Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Same-Sex Marriage Bill Signed in Maine

In more same sex marriage news, a new same sex marriage bill has been signed in Maine today, making it the fifth state to legalise same-sex marriage (following Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont).

This comes as the anti-rights organisation, ‘the National Organisation for Marriage’ has attempted to step up its campaign with this add. The add is using new anti-rights star ‘Miss California’,  who has risen to fame after she was criticised by a Miss USA for her anti gay stance. Again, there is so much wrong with this add that it is just hard to start talking about it. So, instead of doing so I am going to let David Shuster from MSNBC do it for me in this great interview of a member of the National Organisation for Marriage. It really shows how ridiculous this organisation is how steeped in lies and misinformation their campaign is.

Lastly, one needs to look at this clip from Rachel Maddow, who on top of pointing out lies, bigotry and misinformation points out the stupidity of the organisation. This one is for those who want a laugh!

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Human Rights | , , , | Leave a comment

Could We All Be A Terrorist?

I was once told a story about a lecturer at the ANU who I considered to be one of the best. The lecturer had a number of students walk out of her class in protest because she dared to suggest that if put under similar circumstances any person could be pushed the a level where they participate in acts of terror. In doing so the lecturer challenged the idea that there is something fundamentally different about people who participate in terrorism that could and would not be replicated in other people. The students walked out because they couldn’t see that there could be any discussion around providing a reason for terrorism and simply that it is due to something fundamentally more ‘evil’ about terrorists and it is this evilness that has made them participate in these horrible acts. Essentially, they were ‘othering’ the terrorists; something that is not an unusual or somewhat surprising reaction.

What do I mean by othering?

Simply stated, ‘othering’ is the creation of a mindset where one puts them as fundamentally and inherently different to an ‘other’. These differences are generally considered to be something that are natural, rather than being something that may be due to circumstance and provide no logical reasons for differences (it is therefore important to note the difference between those who acknowledge differences between people and those who ‘other’ people). Othering normally occurs with severe negative connotations (as this generally occurs in negative situations and one generally sees themselves as better than others) and therefore is an extremely dangerous political tool. Othering occurs as a way to provide reasons to negative activities that are based wholly around the nature of a person and not through any logical discussions of the situations that may lead to someone to participate in particular actions. This is extremely dangerous because:

  1. It breeds nationalistic racism: By discussing the ‘evilness’ of the Muslim terrorist or the ‘evilness’ of the Somali pirate we add seriously to the problem of racism. The idea of ‘othering’ is that it discusses fundamental differences between one group of people and another. As this othering usually occurs in a racial context (i.e. Muslims, Somalis, Africans) and with extremely negative connotations the use of othering adds severely to racism in the contemporary world.
  2. It doesn’t help the problem: The second issue with this is that it simply doesn’t help the problem at all. Whilst discussing the use of the ‘other’ may be good politically it does absolutely nothing to help solve the problems that are leading people to participate in such actions as terrorism. This is simply not useful in any way as just leads to the continuation of the activities, which in the end causes more harm.

Using the ‘other’ as a political tool

However, even with such problems the use of the ‘other’ as a political tool is still extremely prevalent in today’s society. Whether discussing terrorists from the Middle East or pirates from Somalia it is still extremely common to see politicians, political commentators and members of the public still discuss these issues without any talk about why people participate in such actions and what the background is behind these problems. This occurs as the discussion of the other in this way allows for the continuation of nationalistic ideals, which continue to ensure the strength of the modern state. This argument requires quite a bit more discussion and will require me to write another post on nationalism later on, but I will just take one look at how discussing the other enhances nationalism.

One only needs to look at the Presidency of George W. Bush to see how discussing the other enhances nationalistic ideals.  After the attacks of the 11th of September 2001, ‘othering’ those who participating in terrorism became one the trademarks of the Bush Presidency. Whether discussing the ‘axis of evil’ or talking about Bin Laden Bush was very good at drawing a distinction between the ‘evil’ terrorists and the ‘good’ Americans. In doing so he therefore stoked the flames of American nationalism through promoting The United States as better than other nations around the world. Unfortunately for the large Islamic population in the country Bush’s promotion of The United States came at the expense of the Islamic people who continue to suffer from serious racism due to the way Bush ‘othered’ terrorists.

If you want to see more examples all you need to look at is the way John Howard ‘othered’ asylum seekers and especially those in the ‘Children Overboard’ scandal as a way to enhance support for him as a Prime Minister. Othering is now also a common factor in the discussion of Somali Pirates, where we are completely ignoring the reasons people enter into piracy and simply assuming that it is just because they are ‘evil’ or ‘bad’.  

How should we change this?

There is only one way to defeat the problems that come with this and that is to turn the discussion about problems such as terrorism and piracy away from the discussion of the inherently evil other and onto a discussion about what causes such problems. Actions never occur without reason and unless we accept and discuss that fact we are never going to be able to solve the problems that lead to actions like terrorism. For example, there is quite clear evidence that the majority of piracy of the coast of Somalia occurs due to severe pollution in the waters that has destroyed fish stocks and therefore people’s livelihoods. Most of this pollution has occurred due to the dumping of a range of pollutants from ships in the waters. In this situation it is not too difficult to make a jump as to why you might start to see piracy in this region. If we therefore began a discussion around why so much pollution occurs in this area, who is responsible for it and how it can be stopped we would have a much better chance and ending the practice in the future than if we were to just talk about piracy as an action that occurs due a natural ‘evilness’ of those who participate in it.

The question then must be asked; doesn’t this just allow for the justification of bad acts? There is definitely something to this; if we discuss these issues in a way that provides logical reasons for why negative actions occur it could be seen to be justifying why people did them and therefore ‘normalising’ particular crimes to a certain extent. However, I seriously do not believe that this is a major problem. I do so with the understanding that our justice system should have two main goals: (1) to reduce crime and (2) to ‘rehabilitate’ those who have participated in crimes so they can become active members in society once again (more on this in another blog). I believe that as long as we continue to describe those who participate in such crimes as ‘inherently different’ to us and refuse to acknowledge the reasons behind their crimes than we will never achieve these two goals. If ‘normalising’ a crime to a certain extent is a consequence of this than I am happy to live with that.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Security, War and Violence | , , , | Leave a comment

Major Development for 2010 – Arlen Spector Switches Sides

It a major coup for the Democrats in the United States, Republican Senator Arlen Specter has today announced that he will be switching parties and will now become a member of and run in the 2010 primary for the Democratic Party. Specter has recently fallen under immense pressure from within the Republican Party as primary challenger Pat Toomey looked certain to beat him in the 2010 primary vote. Toomey launched his bid against Specter just weeks ago and looked certain to gain victory in a state that’s Republican Party has recently taken a sharp turn to the right as hoards of moderates have fled to join the Democrats. This left the moderate, but popular (state wide), Specter extremely vulnerable to his conservative challenger and almost certain to lose. Specter stated this shift to the right as his main reason for switching parties.

The move, with the almost certain victory in Minnesota for Al Franken will give the Democrats the magic 60 Senators, a number that ensures that they can now overcome a Republican filibuster and pass any required legislation. This means that Democrats now will technically not have to deal with the Republican Party in any way in the Senate and will be able to pass a large number of the sweeping changes that they desire. Although the Democrats must be careful with this increase in power, this provides a great opportunity for them to continue to push their more left wing agenda in the next two years.

This must be a big wake up call for the Republicans in the US. With the continued rightward shift of the party it looks almost certain that these sorts of shifts from moderates will continue to occur. Whilst this isn’t likely to occur in Congress (as there are very few moderates left) it will almost certainly continue to occur with the general voting population. Candidates such as Pat Toomey are popular with conservative voters, but are simply far too decisive and to the right of a population that is taking a left turn. Arlen Specter is just doing what millions of voters around the country have done in the past years in the United States and rejected the far right agenda of the Republican Party. I am almost certain that if the party continues with this far right agenda through supporting candidates such as Pat Toomey that they will face continued destruction in 2010. 

Read more at my previous post on ‘Will the Republicans Continue to Crumble in 2010’ and at the Tally Room and Daily Kos

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Monitering the Left | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Gay Storm is Coming – Let it Rain!

 

When I first saw this video I thought it was so stupid that I wouldn’t bother putting up a post about it. However, with a number of parodies of the video now emerging, I cannot help myself but to write a post about this. The video is an add released by the ‘National Organisation for Marriage’ (NOM), which targets gay marriage in the United States. It uses the analogy of a ‘storm brewing’ (gay marriage), which is threatening to take away the freedoms of non-gay people. You can see the video here.

There are a few things that strike me about this video:

  1. The absolute bigotry of it and the people involved (the use of the ‘storm of gay people making people scared’ is probably the most bigoted part of this ad).
  2. The usage of ‘freedom’. Knowing that there are no logical arguments against gay marriage this add is now trying to shift the issue towards a discussion of gay marriage as ‘taking away peoples’ rights’. There is no real discussion of how same-sex marriage does this, but rather a bunch of statements that make no sense (i.e. the California doctor). The anti gay movement is obviously doing this as they know that in the long run they are going to lose the battle if they just use religion as a reason for objecting to gay marriage. They are therefore using the term ‘freedom’ as a new way to try to hold onto those who are changing their minds about same-sex marriage. However, instead of being an effective campaign tool, using ‘freedom’ makes this campaign look both ridiculous and hypocritical (given that this campaign is trying to refuse people from freely being able to marry who they love).
  3. Describing Same-Sex Marriage Advocates as going beyond same sex marriage: The ad doesn’t in any way describe how same-sex marriage advocates are going beyond advocating same-sex marriage and I still have no idea what they are talking about. What I do know however, is that talking about same-sex marriage advocates’ going beyond same-sex marriage simply adds to the ridiculous nature of this ad.
  4. The use of the doctor, the mother and the churchgoer: These ones are interesting as they make no sense (doctor), argue for the same-sex movement (mother), or again, make no sense (church goer).

Doctor: Call me ignorant but I still can’t see how having same-sex marriage would force a doctor to choose between their job and their faith (unless she is talking about a situation where she was forced to let a member of a same sex couple make decisions about their partners health, in which case it’s none of her business and if she has a problem with that she deserves to lose her job).

Mother: Yes, gay people do want children to be taught that being gay is okay. What is your point?? Teaching children acceptance of all people should be something that we are promoting, not something we are discouraging.

Church Goer: Given that New Jersey doesn’t allow gay marriage, I’m not quite sure how the state could punish a church that doesn’t accept it (although they should).

For some more discussion on these three people, check this video.

Overall, this is a typical bigoted, hypocritical and disgusting anti LGBTI ad. However, through lacking any logical arguments, facts or ideas (just like the anti-gay movement as a whole); this ad is also simply ridiculous and stupid.

But, we have hope.  Through parodying the ad (the one I have provided a link to is my favourite and notably contains the actor who plays Elliot in Scrubs) and pointing out the ridiculous nature of NOMs arguments a group of comedians, actors and activists are joining those already committed people around the world to fight for a better and fairer future for same sex couples and an end to the bigotry of groups like NOM. It is great to see parodies like the one above and to see the gay rights movement continue to grow (to the extent where the anti-gay movement are now becoming scared enough that they are moving towards using such ideas as ‘freedom’ as a reason to be anti-gay) and I look forward to seeing the continued targeting of the anti-gay movement in the future until it falls.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Human Rights | , | 2 Comments

Anyone Up for a Tea Party?

Anyone going to a tea party this week?

For those of you who don’t know, tea parties are being thrown around the United States to protest taxes. The parties are being held this week as it is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party (a protest held before the American Revolution to protest taxes without representation, amongst other things).

 I don’t think anyone quite knows where these protests have come from (although they are definitely being stirred up by the right wing media, with many stories about them on Fox over the past couple of day) and I don’t think anyone knows what people are actually protesting about. Are they protesting a particular tax? Or taxes in general? Or something else? I don’t think anyone’s quite sure.

What I do know however, is that this definitely is an interesting occurrence happening in the United States and paints an interesting picture of how the right is reacting to the shift in the United States away from them. I still don’t quite understand what the idea behind the parties is and what they think they will achieve, but it will be interesting to watch them over the coming days.

For more comment on this I would suggest that you check out Mark Cooper’s article in the LA Times ‘Anti-Obama Taxpayer Tea Parties steeped in insanity’

April 15, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right | | 6 Comments

‘Bias’ – How Obama Got Elected

Following on from yesterday’s post on the use of ‘bias’ as a right wing attack mechanism comes a quick look at what could be described as this issue at its most extreme – the ‘documentary’ – How Obama Got Elected.

Now, from what I gather the documentary isn’t out yet, but the website is up – http://www.howobamagotelected.com

In the website you can see an interview with Sarah Palin where she discusses the campaign and especially the interview she did with Katie Couric. What I find interesting about the exerts I have seen of this interview are: 

  1. Whilst the film maker is determined to bring down Katie Couric there is never any question about the serious mistakes Palin made in the interview. This is most evident when Palin is shown a video of Katie where she criticises Palin for not answering an easy question and Palin responds with ‘because the world doesn’t revolve around you Katie’ (an answer for me that makes no sense).
  2. There is a serious discussion about how the media is ‘reducing the levels of democracy in America’, without there being any acknowledgement of the ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of press’ issues that right wing commentators love so much (unless they are talking about left wing bias). 

You can also see an exit polling video the film makers made on Election Day, which was designed to prove that the media had provided a bias view of the campaign. The film is a collection of 12 interviews that the documentary makers did on Election Day of Democratic Voters, asking them questions about the candidates. The idea is to prove that the media was biased as these voters are able to state bad things about the Republican candidates (especially Palin), but not the Democratic ones. It definitely is an interesting piece of reporting and research (noting that all interviewees came from the same polling booth, that the facts that they bring up are often obscure and very out of date etc.)

What this website and soon to be film does is really epitomise what I discussed in yesterday’s blog; an extremely hypocritical right wing attack on the left and bias, with very little teeth to it. I think this is a really interesting account of the way the right are dealing with their catastrophic losses in the United States. It shows to me how the right are now not only using media bias as an attack mechanism but also as a way to deal with and explain electoral losses. This is now coming through as attacks on left wing  elected officials as being ‘unfairly elected’, which I think is a far more dangerous attack on democracy than having a media that is biased and through that exercising freedom of speech.

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right | | 2 Comments

The Use of the Term ‘Bias’

As promised in the ‘about’ section of this blog, today starts some serious discussion on analysing the ‘right wing movement’, through looking at the idea of ‘bias’ and how it is being used by the right as an attack mechanism.

As one enters the ‘No-Spin Zone’ of Bill O’Reilly of the ‘unbiased commentary’ of Sean Hannity it is fair to say that one gets the impression early on that these two US media personalities have an conservative bias in the way they report the weekly news. Yet, at the same time they both proudly claim to be unbiased media personalities and scold the rest of the US media for their ‘left wing bias’. These claims form a clever, but extremely hypocritical, tactic that the conservative movement often uses to paint the left wing as ‘anti-freedom villains’.  In general they do so in two separate fields.

Media

Anti-bias claims in the media world revolve around the idea that the job of the media is to simple present the facts about news stories through presenting all views of an issue. Although the first two examples of these sorts of attacks I provided (Hannity and O’Reilly) were from the United States, these sorts of attacks are not limited to there. One only needs to look at the way the past conservative government (as differing from the current conservative government) attacked the ABC, eventually forcing it to drop the popular program ‘The Glass House’, for being too left wing in the way it reports the news. 

Academia

Yet, right wing claims of bias are not limited to the media world. Throughout the academic world right wingers love to scold any academic who they perceive to have a left wing bias (whether it be true or not). One only needs to look at the Senate Inquiry into Academic Bias  that finally ended at the end of 2008 and the targeted campaign by the Australian Liberal Students Federation (which produced a list of ‘worst offenders’ of left wing bias) to see how right wing campaigners use academic bias as a way to attack the left. The idea here is that as an academic teaching students, one has the responsibility to present all sides of a political argument and not try to influence the way students think about the issue but to simply to ‘provide the facts’. Whilst this sounds nice and happy, in areas such as ‘political science’ this sort of thinking creates huge problems.

What is Wrong with Such an Attack?

The answer to this is simple; ‘there is no way a media reporter or an academic cannot be biased in some way whatsoever’. In other words, no matter how much one tries there is no physical way one cannot be biased to some level in the way they report the activities in the world. This is simply because there is no way that a reporter or an academic can present all sides to an argument or issue and if they do, biases can become apparent in the way in which reporting of issues occurs (what viewpoint gets reported first, which one gets the most time etc.) For example, when reporting Barack Obama’s recent trip to Europe, how does a media personality cope with all the different views on the trip, report them in an equal manner and do so without providing any level of opinion? Simply, they can’t.

However, attacks on biases go well beyond the practicalities of creating unbiased academic work or media. In the end, through attacking one for being biased one aims to remove the right for another to say as they wish in the public field. For example, in the use of a Senate inquiry into ‘academic bias’ in 2008, the young conservative movement in Australia took direct aim at punishing those academics who said what they believed (noting that they only did this for left wing academics and not right wing ones). Now, whilst it is important that these academics do not punish students for differing from their views, taking away ones right to have an express their views is a simple violation of the rights that most right wing commentators so strongly believe in.

Then Why Use Bias as an Attack Mechanism?

The logic of using bias as an attack however is quite simple. Through attacking the left wing as being ‘biased’ the right wing has managed to paint a picture of the left as the ‘evil doers who are trying to hold back the right of people to have a fair a balanced picture of society’. This is quite a clever strategy as it allows the right to paint the left as the people who are trying to take away people’s rights (i.e. the right to receive ‘accurate’ information), whilst it is actually the right who are attempting to take away the right for people to speak freely.

How Is and How Should the Left Respond?

Here are two ways I think the left could use to respond to such attacks:

1) Point out the hypocrisy. I always find it funny that it is those who criticise people for being biased that are generally the most biased of all. It is the responsibility of the left to point this out, not in order to attack these people for being biased but rather to attack their hypocrisy.

2) Embrace our bias. A lecturer I greatly respect once started the first lecture of a course he took with a slide that stated ‘Beware…Marxist at work’. What this lecturer was doing was openly acknowledging and embracing his bias, through letting his students know about it. As people who believe in academic freedoms and freedom of press the best way to fight the ‘bias attack’ is to openly acknowledge ones bias and publicly allow the public to deal with and accept those biases as they wish.

These are both tactics that I have seen in practice in media and the academic world and have been extremely good ways to bounce off attacks of ‘bias’. It is important for the left to continue such efforts to reject these growing attacks that are not only hypocritical in their nature, but also extremely dangerous. 

 

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right | , , | 2 Comments

He always makes me laugh

I have to say I enjoy watching Bill O’Reilly every now and then just because he is so stupid it makes me laugh. In this great discussion he discusses the ‘evils’ of socialism and in doing so completely misunderstands what socialism actually is and argues against turning America into a progressive country (something that apparently Obama wants to do through using ‘star chamber’ methods). The one good thing he does say is that he believes that the ‘far-left’ is growing stronger – hopefully he has that one right.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2009/04/02/oreilly_is_obama_selling_out_america.html

Enjoy!

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right | | 1 Comment

Capitalism Isn’t in Crisis; It is the Crisis

At the G20 protests in London yesterday a slogan proudly stated ‘Capitalism isn’t in crisis; it is the crisis’. Having this sent to me yesterday brought some joy to my heart as I saw a glimpse of hope that there would be a good thing coming out of this global financial crisis; a population more critical of capitalism and more willing to challenge the idea that capitalism is the only way we can organise society.

Now, there is no way I can explain in one blog what is the crisis that is capitalism, why it exists as it is or how it can be overturned; so I am now going to create a new category called ‘political economy’ that will discuss all things ‘political economy’ ranging from the problems of capitalism, to labour laws and rights, to socialism and communism. I will try to work on this as much as I can, but it won’t be my only writing in the blog, just a common theme.

So, to start off with I thought I would discuss one of the ideological problems I have with capitalism, relating it to the G20 summit that is occurring in London at the moment. The issue I want to discuss is that of perpetual profit and perpetual growth.

Profit is one of the basic pillars that form the basis of capitalism. Without basing the system on profit and growth, it is argued that entrepreneurs and workers alike would have no desire to create an efficient workplace that produces the best possible and largest amounts of desired goods. 

The problem is priorities

I do not have a problem with the idea of profit or growth (as long as growth is sustainable), but rather have a problem with a system that’s main and goal is profit. The problem that I have with capitalism is that it places ‘growth and profit’ as goal number one, with everything else being seen as less important. This can be seen through the constant discourse surrounding ‘growth’ at the G20 summit at the moment and generally within the economic discourse. It is seen that this creates a situation where entrepreneurs are encouraged to create more efficient labour practices and products that are cheaper and better for consumers, which in turn creates a better society. This, in turn creates a wealthier society that benefits from the ‘trickle down effect’ of the capitalists wealth.

The problem with this however is that it creates a society whose priorities place profit above such essential things as care for one another, environmental protection, equality and meaningfulness within one’s work and life. This leads to situations where corporations practice acts such as those you see in the film Erin Brockovich (In this situation a corporation dumped toxic waste into a water way causing major health affect. This is a situation where corporations participate in actions that cause major social harm as it adds to their profit), refuse to act on climate change (as switching technologies would decrease profits to particular companies) and further (I note further given the natural exploitative nature of capitalism; an issue I will discuss in another post) exploit workers (as paying workers less and removing conditions makes the cost of labour cheaper, in turn increasing profits), all in the name of increasing profit.  

A quick note on sustainability

An interesting point to note is that with having a system that is based around profit and growth in a limited world, it is inevitable that the system will at some point cease to function as continued growth is no longer available. Although it is impossible to know when this could occur one must start to question the affect it will have, not only on the environment, but on the world’s economic and social systems.

Can’t we just regulate to stop the bad stuff from happening?

No. Why not? Because if a state and a people accept capitalism as the way their society should function they cannot then regulate effectively to remove the negative effects that are created by one of the core features of that system. Trying to regulate capitalism simply doesn’t work as it is highly difficult to enforce (one simply needs to look at the mass of cases of corruption within the corporate world) and very rarely provides the action that is required. In essence, a state cannot remove profit as the sole goal from capitalism, as capitalism relies wholly on having profits as its main goal. I will go more into the state regulating capitalism at another time.

Last Point

I know the one of the first points people will use to rebut these discussions may be that I don’t provide an alternative to capitalism. I don’t due to two reasons; (1) this post wasn’t designed to do so and (2) I don’t think there is one clear alternative to the system. This may sound like a cop-out, but it isn’t. It is me recognising that one person cannot provide the answer to the woes of the entire world’s population; it must be done by the entire world. I will in the future begin discussing some options for way changes could and I think should occur, but this will not provide all the answers. That is for the world to decide. 

That will do for today – comments are greatly welcome!

April 2, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Political Economy | | 3 Comments