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


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!


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.


 * * * * * *

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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:


(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.


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.


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


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


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


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.


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



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

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.

“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.

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.

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 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 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 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.

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” 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” 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.

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 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”.

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.

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!


Notes on Trump 21

1. Hawaii missile alert false alarm could be significant. Conceivably a bungled alert message could have gone out accidentally to all mobile phones, followed by a long delay in which it was cancelled by by twitter messages but not by an authorised message to mobile phones. More plausibly it was an intentional test.

The last time anything like this happened was during the Vietnam war. The national emergency broadcast system was activated and all radio stations were supposed to stop normal programming and tell listeners to tune in to government emergency channels. Most didn’t. Then the alert was cancelled without proper authentication of the cancellation message and the few stations that did comply promptly went back on air.

This was announced as two successive blunders just like the current smaller scale version. But subsequently reminders were sent to all stations that they were supposed to comply and remain off air until authorised regardless of how obvious it was that there was no likelihood of the alert really not being a drill. I explained this at the time and thought it was related to Nixon trying to give credibility to the possibility of U.S. resorting to nuclear weapons in Vietnam by testing out necessary civil defence preparations that would accompany any such threats unless they were total bullshit.

Subsequently I think the timing was more related to Soviet inquiries about whether the U.S. would accept a Soviet nuclear strike on China and Nixon’s reply that it would not. I don’t know whether any documentation either way has since become declassified (or whether the risks of damage from such an exercise meant there would only be verbal instructions and no documentation to declassify). But I remain certain it was no coincidence that BOTH aspects of the alert system were tested “by accident” (and neither worked). As Oscar Wilde might have said about orphans – to accidentally send one alert message could be considered a misfortune, like losing one parent but to then accidentally fail to send a cancellation, like losing both parents , suggests sheer carelessness.

Even if I am right, it could just be a low level decision by some official in the State of Hawaii to run such a test out of the same sort of concerns that have had the media carrying on about imminent war with North Korea. The Government of Japan went so far as to alarm its citizens and encourage them to seek shelter without any pretence of an accidental alert when North Korea fired an unarmed rocket that merely travelled through international space well above Japan’s territory. This was clearly done in order to help create atmosphere rather than to test alert systems.

The Trump administration is no position domestically to behave like the Japanese government did, as it would certainly produce a backlash in support of appeasing North Korea rather than the opposite reaction as in Japan.

But it could conceivably be aimed at causing North Korean analysts to wonder whether U.S. threats of “fire and fury” should be taken more seriously as they have not remained unaccompanied by the testing of civil defense preparations that would necessarily accompany any such threats that were real. Certainly nothing else about U.S. force posture has changed that would incline them to doubt that the threats they face are entirely from sanctions rather than military strikes.


(Also includes Guardian’s take on item 5 below).

2. The Intercept has a good analysis of bipartisan support for entrenching the surveillance state:


…Debate on the bill and the amendments began on the House floor yesterday afternoon, and it became quickly apparent that leading Democrats intended to side with Trump and against those within their own party who favored imposing safeguards on the Trump administration’s ability to engage in domestic surveillance. The most bizarre aspect of this spectacle was that the Democrats who most aggressively defended Trump’s version of the surveillance bill — the Democrats most eager to preserve Trump’s spying powers as virtually limitless — were the very same Democratic House members who have become media stars this year by flamboyantly denouncing Trump as a treasonous, lawless despot in front of every television camera they could find.

LEADING THE CHARGE against reforms of the FBI’s domestic spying powers was Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee who, in countless TV appearances, has strongly insinuated, if not outright stated, that Trump is controlled by and loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Indeed, just this weekend, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Schiff accused Trump of corruptly abusing the powers of the DOJ and FBI in order to vindictively punish Hilary Clinton and other political enemies. Referring to Trump’s various corrupt acts, Schiff pronounced: “We ought to be thinking in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, beyond these three years what damage may be done to the institutions of our democracy. ”

Yet just two days later, there was the very same Adam Schiff, on the House floor, dismissing the need for real safeguards on the ability of Trump’s FBI to spy on Americans. In demanding rejection of the warrant requirement safeguard, Schiff channeled Dick Cheney — and the Trump White House — in warning that any warrant requirements would constitute “a crippling requirement in national security and terrorism cases.”

Standing with Schiff in opposing these safeguards was his fellow California Democrat Eric Swalwell, who has devoted his entire congressional term almost exclusively to accusing Trump of being a puppet of the Kremlin, in the process becoming a media darling among the MSNBC set and online #Resistance movement. Yet after spending a full year warning that Trump’s real loyalty was to Moscow rather than America, Swalwell echoed Schiff in demanding that no warrant safeguards were needed on the spying power of Trump’s FBI.

If one were to invoke the standard mentality and tactics of Schiff and Swalwell — namely, impugning the patriotism and loyalty of anyone questioning their Trump/Russia accusations — one could seriously question their own patriotism in handing these vast, virtually unlimited spying powers to a president whom they say they believe is a corrupt agent of a foreign power.

While Trump, as president, is the head of the executive branch, the official with the greatest control over the FBI they just empowered is his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. In other words, Pelosi, Schiff, and their allies just voted to vest great, unchecked power in an official the Democrats have (with good reason) long denounced as corrupt and deeply racist. As Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (who has vowed with Rand Paul to filibuster the bill when it reaches the Senate) put it yesterday: “This Section 702 bill would give AG Jeff Sessions unchecked power to use this information against Americans. This bill prevents his decisions from EVER being challenged in court.”

But more significantly, the Amash amendment containing the proposed reforms (including a warrant requirement) was defeated by a much smaller margin: 233-183. While 125 Democratic House members were joined by 58 GOP members in voting for these reforms, 55 Democrats — led by Pelosi and Schiff — joined with the GOP majority to reject them, ensuring defeat of Amash’s amendment by a mere 26 votes.

This means that Trump’s bill to ensure his FBI’s ongoing power to spy on the communications of Americans without warrants was saved by Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell abandoning the large majority of their own Democratic caucus, and instead joining with Ryan and the GOP majority to ensure defeat of all meaningful reforms. Here are the 55 Democrats who not only voted in favor of the Trump-endorsed spying bill, but who also voted against the reform amendment to require a warrant. Beyond Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell, it includes the second most-senior Democrat Steny Hoyer and former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

…if there is any principle that ought to command support across party and ideological lines, it’s the one long embedded in the Constitution: We do not want our government spying on us unless it can first obtain a warrant to do so — the principle that was trampled on yesterday by the unholy alliance of Trump, the GOP congressional leadership, Nancy Pelosi, and Adam Schiff.

Indeed, several of Pelosi’s own caucus members made all of these points with usually explicit rhetoric. Here, for instance, was Rep. Ted Lieu of California who — like Schiff and Swalwell — has become a media and #Resistance star this year for his unflinching denunciations of Trump as a corrupt Kremlin tool but who, unlike his California colleagues, cast the only vote rationally reconcilable with his yearlong crusade to impose limits on Trump’s spying powers.

But the most important point here is what this says about how Democrats really view Donald Trump. How can anyone rational possibly take seriously all the righteous denunciations from people like Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell about how Trump is a lawless, authoritarian tyrant existentially threatening American democracy when those very same people just yesterday voted in favor of vesting him the virtually limitless power to spy on Americans with no warrants or safeguards? If someone really believed those accusations about Trump — as opposed to just pretending to believe them for cynical political manipulation of their followers — how could they possibly have done what they did yesterday?

Cliches are boring to hear, yet often contain truth. That actions speak louder than words is one of those. The next time you see Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, or Eric Swalwell waxing indignantly on cable TV about how Trump is a grave menace to the rule of law and American democracy, focus less on their scripted talking points and more on their actions, beginning with their vote yesterday to vest in him these awesome powers while blocking safeguards and checks. That will tell you all you need to know about who they really are and what they really believe.

I get a bit sick of Americans not disputing their patriotic duty to support their government spying on everybody else. But the main thrust is spot on.

Omitted from above long quote is an account of the significant numbers of Democrats as well as Republicans who refused to go along. This is also of interest, not just because of potential implications when it gets to the Senate.

This story is interesting also in its implications for Democrat splits when they have a majority in Congress. Those Democrats who really do want infrastructure spending, healthcare improvements and other “populist” measures are unlikely to be any more inhibited about voting with Trumpist Republicans to give Trump the majority he needs for measures that will help him win in 2020 than those Democrats who really want a surveillance state were inhibited about providing a majority on this issue.

ACLU milder but same point:


3. Foreign policy establishment seems to be getting less hysterical about Trump


4. Meanwhile media is drifting to a parallel universe….

Fairfax has this story in today’s Age (Sunday 12 January) p22


Originally from wapo, though they don’t even bother to mention that anymore. So it isn’t by some Australian journo totally ignorant of American political culture:

When Bill Kristol, neocon never-trumper, tweeted “I’m with her” re Orah for President. It wasn’t hard for me as an alien from a parallel universe to grasp that he was ridiculing Democrats.

But here’s two Washington Post journalists who actually live and breathe American political culture saying

The viability of a Winfrey campaign, on Monday at least, seemed capable of uniting both ends of the political spectrum.

According to them, Bill Kristol’s:

tongue-in-cheek declaration gave way to an objective case for her candidacy: “Understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren,” he tweeted. “Less touchy-feely than Joe Biden, more pleasant than Andrew Cuomo, more charismatic than John Hickenlooper.”

Actually the full quote started with: “Oprah: Sounder on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands ….”

Interestingly Janet Albrechtsen in the Australiangave the same quote, with exactly the same omission so she too was just picking up themes from wapo to bloviate about.

Bill Kristol explained later:

Can I honestly look at you and say she’s less qualified to be president than Donald Trump? I cannot


The wap story is clearly appalled at “this surprising groundswell” as was Janet Albrechtson. But there is no way they could have made idiots of themselves by including Bill Kristol with the other GOP commentators unless they not only failed to grasp that he was just sarcastically emphasizing “never Trump” while reminding everybody that neither of them has any qualifications whatever.

How out of touch with American political culture does one have to be not to understand that from any Republican “Sounder in economics than Bernie Sanders” and “Understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren” is an expression of disdain somewhat similar to “less vicious than Joe McCarthy”?

As an alien claiming that wapo journalists have left the planet I had to actually use google to confirm that the same applies to:

“Less touchy-feely than Joe Biden” (a notoriously touchy feely Democrat Vice president and potential 2020 candidate)



“more charismatic than John Hickenlooper” (a notoriously uncharismatic Democrat State Governor)



“more pleasant than Andrew Cuomo” (a notoriously unpleasant Democrat State Governor)


But there you are. It isn’t a satirical piece. Omitting the reference toBernie Sanders must have been deliberate for wapo and blind bloviating for Janet Albrechtson in The Australian. Presumably for wapo it felt cognitively dissonant and for The Australian it was just another opportunity to bloviate about the mindlessness of liberals (I can relate to that!). But they missed all five jokes and no editorial staff noticed. They are genuinely worried that American politics has become insane, which suggests some degree of insight. But they also honestly believe a GOP never trumper mocking liberals side by pointing out that potential Democrat candidates are as absurd as Trump should lead their article as an “objective case” for another celebrity candidate that is part of a “surprising groundswell” that is “uniting both sides of the political spectrum”.

Hopefully they will turn out to be right. So if the whole thing hasn’t fallen to bits by 2024, it could be Condi Rice v Oprah.

5. Fake news. WSJ releases transcript and audio claiming Trump saying “I have a good relationship with Kim Jong un” in response to White House releasing audio of Trump saying “I’d have a good relationship with Kim Jong un”. The difference is easier to spot than comparing “win bigly” with “win big league” because of the intonation used for a hypothetical instead of an assertion. That makes the natural interpretation clearly “I’d” but this is widely reported as yet another Trump lie.



Compare above report with New York Post:


Which is more likely to have readers continue to regard them as credible?

6. CNN expresses empathy for its viewers who aren’t being paid for participating in the Trump reality television show that CNN’s sponsors are paying CNN for putting to air almost 24/7:


7. Fox claiming credit to Trump for reduced unemployment among blacks and hispanics:


If he can avoid crash before 2020 this is likely to have much more impact than perceptions of racism. Doubt that Trump could ever reach Bannon’s target of 40% of black and hispanic votes but it would certainly reduce the ethnic mobilization for Democrats.

8. Right-wing news reacting to shock, horror at Trump calling hell holes, shit holes:


When will liberals give up on trying to win over conservatives based on imagining that they care so much about polite language?

9. CNN responds to Trumpists pretending that it matters that Trump whether “shithouse” instead of “shithole” by explaining that it was racist because countries like El Salvador as opposed to Norway are Muslim er, that is black, or brown or something (actually .13% black, 86.3% Mesitzo) anyway they are certainly Hispanic so it is obviously racist.


BTW “Salvadorans who are racially European, especially Mediterranean, and indigenous people in El Salvador who do not speak indigenous languages nor have an indigenous culture, as well as tri-racial Pardo Salvadorans, also identify themselves as Mestizo culturally. El Salvador is the only country in Central America that does not have a significant African population….

Very clear that liberals won’t actually challenge Trumpist hostility to immigration and especially immigration from hellhole countries but will just insist on being “nice” about it and express horror at vulgar language.

10. Liberal economist Kenneth Rogoff at the Guardian warns readers that Trump might meet 3% growth target and this could result in higher wages. Explains how to spin it as only benefiting the 1%.


If this mentality becomes widespread enough among Democrats then Trump could even win 2018, not just 2020.

11. Officially conferring “fake news” awards on the fake media would be “unethical” and an infringement on the freedom of the press by violating its First Amendment rights not to be criticized…


12. Above confirms it has indeed been an exhausting year for the media, which stands along with the intelligence agencies and the judiciary as the only institutions that liberals can hope might be able to prevent the elected government from governing:

If there is one underlying theme of Trump’s first year, it is his willingness — whether in his disregard for ethics norms relating to his business empire or his belief that he has the “absolute right” to do what he wants with the Justice Department — to flout every expectation and constraint of his office.
It’s a trend evident in his assault on institutions that act as checks on his power, like the intelligence agencies, the judiciary and the press, that will bear the scars after he has left the Oval Office.
“Donald Trump has no regard for rules, he has thumbed his nose at rules his entire life,” said David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has known Trump for 30 years and has a new book out on Trump’s presidency coming on Tuesday.
“He is a dictator in waiting, he talks as a dictator and he will do whatever he wants,” said Johnston, whose book “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America” concludes that Trump is unique in being the only US president not to pursue policies in the national interest.



Why, or why are we just condemned to writing books about it?

How DARE they mock us with fake awards?

How come the rednecks we mock and hate are STILL supporting Trump just because we hate him and he hates us too. How many times do we have to tell them that we are less vulgar than he is until they get it into their thick heads?




Notes on Trump 20

1. Gallup says:

Note: There will be no updates to the Presidential Job Approval Center from Jan. 8 through mid-February 2018. Until then, find weekly Trump job approval updates here. Approval by subgroups will resume on a monthly, rather than weekly, basis.

I’m only interested in GOP subgroups until November 2018 primaries so will only report those monthly unless I become aware of another poll that publicly provides that weekly. (In which case there would be a break from previous figures based on different methods and only future relative changes would be relevant).

2. Stephen Miller on CNN

At 6′:30″ Miller tries to mention that Bannon did not push the travel ban as claimed in the book. The interviewer and all reports I have seen didn’t even notice. This reminds me of the interview in which Trump tried to admit that he knew perfectly well that firing Comey would only prolong the “Russia thing” but they were so keen on the “Russia thing” that they didn’t get it.

3. I’ve now read (or rather “played”) “Fire and Fury” (link in Notes 19). Its well written and quite entertaining. Basically strings together all the gossip already “revealed” by “multiple sources” to indelibly imprint a picture of a completely disfunctional Trump administration heading for Trump’s removal as mentally incompetent. This is exactly what a large audience desperately wants to believe so I am pretty sure they will – and that is the biggest favour anybody could do for Trump.

4. New feature is that some of the “multiple sources” are now more identifiable. Reads like the author was himself the conduit for the vast industry of bizarre reporting of “White House officials” and “friends of Trump” confirming everything that the liberal media want to believe about him.

Main thing I don’t feel confident about is what is going on with Steve Bannon. My view was that Bannon leaving the White House only made it easier for challengers at GOP primaries to openly organize behind Bannon’s forces while White House continued to keep GOP incumbents paralysed. “Evidence” in the book strongly suggests I was (and still am) wrong about that. It worries me that continuing to think what I do continue to think amounts to a preposterously complicated conspiracy theory.

5. Especially puzzling is the reporting of Bannon’s belated walk back of apology for saying that Donald Jr’s attendance at meeting with Russians was “treasonous”:


Bannon says that his comments were aimed at Trump’s sacked campaign manager Paul Manafort, who attended the meeting with Donald Jr and the Russians (and notoriously  worked previously as a campaigner for a pro-Kremlin oligarch in the Ukraine and has now been charged with money laundering). That confirms Bannon was accurately quoted in the book (apparently based on dinner party hosted and presumably taped by the author). The point Bannon was quoted making very clearly in the book was that the three participants from the Trump campaign were unbelievably brainless.

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”


(Link is an ad for the Holiday Inn and headline is about “explosive” book).

This vividly argues that the Trump campaign could not possibly have been colluding with the Russians because its leaders were far too clueless and don’t even know how such things are done. (In general the book does not attempt to defend the “Russia thing” that most of the media has been obsessed with – it seems to be part of helping them to slide effortlessly into a substitute dead end).

Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner was also at the meeting. Bannon not mentioning him in the apology does rather more than hint that Bannon is indeed at war with “Javanka” as the book claims.

So far I haven’t noticed any media accounts drawing attention to this, although it screams for attention. My guess is that unlike me they don’t want to admit to not knowing what to make of it initially and will only start blithering when they have decided on a “line”. It was Donald Jr who organized the meeting but not apologizing to Jared combined with Vanity Fair interviews and large slabs of the book about Steve and Jared hating each other strikes me as quite ostentatious in announcing ongoing hostilities (whether honestly or deceptively I cannot be sure).

6. So I admit to not knowing what to make of it and that the best I can come up with at the moment is a preposterously implausible conspiracy theory involving the author, Bannon and Trump helping to provide the idiots with a substitute obsession for when the “Russia thing” peters out (while lulling Trump and Bannon’s paralysed opponents in the GOP into a more complacent state of paralysis).

Bannon’s main financial backers, the Mercers have called on Breitbart to sack him so, as Trump likes to say, “We’ll see”.

7. Meanwhile I will just continue blithering, dumping links here as I read them, not having a current theory that I am fully convinced about myself. (Except that I do not believe anybody mentally incompetent could be as brilliantly successful as Trump in persuading his enemies to “misunderestimate” him.)

Trump is clearly doing his best to publicize the book, following up on legal threats by tweeting about being a “very stable genius”.


Wikileaks joined in with twitter link to book on Google Drive (which would be instantaneously overloaded). Described inaccurately by CNET as having then deleted the link.


ABC, Fairfax et al, dutifully describe wikileaks drawing attention to a book about leaks as “unprecedented” and an “attack” to undermine the book’s profits and gloats that the idiot Trump has stupidly promoted those profits by denouncing the book:

Now, in an unprecedented move, Wikileaks has posted a link on Twitter to a Google Drive document that appears to contain the entire manuscript, although it is unclear whether it is the final version that went to publication.

WikiLeaks has given no explanation for its move.

It is unclear whether it was seeking to undermine the book’s sales or simply provide an alternative copy of the book, since it sold out.

But it is the second time WikiLeaks has apparently supported the US President.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the whistleblowing site published a substantial number of embarrassing emails from Hillary Clinton that undermined her campaign for the presidency.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s own tweets appear to have contributed to boosting the book’s sales, at least according to some customers who bought it.

“I hate paying retail price for anything, but I made an exception buying this book because Trump wanted to stop its publication,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon.com.

“In essence, I bought the book precisely to spite Trump. Hopefully the author will donate a portion of the proceeds to the movement to impeach Trump.”

“Good Read. Probably wouldn’t have ever read thanks for the book suggestion Donald,” wrote another.


Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, also questioned the administration’s handling of the book.

“But the worst thing that you can do is flatter the book with attention and, even worse than that, threaten to sue the author,” McKinnon told CNN. “I guarantee, if you want to raise sales for a book, threaten to sue the author.”

The book skyrocketed to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list ahead of its release on Friday, and physical copies sold out in multiple bookstores.


So there you have it. Trump is so stupid he doesn’t even understand that threatening to sue will raise the sales. There is nothing Trump could do or fail to do that would not confirm his stupidity to these people who “already knew”. After all they are, like, very smart….

This is what makes any complicated theory about Trump and Bannon conspiring to put on a show so problematic. There simply isn’t any need. What could possibly prevent the media from distracting themselves?

As Slate and the Guardian say, the book doesn’t reveal that Trump is incompetent

“We already knew”:



How could they resist this stuff?

Fairfax’s Matthew Knott actually has a reasonably insightful take on how “truthiness” suits the current zeitgeist:


It simply doesn’t matter that the author is a sleaze presenting “alternative facts”. As with Trumpists, the anti-Trumpists desperately need a rivetting story that feels “truthy” to their emotions, not their reason.

Fire and Fury seems to have been hastily edited – the names and ages of some participants are wrong – and the veracity of several details has been questioned.

Multiple White House reporters say some of the stories Wolff tells (like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell skipping a meeting with Trump to get a haircut) are apocryphal; former British prime minister Tony Blair has dismissed as a “complete fabrication” an anecdote about him telling Trump he may have been spied on by MI5 agents.

One suspects, though, that many readers will forgive any such errors. The book confirms their worst fears about the Trump presidency: it feels truthful, if not always factual.

(Emphasis added)

Knott also “gets” that the book is perfectly positioned for readers who need to maintain their sense of media omniscience as their hope in “obstruction of justice” follows the “Russia thing” in not providing a believable prospect that their nightmare will end soon.

More broadly though, the level of infighting and incompetence portrayed in the book makes systematic, high-level collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign seem unthinkable. The Trump operation, in Wolff’s telling, can barely collude with itself to achieve an outcome.

Throughout the book, Wolff uses an omniscient style that is both engaging and maddening. It’s impossible for the reader to tell what Wolff has observed himself and what he is hearing secondhand.

That of course is exactly how the people still willing to tolerate the media coverage of Trump like it. “Multiple sources familiar with the matter inside and outside the White House and the intelligence community” is becoming more and more redundant as a pretence. Mainstream journalism can now more or less openly just launch straight into fantasizing.

8. In other news black unemployment has hit a 45 year low.


9. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/donald-trump-goes-full-fredo/549875/

Before the Saturday morning tweets, what should have been the biggest story of the week was Trump’s success at mobilizing the Senate and the FBI to deploy criminal prosecution as a weapon against Trump critics. The Senate Judiciary committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee! The committee that oversees the proper enforcement of the law!—formally filed a criminal referral with the Department of Justice against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier about Trump’s Russia connections. The referral was signed by the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, without even notice to Democrats on the committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said; a startling abuse of majority status and a sharp departure from the norms of the Senate, especially a 51-49 Senate.
The Department of Justice can ignore such a referral. It’s ominous, however, that on the very same day, the FBI obeyed Trump’s repeated demands and reopened a long-closed criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation. The FBI has come under relentless abuse from Trump, who complains about its refusal to do his will. Is it now yielding?We also learned this week from The New York Times that aides to the Attorney General sought damaging information on Capitol Hill about FBI director Comey, indicating close cooperation between the White House and Main Justice to exert political control over the country’s chief law enforcement agency

10. Time speculating on a run by Oprah


Democrats may bemoan Trump’s empty-calorie celebrity campaign win, but there’s no reason to believe that they couldn’t face one of their own.

11. Michael Wolff, celebrity Trump vilifier, whining that he has been vilified by Trump:


One does take note when the president of the United States is singling you out and vilifying you in as extreme a way as you could possibly be vilified.

New Republic’s Alex Shephard explains the Wolff phenomena with some insight:


They go way back in understanding what Wolff is. Here’s Michelle Cottle at New Republic in 2004:


Now writing in The Atlantic, Michelle Cottle has not changed her view that Wolff is the same sort of scum as Donald, but is now utterly delighted to welcome him as our scum, perfectly suited for the perfect take down of Donald.

This series of articles makes it more plausible that Wolff’s book was not actually setup by Trump supporters to help consolidate the media’s next distraction, but emerged spontaneously from their natural inclinations. But at the same time makes it pretty clear that the bait would be taken by people like Wolff, whether the motive was under the counter cash or fame.

12. Quartz discovers the Hans Christian Anderson tale in which a large crowd of journalists that was previously chanting “The Emperor is a Russian stooge” switches to chanting “The Emporer has no clothes” and they all live happily ever after.

Donald Trump is the emperor with no clothes—and the media’s playing along

13. Today’s Age (Tuesday Jan 9) has a view of Trump’s likely macroeconomic policy that I agree with as likely. From wapo:


My prediction is that he’ll throw open the government’s liquor cabinets and pour out every stimulating drop he can get his hands on in a desperate effort to keep the party going through 2020.

What a morning-after that is likely to be.

Basically if he doesn’t do that he has no hope in 2020. Everything he has done up till now reinforces my initial judgment that he is fully aware that he cannot do anything much until he has his own party in Congress and that once he does there will be a very different political situation in which a Democrat majority would be less of an obstacle than the present anti-Trump GOP incumbents to getting the “stimulus” (ie deficits) he needs for a second term.

So my excuse for spending so much time on Trump is that it is worth understanding the real possibility that the next Great Depression will break out with a populist authoritarian nationalist President Trump in office, and inclined strongly towards his unfulfilled program of trade wars.

Here’s a description from Fortune of the WSJ account of Ray Dalio’s analysis (also in Monday’s Australian, January 8, p17):


Ray Dalio is interesting because his hedge fund anticipated and profited from the 2008 financial crisis.

Specifically, he’s concerned about debt. Americans have more debt than assets – and the payments on that debt are growing.

In order to keep the cost of debt service affordable, the Federal Reserve will be forced to keep interest rates low, Dalio told The Journal.

“It may not be a problem in the next year or two, but the risk of not getting it right increases with time,” he said.

He also cautions that the incredible returns of the last 18 months are not the new normal. He believes inflation-adjusted returns on the typical stock and bond portfolio could be near zero in the next decade, thanks to the combination of debt and inflationary pressure.

Dalio – whose Bridewater Associates is the largest hedge fund firm in the world, managing $150 billion – is also concerned about the 60% of Americans who have almost no assets and aren’t directly benefiting from the soaring corporate profits and stock prices.

“If we do have an economic downturn, I worry we will be at each other’s throats,” he said.

Surviving another Great Depression might seem easy enough given the non-existance of a left. But it will certainly require substantial redistribution of wealth from the “elite” 5% or 1% or so towards the top and/or state capitalism, so an even more top heavy billionaire class can appease a larger and poorer working class by paying higher real wages. A populist nationalist alliance of billionaire Trumpists and workers against “foreigners” and “the elite” makes sense for survival of capitalism. The ruling class are at each other’s throats and have every reason to be concerned that others might be at all their throats if they cannot divide the workers by setting a large section of them against each other with a focus on “foreigners” and “elites” led by billionaires themselves rather than the usual flunkeys.