US Constitution. The two parties are not that popular.

“New parties would pop up in the center – at least one and I think probably two. Eventually the Constitution would get a revisit. It’s a potentially ominous road but for now the Democrats have no choice but to walk it.”

No possibility of revisiting Constitution before 2020 election. This supports my view that Trump is successfully creating conditions for a four way contest then, which would give him a much better chance with Presidency potentially thrown from deadlocked Electoral College to House of Representatives voting by States. Of course Democrats could start walking a different road after 2018. But I would have thought it would be easier to avoid the road they are walking down towards a split after 2018 if they could do it now rather than making symbolic pandering gestures for pretended unity.

4. Here’s some details on how completely the Trump obsession dominates US news. Fox is the only channel that does not devote more than half its airtime to Trump stories.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-13/donald-trump-news-media-coverage/9125810

5. Wired provides some rivetting analysis of Trump’s medical checkup. Why the obsession? My guess is that with hopes of removal by impeachment, incapacity or a coup d’etat from the intelligence agencies fading they have to analyse the prospects of “something” to save them.

https://www.wired.com/story/trump-physical-exam/

6. Why wapo imagines it could worry people by running “unverified” stories about Trump and porn stars.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/what-should-scare-us-about-trumps-porn-star-scandal-20180119-h0lec6.html

7. Plus, in a dramatic new breakthrough, a porn star has revealed that Trump is terrified by sharks:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/19/sharks-donald-trump

8. And here’s 8 “wild” details, “not for the faint of heart”.

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/19/stormy-daniels-trump-porn-star-interview-349311

9. But, woe is us “this is not likely to harm Trump politically”.

“That’s because the religious right has decided to ignore Trump’s personal failings, and it has already paid off forla  them.”

But its still great clickbait for liberals.

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/19/stormy-daniels-sex-scandal-wont-harm-trump-commentary.html

10. In other news from La La land residents can be reassured that the Mueller inuiry will not be delayed by the shutdown.

https://www.lawfareblog.com/government-shutdown-wont-stop-mueller-investigation

 

The heat and the tennis – ‘Yes’ to team culture, ‘No’ to sheep culture

Elite sporting people are put up as role models and one may wonder what that model is.

by TomB

* * * *

The recent case of tennis players in the 2018 Australian Open having to play in 69 degree celsius (reflected) heat at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne is raising eyebrows at the minute.

Elite sporting people are put up as role models and one may wonder what that model is.

They are told what to eat, where to go and what to do. They are monitored on a potential 24/7 basis.

The culture seeps through all levels of sport. That culture of ‘do what you are told and don’t ask questions no matter how bad it seems’ is designed to develop a sheep mentality not a team mentality.

Team is about working together, making decisions together for the general good not for the good of the few who are paying you.

The idea that you are expendable and can be easily replaced and therefore have few rights is not limited to sport but is something organised sport tries to reinforce.

The culture of ‘don’t ask questions – others know better’, ‘let the rulers rule’, etc, is one that needs changing.

It is right to rebel!

 

* * * *

 

Letter smuggled out of Pentridge Gaol, Melbourne, in July 1972

Pentridge
When I read my letter today – 45 years on – I stand by its description of prison life. However, I would moderate some of my language… Also, the analysis that concluded that ‘all prisoners are political prisoners’ because they were victims of the class war was manifestly wrong.

Letter written by Barry York and smuggled out of Pentridge Gaol in July 1972 when he was a political prisoner in ‘A’ Division with Fergus Robinson and Brian Pola.

Preamble (14 September 2017)
The letter was written secretly in my cell in ‘A’ Division when I was a prisoner in Pentridge Gaol with two comrades, Brian Pola and Fergus Robinson. There was no shortage of time to write it, as we were in solitary confinement, in our separate cells, for 16 hours each day.

In writing the letter, I was careful not to be detected by the screws. They would have been very angry about it. So, I hid it under my mattress, folding the letter narrowly so that I could hide it under the side of the mattress nearest to the wall. One day, the warders came in to do a cell inspection. They did the usual finger across the top of the door checking for dust, and then checked that the blankets were folded into perfect squares and then – to my horror – they decided to check under the mattress. They pushed it up from the bed-frame but not far enough and so my letter was still hidden at the side of the bed nearest to the wall. I was very worried, I can tell you.

I forget how the letter was smuggled out – possibly by Ted Hill on one of his visits or by one of our other ‘legal advisers’. I recall that Ted used to smuggle the newspaper ‘Vanguard’ into the gaol by rolling it up and putting it under his trouser leg. He would then give it to me, during a ‘legal visit’, and I’d do the same and carry it in my sock and trouser leg to A Division.

‘Vanguard’, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), published the letter on 17 August 1972 after we were released (on 4th August). They knew not to publish it while we were still inside. Thank heavens.

* * * *

We were gaoled for contempt of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1972.
We had been leaders of the militant student movement at La Trobe University and prohibited from entering the campus under an injunction taken out by the University authorities. We defied the injunction, seeing it as an encroachment on free speech and an attempt to quell campus militancy. For ‘stepping foot upon the premises known as La Trobe University’, we were gaoled without trial, without sentence (ie, indefinitely), without rights of bail or appeal.

Fergus was captured first and did four months. Brian Pola next, did three months. I was caught last, and served six weeks. Rodney Taylor, the fourth named in the injunction, avoided capture. We were released when the University authorities surrendered to the mass campaign against the gaolings and approached the Supreme Court for the abandonment of the injunctions.

* * * *

When I read my letter today – 45 years on – I stand by its description of prison life. However, I would moderate some of my language. For instance, I wouldn’t refer to the gaol as a concentration camp; though technically it was similar. But, ‘concentration camp’ brings to mind the Nazi rule of terror in Germany in the 1930s and Pentridge was nothing like that. (Did I even have to say that?)

Also, the analysis that concluded that ‘all prisoners are political prisoners’ because they were victims of the class war was manifestly wrong. There was, and is, a big difference between people who are imprisoned for their political activities or beliefs and those who rob banks and steal cars. I’m not sure now why I would have gone along with that anarchist slogan. I identified as a communist, after all.

* * * *

In 1973, Fergus and Brian and I, and others, revived the Victorian Prisoners’ Action Committee (PAC). I became its spokesman for three or four years. The PAC fought for prison reform but tried to connect the issue to the bigger question of capitalism and its overthrow. We supported the rebellion that was taking place inside Pentridge and other gaols, led by inmates with whom we had become friendly, and perhaps influenced, on the inside. (We used to hide works by Marx, Lenin and Mao on the very top of the bookcase in the prison library, laying them flat and out of view of the prison officers. We were able to receive such books from the outside, after a La Trobe academic comrade assured the prison authorities they were ‘for educational purposes’! Sympathetic prisoners knew of this secret stash of subversive material that was allowed in only for the ‘La Trobe Three’).

In campaigning for prison reform, we were able to assist individuals on their release. This experience was double-edged, and some negative experiences led me to better understand that there is such a thing as personal responsibility and agency, not just victimhood. Even the most oppressed individuals can make choices for the better within the confines of socio-economic limitation. Too many didn’t. Bad culture perpetuates oppression.

* * * *

This year, I came across the letter as published in ‘Vanguard’ while sorting and culling folders of old paperwork. It reminded me of how genuine we were in our commitment to revolutionary change back then, and how lucky I was to have been active in those years of global solidarity from 1967 to 1972. We really believed we were approaching a revolutionary situation. Perhaps the state had similar feelings, and that may explain why they came down so heavily on those who went beyond reformism and challenged the system itself.

Of course, the revolution didn’t materialize but the broader social movement, of which we were part, won changes that cannot be reversed.

And, perhaps best of all: we certainly gave some bad reactionaries a very hard time!

* * * *

For those interested in more detail, my book ‘Student Revolt’, is now available free on-line at https://c21stleft.com/2015/09/05/student-revolt-la-trobe-university-1967-to-1973/
Barry York, 14 September 2017

* * * *

The letter from Pentridge (July 1972)

As I write this letter from my cell in “A” Division, two very significant occurrences are taking place.

Firstly a radio announcement from the Prison Committee’s prisoners’ representative has called for prisoners in remand to submit affidavits to Mr. Kelly, a solicitor on the Government Prison Inquiry, regarding a vicious attack by about 30 screws (N.B. prison slang for warders) on 4 Bendigo escapees and about 6 other prisoners. Pentridge is buzzing with the news. The escapees, according to eye witness reports, were beaten with 3 ft. long night sticks. Apparently, one had his head forced through a railing on a staircase. The scalp split wide open and he lost much blood.

Other prisoners in remand who objected to the screws’ violent attack were also bashed. One of the prisoners who received a bashing has identified [name removed] not only as one of those most active in the baton attack, but also as one who laid in the boot after some of the prisoners were beaten unconscious!! The escapees, still without medical aid, have been placed in Pentridge’s ‘maximum security’ division, “H” Division.

HELL DIVISION
“H” Division stands for “Hell” Division. And this leads me to the second significant occurrence taking place as I write.

From his cell in “H”, Paul Hertzell [correct spelling is Hetzel] is screaming out the following statement:–
“Hey all you toffs (N.B. prison slang for ‘good blokes’) out there! You’re doing a terrific job! We’ve got to get rid of this incompetent government!”, “Down with the imperial government!”, “This is Paul Hertzell in ‘H’. All ‘H’ prisoners are political prisoners – a result of the government’s incompetency!”, “Free all political prisoners!”, “Abolish ‘H’!”, “Hey you toffs out there! This is Paul Hertzell in ‘H’…”

I have an almost uncontrollable urge to climb up to my window and scream back my complete support, but unfortunately, I lack the courage of Paul Hertzell. Confronted in an isolated prison cell by overpowering violence, Hertzell’s protests prove conclusively what we already know to be true – namely, that where there is repression there is resistance.

SYMBOL OF IMPERIALISM
Pentridge was born out of the domination of Australia by British imperialism in the 19th Century. Today it serves as a monument to the fascist bestiality of the U.S., British and Japanese imperialists and the local quislings who dominate Australia economically, politically, and culturally. This statement may seem rhetorical and emotional but the situation in Pentridge, with its emphasis on psychological as well as physical punishment, is similar to a concentration camp. It is an institution of fascism in the sense that it is an institution based on overt reactionary violence. Its existence and present function and nature proves that the state is a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and, that under capitalism this means the oppression of the working class by the capitalist class.

Let me elaborate by relating my own personal experiences and some of the experiences of other prisoners, in the form of a brief description of the divisions which constitute Pentridge.

“A” DIVISION
We are currently located in “A” Division. Relatively speaking, “A” is the “best” Division in Pentridge. The prisoners throughout Pentridge have waged heroic struggles which have improved conditions in “A” Division and led to a reduction in the use of violence against the prisoners by the screws. Applying the old colonial principle of ‘divide and rule’, one very small section of “A” Division is reserved for the elite of prisoners; the ‘aristocracy of prisoners’ if you like. This section (consisting of about ten out of 160 cells) is used as a public relations centre. Any visiting magistrates of government inquiry teams are promptly directed to this section. The prisoners there are the “good boys” who earn $2.50 a week in positions as head librarian and the like. The real “A” Division is the “A” in which the vast majority of prisoners exist. No T.V. sets, record players or heaters for these prisoners on $1.30 a week – just mental and psychological anguish, pre-planned long term physical destruction, and cruel, sadistic humiliation. This is the real “A” Division, the “A” Division in which the vast majority exist.

“B” DIVISION
“B” Division lacks the relative freedom of life in “A”. Conditions are far worse and the intensity of manual labour and degradation by the authorities are far more extreme. “B” is organised on the basis of strict regimented discipline. One prisoner who spent some years in “B” has informed me that the discipline in “B” reminded him of the discipline enforced upon him in “H” Division. Unlike in “A” where you are permitted to occasionally forget to address the screws as “sir” in “B” any such omission is sometimes met with physical assault, but more typically, verbal abuse. A report received from another prisoner who had just ‘graduated’ from “B” to “A” claims that “the tense atmosphere in ‘B’ can be sliced with a knife”. Again, I could not help but recall those words of Chairman Mao’s “Where there is repression there is resistance”.

“C” DIVISION
“C” Division looks like a scene from a ghost town in one of those old cowboy movies. The cells are literally iron bolted stables. Even the government declared “C” Division a ‘condemned’ division some years ago but still nothing has been done about it. “C” is renowned throughout Pentridge for its rat problem. Huge gaps exist in the cell doors which allow the rats to enter each cell. Naturally, there is a much higher rate of disease in “C” than in “A”. “C” remains unsewered. Prisoners must contend with only a small night pan. One old prisoner who spent several years in “C”, explained to me that during summer he used to sleep on the floor of his cell with his face near the gap below the door because the general stench of “C” and the specific smell of his cell used to become unbearable.

“D” DIVISION
“D” Division or “Remand” is second only to “H” Division. I spent some time in remand. The cells in “D” are basically toilets equipped with a bed. The entire cell smells of semi-sewered toilet. Even by the lowly standards of bourgeois morality the conditions are appalling. The “D” prisoners spend all day long pacing up and down the remand yard. This yard consists of a small triangular concrete yard surrounded by three huge blue-stone walls which block out any sunlight. One shower, one open toilet, and one clothes hoist allegedly make the yard suitable for fifty men. One prisoner I met had spent 12 months in remand awaiting trial. In this sense, remand is a sort of ‘limbo’. It represents an in-between world between the courts and prison.

“E” DIVISION
Any prisoner may see the prison doctor at “E” Division and receive medical or dental attention. “E” is basically a dormitory for sick prisoners. It is apparently based on very strict discipline and I have been told some prisoners are sent to “E” as a form of punishment. There is only one doctor to cater for Pentridge’s 1,200 prisoners.

“F” DIVISION
“F” is simply a dormitory for about 30 prisoners from the remand yard. The rest of the remand prisoners retire in “D” Division cells which I have already described.

“G” DIVISION
“G” is the Prison Psychiatric Centre. Not all prisoners who need psychiatric care get it though. In “A” at the moment, for one example, is a prisoner who just sits in the sun trembling all day. He studies his hands as though inspecting each intricate part of the mechanics of a clock, for hours on end. He showers each day but can never remember where the shower room is located. He clearly requires urgent psychiatric attention.

“J” DIVISION
Before describing the notorious “H” Division, let me say something about “J” Division. Presumably “J” stands for “Junior” as the prisoners here are aged between 18 and 21. Some of these lads are beaten and humiliated by the senior authorities and their lackeys, the screws. All sorts of sexually perverted acts are launched against some of these basically decent young Australians. Looking down into the “J” Division Labour Yard and seeing these tired, ragged, illiterate, scruffy uniformed young prisoners, I could not help but recollect some of the apt descriptions of the Pentridges of yesteryear as reported by Charles Dickens in “Little Dorrit”.

“THE SLOT”, “H” DIVISION
The maximum security Division is “H” Division or, to use the prison slang, the “Slot”. The “H” stands for “Hell”. I have interviewed ex-“H” prisoners who have informed me of the heinous sadistic crimes launched against them by the screws in “H”. I entered “H” two days ago to collect some laundry. It would not be an exaggeration if I were to describe the effect “H” had on me as “spine chilling”. The “Slot” is a small building guarded at the front entrance by two huge brutal looking screws. The first thing I noticed on entering the front doors with my laundry trolley was a large mirror (used to observe anyone approaching) with a long horizontal crack in it. I later discovered that a prisoner had been thrown onto the mirror. The whole situation struck me as nightmare like and unreal. It was very macabre, like something out of Luna Park’s Chamber of Horrors, only extremely serious. The two screws reminded me of “heavies” from a Boris Karloff movie. They abused me and attempted to humiliate me. Why? Simply because I dared enter the “Slot” and leave with my trolley full of laundry.

“H” prisoners are put to work in the “Labour Yard” where they spend hours each day breaking up rocks. They are marched around the yard with military discipline. Most of these men have been sent to “H” for breaches of internal discipline. Many of those who have visited “H” still have the signs to prove it: scars, broken noses, etc. Conditions are so bad that two “H” prisoners have hung themselves during the past few years. Others cut their wrists of throat in order to be removed from “H” and sent to hospital. One “H” prisoner swallowed a 12 inch long metal towel rack. He was sent to hospital and the rack was removed by surgical operation. He was then returned to “H” and promptly swallowed the metal towel rack once more.

“H” from what I can fathom, rightly deserves the title: “Hell”.

You have probably heard about the infamous “Bash”, or at least seen the slogans painted on factory walls around North Melbourne, “Ban the Bash”. The “Bash” has recently been abolished as a result of the prisoner’s rebellion and the government’s inquiry. I met one 26 year-old prisoner who had just been released from “H” after 3 and a half years! Snowy white hair, badly injured eyes, and sickly yellow skin, this once dark haired, normal, healthy young Australian has been subjected to one of capitalism’s “rehabilitation” programmes. He related to me his experiences in “H” when the “Bash” was a formal daily occurrence. The screws would order individual “H” prisoners to jump into the air. When the prisoner landed after having jumped into the air, he would be told: “You were ordered to jump into the air, you were not told to land” and promptly given a bashing. On other occasions prisoners in “H” would be directed to march into cell walls and keep marching until badly bruised and bleeding. Others would be humiliated and forced to imitate animals.

All this in the name of “rehabilitation”!!

A few days ago a riot broke out in “H”. I saw the smoke, heard the screams, and saw the screws frantically running hither and thither. Again I recalled those wise and correct words, “Where there is repression there is resistance”.

THE PRISONERS AND THE SCREWS
Now I would like to give you my general impressions of my fellow prisoners and the screws.

My fellow prisoners are, generally speaking, courageous and kind-hearted men. Most have an instinctive hatred of the capitalist class. They are all political prisoners in the sense that their alleged crimes are socially induced. No murderer is born a murderer, no rapist born a rapist. The various types of social pressures exerted on decent working people by the corrupt and exploitative capitalist class force some people to resort to crime. But what do we mean by “crime”? Is the man who steals food (or money to buy food) for his family really a criminal? And what of the unemployed or unemployable, the so called “vagrant”? Ah, but, you will ask, what of the man who murdered and raped his sister? Surely, I reply, he needs help and pity, not sadist-based punishment. He should be, to coin the popular stereotyped expression, “rehabilitated”. But the notion of “rehabilitation” is by no means a neutral concept. The fundamental question remains “rehabilitated” to what sort of social system and to what sort of value system? The capitalist class can be so hypocritical! They maintain and profit from the social system based on exploitation in the form of private appropriation and the value system based on selfishness and yet they seek to “rehabilitate” the convicted criminal to re-accept those very same social conditions and values which engender crime in the first place!!

This is the same capitalist class which gives out-and-out “Sanctity of Law” to mass destruction of property and people in Indo-China and to the foreign plunder of Australia, yet send basically decent working people to the Pentridge concentration camp for alleged “crimes against private property”. Of course there are criminals and there are criminals. But getting to the root cause of the problem, the real criminals are the very same hypocrites who uphold the present penal system. I refer of course to the criminal capitalist class which, like a lowly parasitic thief, thrives off the labour of others.

“PRISON POLICE”
Now let me comment on the screws, the prison police. Just as it is often claimed that there are “good” as well as “bad” police, so it is said there are the “good” screws and the “bad” screws. The role of the screws is really indefensible. They maintain “law-n-order” within the concentration camp. Some do it with a smile, others don’t give a damn, others take great pride in their work. This latter type is the most prominent, active, and vocal within Pentridge. All the screws are armed with either batons, guns, or .303 rifles. The latter type of screw is sadistic and gains pleasure from humiliating the prisoners. They abuse and try to humiliate us. In “H” Division for example, prisoners are forced to lie on their stomachs naked on their beds and hold the cheeks of their back-sides wide apart for the screws to examine. In “A” Division, one cold frosty morning I was ordered by a clenched fisted screw to “Get you f…… hands out of your f…… pockets”. (They are very foul-mouthed creatures.) However, in trying so desperately to humiliate others, they really only humiliate themselves.

The screws and prison authorities fear the prisoners’ rebellion. Like all reactionaries they are superficially strong but essentially weak. Like the vast majority of prisoners I hate the screws and prison authorities with an intense class hatred.

The day is not far off when justice will be dealt to the screws, the prison authorities, and the entire ruling class!

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