Doctor Meh and the Planet of Lazy Tokenism
So I’m annoyed about Doctor Who, though not because I’m opposed to having female heroes in action/sci-fi but because I’m keen on having good quality, original female heroes in action/sci-fi. A female Time Lord could be fantastic. A female Doctor though? Ehh, is that all the creative effort the BBC and its writers could be arsed to put in? Hey girls, look at this fantastic nearly new-ish lead character we’re giving you to look up to, hardly any mileage, just 54 years on the cock – sorry, we mean clock – oh be careful not to touch that bit yet, the paint’s still fresh there.
Seriously, BBC. You lazy fucking bastards.
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Does genderswapping fictional characters really advance women?
This isn’t a Ghostbusters rant. I need to mansplain that out of the way at the start because some on both sides of that particular argument may expect it to be. But that remake is part of something I’ve been wondering about, which is whether remaking old established stories with male protagonists changed into female ones actually helps.
Something else this isn’t is a denial that fiction is another area where there’s a long standing gender imbalance or that it’s worth trying to even that up. However, I am going to question whether or not gender swapping existing characters is the best way to go about it.
Right now I’m looking at an article about Gillian Anderson’s Jane Bond tweets by Clem Bastow titled 6 Other Iconic Characters It’s Time to Genderswap in which she suggests another half dozen candidates. So here are some thoughts on those examples before gender swapping and remakes in general.
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Was it a bomb, was it a plane, was it Superplot?
Let’s imagine that it’s the late 20th Century or early 21st, and that for some reason we want to make it look like a plane hit the Pentagon and, depending on the details of our scenario, three more hit a couple of New York skyscrapers and something else, perhaps the White House, that doesn’t actually get hit but looks as though it might have if not for a bit of luck and some ballsy passengers.
There are a number of people who believe that around the time various unknowns in the US did exactly that, and have focused on all kinds of details, some genuine discrepancies and oddities and some not, to find reasons to think it was anything other than the ‘official narrative’. I’ve got no problem with picking away at and asking questions of official government versions of events to see if what’s said stacks up – governments and their officials being very low on my list of people I’d trust with my wallet I’d say it’s irresponsible not to. But if we’re going to say that those things we can’t readily explain or that look wrong actually mean the whole event was staged just to look like a conspiracy of religious lunatics to crash planes by an entirely different conspiracy made up of people still unknown 12 years on (possibly still religious lunatics, though again entirely different religious lunatics), then it’s only reasonable to pick away at and ask questions of that narrative as well.
I think the way to approach that is to assume for the moment that the conspiracy theories are right, or at least as right as a bunch of different competing conspiracy theories can be, and trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the conspirators plotting to make this happen. So like I said at the top, let’s imagine that we want to make it look as if the Pentagon and the WTC were hit by planes and a fourth target got away by luck more than anything else. And let’s ask a some questions that the real conspirators, if any, would surely have asked themselves at some point.
First off, and in the spirit of Mitchell and Webb, why are we doing any of this? I don’t just mean what are we hoping to achieve, though it’s worth asking that too. I mean is faking the hijack and suicide attack of four commercial aircraft on prominent landmarks the minimum effort necessary to guarantee achieving whatever it is we want? True, it’d be attractive to our hypothetical conspiracy because it doesn’t do any real harm to the country as a whole – thousands of lives and some ruined real estate, yes, but the country’s military and infrastructure are practically untouched and any economic damage is temporary unless the goal is a nice long war, in which case who cares because that’ll cost a fortune anyway.
But that aside, are we prepared to risk our lives – because there’s absolutely no question that getting caught and convicted before or after the event would mean anything other than a death sentence – to do this? And can we achieve what we want with something less than faking a suicide attack on the Pentagon with a hijacked Boeing? If we’ve got two or three planes already teed up and ready to crash into the WTC and wherever else then I’d be saying no. No, we don’t need to fake a plane crash on the Pentagon when we’ve already arranged three genuine ones elsewhere. It’s complete overkill and if three actual attacks on civilian/political landmarks won’t bring about what we want what makes us think we need to fake one on a fourth military landmark? And if there is some compelling reason then for fuck’s sake why not just use another plane?
Of course some theories say that no planes hit the World Trade Centre either and that in fact they were holograms used to disguise missiles, or just disguise bombs going off at the right moment. Oh, sorry, sound generating holograms mimicking the noise of an airliner for the people and cameras below, which are certain to be pointing upwards after the first not-a-plane ‘hit’. In which case I’d ask my fellow conspirators why, if we’ve got access to this amazing hologram technology that can fool both people and cameras into ‘seeing’ planes crash into New York skyscrapers – and let’s for the moment ignore Occam’s advice and assume that such technology does exist – why we aren’t putting on a similar hologram show at the Pentagon for a camera we know exists. Isn’t it a bit of a hole in our plot to leave such convincing fake evidence absent when we’ve seen to it that the world saw, or thinks it saw, this in New York?
Also, how sure are we that our possession of this hologram technology isn’t going to leak and some awkward internet bastard isn’t going to point the finger at us, and then we’re back to risking the electric gas noose or whatever the Yanks use in federal capital cases? But assuming our hypothetical conspiracy doesn’t rely on Star Trek hologram technology, and assuming that my fellow conspirators have persuaded me that (a) three plane crashes isn’t enough to provoke our Middle East wars or get Bush re-elected (in 3 years’ time) or sell airport scanners or whatever we’re trying to do, and (b) that for some reason we can’t or don’t need to use an actual plane the fourth time but can get away with faking a plane crash, I’d be asking how many people need to be in on the plan and reliably sworn to perpetual silence. Because I’m worrying that the number might be higher than some of my fellow conspirators think.
It goes without saying that we, however many of us there are, will keep shtum. We don’t need to bribe or threaten each other – we’re all in this together and have to trust each other implicitly, because just one of us could assure immunity from prosecution plus a plastic surgery job and new ID by going to the feds and dobbing the rest of us in to face an uncertain number of years locked up before an all too certain execution. But what about all the rest of the people who’d have to be in on at least part of the conspiracy? How many people are we talking about here because I’ve a nasty feeling we may need to bribe and/or threaten and/or quietly assassinate somewhere between thousands and millions of people.
First we’ve got the WTC demolition crews plus anyone who might become aware of them and their work. I’m not the conspiracy’s demolitions expert – his grandmother has sadly been taken seriously ill at the moment – so I’m having to take a wild guess here based on some quick internet research. But the biggest explosive demolition of a steel structure, the J. L. Hudson department store, took months of preparation, including the twenty-four days spent by a dozen people planting about a ton of explosives – more than 4,000 charges in 1,100 locations, according to the contractor’s website. Okay, part of the reason for the length of time was that architectural drawings weren’t available to help, which I assume isn’t a problem for us, but on the plus side they didn’t need to work in secret in buildings that were occupied and had thousands of people working in them every day and hundreds more coming and going all the time.
Did I mention that at only 439 feet the J. L. Hudson store was much smaller than either WTC 1, 2 or 7? Oh, well it was, so since they’re all occupied and we’re trying to be secret I’m guessing we’ll need maybe two or three times as many people and at least as much time (albeit spread out more by the need to stick to evenings and weekends) as it took to bring down the J. L. Hudson, or fewer people and much more time. Or heaps and heaps of people in a short space of time. Which is all problematic because the chance of accidental discovery of our plot seems to increase greatly both the longer the explosives planting takes and the more people we throw at the job.
In fact that brings up another question – do we actually need to demolish the things at all? Really? Wouldn’t just kamikaze airliner attacks do what we want, and if so why don’t we just crash some planes and not even worry about whether the buildings fall down? And having touched on the subject of WTC7, can someone remind me why we’re blowing it up but not crashing a plane into it or even making it look like a plane crashed into it? I can’t help thinking that, you know, do it properly with the staged plane crash or let’s just not bother with WTC7.
Anyway, numbers. So let’s say we can wire up the New York buildings with only 30 or so guys, even if it might take a year or two, during which some clumsy sod might knock a hole somewhere awkward and some building maintenance guy could see something he shouldn’t. Does that mean we need to take all the building maintenance people into the conspiracy or can we take some kind of action if it actually happens? And the emergency services people who might spot something that’s not as it should be after we hit/not-hit it with a plane? Even if we don’t take them into the plot there needs to be a contingency bribe fund to either buy the silence of as many people who might stumble across the plot or to buy someone to silence them. Bearing in mind the unprecedented scale of the criminal act we’re planning the payments, whether bribes or for hits, will need to be similarly large or again we face the risk of someone taking what they know and exposing us, after which the whole thing unravels and we get executed. Is that going to cost less than we have or than we’ll make from what we’re trying to achieve?
And still on the number of people whose silence will be needed, we’re not actually demolishing the whole Pentagon, right? So it’s just the guys who’ll fire the missile or set the bomb or whatever, plus whoever’s on duty in the various air traffic control rooms who’ll confirm they saw the right things on radar, i.e. an aircraft where there really wasn’t one, and also anyone at the airlines and airports who’ll be needed to confirm the loss of the aircraft, yes? Oh, but no. Because surely we also need everyone who works there and who might survive to ‘see’ a plane hit the Pentagon, and if we’re not actually going to crash a plane into it then we’re going to need them all to say yes, absolutely it was a plane, I saw it as clear as I see you now. Even though there won’t be one. And since they’re all federal employees I’m guessing their co-operation won’t be cheap. And there’s about 30,000 of them.
Now to kick off with I thought we could get away with just the ones whose offices look in the direction our ‘plane’ is supposed to be coming from, but then it occurred to me that any number of people could be late into work and be on the roads outside or have a reason to be in a different part of the building where they might notice the absence of an aircraft where the news later reports there was one. Then there are all the people who work in buildings that overlook what we’re going to say the flightpath is. Or for that matter anyone who happens to be out and about in the area who might take note of the fact that there was no plane where we’re planning to make everyone think there was. That could be potentially anyone in the Washington DC area and anyone, truckers and tourists and business visitors and the like, who could conceivably pass through the wrong place at the wrong time and see a pronounced absence of the right thing. Christ, five million people live in the area, plus the possible non-locals.
Obviously we’re not going to let them in on everything but even if we’re just making sure that everyone’s singing the same song the perpetual silence of that many people is just impossible to guarantee, especially as some of them will probably die and the rest may be just pissed off enough about that to spill their guts no matter what we’ve paid them, which collectively would probably have to have been the GDP of the whole country anyway.
The more I think about it the more I reckon the whole idea is madness. The stakes are so high and we’d need so many people even for just the New York bit that it seems as likely as not that someone will choose to leak and let the rest of us face the consequences, and I just can’t see the Pentagon part coming off at all without the whole thing being blown wide open. Frankly I feel it’d be at least a million times cheaper, easier and safer for us and just as effective to just get a couple of dozen idiots who are prepared to die in the name of their cause to hijack and crash four aircraft, and if any bulidings actually fall over as a result then it’s a bonus.
In fact given time, some money and the right kind of retarded, wannabe martyr, death wish idiots on hand I reckon some cunt could organise it from a fucking cave.
A necessary evil, redux. A reply to @Veresapiens.
Last weekend’s post on minarchism versus anarcho-capitalism and my long winded explanation as to why I put myself in the former category rather than the latter prompted a response from @Veresapiens, one of the people I’d been discussing the topic with on Twitter beforehand. @Veresapiens said he didn’t intend to debate my conclusions but to add a little food for thought. Since the answers to his points shed a little more light, and also because Safari went tits up part way through, I’m making the reply in the form of another blog post
One subtle assumption running through the post is that Australia is always considered as a single entity, whether ruled by a State or not (eg wondering how ‘the country’ could be defended in an anarchy). My view is that you have essentially 23 million ‘sovereigns’ and their properties in an anarchy, and Australia remains only the name of the continent.
True, I did talk about Australia as a single entity but generally I intended it to be in a geographic sense. It is, Tasmania and some mostly nearby islands aside, a very large single landmass roughly the size of the 48 contiguous US states. There are 23 million people spread extremely unevenly around that area, and my hypothetical ancap and minarch Australias assume the same. I imagine the minarch one would probably keep most or all of the existing states and territories, but shrink the federal government to a fragment of its current real world self while devolving nearly all its power downwards to the states and beyond into local/municipal councils and finally into homes and individuals, which is where most libertarian types would hope the vast bulk would end up. I probably should have put in a paragraph covering this but it was in the mental draft of the follow up post. Mea culpa.
That, in itself, changes the nature of ‘conquest’. With a central authority and defense force, an invader’s goal is to cause the central authority to surrender (to save its own skin) and turn over its defense infrastructure to the invader. Without a central authority, who does the invader have to defeat? Everybody. In every town. Defeat and occupy. Not an easy task to occupy every bit of Australia. Might be easier to trade with the locals than to occupy them. (Although the US does seem to prefer the occupy route…)
This is the nub of the problem in Australia. You said it’d be no easy task, but I think in fact it’d be very easy due to the fact that Australia has among the lowest population densities of anywhere in the world. Further, the population is heavily centred toward the south east while the north west coast is practically uninhabited. From memory the largest town between Perth and Darwin, Broome is under 9,000, and has almost halved in the last decade. There’s got to be close to 3,000 km of coast between Broome and Darwin in the north and I’d guess around double that south to Perth. Much of it isn’t sparsely inhabited, it’s simply uninhabited.
Things are no better in the interior. Alice Springs, in the rough centre of the country, is under 30,000 or so, and there’s nothing bigger it between there and Adelaide in the south or bigger than 10,000 between Alice and Darwin in the north. South east of there is Anna Creek Station, a farm larger than New Hampshire inhabited by about 10,000 cattle and, as far as I can tell, fewer than fifty people, and that’s counting the town of William Creek (population in the high single digits). Free people able to defend what’s theirs because it’s in their interest to do so is a great idea, but for how long could the 50 most well armed free individuals in New Hampshire hold the entire state against even, say, the smallest National Guard of any of the other 49 states? Why would anyone want to take over somewhere like that? Maybe nobody apart from possibly McDonalds would, but not far away (in Australian terms) is Olympic Dam, a very large multi-mineral mine and the largest known uranium deposit on the planet. The area’s not quite as unpopulated as Anna Creek Station but the two local towns that support the mine still have only around 4,500 people between them, about a third of whom are under fifteen years old.
The problem’s that Australia has a lot of empty space. As I said in the original post I’m far from any kind of expert on this, but I have looked at a map and thought about what would stop someone landing a big force somewhere on the empty coast south of Broome and simply marching across the country, rolling over all the small towns of a few hundred or a couple of thousand until it was ready to besiege the larger places. You can get a very long way between defenders, and for most of the way across those defenders are always going to be in very small numbers. If done very quietly and with a bit of luck you might even get quite far into the interior before anyone was able to raise the alarm that they were under attack or notice that other places had mysteriously gone silent. In reality that’s not possible because there’s the Australian Defence Force in the way: a navy to see you coming and harass you at sea, an air force and army to join the navy attacking the forces trying to land and, if successful anyway, to trade all that empty space for time and make you spend every inch of the 4,000 kilometres you have to go to the populous south eastern cities wondering when they’d bomb the ever-loving fuck out of you again.
Imagine driving from Seattle to Disneyworld and being periodically shot at the whole way there. That, but mostly in a desert with few restaurants and fuel stops, all of which have even more people there shooting at you. The ADF can do this. They might not have the numbers and strength to guarantee an outright victory against a large invader, but they don’t need to. They just have to be good enough to inflict enough pain and damage to make it too much effort. I’m not convinced any non-state alternative could do the same. The population density is just too low for the idea of invaders having to fight for every yard to work for long, and I don’t see how private military companies defending people on a subscription model would work unless the PMCs of Melbourne and Sydney were up for attacking enemies as they try to cross the Gibson Desert – the free rider problem here would have a large geographical element to it too.
I’m a little dubious of the argument that even though we don’t want a State, if we don’t have a State of some sort to defend us against invaders, we might be invaded and conquered and end up with a State. And it will be a bad State.
I’m wasn’t really making that argument with the post. I was attacking the counter argument – that millions of free individuals could offer enough resistance to be an effective deterrent – on the grounds that it doesn’t apply everywhere and offering Australia as an example of somewhere that there’s a strong possibility, if not a probability, it would fail.
As to anarchy in general, I don’t envision that we would get a nice efficient homogeneous anarcho-capitalist society in the absence of a State. All I have in mind is that absent the State, people would be allowed to interact voluntarily and form social structures that suit their needs. The capitalists, syndicalists, communists, etc, could all try out their philosophies. Some would work and some wouldn’t. There would also no doubt spring up evil little mini-states of various sorts. Very dynamic – probably very messy for awhile.
I think where the state might finally die a long overdue death would be in the more populous countries. Imagine if the people of North America or Europe decided that they could realistically defend themselves against aggressors without a state, that there’d be enough armed free individuals willing to fight because it’d be in their self interests to do so that all potential enemies put the idea of invasion into the too hard basket. Eventually it’d be the smaller nations like Australia left with militaries and states wondering what the hell they need them for when all the former big boys, including the ones supplying the small countries, are giving up on them. Then it’d get really interesting, and I agree with you that it’d probably also be quite messy as everyone worked out their preferences and how to accommodate them without demanding a state force them on everybody else.
Bottom line for me, still, is that even if you are right about the best way to secure the local populations from invasion, your sincere desire to do good is not sufficient justification for taking away the independence of any individuals who disagree with your approach. And unless your minarchy can force participation, it doesn’t differ, essentially, from the anarchy case where people voluntarily contribute to defense.
I agree that desire to do good isn’t a good reason to take away even one individual’s freedom to choose not to participate, and also that a minarchy where nobody in general participates is functionally identical to anarchy. I feel the problem with the concept of the state is not just the monopoly of force but its universal application of force on the citizenry. It’s no good having competing education systems, healthcare, police, etc, if you’re forced to pay for the state provided services anyway. Defence might sound like a special case but what I’m suggesting is not to the exclusion of free individuals being able to defend themselves and their homes too. Funding the state provided service without force is the tricky part, so what I’m trying to develop is an idea of minarchy that forces participation only in extremely limited areas that anyone from the poorest to the wealthiest person could opt out of with no significant effect on their personal lives, meaning the state could be – in fact would be – destroyed at any time if enough people got sufficiently annoyed with it to change their behaviour into forms that starve rather than feed the beast.
In fact I suspect the real challenge is getting enough people to see the state as a beast that may require starving to death or near death occasionally until the point is reached that it’s entirely surplus to requirements. I don’t expect I’d live to see that happen even if I was born just seconds ago, and I’d be lying if I said I thought the process would take much less time than the Renaissance. Like I said last week, I see no way we can get there from here and even minarchy is a long way off.
A necessary evil? Minarchy, anarcho-capitalism and the state.
Some minarchist libertarians say that while they like anarchy as an ideal they’re not anarchists because they still see a role for the state, and that while it may be evil unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. Anarcho-capitalists reply, quite reasonably, that a necessary evil is still evil and that the state can never coexist with truly free individuals. That’s kind of where it grinds to a halt because even minarchists who agree that a true anarchy based on non-agression and property rights would be the most fair, free, just and desirable system might simply be unconvinced that that ideal is achievable in reality. Or not with social groups larger than a few dozen like minded people, which is few enough that you could probably make pure communism work as well.
Is there any way that free individuals can live not under but with the state? I think it might be possible – I don’t say is possible because I don’t think its been tried – and I think it depends a lot on how the state is viewed. Frustratingly for anyone with libertarians leanings many people regard the state as just the thing we have to have to run the country, or even as a benefactor who looks out for us all and does its best to take care of us. You’d have to be pretty cynical to believe that everyone in government is evil but it’s a pretty common view among libertarians and anarchists that the institution of government is inherently evil. For someone who’s spent a lot of time bagging governments this doesn’t come naturally, but I’m going to write here in grudging defence of the state and argue that while it has very often been evil it might be something we still need for the time being.
Sharp intakes of breath all round: how can you possibly suggest that, Angry? States all have a monopoly or a near monopoly on force and have always been depressingly willing to use it. Surely if you believe that the use of force on unwilling law abiding individuals to acheive an outcome, even a good outcome, is always wrong then the idea of states is wrong as well. That’s what they do and it’s what they’ve always done, so unless we’re going to enter the murky waters of ends justifying the means they must be inherently evil even when they’re trying to do something beneficial.
Well, yeah, that is what states do and always have done, and left to their own devices I’m pretty sure that’s what they will continue to do more or less indefinitely. Or until they spend themselves into oblivion, which is looking likely for some if they insist on growing and having ever greater influence over the minutiae of their citizens’ lives at the expense of the citizens themselves. And sure, yes, it’s evil to force money out of rich and poor alike in the name of providing various things and claiming that they’re all “free”, and I’d say even more evil to monopolise education so that many people can be made to to believe the “it’s all provided by the government for free” lie.
But is no state at all the only alternative and is it really possible to for free individuals in an anarchy to provide for themselves the useful things that we get from the it at the moment? I think the answer to both, at least for everyone who’s alive right now, is no, and I think so because one thing a state can do – possibly even the only thing it should even attempt to do or be allowed to do – is to defend itself so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it. Yes, I’m talking about the minarchist’s wet dream, the so called night-watchman state, or “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency Government” as I’ve always thought of it.
When you look critically at what you get from the state that you couldn’t possibly provide for yourself or go out and shop around for in its absence lots of things that you think really have to be state funded, which is a polite way of saying citizen-robbed, lots of sacred cows start to look pretty unholy. Education, healthcare, transport, even policing and law – they’ve all got non-state alternatives or could happen without a government being there, say the ancaps.
That may be true, although persuading the millions and millions who have been conditioned to believe that such things are provided “free” is another matter.* Defence and disaster management is something else. These functions, or function if you think the latter is part of the former, are something that states are… well, not necessarily good at since we can list endless examples of defence projects that have either delivered a poor product, been late, been over budget or all three. But if defending the country so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it requires a dozen frigates plus many more smaller ships, half a dozen submarines, and nearly 100 F/A-18s, not to mention dozens more helicopters, transport aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, and any number of tanks, troop carriers, wheeled vehicles and small arms for all the people who ride around in them, then it’s hard to see how even a fraction of that lot would ever be bought, maintained and particularly manned in an anarchy.
The defense function is the one reserved most jealously by the State. It is vital to the State’s existence, for on its monopoly of force depends its ability to extract taxes from the citizens.
Ah, the ancaps might say, but in a peaceful anarchy there’d be no need for a formal organised defence force. That can as easily be used to attack as to defend and so its existence is a threat to others, who have to raise their own armies and perpetuate the miserable cycle ad infinitum. Sure, they concede, that’s not the only reason why an opposing state might want to invade but without a state usurping the natural right to defend oneself by whatever means seem appropriate many free citizens will be armed anyway and able to offer resistance to invaders. Some anarchists even suggest that the difficulties faced by Allied forces in Afghanistan show how effective armed resistance by the people who live there can be against an external enemy.
Well, maybe that would work in some places. Maybe if you’ve got enough people fighting against an invader and something about the country – its size, terrain, whatever – favours the defenders then that might be possible. But that doesn’t prove that it’d be possible everywhere. That list of planes, ships and tanks I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back is a very rough inventory of the Australian Defence Force, and I used it for a reason. Three of the four most populous nations on the planet are to Australia’s north-west, and while Australia has peaceful trading relationships with them you couldn’t exactly describe any of them as being libertarian utopias. A resource rich, lightly populated and minimally defended nation with, since there’s no state, little or nothing in the way of alliances and mutual defence treaties might look tempting to a larger nation with a well equipped standing army.
I’ve seen ancap arguments that adequate defence, at least enough to give potential enemies a bloody enough nose to make them wonder whether it’s worth the effort, is possible in an anarchy or a near anarchy, and as I said just now I’ve seen more than one point at Afghanistan as evidence for this. True enough, Afghanistan has proved a monumental pain in the cock for the US and its allies, Australia and the UK included, over the past decade despite the large number of troops sent there and the huge technological advantage they enjoy, and it’s not even the first time in recent history this has happened as anyone old enough to remember the Soviet occupation or bright enough to Google it already knows. However, I have two objections to this argument. Firstly, Afghanistan may be relatively lawless but it is in no way an anarcho-capitalist society unless the scope of ancap is broad enough to include warlords and an authoritarian theocracy. That might not make a practical difference, but the second objection is that any reputation Afghanistan for being difficult to conquer and a nuisance to invade utterly failed to prevent the Soviets in the 1980s and George W. Bush more recently from doing exactly that. On top of that Afghanistan differs from our hypothetical ancap Australia in another important way.
Afghanistan’s population is nearly half as large again while the country itself is smaller than all but one of Australia’s mainland states. Neither are densely populated but assuming around a third of the population is willing and able to fight there are about fourteen or fifteen defenders for each square kilometre of Afghanistan. In Australia it’d be just one.
Have a look at a map of Australia’s population centres. Now have a look at the minerals and resources that an invader might think about helping themselves to rather than trading for. Notice how much there is where there’s really not anyone there to defend it. Notice also how the vast majority of the armed to the teeth free citizens in our hypothetical anarcho-capitalist Australia live on the opposite side of the country from where any invasion would probably come from. Short of penguin hostility and the threat of Tasmanian secessionist breweries there are no enemies to Australia’s south. Now consider how well armed the inhabitants of Darwin in particular and the Northern Territory – where the fifth largest town has a population of just 5,000 – in general would need to be to deter nations numbering in the millions. I suppose if every third person had either a tank, a tankbusting jet aircraft or an Iron Man suit then maybe, but the problem is that individuals and small groups just can’t afford either that stuff or the time to learn how to use it properly.
And even if that problem could be solved what’s to stop an invader simply bypassing Darwin completely, landing forces on the most convenient and least defended piece of Australia’s 25,000km of coastline, grabbing whatever it was they came for and simply starving out Darwin later? Not much in our scenario, but in reality Darwin’s defended by the ADF and all its expensive gear, paid for the rest of the country because the government insists it’s in everyone’s interest for all of Australia to be defended by well armed professionals who do that for a living so the rest of us can produce beef, mine coal and iron, sell over priced houses or whatever each individual decides to make a living out of.**
So while an anarchy might still be able to provide a good enough defence to deter external aggressors if there wasn’t a really strong motive for invading to begin with or if there were enough defenders to make an invader pay a bloody price for every rock, but there’s no guarantee it’d apply to really motivated invaders or where defenders are spread so thinly that they can be picked off fairly easily. Really, if you want to know how easy it’d be to knock over an Australia inhabited by people living in peaceful anarchy, or something very close to it, you need only ask an Aborigine. They’d probably tell you that it’s already happened once before.
And if one nation feels the need to maintain a standing defence force, wouldn’t its neighbours do likewise just in case a future leader got thoughts about a good offence being the best form of defence? And in turn wouldn’t their neighbours do likewise, and their neighbours and their neighbours? Probably, human nature being what it is, which makes it hard for anarchy to take root and easy for it to whither before it can mature and become stable – another reason why I think it’s unrealistic to think we can get there from where we are now even if it’s where we should be aiming to get to eventually.
So I’m for the nightwatchman state, then? No, not quite. As I said near the beginning of this blog I think a change in the way we view the state would help us manage it. If we agree that the concept of the state is inherently evil, or at the least inherently dangerous, then thinking of it as something akin to a friendly tea drinking man with a torch and a whistle who keeps an eye on our property for us may be almost as grave a mistake as thinking the state is your friend. I feel a better way to look at it is like a large and especially vicious dog, one that can serve a purpose guarding the gate but which you know damn well would take your hand off if you let your guard down. You might be willing to keep and feed such an animal because it does have a use to you, but you’d keep it on a very strong chain or loose in a well fenced yard and would never ever under any circumstances let it into your home.*** Inherently evil? It might not be intelligent enough to be evil, which is fair given the amount of stupid governments are capable of, but it’s certainly inherently dangerous and you probably wouldn’t let your kids within a hundred yards of it.
If we looked at states like that we’d very quickly reach the conclusion that allowing it to govern us is naive bordering on insane, and would instead insist that though we have a use for it we control the state rather than the other way round. What kind of legal and financial means to control it – the type of fences and lengths of chains for the vicious guard dog – I’ll blog about next time. Hopefully I won’t be so busy earning enough to feed my share to the real life state that it’ll take as long to get round to as recent posts have.
* A side reason why I’m more a minarchist than an anarcho-capitalist is that while I’d agree it’s an ideal I don’t think that it’s possible to get there from here. I think it’s likely that minarchism will be a necessary intermediate step, though even that seem likely to be so difficult, what with so many hundreds of millions unweaned from their government tit and unaware that they’re actually being milked more than fed, that I’m not optimistic about living to see it.
** And of course even all that expensive gear might not be enough. I’m no expert but against a large invasion I imagine we’d need to scream for help from allies and/or trading partners, though if the ADF had the means to go scorched earth on some of the resources I imagine trading partners might step in to help voluntarily just to prevent those resources being put beyond use for any length of time.
*** Although the use I’m talking about here is defence I want to make it very clear I am not likening defence forces or anyone serving in them to a vicious dog – I am likening the institution of government that tells the defence forces who to shoot at and drop bombs on to a vicious dog.
“I’m not a monster anymore…”
… says convicted serial killer Paul Steven Haigh, representing himself in his appeal to have a minimum prison term applied to his
sentence, sorry his life sentence, make that his six life sentences so he can have a chance of parole.
Over a period of nearly two hours on Monday, Haigh read a series of essays to the court about topics such as remorse, callousness and sympathy.
He described his six murders as “horrendous”, “abominable” and “repulsive”.
“What I am today [is] a far cry from the monster of yesteryear,” he told the court on Monday.
Haigh said he was not incorrigible and should not be denied his freedom.
I’m not one for writing off and denying even the hope of eventual freedom to even the worst criminals. I’m not saying let ’em out – not denying awful criminals the hope of eventual release is not the same as actually releasing them. They should still have to earn their release and satisfy everyone that they’re not a danger. That many have apparently pulled wool over the eyes of those who make the decisions doesn’t say the principle’s wrong, just that it’s not always being done all that well.
So it’s not for me to say whether Haigh is or isn’t incorrigible and should have a chance of (as opposed to a guarantee of) freedom one day, but is it for him either? I realise this is a bit Catch 22 but I’ve always felt that someone who really is completely overcome with remorse for their crimes would accept that their punishment by incarceration is appropriate. On the plus side he hasn’t killed anyone since he’s been inside… apart from just that one guy:
Haigh, who has spent more than 30 years in prison, was also convicted of killing sex offender Donald George Hatherley, whom he helped hang in a jail cell at Pentridge Prison in 1991.
He told the court on Monday he was assisting Hatherley to commit suicide.
And of course that’s also illegal anyway. Still, he hasn’t killed anyone for more than 20 years, which is nice. So should he have a minimum term and therefore a chance of parole? Like I said, I don’t have the answer but I think dim prospects of release are fairer than all hope removed. However, I think he probably should spend some more time in the prison library. In the biology section.
He told a story about a butterfly becoming a caterpillar and said: “Though I don’t claim to be a perfect butterfly yet, I am not a caterpillar either.”
A butterfly becoming a caterpillar would be an example of regression, surely? Though to be fair there are enough examples of journos fucking up the basics of the animal kingdom that he mightn’t be guilty of that at all.
Savile row suit
Whatever we all know, think we know, suspect, believe, saw something on the web or have heard about the late and now (then, now then) largely unlamented Jimmy Savile I can tell you two 100% incontrovertible facts about him:
- He was never convicted of a sex offence while he was alive.
- He’s never going to be convicted of one now that he’s dead.
Personally I wouldn’t be all that surprised if there was something in some of the allegations. I’d heard there were rumours about him and I remember watching that episode of HIGNFY in which Paul Merton seemed pretty off toward Savile, though not to the extent claimed in the debunked but still occasionally mentioned hoax transcript – come on, everybody, you can’t seriously believe that if all that had been said in front of a studio audience of several hundred or more back in 1999 it wouldn’t have been all over the papers and Savile tortured to death by the Paedofinder-General long before now.
It’s the BBC we’re talking about here, not the CIA. And even the CIA would have found that impossible to keep under wraps unless they’d borrowed some memory erasers off of the MIB. So I’m prepared to believe that what happened at the recording wasn’t vastly different from what was broadcast, which if you look for it online shows Paul Merton largely being his usual self. I remember at the time having the feeling Merton didn’t particularly like Savile but funnily enough there’s far less hostility than I thought I remembered. BBC cover up or just influence of that hoax transcript? And even if Merton was a bit offish was it because he knew, as many in the BBC are now claimed to have known, that Savile was a nonce but for the sake of his own job was keeping quiet about it beyond a couple of snide remarks? Or was it just because he didn’t like him much? Or, again, am I reading more into it than there ever was?
Certainly there’s a fair amount of reading stuff into things. Take something Savile said on that episode of HIGNFY that has been repeated a lot lately.
“I’m feared in every girls’ school in this country.”
The subtext of which, parts of the interwebs now tell us, is that Jimmy was boasting that he liked to screw schoolgirls. Which is a strange response given that the conversation actually goes like this:
Angus Deayton: You used to be a wrestler, didn’t you?
Jimmy Savile: I still am.
AD: Are you?
JS: I’m feared in every girls’ school in this country.
Ian Hislop: You didn’t have a nickname or something?
JS: Yes: “loser”.
So let’s replay that with the interwebs’ alleged subtext in place.
Angus Deayton: You used to be a wrestler, didn’t you?
Jimmy Savile: I still am.
AD: Are you?
JS: I like to screw schoolgirls.
Ian Hislop: You didn’t have a nickname or something?
JS: Yes: “loser”.
Bit of a non sequitur, isn’t it? Whatever we might suspect about Savile – and as I’ve said I wouldn’t be surprised – this isn’t any kind of evidence, much less proof. It doesn’t look like he was saying he was feared in every girls’ school because he was a 72 year old nonce with wandering hands but that he was such a shit wrestler that a girls’ school was the only place he had a chance of winning a wrestling match (and during the show Deayton does mention that Savile lost nearly every match).
But this and just about everything else he’s said, everything he’s done, every event in the man’s life is being seized upon and examined to see if there’s any possible way it can be interpreted as being an indicator confirming what we want to believe: that Savile was a pervert who’d do anything to anything. Visit to Broadmoor? Well, he liked to fuck mental patients, innit? Went to a funeral in a nice suit? Of course, Savile was a well known (to everyone but the person being told) necrophile and he always liked to dress well for his dates. Stoke Mandeville? Ah, spinal injuries patients can’t run away.
If all the rumours (and even some of the allegations) are to be believed Savile wasn’t merely a common or garden nonce but some-kind of überdeviant whose tastes in perversity went beyond pubescent girls but also included pederasty and necrophilia. Look, he was certainly a creepy old bastard but – and apologies for bringing up the Paedofinder-General again – I think we’re getting into exactly the kind of incessant hunting for evidence to the point of out-of-context twisting of things that Monkey Dust was satirising.
Was he a pervert? Was he smart enough to pick victims that were easier for the BBC and police to ignore or dismiss as unreliable? Did the police fuck up investigating the complaints that were made and, with no police action ever being taken, did an in denial BBC persuade themselves that there was nothing to the rumours? Did some at the BBC even turn a blind eye? I’m prepared to believe it’s possible, and Christ knows there’d be enough even if half of it’s true, but I’d be lying if I said I knew. And in a strict legal sense we’re never going to know because, as I said at the beginning, there are two facts that are beyond argument.
- He was never convicted of a sex offence while he was alive.
- He’s never going to be convicted of one now that he’s dead.
The former can’t be changed, and it’s very much to be hoped that nobody starts talking about the latter so that the allegations against Savile can be turned into formal charges and he can be tried in-very-permanent-absentia. A world in which someone can be convicted when they’re unable, rather than merely unwilling, to appear in court to defend themselves is far nastier, more frightening and dangerous to contemplate than one in which a combination of celebrity, value to a national broadcaster and police incompetence can shield a pervert. If it can be done to a dead man then why can’t it be done to someone who the police just can’t be arsed to go and find. Unless we’re crazy and knee-jerk prone enough to change that legal principle there will never ever be a trial in which evidence against Savile can be tested.
That ship has sailed, the chance for justice to be done and seen to be done lost forever. You will never read of Jimmy Savile the convicted child molestor because under any sane legal system – and for all its faults ours strives to be at least relatively sane – a conviction is now impossible. Even if it was legally possible it’s still pointless as even Hitler became untouchable once the son of a bitch was good and dead. His works have been torn down, he’s a near universal hate figure, his memory is reviled and his name spat upon. And he doesn’t care in the slightest. Death is the perfect statute of limitations.
We can, however, bring a civil suit against those who are said to have been involved in something, in this instance the BBC for allegedly sticking its corporate head in the sand (or worse) and letting him carry on and the NHS for letting him into Stoke Mandeville and other hospitals (I’m not clear on whether they knew anything or not makes much of a difference).
Liz Dux, a personal injury lawyer who has acted for people with severe spinal injuries and amputees, has been contacted by several woman who want to sue over the Savile allegations.
She is preparing cases against the BBC and the hospital on the grounds that they both have a duty of care to anyone who came into contact with their staff or agents.
“The case would be against the BBC or the hospital because they would be held vicariously liable in law on behalf of someone like Savile who was acting as their agent,” Dux told BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Friday.
“So in the case of the BBC where he abused people through his connection with programmes, for example the case about the girl who alleges she was abused in his changing room, then because of the close connection with the BBC, the BBC would be what we call vicariously liable in those circumstances,” she added.
“Likewise in the hospitals. He may not have been paid by the hospital but he’s there as their agent, then they owe a duty of care to those he abused.”
I’m not saying that those who say they were attacked have seen potential pound signs and have gone out shopping for a decent ambulance chaser to get some compo. If they were assaulted and someone deliberately or otherwise protected the assailant then they deserve some kind of reparation. But more than that they’d deserve some justice, and though anyone who was assaulted would probably feel some comfort through finally being believed (unless they hand’t ever said anything) what I am saying is that actual justice ain’t going to happen.
We can also say what we like about even the most wealthy and powerful dead people without fear of libel, which is why it’s not surprising that unpleasant stuff about such people can fail to emerge until too late. Alive, they’re intimidating: they can fight back, and in the form of expensive lawyers they’ll probably be able to hit harder than anyone who feels they were wronged. Not unreasonable, then, that many of Savile’s alleged victims have waited until now. But it is unfortunate because had those who complained at the time only to be brushed off been joined by enough other voices then perhaps it might have been possible to bring a criminal case against a living man. And maybe then he’d have been found guilty, but then again maybe he wouldn’t have. But assuming for the moment that he would have then I have to ask if someone who’s said nothing until now also failed those who said something at the time? Yes, silence is understandable, but if it’s true that even one investigation stalled through lack of evidence then any corroborating accounts that were never given…
Academic now: as I keep saying, we’ll never know. While we can call him a paedo, nonce, kiddy fiddler, wrongcock etc. we will never be able to call him a convicted sex offender. Jimmy Savile won’t care. Depending on whether he was guilty or innocent he went to his grave either unaware that his name was about to be blackened or aware that he got away with it. He is beyond justice, both the kind that exonerates the innocent and the kind that punishes the guilty. Apart from making everyone in the UK pay a little bit more for the NHS and the BBC than they do already (or take some of what’s already been taken – take your pick) all that we’re left with is, well, this.
A plague on both their houses
Despite still being fairly busy I’ve made time to return to blogging, and the theme of this somewhat lengthy comeback is the perennial one of nearly all politicians and their parties being nigh on inseparably awful. Inspired by some recent Twitter and email conversations with people who (I’m guessing) might not particularly support Mitt Romney but fear Obama* and with people who (I’m also guessing) might not particularly support Obama but fear Mitt Romney** I thought I’d spend a little time doing some comparisons. And I think the fairest way to compare is to see how often they do things that, depending on your left vs right politics, are frightening or A Good Thing.
Starting with the easiest to find and one of the most recent things I got into on Twitter, use of the Presidential veto. I’m not going into threats to veto legislation as firstly that’s going to be something they all do, secondly it’s only politicking, and thirdly it’s not going to be consistently reported. Actual vetoes are a matter of record so we’ll go with that, and it is a fact that Obama is extremely reluctant to use his veto. At the time of writing he’s been President for 1,329 days and has vetoed only two pieces of legislation, and in neither case did Congress overrule it and pass the law anyway. That’s an average of one use every 21 and a half months. Quite a contrast, say some Obama supporters, with Bush’s 12 vetoes (about a third of which were overruled by Congress), and in fact excluding the half dozen or so US Presidents who never used their veto Obama is the least veto prone President they’ve ever had.
But Bush was in office for 2,922 days, making his veto record about once every eight months. Much more frequent, yes, but objectively it’s hard to accuse Bush of having his veto button on a hair trigger, especially when you consider that Clinton, Bush the Elder, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Truman – all the Presidents since Dubbie was born – all used the veto with much greater frequency. In fact, and again excluding those who never vetoed anything at all, Dubya is the second least veto prone President behind Barack H. Obama. The third place, in case anyone’s interested, goes to Warren Harding, who was in office ninety years ago, while the most frequent vetoers were Grover Cleveland, a Republican, and FDR, a Democrat, who vetoed legislation on average once a week and once every five days respectively.
The bottom line there is that there is no relationship between a President’s party affiliation and his use of veto powers, not even when you take into account an opposition controlled Congress. The most and least veto happy Presidents are/were Democrats while the runners up in both categories were Republicans. Romney has not been President so we can only go on his record as Governor of Massachusetts, in which he used his veto about 800 times, more than twice as frequently as even FDR, though this is likely to be due in large part to a heavily Democratic state legislature which, predictably enough, overruled nearly all the vetoes anyway. Did he veto all that legislation for good reasons, or just because it made him look like he was trying his best to stick to policies in the face of determined and overwhelming opposition from the legislature? Does it mean that as President Romney would be even quicker on the veto draw than FDR? Probably not, but who knows?
So what do these numbers tell us? Not a bloody thing. If you don’t look at exactly what got vetoed by whom you can’t say whether you agree or disagree with its use, and once you do look it becomes subjective anyway. About all we can say objectively is that apart from the reasonable expectation of more vetoes when Congress is controlled by the other party there’s really no reason to suppose a President of one party is any more or less likely to veto legislation than a President of the other party.
Okay, so how about Executive Orders, something else that all Presidents can use and something I brought up in a Twitter conversation. Bush’s were Executive Order numbers 13198 to 13486, which makes 288 over his term or about one every ten days. Clinton managed 363 – one every eight days – over the same period of time, while Bush the Elder managed 165 – one every nine days – in his single term and Reagan’s record (380) over his two comes out at one every eight days. So far so similar. Carter was a bit keener, with 319 in a single term working out to one every 4-5 days. As of now Obama has issued 134, or one every ten days, about the same as his predecessor. Again, hard to get a comparable record for Romney but I can’t see any reason for thinking he’d buck this trend, and again I don’t think the bare numbers say much anyway. An Executive Order supporting a pet project or fulfilling a campaign promise is one thing, albeit something that arguably is not overtly supported by at least the majority who didn’t vote for the President (when was the last time any President had a majority of those eligible to vote, not just those who actually did vote?) but once more this becomes subjective. And while it’s subjective of me to maintain that Obama’s use of this tool to authorise the extra-judicial killing of his own citizens by means of drone launched missile attacks inside the borders of nations with whom there’s no formal declaration of war is pretty fucking iffy, not to mention beyond even where Dubya took the War on A Vague Feeling of Unease, I’m sure I’m far from alone. To be fair he issued one to close down the camps in Guantanamo Bay as well, but it’s hard to credit him for something that still hasn’t happened yet and when the US continues to add to the numbers held without trial by sticking them somewhere else.
Among Obama’s inaugural executive decrees was a pledge to close the Pentagon’s notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Today it’s still open with 169 prisoners. The administration’s policy has been to send no new prisoners there, but instead to expand its prison at the U.S. airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan, where some 2,000 languish further from public attention and without a pretense of any rights.
The order’s fine print made clear the president was not challenging the indefinite detention of detainees without charges. Inmates “not approved for release or transfer,” the order said, “shall be evaluated to determine … whether it is feasible to prosecute” them.
Two months later the administration was filing its first court brief defending indefinite military detention for Guantánamo detainees under executive wartime powers. In May of that year Obama defended his prerogative to indefinitely hold those “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger.” His administration has designated 46 prisoners for detention without trial.
And then there’s those drone strikes, on which, unusually for me, I’ll turn to CIF (links are CIF’s, emphasis is mine):
Yet, contrary to his campaign promises, Obama has left most of the foundations of Bush’s counterterrorism approach intact, including its presumption of executive privilege, its tolerance of indefinite detention in Guantánamo and elsewhere and its refusal to grant prisoners in America’s jails abroad habeas corpus rights. While the language of the “war on terror” has been dropped, the mindset of the Bush approach – that America is forever at war, constantly on the offensive to kill “bad guys” before they get to the United States – has crept into this administration and been translated into policy in new and dangerous ways.
This fact is clearly demonstrated in a recent New York Times article, which details how President Obama has become personally involved in an elaborate internal process by which his administration decides who will be the next victim of America’s drone strikes. The article itself – clearly written with the cooperation of the administration, as the writers had unprecedented access to three dozen counterterrorism advisers – was designed to showcase Obama as a warrior president, thoughtfully wrestling with the moral issues involved in drone strikes, but forceful enough to pull the trigger when needed.
What it instead revealed was that the president has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America’s temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the “kill list” being resolved in secret on “Terror Tuesday” teleconferences with administration officials and intelligence officials.
The creation of this “kill list” – as well as the dramatic escalation in drone strikes, which have now killed at least 2,400 people in Pakistan alone, since 2004 – represents a betrayal of President Obama’s promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the US constitution. As Charles Pierce has noted, there is nothing in the constitution that allows the president to wage a private war on individuals outside the authorization of Congress.
Together with the bland assertion that the US has the right to self-defense against al-Qaida under international law, these legal arguments have enabled the president to expand drone operations against terrorist organizations to Yemen and Somalia, as well as to escalate the campaign against militant networks in Pakistan. To date, Obama has launched 278 drone strikes against targets in Pakistan. The use of drone strikes is now so commonplace that some critics have begun to wonder if the administration has adopted a “kill, not capture” policy, forsaking the intelligence gains of capturing suspects for an approach that leaves no one alive to pose a threat.
This vast, expansive interpretation of executive power to enable drone wars conducted in secret around the globe has also set dangerous precedent, which the administration has not realized or acknowledged. Once Obama leaves office, there is nothing stopping the next president from launching his own drone strikes, perhaps against a different and more controversial array of targets. The infrastructure and processes of vetting the “kill list” will remain in place for the next president, who may be less mindful of moral and legal implications of this action than Obama supposedly is (I’m far from convinced Obama is all that mindful – AE).
Also in contravention of his campaign promises, the Obama administration has worked to expand its power of the executive and to resist oversight from the other branches of government. While candidate Obama insisted that even terrorist suspects deserved their due process rights and a chance to defend themselves in some kind of a court, his administration has now concluded that a review of the evidence by the executive branch itself – even merely a hasty discussion during one of the “Terror Tuesdays” – is equivalent to granting a terrorist suspect due process rights. With little fanfare, it has also concluded that American citizens may now be killed abroad without access to a “judicial process”.
Oh, and those American citizens don’t even need to be of voting age. Not even a year ago one US citizen, Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, died on the receiving end of a drone launched missile at the age of sixteen years, though the administration initially suggested he was around twenty and therefore of fighting age as if being older and able was the same thing as being found guilty of an actual terrorist offence by a court and jury. Turns out that one birth certificate, issued in Colorado, did exist to trouble the Obama administration. Might al Awlaki have been involved even at that young age, especially as his dad and uncle were – or at least were also killed by drone strikes, which is as much due process as Abdul got? Possibly, who knows? The point is that Saint Obama of Democrats has been at least as keen to use the same tools, legal and technological, to blow up brown kids as teh ebil demon Bush of GOP. In fact so keen has Obama been on drone strikes that he’d authorised more of them by the time he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency than Bush did in his whole eight years in the White House.
Nor is it just extra judicial killing via drone strikes. Obama has used Executive Orders to impose sanctions, “block” property and freeze assets, just as Bush did before him. Having been only a state Governor it’s hard to compare Romney but again I struggle to see any reason to expect him to be noticeably different.
Okay, so what about money and the economy? Republicans in general and Bush in particular are blamed by supporters of Obama and the Democrats for creating the GFC because it’s generally assumed that Republicans are the same thing as free market capitalists, and it’s strongly implied that Romney would be more of the same. Although I don’t doubt that Romney would be broadly similar the rest is bullshit for two reasons. Firstly, Republicans like Bush and Romney, big government Republicans, are no more capitalists than Obama is. Call them corporatists if you like and I’d be inclined to agree. Call them crony capitalists and I’d certainly be nodding. But free market capitalists? Let me put it this way, would a real free market capitalist bail out corporations who’ve fucked up so badly that they’ll go to the wall without state help? Would a real free market capitalist reward failure with money either taken by force from taxpayers or borrowed in their name without asking them?
Secondly, what free market are we even talking about here? The banking and finance industry? The one regulated by the SEC, FSA, ASIC and so on and strongly influenced if not controlled both by governments (both Dems and GOP in the US and both left and right of centre elsewhere) and by their various central banks plus a couple of supranationals? Free market my left ball. Amidst all that regulation and oversight where’s the free bit? It’s a myth – there is no free market. Freeish is not free, and operating under the strong, and as it turned out 100% correct, assumption that there’s a government provided taxpayer funded safety net is certainly not even remotely free for the simple reason that freedom necessarily includes the freedom to fail. Risk assessment changes not just with the risk itself but with the consequences of things going wrong, and when governments allowed corporations (it’s not just banks that have been bailed out or allowed to run for many years on subsidies) to believe they were protected from failure it was inevitable that they’d view risks differently and make products without customers or, as in the case of the banks, lend money to people who could never repay it. Absent the government protection there might be a few less options to choose from when buying a car due to unpopular models being dropped, but there probably wouldn’t have been as many subprime mortgages either. Blaming the free market for the GFC is like blaming Santa Claus for not getting the pressies you wanted at Christmas or complaining that the tooth fairy is getting stingy.
That didn’t happen on Bush’s watch or on Obama’s, yet they’ve played their part in the crisis all the same. There’s no doubt that Bush spent a hell of a lot of money, firstly on the War on Tourism*** and then on those bailouts. But then 2009 came and he left, and Barack Obama arrived promising change… and four years later he’s saying there’ll be some, honest, if America just sticks with him. Seriously? I know Congress hasn’t always been on his side but the last four years have been largely characterised by carrying on where Bush left off: spending a hell of a lot of money on war and bailouts for corporate fuck ups.
It’s harder to argue that the president hasn’t been a radical departure from previous presidents with respect to spending, debt, and deficits, but here goes. As a starting point, let’s have a look at the chart below, which shows federal outlays as a percentage of GDP.
The first year of the Obama presidency, 2009, is the largest year in decades, with federal outlays totaling a whopping 25.2 percent of GDP. Since then, federal outlays relative to GDP have fallen, but they are still incredibly large. In fact, you have to go back to 1946 to find a year when federal outlays were as large as they have been every year of the Obama presidency.
Having said that, it is impossible to look at the chart and not to see a large ramp up in outlays under George W. Bush — the president who reversed the direction of federal outlays, which had been falling. Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that much of the responsibility for 2009’s 25.2 percent rests with President Bush, and not with President Obama; in January 2009, before President Obama took office, the CBO released its forecast that fiscal year 2009would see outlays of 24.9 percent of GDP based on pre-Obama policies.
Don’t get me wrong: President Obama bears responsibility for federal outlays being larger for each year of his presidency than at any time since 1946. If George W. Bush bears a lot of responsibility for FY2009, then Mr. Obama bears even more responsibility for the three years that followed — responsibility for both the very high spending and the questionable composition of the spending.
So is Mr. Obama’s performance on spending quite bad? Yes. But a difference in kind rather than in degree? Over his four fiscal years as president the average outlays-to-GDP ratio is 24.4 percent. During the Reagan years the average was 22.4 percent. Given the Great Recession, this two percentage point difference, though deceivingly very large, isn’t enough to claim that President Obama represents a radical departure from post-war presidents with respect to spending.
What about the deficit? Here’s the picture.
This chart is startling. It shows that President Obama walked into a massive budget deficit and he made the situation worse. Prior to President Obama’s inauguration, and in the absence of any of his policies, the CBO estimated that the FY2009 budget deficit would be an incredible 8.3 percent of GDP. George W. Bush again bears a lot of the responsibility, and as with spending, President Obama turned bad into worse.
Each of Mr. Obama’s annual deficits has been larger than any since the 1940s. Deficits aggregate into debt, and as I have previously written it is reasonable to think of President Obama and George W. Bush as each being responsible for roughly one-third of the debt — with all presidents from George Washington through Bill Clinton responsible for the remaining third. (In the absence of George W. Bush, it would of course be much harder, perhaps impossible, to argue that President Obama has not been a radical departure from previous presidents on debt.)
Get that? Obama’s administration is responsible for about a third of America’s debt, and Bush’s for about another third. But Bush isn’t the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney is. And Mitt Romney delivered on his promise to get the deficit under control in Massachusetts, and claims he did so without raising taxes. Whether you consider a government imposed fee a tax or not probably determines whether you entirely buy his claim, as does your view on Romneycare, the Massachusetts health insurance scheme that has been likened to and even described as a predecessor to Obamacare, and whether federal money Massachusetts received (this is during the Bush era, remember) to help with this means that Romney is not the fiscal conservative some would like to believe. On top of that Romney has said little to nothing about rolling back the size of America’s federal government apparatus and come out in favour of things that seem likely to maintain if not increase it. PATRIOT Act? Yeah, he’s a fan. Bailouts? Well, he may have opposed Obama’s but he supported Bush’s so he’s clearly alongside the principle of rewarding failure with money taken from taxpayers. War and foreign policies? According to Wikipedia he “has stated that Russia is America’s ‘number one geopolitical foe’, and that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability should be America’s ‘highest national security priority’. He plans to label China a currency manipulator and take associated counteractions unless that country changes its trade practices. He has supported the War in Afghanistan Romney supports thePatriot Act, existence of the the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, and use of enhanced interrogation techniques for interrogation of suspected terrorists.” As far as I can tell he, like Bush and Obama – and Clinton and Bush the Elder and Reagan etc – would also continue America’s ludicrously expensive and pointless War on Drugs Which Aren’t Ciggies Or Booze Because America Still Hasn’t Got Over The Last Time It Tried That. As a devout Mormon he may even want to extend it, but again with Obama attacking medicinal marijuana usage it’d stil be a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Just like it was 1,329 days ago.
All of which I’d call change I can believe in – namely none whatsoever. America decides, as does Australia and the UK next year and the year after, but we need to wake up to what we’re really deciding. If all we’re voting for is who gets to be warden of our multi-million square mile prison camps then what’s the fucking point? Bush or Obama, Obama or Romney, Gillard or Abbott, Cameron or Miliband… all will change details, yes, but it’s clear that all will maintain vastly more just as it is now. One or other of them may do a slightly better job at maintaining the gilding on the bars but none of them wants to, probably can’t even conceive of, doing away with the cage.
Well, almost none.
So am I saying Americans should vote for Johnson? No, it’s their choice to make, but I will say that at this admittedly long distance it really does look to me that voting for Obama because you fear Romney or voting for Romney because you don’t like what Obama’s done really isn’t going to change a great deal. No criticism of America intended as both the country of my birth and the one in which I’ve made my home suffer from the same problem. Christ, on some issues you can’t get a fucking cigarette paper between them. My personal opinions may be slightly closer to Ron Paul’s than Gary Johnson’s, but he’s not on a ticket and as I have no say in America’s elections this is all academic anyway.
But crazy ideas like politicians not bankrupting their countries and not accumulating debt for taxpayers not yet even born and fighting unnecessary wars and letting us all live the one life that each of us get as free individuals… well, I’d vote for Australia’s or Britain’s Gary Johnson in a picosecond. And I can’t help but feel the best chance of there being an Aussie or British Gary Johnson to vote for is if a fair number of American voters decide to reject the usual Republocrat/Demlican suspects this November. I don’t imagine he’ll actually win, but at this stage getting noticed and getting on the ballot has been enough an achievement that just taking a decent number of votes off the other two would be a small victory.
Good luck @GovGaryJohnson, and if you don’t win is there any chance you could move here and not win as well. Because at least you’re getting the idea of real change into people’s heads.
* He’s a muslim/commie/wasn’t born in the US/pot smoking hippy/Chicago lawyer/socialist healthcare advocate/pinko/freedom hater/terrorist sympathiser/Zionist – circle all those you personally believe in and which you think make him unfit to be President.
** He’s a mormon like Bill Paxton in Big Love/rich guy’s friend/socialist healthcare advocate/as bad as Bush because they’re both from the same party, you know, so despite differences in the way Romney ran his state as Governor he’d run the country the same way Dubya did/terrorist sympathising Zionist… I’m going to stop taking the piss out of Obama and Romney’s respective detractors now. You get the picture – as far as I know nearly all the guff I’ve written in both these footnotes is complete bollocks and what isn’t is irrelevant, but all of it or stuff very much like it has been said either online or in the MSM. What amuses me is how some of the things they’ve been criticised for are actually things they have in common.
*** Not a typo: fly through Los Angeles airport and you’ll see what I mean – seriously, America, I’d love to visit again and spend money seeing various bits of your country but last time there the TSA made me feel about as welcome as a tumescent priest in a boy’s dormitory.
The retiring type
Props to President Hollande for mindless optimism in the face of harsh realities.
France’s new socialist government cut the country’s retirement age in the face of the eurozone’s deepening crisis, citing “social justice” to explain a move that goes against austerity efforts across the region.
Workers who entered employment aged 18 will be able to retire at 60 rather than 62, under the decree agreed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
The decision follows pre-election promises from the new president Francois Hollande to reverse the rise in the retirement age introduced by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.
Actually, props to him for keeping an election promise. I thought politicians weren’t supposed to do that anymore? Perhaps it’s a French thing. And perhaps France is currently able to make it work. I know next to nothing about France’s economic situation or how this move will affect it, but I’m prepared to believe that at least in the short term the answers could be ‘not bad’ and ‘not much’ respectively. But assuming that France, like most western nations, has an ageing population how well does lowering the retirement age work in the longer term? As in the kind of time which will likely see the man who’s now the new president happily retired and writing his memoirs.
You see, the thing about ideals such as social justice is that mathematics really doesn’t give two fifths of a faint fuck about them, and so if the tax base isn’t there to support all a state’s retirees plus its other spending – and of course this is a point some countries have already passed – then it’s just not there. Borrowing to make up the difference will keep things going a bit longer but eventually even that won’t be enough, though by then you’ll have a lot of people expecting to get what they’d been promised years earlier and a lot more expecting the same or better when it’s their turn, and Greece is an indicator of how that could turn out.
Alternatively a state could take a different approach: leave retirement age to be sorted out between individuals and their employers.
Is it an election year or something?
It is a surprise to no one in the US that Barack Obama supports gay marriage. The only thing that has raised eyebrows is how long it took the President to stumble towards a clear public affirmation of his position.
What’s surprising? Any US president saying this kind of thing is going to piss of the Christian right, and since they’re going to vote Republican that’s no loss to a Democratic pres. But surely it’s also going to appeal to a lot of right-on types who mostly vote Democrat, which means it might be the kind of thing a Democrat president could leave until nearer the election to give any wavering support a boost. This is almost certainly not a sudden Damascene conversion for Obama but something that’s been sat on until the time was judged to be right. From his perspective it would have been a bit of a waste for him to have said this three and a half years ago in the height of his post election (and not being George W Bush) popularity, but if he’s worried that some of his own voters will be viewing the last three years with enough disappointment that they might not vote he’ll probably think it’s time to play a pocket card or two. Suddenly being all right-on about gay marriage after being quite so long could be one such card, and timing it with allegations about Romney being a homophobe in the distant past (which was also preceded by a long period of absolutely nothing being said about it despite Romney being a senator, a state governor and a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008) could be another.
In short, I don’t think gays should be getting too euphoric about this. I’d say this has got fuck all to do with their rights or anyone else’s and much more to do with getting the votes in come November. On the issue itself I’d say what I always do: that defining marriage is one of the vast (and growing) number of things that should not be a government function at any level, and most certainly not at the federal level. Seriously, just scrap the legal definition of marriage altogether. Gays should be free to define marriage so as to include them and find agreeable celebrants if they want, and those whose religious beliefs mean they define it otherwise should be free to disagree and say that those marriages have no validity in the sight of their preferred man in the sky. It won’t be enough to keep either group but think of the alternative. While it remains something that government feel they can involve themselves in then both gays and the religious will be electoral pawns with nice easy hot buttons to be pressed by otherwise shit politicians who couldn’t be trusted alone in a room with your wallet. But if both the gay and religious lobbies can stick their fingers up to both lots of pollies, and providing they can agree to disagree and don’t actually come to blows over it, then both could be better off. Just one small concession is needed from each side: the gays just need to concede that certain religions will always say that butt love and going sappho is sinful and rules out their particular marriage service, and in turn those religions need to concede that they’re not the only game in town as far as marriage is concerned.
So what’s it to be? I know at least one Christian who isn’t against gay marriage in general but would oppose it in her church, and I also know at least one gay person who’s fine with letting religious prohibitions stand indefinitely provided the various churches are willing to let bi-gals be bi-gals (so to speak) but I suspect they’re both in a minority and that things to remain pretty much the same as they are right now. I hope to be wrong about this one day and wake up to find that both groups have realised that they could both be freer than either is at the moment if only they just told the presidents and prime ministers to mind their own business about it.
The Milgram Experiment’s 2012 World Tour reaches Melbourne
… and finds that not much has changed.
Since this is WorkSafe Victoria – which is a much catchier name than the Health & Safety Executive – it goes without saying that the point is that people in positions of authority shouldn’t be asking others to risk their arses doing something that isn’t safe. Normally I’d be among the first to have a go at over zealous elfinsafetee culture, which is just as prevalent in Australia as in Britain, but when 70% of people walking along a Melbourne street are actually prepared to hand over a wire that some clown has told them is ‘a little bit live’ just because he told them to I have to concede that they have a point here. Maybe, as Captain Ranty has said more than once, we’re just not very good at saying ‘no’.
Something I mentioned in passing on yesterday’s blog about red meat healthism, with a little emphasis:
Getting the hump because some people cark it before contributing all the tax they might have done, which will happen more once economic pressures force the retirement age to be revised upwards, is almost the same thing.
I mention it again only because of this.