blogorrhoea
Saturday, August 09, 2003
 
WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE GENERAL TODAY

General Glut is the sorta bloke I was always going to like. Likes the Marxian critique of capitalist political economy, wallows shamelessly in his dismarrhoea, regularly reads Morgan Stanley permabear Stephen Roach and doesn't mind the role of Cassandra.

Quoth Roach: "In the most recent quarter, Hill said, revenue for the Standard & Poor's 500 companies rose 6.6 percent on average, which sounds good until you start to dissect the number. The weak dollar accounted for 2 full percentage points of the gain, and energy companies accounted for another 1.3 percentage points as fuel prices gained 46 percent. A refinancing boom contributed $50 billion to consumer spending, economists estimate, another one-time lift."

Roach also speaks of 'bad productivity' (unsustainable increases in exploitation) and gives as his example leading technology company, Internet gear maker Cisco Systems Inc., whose numbers show that it's "still relying heavily on cost cuts to boost results. Cisco's earnings jumped 27 percent to $982 million in one of the best profit performances by any company in the quarter . . . [even though] Cisco's sales declined by 2.7 percent from last year's already sluggish level ... The root of the problem is sluggish demand. Companies have been slicing and dicing to get the most out of meager sales during the slowdown. And they've been reluctant to invest in new product development because they won't get any immediate payback ... It all boils down to the essence of productivity enhancement -- whether efficiency gains are driven by synergies between human capital and technological innovation or by hard-nosed cost-cutting. . . . I must confess to being worried once again that the pendulum is swinging from good to bad productivity in the United States."

The good general also mines the following gems from Roach's thrilling dismalism:

* On defense spending -- "there was more than the usual amount of statistical noise in the latest GDP report. A 44% annualized surge in defense outlays accounted for fully 70% of the total increase in national output. Barring the outbreak of another war, that source of growth is probably tapped out."
* On consumer spending -- "personal consumption expenditures did increase at a 3.3% annual rate in 2Q03, well above the anemic 1.9% average annualized growth pace in the preceding two quarters. However, the bulk of those gains occurred for purchases of durable goods, whose share of real GDP has now risen to a record 11% -- so strong that it provides little scope for further improvement."
* On jobs (or the lack thereof) -- "Since the economy bottomed in November 2001 (as per the recent cyclical dating of the National Bureau of Economic Research), private nonfarm payrolls have contracted by 1.2 million workers. By contrast, in the first 20 months of the past six business cycle upturns, the private-sector job count increased, on average, by 2.8 million workers. That means the current hiring trajectory has fallen fully 4 million workers short of the cyclical norm -- taking the concept of 'jobless recovery' that was first coined in the early 1990s to an entirely different level."
* On wages and salaries -- "over the first 19 months of the current cyclical recovery, real private-sector wage and salary disbursements have recorded a cumulative increase of just 0.3%, far short of the 6.8% average gains that have occurred by similar junctures in the past six business cycle upturns."

A blogorrhoeaic summary: Shrubya's promised job splurge ain't coming, rather direct investment is down, unemployment is up and wages are all but static in real terms. Excess capacity stalks the manufacturing sector and the information technology is having trouble growing demand - and we must doubt that clever marketers can entice consumers to ignore their mounting debt for much longer.

Perhaps it's time for another look at the 'global glut' heterodoxy.

More updates on the giant lemming that is 'globalisation' as they come to hand ...
 
 
LOSE-LOSE SCENARRHOEA

We’re here forever. The simple fact about the New Iraq is that never in our lifetimes will it be able to defend itself from its neighbors. It will always be dependent on the United States to do that job. And because it floats on oil, and because all its neighbors — and all of us — have a vital stake in its future, it’s going to take a lot of defending.

'Course, I reckon the PNACers never intended otherwise. They had their gormless glovepuppet do their fibbing for them and now Uncle Sam is where they (and Osama, of course) always wanted him to be.

Fait accompli?

Well, those who actually would like to extricate the US would have a hard time convincing the next administration that they'd be leaving Iraq, the US and world peace better off. How could they? Potential external threats would need to have been removed (necessarily sans further invasions and occupations as Uncle Sam is dangerously overstretched already) and the chances of internal stability bolstered by at least a facsimile of a working democratic structure, some vague hint of a transformed political culture, and a sufficient decline in US casualties to make tenable the claim that the job's done.

And that seems a lot to ask just now.

Nope. They'd have to convince said administration that the risks and costs of staying are even greater than the risks and costs associated with losing credibility (political, moral and strategic, insofar as they can be separated), Israeli Kurdish and Shiite good-will, a vital strategic base, and direct control over a fifth of the world's oil.

How gargantuan a mess would Bush and his henchmen have made of things if such a case could actually be made? Well, one conservative thinktanker is already having a go ...

 
Thursday, August 07, 2003
 
A STAB AT AN ANSWER

by Glenn Condell

In a comment after my last trick, Chins asked:

'Why is it, do you think, that we don't demand answers to pollies' lies and clarification of their obfuscation and spin? Is it to do with a sense of powerlessness?'

Lots of reasons. One might just be fear. The events of the last few years may have driven some of us to engage more directly in our relationships with the rest of the world - I've sent letters and emails of both praise and damnation to dozens of movers and shakes all over the world since 911 and I sense many others have had this reaction. But it's probably true to say that far more people have shut up shop, put the head down and retreated into family and work. Fight or flight. Not so much apathy as self-preservation. This turning away suits governments of course and the extra 'security' measures they sought, almost totalitarian in first draft, have a multiplier effect on the turning away. There is a feeling that poking one's head too far above the parapet in defence of principles at odds with the current orthodoxy may be unwise or even dangerous. The recent revelations that Homeland Security has 'monitored' peace activists and the often violent treatment meted out to protestors by pro-war 'patriots' would only confirm discretion as the better part of valour for many people.

But first, many of us do I think make the demands Chins alludes to, but only in conversation with our families and circle of friends, or in rarely published letters to the editor or perhaps in the blogosphere's ether where they quickly evaporate. Poor, even dangerous ideas can get wall to wall coverage in the major media but although cogent refutations of them exist, they are thin on the ground in the big newspapers or broadcasters. This is one reason for the sense of powerlessness you mention.

So any sensible answer to your question would for me have to start with the media - the window between us and our leadership, which has become as much a vehicle for 'obfuscation and spin' as it is for the transparent flow of information. We are told chapter and verse in full living colour what the government and its fellow travellers think thru this window, but opposing viewpoints have a tougher time, via both a lack of coverage and the jaundice with which the coverage that does get thru is treated. The glass in our window, probably never crystal clear, has become that rough opaque stuff you can't see thru, at least from our side of it. I guess the media were always players, but they once managed not to be seen or heard very much. Now they are in the van of every important debate we have, normally going in hard on behalf of the interests of their owners in particular and the business establishment generally. These priorities are in the main congruent with most right wing political powerbases. The old division between anodyne reporting of the facts on the news pages and comment on the editorial pages has all but dissolved in many outlets and doesn't exist at all in some broadcast operations, notably Mr Murdoch's Fox.

Murdoch is the man more responsible than any other worldwide for this unfortunate and dangerous trend. He is contemptuous of this sort of ethic; he won't accept the rules of any game he enters. He sees himself as an iconoclast and in a way he is, but what he's exploding are traditions that have helped make our democracy if not great, then pretty good -until recently at least. Look at the lockstep unity of war commentary in the vast Murdoch stable and ask yourself if that's the sort of media landscape we want to encourage. You couldn't see thru the window at all in Mr Murdoch's world; you'd just have to take the word of his minions about what's on the other side.

Partly, governments' gradual loss of national sovereignty to the effects of globalisation is to blame here - in the past, media companies, smaller and more local, dared not offend governments. Now it is the other way around. Most governments look pretty small and local to a company like News. The current battles here and in the US and UK over cross-media ownership show the urgent desire of big media to exploit the opportunities this scary moment in history gives them to exacerbate that trend. The attacks on the BBC and ABC and the implicit threat implied in them are a part of the same push. (As Chins says on his blog ' Long live the ABC!') The frequency and intensity of these attacks is out of all proportion to the initial provocation and must have a weakening effect on the resolve of people who oppose them. This is part of the rationale of course and another reason for that sense of powerlessness.

The sum effect of all this is greater voter ignorance of facts and opinions not appreciated by media and political elites. Real elites that is, not pretend ones like ABC watchers or Balmain basketweavers or Uni employees. Facts and opinions people need in order to make informed choices. Look at the US. Imagine it had a national public broadcaster as we and the Brits have. Would they have gone to war at all? I don't think so. They are just people like us who've been fed an all-bullshit diet and the effects are obvious. Oh they could get off their butts and become more informed and all that, but how many Australians or even Brits do? Most people eat what they're given and some appear to lap it up. The answer lies less in the noble goal of ridding the world of apathy or disengagement than in the setting of community approved guidelines within which the media behemoths must operate. If they whinge and carry on about the potentially deadly effect on profit, then offer their share of the newly regulated spectrum to the market and watch the rest fall over themselves to grab it.

If America had had an ABC, all sorts of skullduggery and sleight of hand over the years might have been mitigated by a pole opposing the overwhelming Pravda style homogeneity of their major media. This is the sort of nightmare the Murdochs, Bushes, Howards and Blairs (Tony or Tim) of this world instinctively abhor. To the owners freedom doesn't mean the free flow of info for the great unwashed; it means freedom for them to own as much of the media spectrum as they like and then to use it almost exclusively for their own ends; or if you're a pol, the freedom to set the news and current affairs agenda thru cosy relationships with said media. You scratch my back etc. You support my plans for the Senate or refugees and I'll look after you with cross-media or Telstra or whatever. Quid pro bloody quo.

This state of affairs makes you wish there was a generally accepted concept of a 'separation of powers' between government and media as there is between government, the judiciary and the Church. There's a dangerous lack of daylight between all four in the US at present. As the danger of a government nexus with the Church (or religion in a wider sense) has shrunk, so the danger of alliance with the media has grown; for me, it's on a par at least with the thought of a politicised judiciary.

Anyway, I digress. Suffice to say that the media have special responsibilities in a democracy, qualitatively different to other businesses who deal in cattle, or hardware or apples or haberdashery. They haven't been meeting those responsibilities and as a result more people know less (about crucial issues anyway) and worse, the constant drumbeat of rightwing commentary and the support it receives has led to people holding rightwing views as if they were unremarkably middle of the road. The Alan Jones effect writ large, already obtaining in the US. I had a depressing conversation with a hardworking but hitherto politically disinterested cousin a while ago and his conversational tropes could have come from the pen of Piers Akerman; perhaps they did. His irrational and uncharacteristic anger at my quiet rejection of his intolerant bile set me thinking...there must be hundreds, thousands of people around the country like this and when they reach critical mass as they appear to have done in the US, well, we're in deeper shit than we thought. There has been a steady erosion it seems in even the possibility of independent thought, or at least thought that doesn't square with the prerogatives of power.

So it's difficult to effectively protest something if you don't really know much about it and what you do know is biased. Much easier to go with the flow like the Cousin X type; the ubiquitous presence of which (at home, at work, on the telly, in your newspaper) is yet another inhibitor of effective action.

But it's not just fear or the media that accounts for our quietude. We Australians are a funny lot -loud and brash in some ways, notably sport and business, but curiously reticent otherwise, certainly in comparison with most Americans you ever saw. Maybe it's a hangover from Empire... hanging on in quiet desperation being the English way. Perhaps it's a subconscious sense of shame at our penal beginnings and relative historical unimportance. Whatever, it is probably still true to say that most Australians would prefer to avoid being interviewed on TV where most Americans could talk til the tape runs out. This may be less true than it once was but it still holds some water. We don't like to 'put ourselves forward' and we aren't likely to get publicly upset until push has really come to shove. This reticence shades into the political sphere - we love to carry on about our dislike of authority but in my experience, a lot of us just can't get enough of it. There is a strong conservative bias for which our record in referendums is just one indicator. Get with the strength and stick to the tried and true - if it ain't broke don't fix it. Caution does behove a European colony in South East Asia, but again, it's not just that. There is a sense that political activism is somehow unclean; not quite sound, if you like. Politics can still stop dinner party conversations in Australia stone dead if they don't start a fight. It therefore takes something like the prospect of an unjust war to bring us out in our hundreds of thousands. The fact that almost as many marched for reconciliation shows the deep egalitarianism that still exists in many of us and the kind of force that can be mobilised if it's united.

Which brings me to my next point, one I hammered away at here. One of the defining characteristics of that part of our post 911 citizenry that has been conveniently, and often cynically referred to as 'the left' is it's sense of doubt in these uncertain times and the corollary lack of unity that engenders. It's a healthier and more appropriate response to recent events than the rightwing lockstep, but it's a far harder political sell. They're a well oiled, and well funded machine; we're a million parts looking for each other in the dark. They're all singing from the same song sheet like a choir and heaven help those that can't stay in tune or on message. Meanwhile our more exotic menagerie emits a cacophony from which it's hard to make out an underlying rhythm or melody.

But I am hopeful... things don't seem to me as bleak as they did as little as a month or two ago. The Dean phenomenon illustrates how our 'team' can harness this variety of dissent, so intimately tied to the net and other new communications technologies that bypass the traditional media major media. Of course, the other team realise this, and Margo Kingston's Webdiary yesterday paints a worrying picture of control over bandwidth and content by said traditional media, in cahoots with governments equally concerned to control the growth of this new shoot of the democratic tradition.

So we're worried as usual, but so I think are they. Poor buggers; we might still be the bleeding hearts but I sense a bit of hand-wringing going on over the fence. This doesn't exactly make me feel as powerful as they are but perhaps just a little less powerless than I was.




 
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
 
(MAL)ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE

I have dared enter the template and mess with its mysterious guts, so this may be the last you hear of us. If all has gone well, a working comments facility is back. If not, forgive me for I knew not what I did.
 
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
 
TOO POOPED TO BLOG

* Six weeks of being well enough to get to work, sick enough not to do it very well, and then drained enough not to be up to much else. So inert was I this evening that I sat right through an episode of The Bill. What life this turkey ever had is well and truly extinct, yet the bride (a woman of otherwise exemplary discernment) insists on watching it decompose twice a week. It's the faux Bow-Bells-cant that irks first. Then the faux social-issue-exploring. And now, more than ever, the faux emotionalism. Foreign Correspondent still lights up a Tuesdee, but The Fat's well and truly ready for commercial TV - it's as informative, innovative, daring and funny as The Panel these days.

* I suspect Bomber Beazley's minders have determined that it's time for their boy to look and sound all butch and full of ticker (Australian 'political debate' these days amounts to little more than one gutlessly limp pollie accusing another of 'lacking the ticker'). I suppose tonight's performance on 'Lateline' might have been Labor kicking off a campaign to match Howard in the martial arse-kickery stakes, confirm their pro-great-and-powerful-friend credentials and highlight the wedge between government and intelligence comoonity. Then again, it might have been Kim kicking off a campaign of his own.

* I find myself in agreement with Christopher Hitchens for the first time in quite a while. I never got Bob Hope either. I don't get lots of stuff (David Letterman, Eddie Murphy, hip-hop, Kylie, Law and Order, golf, Emma Tom, Tim Blair, the Modigliani/Miller thesis and ice-cream soda) but it's Bob Hope I didn't get the longest.

* I love the dog in the Sargent's pies ad. Him I get.

 
 
A COUPLA SHORT SPRAYS

by Glenn Condell


SIBLING SPAT

A few weeks ago (see Upside Down below), I drew together the views of a few dyed in the wool conservatives from yesteryear, which highlighted the anger and alarm now seeping through the establishment. I forgot to add this broadside from Peter Hitchens, brother of the noted hawk:

'The idea that naked force can create human freedom is itself a left-wing idea. Even more socialist are the war faction’s contempt for the sovereignty of nations and their unashamed belief that ends justify means. No wonder that the war’s hottest-eyed supporters on both sides of the Atlantic are ex-Marxists who have lost their faith but have yet to lose their Leninist tendency to worship worldly power.'

It's hard to imagine a more pointed criticism of his brother. A fly on the wall for Sunday lunch would hear some world class invective and abuse right now. I've often wondered what Howard and Costello's saner siblings have made of their more egregious offences against the 'decency' and 'tolerance' they keep chuntering on about. But I have to say I'd have blanched if you'd told me ten years ago that I'd be agreeing with the elder Hitchens at his brother's expense. Upside down.


VIETNAM - WHERE WINGNUTS FEARED TO TREAD

Scanning the chickenhawk database is tiring stuff, but the chuckles keep you going. A limited edition (people I've heard of):

Bush, Cheney, Rove, Spencer Abraham, Elliot Abrams (bad back), Ken Adelman (skin rash), Bolton, Card, the Hutchinson boys, Perle, Pitt, Tommy Thompson, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft, Olson, Judges Scalia, Kennedy & Thomas, Starr, Bob Barr, Gary Bauer, Bush J, Saxby Chambliss, DeLay, Gingrich, Giuliani, Gramm, Hastert, Kemp, Liebermann, Lott, Quayle, Reagans R and M.... Bill Bennett, Falwell, Frank Gaffney (acne), Wayne LaPierre, Ted Nugent, Pat Robertson, Brit Hume, Alan Keyes, Limbaughs David and Rush (anal cysts), Roger Ailes, Wolf Blitzer, Tom Clancy, Steve Forbes, Hannity, Kristol, Ledeen, Kristol, Olasky, O'Reilly, O'Rourke, Savage, Snow, Sly Stallone, R Emmett Tyrrell and George Will.

First, how much shorter would a list of prominent wingnuts, cynics and apologists who DID serve be? In fact, a service list of prominent people full stop would be struggling to top even the selection above. Also, is it any wonder that the disparity between today's martial rhetoric and yesterday's more circumspect attitude gets no play? It's almost a closed loop. To be fair, there are probably a few closet doves in this lot and many are a long way from the decision-making process but their variety underscores how many of the rightwing ascendancy's constituencies are interconnected by this sort of privilege and shared experience, or rather lack of experience. I wonder how many would double up if you ran the PNAC membership alongside? Or Enron's list of consultants, or... well, you get the drift.


BOUQUETS FOR THE BASTION OF BRITAIN

All of us who value democracy and freedom owe Britain a vote of thanks.

Thanks for this year demonstrating that the oldest democratic institutions aren't necessarily the most moribund. Thanks for reminding us that forceful dissent is not cowardice or treason but is in fact patriotism in action. And thanks most of all perhaps for confirming the central importance of public broadcasting to a truly free society.

The quality of political debate and media coverage of the war in Britain left the rest of the Anglophone world for dead. They alone seemed grown-up; they alone refrained from treating their constituents and their audience like especially credulous children. (There were exceptions elsewhere, but the point is they were exceptions) As a result, the populace knew what was happening and were vitally involved, indeed responsible for much of the sort of unfolding drama Howard and Bush must be thanking their lucky stars they managed to avoid. As Margo Kingston says, there is far more diversity in media titles and ownership in Britain, which leaves competitve room for a variety of viewpoints, some of which are bound to make life uncomfortable for those in power. Still, the price of such freedom is eternal vigilance - it's no coincidence that in Britain and Australia, Rupert Murdoch is simultaneously pushing for further deregulation of media ownership laws while his considerable stable of paid bloodhounds tears into the BBC and ABC. He has no shame because he thinks most of us have no idea. Unfortunately, he might be right.

Britain's institutions and her people faced down their leadership and held their feet to the fire, are still holding their feet to the fire in order to ascertain the truth. Nothing less will be good enough for them; it's a measure of how far we Australians and Americans are from civic engagement that our inquiries are half-hearted affairs that wouldn't have eventuated at all if the Brits hadn't put the idea on the agenda. We don't expect the truth and in a curious way, we don't seem to feel we deserve it. Over there, they demand it. It's no accident that the first big intel leaks came out of Britain, just as the first strident antiwar voices in the media came from there. And as for the politicians... where is Australia's Robin Cook? Try to imagine Peter Costello resigning in the same situation. Or Dick Cheney! There is in Britain a culture of candour that sets the almost Soviet unity of Liberal and Republican ranks in sharp relief.

With their country a meritocracy in more than name only and overlaid by an ancient establishment, Brits aren't as likely as Americans to respect their leadership to the point of deification. From top to bottom, they have a healthy political jaundice that makes getting away with murder far less likely. It's very difficult for example to imagine most Americans encountering one of their leaders and belting him as some disgruntled sod did to John Prescott. There's no need to worry about this scenario; such a person wouldn't get within a square mile of them anyway. Britain already has royalty, so the mindless worship angle's covered, leaving the pollies a tad more exposed than those across the pond.

I guess Tony Blair might have problems with this analysis right now, but upon reflection in a few years time, he might agree and find within himself some national pride in the institutions that caused him so much bother. I feel sure too that he, and certainly Howard, will have a private little place in their hearts where their anger and contempt for George Bush and co will be given free rein. Just think what this man has done to these two very successful politicians, gliding effortlessly as they were into a laurel-wreathed retirement before 9/11 turned them into poodles, lackeys, whatever you fancy.

You won't get that in the memoirs though; you'll get tortuous reiterations and explications and rationalisations and excuses. You may get the odd admission of error, but you won't find what you're looking for.

'I was wrong. I was found wanting. I'm sorry.'
 
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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