The Friday playlist for this article: Michael Nesmith’s And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. Cue it up and take a listen.
Because Friday. Because Istanbul. Because the terrace of my fine $40-a-night hotel overlooks the Blue Mosque lit up at night. Because the soft summer wind rustles through the open-air tea shops outside the Ayasofya … today’s instalment is a return of our old favourites, bites and drive-bys:
- WikiLeaks for the win. Despite the fact that its HQ is now confined to one flat in Knightsbridge, aka the Ecuadorian embassy, the organisation is still punching well above its weight. The recent release of details of the Trade in Services Agreement — the global services agreement designed to allow US corporations to unilaterally reach into other countries’ markets in services rather than goods — has followed the earlier releases of Trans-Pacific Partnership excerpts, the Pacific-specific opportunity for the US to reach into other people’s markets. They’ve also added a huge tranche of files to their “Plus D” website, which brings together the Cablegate/Iraq etc war logs with huge lots of publicly available documents released by the US government. The trick with these latter things is they’re practically unusable in the form they’re released. But in “Plus D”, WikiLeaks has created one of the most easily searchable mega-databases in history. The most recent additions is 500,000+ documents from 1978 — an extremely interesting year, more of which below.
- The attempt to get passage of TTP and TISA through US Congress is one of Barack Obama’s late initiatives. It may founder for a curious reason: most Republicans are for this extension of US economic power, many centrist Democrats are for it as an economic stimulus. “Liberal”, i.e. left union-based, Democrats are against it, but so are some right-wing Republicans, out of sheer hatred of Obama. Truly, Obama’s championing of these treaties has driven them mad. For the left, it’s easier to process: like Clinton, Obama has been captured by the “free” marketeers he has hired to run the economy. These treaties are a revival of Clintonian neoliberalism at its most extreme, the idea that the global effect of extending open borders will be positive, and the venal effects — the loaded dice for US power — will be minimal, relatively.
- There’s another reason for Obama’s championing of these treaties, against strong Democrat opposition, and that’s to screw up the Republicans. The GOP is already splitting over foreign policy. If they can be split over global “free” trade versus economic nativism, then they are close to finished as a party. Effectively, if you can split the GOP on matters economic, there will then be eight separate formations within the party. At one end will be total nativists: anti-“free” trade, anti-imperial wars, pro-enforced cultural norms; at the other end will be remnant neocons with a libertarian streak: pro-“free” trade, pro-imperial wars, anti-cultural enforcement. The treaty debates will bring this to the fore. The GOP won’t be able to avoid it. It’s one reason why there are now 20 candidates for the 2016 nomination. It’s always been said that each of the major US parties are really two or three parties. With this new twist, it’s five or six. Could the Republican Party split? It’ not impossible, if their extreme right decide — after a ’16 Hillary victory, on exactly the same states Obama won in ’12 — that they will never get the White House. At that point, they may simply break on the assumption that they could take 50 or so seats (with a number of sitting members transferring over) and become a swing force in Congress, proceeding deal-by-deal. Couldn’t happen? Yeah, it’s as unlikely as the Scottish National Party going from six to 56 seats in a 650-seat parliament within a decade …
- The areshole party. It’s great that the Liberals remind us, from time to time, that they’re the arsehole party. Grahame Morris says the Irish “can’t grow potatoes”. It’s worth noting, the Irish potato famine was caused by free-market policies, and 2 million people died. Morris’ remark is arseholish, though it comes from the position of his deep neuroses. The Irish vote showed us up; Morris, like his mentor Howard, has to always show that we uh, uh, uh, aren’t so bad, etc, so the Irish must be calumnied. It’s not a politics; it’s a neurotic defence of identity. Once Labor understands that right-wing politics is now an identity politics, not a politics of practical application, it will prevail.
- How to do that though? Unashamed democratic populism is the answer. For example: don’t defend arts funding as it is. Wait in the bushes. George Brandis is about to commit $25 million a year to specific projects. They’ll be big-ticket companies, etc, and like all such, they will piss martinis up against the wall and list it as “office supplies” in the budget. Half of them will be friends of George in one way or another. Brandis can fund 20 projects, and 10 of them will be financial disasters, even if they’re artistic successes. Don’t get hung up on the latter — instead hang them around his neck. Make the government responsible for every budget line-item of every arts company they’ve directly funded. The tabloids won’t be able to resist it. It’s good for five seats.
- Death to Whitlamism! The voters who care about Australian high culture — just about the most pointless activity going — have gone to the Greens. They’re not coming back. If Labor is really going to be a populist suburban party, then damn well do it, and stop flattering yourselves with ageing dreams of a Whitlamite grand coalition. The trouble for Labor is that, if they weren’t in Labor, half the leadership would actually vote Green. Half of them were in the ’80s, sleeping with people who are leading Greens so, y’know. They, Labor, don’t believe in the people they purportedly represent — the nativist, protectionist Australian working middle class. They can’t even fake their connection anymore. They better start to try. Otherwise, their future is PASOK, and they deserve it.
- What a terrible no-good week Gerard Henderson has had. Last Friday, Hendo published a long defence of George Pell against teh Left, who had accused him of being slack on child abuse. Elite nonsense, said Hendo — and then a goddamn Vatican adviser came out against him. Quelle horreur? But wait, it gets worse. For some weeks Hendo and I have been throwing barbs about the record of the West towards the auto-genocidal Khmer Rouge government. Hendo was banging on about a couple of naive remarks that the late Tom Uren made (along with many other people, including former Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle and the late Christopher Pearson) as regards the KR. Your correspondent responded with the point that the Fraser government, which Hendo worked for, provided material support for the KR, especially when they went into exile after the Vietnamese invasion in January 1979. Without Chinese and Western support, this bizarre Maoist-racist cult would have been wiped out by the Marxist socialist forces of Vietnam, and the country set on a path of modernisation. Instead it endured a decade more of misery, assisted by the Thatcher-Reagan and Fraser governments supporting the KR in their jungle fiefdom. Hendo has made a few bleating remarks about intent, etc, but he can’t really deny that the Fraser government — which he worked for — was very proactive about bringing the KR back into international respectability. More on that on Monday. In the meantime we note that the only evidence Hendo could find for his assertion that the left magazine with which I am associated — Arena –– “supported” the KR was an article by Albert Langer, who asserted that, if he were Khmer, he would fight on the side of the KR against the Vietnamese (though he never left Fitzroy). In fact, that piece was a tail end to a debate that included a blistering piece by Robert Manne detailing the KR’s genocidal depredations in great detail — and was a measure of our commitment to a pluralism absent from other journals of the era *clears throat Quadrant Quadrant*.
- As I say, more on all this next week. And more to come this year, the 50th anniversary of 1965. Suit up, Gerard.
- Notes on the playlist: Michael Nesmith And The Hits Just Keep On Coming. The former Monkees guitarist was well-born, being the son of the woman who invented Liquid Paper, the stand-by of the pre-computer era. After the Monkees (where he pushed to have Tim Buckley appear and do the first broadcast version of Song To The Siren), he wrote a series of torturing songs that pushed the singer/songwriter category to its limits. Best known for the FM hit Different Drum, his best song is Joanne, a steel guitar version of L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between and the best three-minute encapsulation of adultery there is. Though never celebrated, Nesmith’s 1972 album was crucial to the Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, and an expanded conception of what an album could be. Take a listen. Tell me you’re not enriched by it, and I’ll call you a liar.
- Can you imagine Gerard, Tim Blair or Piers writing on something they love? Can you imagine them loving anything? That’s where it is, right there.
Because tomorrow, Saturday. Because the spice bazaar. Because the cruise down the Bosphorus. Because quit your job in the grey, carpeted open-plan. Quit it now. Stop making arseholes rich. Teach English in Turkmenistan. Do it now. Do it! Get up from your desk. Quit. Keep walking. Write to us if you did so, and tell us what happened next. The hits just keep on coming.