Category: Politics

Today’s History Lesson: Nope, pulling statues down is not ‘Stalinist’

In the continuing exercise of those adjacent to the Alt-Right trying to simply not see what the Alt-Right are, may I present Sarah Hoyt, titular leader of Sad Puppies 5

There is far too much there that is wrong and wrong-headed and just plain enabling of authoritarianism to document. However, I’ll pick on one snippet:

“This idiotic changing of names, removing of statues and erasing people from history is NOT the work of a free society. It is wholly Stalinist and is letting the rest of the world know you by your fruits as it were. “


An addiction to shallow thinking leads one into absurdities. In this case Hoyt’s truism implies that opposing Stalinism is Stalinism.

The photo is from this site: and was taken in 1956 during the short lived Hungarian October Revolution.

No, tearing down monuments is not ‘Stalinist’ in itself – that is an absurd claim. What Hoyt is trying to grasp at is Stalin’s frequent attempts to rewrite hsitory. The people campaigning to pull down Confederate monuments do not want to erase the Confederacy *from history* quite the opposite – they want people to remember the US Civil War and who fought in it AND WHY. Precisely because HISTORY matters and understanding the fault lines and ingrained inequalities in the US is impossible without knowing about the history of slavery and racism in America – a history that is particular to America in its details but not unique to America in its impact.

Parallels between minor SF kerfuffles & real world politics are both trite & true

In various less-friendly spaces of the internet, I spent time watching right-wing SF fans trying to negotiate their own narrative around the Dragon Awards. There was often a plaintive cry from somebody trying to be the voice of reason as to why things can’t just be about the books. The notable thing was that in the case of the Dragons, they meant that the left had somehow introduced “politics” to it. This despite the case that there had been almost zero campaigning for Dragon Award nominations outside of a narrow area of SF fandom revolving around Superversive, Pulp Revolution and the groups I call the Rabids and the Scrappy Doos. Even the former Sad Puppy leadership had been relatively quiet.

My interest here was not the Brian Niemeiers of the groups but others, less inclined to create an SJW conspiracy out of nothing. In several cases, you could see them correctly reasoning that if they want the Dragon Awards to have any status then they would need authors like John Scalzi and N.K.Jemisin involved. However, they would always return to the idea that it was up to people like John Scalzi to, therefore, fix the problem by participating. Commenting here, author David Van Dyke took a similar tack – the Dragons need broad based participation, therefore can authors that the SF right calls “SJWs” (whether they are or not) please participate. This despite the fact that the reasons WHY authors didn’t want to participate were clear and unambiguous – they didn’t want to get caught up in the culture war that other on the SF right want the Dragons to be.

What is particularly interesting is this. When the right that is adjacent to the more belligerent alt-right NEED somebody to be reasonable, to compromise in WHICH direction do they turn? Note how it is the LEFT? This is more than just the modern conservative dictum of not-shooting-right/no-enemies-on-the-right but a tacit acknowledgement that they themselves have no capacity to control their allies.

The alt-right want the Dragons Awards to be a culture-war shitstorm because culture-war shitstorms help them recruit small numbers of extremists via radicalization and the comradery of a conflict. It’s a tactic anybody on the left will recognise from many micro-Trotskyist groups in the past, whose expectation of a conflict (e.g. a labour dispute) was that making hyper-strong demands (not necessarily EXTREME demands but essentially shitty negotiating positions) would not lead to a successful outcome but would lead to a better struggle and new recruits.

This dynamic among the more moderate right with respect to their terrorist allies is an abrogation of their duty to take on extremism. Instead, they hope that the left and centre will do it for them, while they hope to retain the votes of terrorist sympathisers.

In 2016 the strongest GOP counter-reaction to Trump was the ‘Never Trump’ group but even they expected the Democrats to do their dirty work for them. They expected Hillary Clinton to win and then when she didn’t, they stuck to complaining about the left rather than making any real concerted attempt to take back their party. All the time sort of hoping that the left will sort out their problem with an overtly violent & authoritarian movement in their ranks. Fear and cynicism.

Back when Trump won the GOP nomination, Larry Correia had this to say:

“This is an amoral statist authoritarian liberal, who got to where he was by being a huckster con appealing to anger and fear. He is a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He is an insult to the founders, a disgrace to our people, and in the unlikely event he wins, will probably go down in history as the man who ended any hope of small government or individual liberty in America.”

Of course, Larry expected Trump’s nomination to mean victory for Clinton and when that didn’t happen and Trump’s presidency really did prove to be amoral, statist, and authoritarian, Larry has focused on the ‘but not actually liberal’ and has either avoided politics or stuck to left-bashing.

This mix of short term opportunism and unwillingness to tackle extremism is resulting in relatively moderate conservatives finding themselves unwilling to confront terrorism. In the UK this was exemplified during the Brexit campaign when a radicalised terrorist murdered Labour MP Jo Cox  At the time pro-Brexit voices like Louise Mensch (who has since rebranded as a never-Trumper pushing unfeasible conspiracy theories) turned her rhetorical attacks on the left – condemning anybody who was naturally outraged by the use of murder as a political act. The demand was absurd and simple – that in the face of political extremism on the far right, to the point of overt terrorism & murder, that the left needed to be less vocal rather than the right needing to be less prone to murder.

So the same performance happens fractally across different levels of debate. Conservatives want the left to:

  • Defeat the terrorist aligned section of the right but…
  • without making a fuss and…
  • the conservatives will call the left names while they do that because…
  • the conservatives still want the support of the alt-nazis.

[ETA: speaking of which, here is Brad Torgersen desperately trying to find somebody to be angry with OTHER THAN the actual terrorist in the wake of a terrorist attack tl;dr its the media fault apparently.]



The Weird Not-a-referendum in Australia on Marriage Equality

particlfunkThe Australian government has found itself in an absurd situation on marriage equality. As things currently stand a majority of the Australian population wants marriage equality, a majority of MPs in the lower house of parliament want marriage equality and a majority of senators in the upper house want marriage equality. So politically this is a really simple call: pass a bill for marriage equality.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. While there is technically a majority in favour, the majority of MPs in the ruling coalition don’t support it. A minority of centre-right MPs in the ruling Liberal-National coalition strongly support marriage equality but the conservative right are unwilling to allow a straight vote on the issue.

During the last general election, the Liberals had campaigned on the basis of a referendum on the issue. The referendum was a stop-gap measure to avoid an internal party split. As the vote couldn’t be binding on parliament as it wasn’t a change to the constitution it would be called a ‘plebiscite’. If this sounds a lot like the reasoning behind the Brexit referendum then you’d be right – the idea was primarily about maintaining party unity.

This plebiscite, would have had no binding impact on MPs who would still have to vote on legislation. So people quite reasonably asked what the point would be. Given the inevitable homophobic propaganda that would accompany the campaign, i would cause real distress to families at significant financial cost and have no actual legal impact.

The outcome of the general election last year was ambiguous. Malcom Turnbull’s Liberal-National coallition scraped in by the skin of their teeth in the lower house but the Senate was left with the balance of power lying with smaller parties and independents.

When the government proposed the plebiscite, the Senate blocked the legislation. So the government was stuck. The conservative wing of the Liberal party insisted that no other legislation on marriage equality could go forward without the plebiscite. As time progressed, the Labor Party continued to press the government on the issue – embarrising the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who is on the liberal-wing of the Liberal Party and in favour of marriage-equality.

Ironically, the debate was in danger of causing an end to the political marriage of the Liberal Party. That in turn would have led to the government collapsing, which would probably have led to the Labor Party winning and passing marriage-equality.

So…the Liberal-National MPs put their heads together to come up with a way to give the conservative MPs a plebiscite without asking the Senate’s permission. The only way to do this would be to have something that was not technically a VOTE. Now as the plebiscite was never going to be binding anyway…the plebiscite could be legally a ‘survey’ IF instead of being run by the Australian Election Commision it was run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (who run the census – but not very well).

Anyway, this is why Australia is going to have a “postal plebiscite” on marriage-equality. Which is nuts, and of course will be exploited by the nastiest sections of society to attack LGBTI families, will cost a fortune, won’t be very representative and won’t be binding on MPs anyway.

Why? Because conservatives are petulant children.

When Conservatives Accidentally Destroy Capitalism

I found a bit of a gem in the spam filter – a drive-by comment in which somebody really didn’t think through all the implications of what they were saying.

I’ve released the comment back into the wild here: It was in reply to my post about the politics of calling the invasion by Britain of Australia in the 18th century an “invasion”.

“Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.”
Those people died a long time ago. Nobody stole from the ones alive today.
By the way, where are my reparations for the Highland Clearances? I’m sure somebody owes me a bundle, by your reckoning.

And wow – no sarcasm but those are nearly good points but which collectively stab right at the heart of modern capitalism.

I’ll nit pick first: “Nobody stole from the ones alive today.” I assume this is just ignorance on his part. Australia’s indigenous population was robbed in living (and deeply painful memory) of many of its children I assume that wasn’t what he was thinking of – he meant land/territory and of course even that is debatable.

But let’s look at this point by point:

  • Those people died a long time ago. Let’s accept that for the moment. A long time ago, in this case, means the 18th century which is a long time ago but well within the time of Britain as a state, the institution of property rights, the rule of law, the establishment of core elements of modern capitalism (including share ownership, financial institutions etc).
  • Nobody stole from the ones alive today. Ignore for the moment any more recent theft and think about what this is saying – it requires that a theft from A is not a theft from the heirs of A.
  • where are my reparations for the Highland Clearances? This is another good example of an 18th-19th-century land grab. It is also intertwined with the losses suffered by indigenous people in Australia and elsewhere, as the clearances fueled emigration from Scotland to other lands – including Australia, New Zealand and North America.
  • I’m sure somebody owes me a bundle, by your reckoning. And the question might be asked – who is the somebody?

That last point is a way of sarcastically attacking the notion of restitution for historical theft by pointing to the impracticability of paying people back but again, I’ll park that issue to one side for a moment.

Instead, let’s flip this around. The Highland Clearances were a long time ago. The people who did the stealing are also long dead. So, nothing to see here move along? No. Scotland STILL to this day has some of the most inequitable land ownership in Western Europe.


This image is from a Guardian article entitled (unsurprisingly) Scotland has the most inequitable land ownership in the west.  That inequity continues and causes real damage to people’s lives – and be warned the story and the quote below includes a case of suicide.

“Last October, on a farm near Edinburgh, the body of Andrew Riddell, a tenant farmer, was discovered. He and his family had worked on the farm for more than 100 years and then, one day, he was given notice to quit by his landlord, Alastair Salvesen, billionaire and Scotland’s third-richest man. The notice followed a year-long legal case which finally found in favour of Salvesen. The judge ruled that the protections Riddell thought he had in the tenancy arrangement were trumped by the landlord’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. He killed himself after collecting his final harvest.”

This inequity stems from land taken in the 17th century onwards. The land was taken and then the wealth passed down by inheritance. The original grab may have been theft (if not legally then morally and by modern standards) but then the people who gained by that wealth were sure to demand the protection of the laws of property right and inheritance AND STILL DO.

The idea that it was all so long ago only works as the basis for ignoring the issue when considering the theft. The benefit of the theft remains protected by inheritance. To say nothing was stolen from those alive today requires us to discount any wealth/land/territory they might have otherwise inherited. Perhaps we SHOULD discount that but then it would need to be discounted for all surely? Would the commenter argue for the abolition of inheriting property? Now there’s a radical notion. Need we go that far? After all, IF IT DOESN’T MATTER if the person is dead then taxation of inheritance is not only not theft by legal standards but presumably isn’t theft even by the standards of the conservative defenders of property rights.

The impact of the theft is still visible today, even in a modern developed nation such as Scotland. The original crime still has an impact, and we can see, by looking at Scotland and the Scottish people how this has played out over the centuries and how, despite otherwise very different situations regarding culture, freedom of movement, and political rights between the displaced land workers of 17th century Scotland and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia that there are outcomes in common:

  • The descendants of those who gained from the theft, on the whole, continue to gain from the theft.
  • The descendants of those who lost from the theft, on the whole, continued to suffer (to some degree) as a consequence.

That isn’t to say every possible individual must fall into one of two camps or that many descendants of the Scots who emigrated to the new world haven’t prospered. Economics isn’t a zero sum game and the historical theft of land is not the only thing in play. Where Australia’s indigenous peoples would not gain political rights until late in the twentieth century, emigrating Scots found new opportunities and new political rights in the new nations that grew around the colonisation by Europeans of Australasia and North America.

But, maybe it is the last point alluded too that matters. Maybe it is all just too hard to undo. You can’t fix history and you can’t possibly work out who owes who what?

Well let’s go back to the 18th century and ASK somebody.



Agrarian Justice Warrior

In 1795 Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet called “Agrarian Justice“. It was written in response to what was then a major piece of privatisation – the sale by the crown of royal and common land. While that land had not been directly owned by ordinary people, it was land that they typically had use of. This shift of land from common use to private ownership had been occurring for centuries (Paine argues that has been occurring since the beginnings of agriculture) but it has also been creating poverty for some. In Paine’s time, that creation of poverty was painfully visible in Europe – causing a population shift from the countryside to the cities.


Paine’s pamphlet is far from perfect but it has some deep insights. Firstly he identified this loss of access to land as a cause of poverty. He also identified INHERITANCE as a force that then makes that split between poverty and wealth generational. Finally, his solution feels breathtakingly modern: tax inheritance and use the money to pay an old-age pension for everybody.

“In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for. “

Paine is often portrayed as a proto-socialist but his arguments typically rest on principles that sit closer to modern libertarianism:

  • Private property is a good thing.
  • Capitalism (he doesn’t use the term) is a good thing.
  • Modernity (again not a term he uses) is a good thing.
  • Material/technological progress is a good thing.
  • Rule of law, good government is a good thing.
  • Individual rights are a good thing.

His thinking is still the thinking of somebody shaped by the 18th century and the Enlightenment (e.g. Rousseau-like notions of a kind of positive natural state for humanity). What makes him feel modern is his tendency to focus on practical social-policy solutions to problems of economic inequity i.e. he draws on ‘classic liberalism’ to reach conclusions that are currently seen as leftist.

Agrarian Justice essentially argued for a kind of Universal Basic Income funded by inheritance tax. The moral justification being one based on notions of property and justice.

Is this the best way to address the debts of the past? I don’t know but it certainly is a way. By providing for all it does not require to identify who lost what and when. By taking only from inheritance it addresses only that wealth that can be inherited. Everybody is paid and everybody can (in principle) pay. The inequities of old crimes are not resolved over night but the approach limits their effect on further generations. Nor does this approach prevent other more specific ways of compensating the heirs of those who were robbed of land, opportunities and rights.

Time for a different constitutional crisis

American readers appear to have been having an unwelcome level of excitement in their politics over the past 24+ hours. Trump attacking the rights of transgender people to serve in the military, a new Whitehouse director saying some very strange things, the Whitehouse chief of staff being sacked via Twitter and, of course, a nail biting vote on the repeal of Obamacare which failed due to sensible people standing firm, two Republicans using their common sense through a series of votes and finally John McCain doing whatever that thing is he does.

Frankly, that is way too much excitement for one day.

To ease you all down gently, here is a softer story of a constitutional crisis in Australia. Nobody gets hurt and nobody suddenly finds themselves stripped of health care or marginalised. Still weird though.

It all started on July 18, a senator (a member of Australia’s upper house of parliament) for the Green Party announced his resignation. Scott Ludlam had discovered that he had dual citizenship with New Zealand. He had been born in NZ, move to Australia when he was three and later naturalised as an Australia – at which point he had thought he had lost his NZ citizenship. As it happened, he hadn’t and as the Australian Constitution implicitly does not allow dual citizens to stand for election ( ). Oh well, people thought, easy mistake to make and also it was a Green etc. The Green Party looked a little silly for not checking these things out and politics moved on…

…for a couple of days, when a second Green’s senator resigned. Larissa Waters had thought she’d better double check her citizenship status after Scott Ludlam had resigned. Waters was Australian by birth as both her parents were Australian but she had been born in Canada and moved back to Australia when she was a baby. Unfortunately for Waters due to a change in Canadian citizenship rules shortly before she was born, she was actually a Canadian citizen as well as an Australian one. Oops. Well, now the Green Party looked extra silly – they only had 7 senators and to lose two, in the same way, began to look like carelessness. The rival parties made much mockery of the poor Greens and then politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when A GOVERNMENT MINISTER stepped down. Matt Canavan hasn’t resigned from Parliament yet, but this member of the National Party (the lesser half of the right-wing coalition with the Liberal Party) had also discovered that he was a dual citizen. Of course, this time the story went up a notch. Canavan was apparently accidentally Italian. Canavan claims no direct ties to Italy and has never visited the country but his mother applied for Italian citizenship back when Canavan was 25. Canavan claims that when she did so, she also applied for citizenship for him as well but forgot to tell him. Consequently, although he had never asked for citizenship, he was in fact, an Italian citizen.

Well, as you can imagine, having suffered much mockery in the previous few days, the Green Party were somewhat miffed that Canavan had not resigned from Parliament. The Liberal and National Party had to switch arguments and claim that maybe this whole dual citizen thing was a misunderstanding of what the Constitution said and also Canavan was only accidentally Italian and really that could happen to anybody. Who hasn’t maybe tripped on a piece of loose carpet and suddenly found themselves becoming Italian. Of course all these middle-class politicians and their cosmopolitan ways and their dual citizenship, just the sort of thing to stir up Australia’s nativist, anti-immigrant right. Nothing says ‘far right’ in Australian Parliamentary Politics as much as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party – what finer example could they have of how the traditional parties were literally unAustralian! Politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when Senator, climate-change denier, and all round wingnut Malcolm Roberts of the One Nation Party found himself busy trying to clarify to everybody whether he was or wasn’t a dual citizen.

In Roberts’s case, the issue had been looked at before – Roberts’s father was Welsh and his mother was Australian and Roberts himself had been born in India. His story has changed over time and remains inconsistent but it does appear that while he might not be a dual citizen now, he may have still been one when he was nominated (and therefore not eligible).

And now, in retrospect, Scott Ludlam’s resignation is transformed from silly-Green-who-should-have-checked to canny-political-move-by-a-minor-party. In modern Australia, the rule against dual citizens serving in Parliament looks antiquated and silly. All the significant political parties (including some minor ones) has elected members with immigrant backgrounds. Two recent Prime Ministers (Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot) were not Australian born (both did renounce their British citizenship though). So, by getting ahead of the issue, the Greens have successfully pushed the other parties to look into the issue.

More importantly, the Greens also highlighted a kind of spectrum of honesty. The Green senators resigned of their own volition as soon as they identified the problem. The (moderate right) National Party MP, on the other hand, has only resigned his cabinet position and is offering a somewhat less plausible story. Meanwhile, the far-right senator is only discussing the issue because the press is looking into it and can’t keep his story straight.

And that is my story for the day.

Hybrid Brexit/Election Map

Mangeled from those two maps from the Guardian.

I’ve overlaid the 2017 general election over the 2016 Brexit vote maps. The constituencies and voting areas weren’t quite the same and so the UK proportions are different between the two maps. I’ve distorted the shape of the general election map so it fits better over the Brexit map but it doesn’t always quite fit.


Ignore Scotland and Northern Ireland (at your peril normally but in this case because they have theor own colour scheme). In England and Wales, unambiguously blue regions are Tory areas that also voted to Leave. Orange areas are not a DUP takeover of the mainland but Labour areas that voted to Remain. Purply-red areas are Labour areas that voted to Leave. Greenish areas are Tory areas that voted to Remain.

UK Votes – What Does It Mean? I haven’t a Feckin’ Clue…

The UK has voted in Theresa May’s surprise General Election and the result was surprising:

  • Labour feel like winners
  • Tories feel like losers
  • Liberal-Democrats are contemplating annihilation
  • The other parties aren’t really sure what happened

The feelings are one thing but the numbers are another. While the result was abrutal pumelling for the Tories, they are still the largest party and the most capable of forming a government. To do that they would need the cooperation of one of Northern Ireland’s Unionist parties the DUP. Luckily Nicholas Whyte exists to explain the significance of that:

Scotland was doing its own thing in the election as well. There the Tories had a bit of a revival as the Scottish Nationalist Party lost votes to both Labour and Conservatives. Possibly just a side effect of the SNP having had actual power in Scotland for long enough for some voters to be disattisified.

In England and Wales the election result looked more conventional – traditionally Labour areas returning to Labour but in some places the Tories improving their vote at the expense of UKIP (the rightwing vehemently pro-Brexit party).


The Guardian’s election map shows constintuenciesas equal size. The net effect is to make the shape of Britain and NI more proportional to population. The big bulging red blobs are major cities and post-industrial towns.

Where Brexit had split the country along new lines was often in those smaller, traditionally labour post-industrial towns.

Even so Brexit still looms large as an issue and it will shape what happens next.

Brexit negotiations are due to start very soon and whoever forms government has to engage with the manner in which the UK will leave the EU. This is more than a poisoned chalice, it is also really hard work and essentially there is no way to win.

ukbrexitmapFor comparison here is the Guardian’s Brexit vote map. Yellow is Remain and Blue is leave. Many Labour MPs represent areas that voted ‘leave’. The overlap of ‘voted Labour” and ‘voted Remain’ is in the bigger cities (aside from Brimingham).

The Brexit deal will be costly and is unlikely to result in outcomes that will match the expectations of the people who voted for leave. At the same time, the large minority of people who voted to remain will definitely be unhappy with whatever deal arises. The only way a government can get through that particular nightmare would be if it had a large parliamentary majority and was also popular and well liked in its non-Brexit policies.

Clearly that is not the case for either Labour or the Tories. Indeed, both have good reasons to not want to form a government and leave the mess to the other party. However, if no party can form a government or if a shakey coalition quickly collapses or a minority government loses a confidence motion etc that will mean ANOTHER general election for the UK in 2017.

Of the two parties, it is Labour that benefits most from a large turnout and suffers most from voter apathy, so yet another election might actually help the Tories recover some seats. However, the electorate are more likely to see a second election as being the fault of the Tories and punish them accordingly.

In addition, the dynamic for Labour has changed – the assumption has been that a Corbyn-led Labour Party was unelectable and that assumption is now demonstrably wrong. What impact would that have in a new election?

We will have to wait and see.