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Beyond Crisis: Climate Politics on a Neoliberal Planet

June 20, 2013

A belated sharing of a recent essay I wrote, adapted from a talk I presented at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May – Beyond Climate Denial on a Neoliberal Planet – and published here in Overland.

For those of you who have read the previous essay I co-authored with Philip Mirowski & Jeremy WalkerBeyond Denial: Neoliberalism, Climate Policy & the Left  – this is a more straight forward outline of the neoliberal full spectrum approach. I also try to extend the final (and what I think is the most important and difficult) part: what are we to do now? Not so easy in the face of what can seem inevitable and insurmountable to answer, but isn’t it time we moved beyond critique and paralysis to a consideration of  strategies and actions?

If you agree, please read on.

The market versus the climate

When it comes to the climate crisis, more than any other challenge we face, the odds are truly stacked against us: powerful vested interests, an intransigent political class, the collapse of international efforts and a hostile and ineffectual media. And, it would seem nature itself.

But if we are to have any hope of shutting down the coal industry and articulating a viable alternative, we will need to look beyond the current logjams.

To locate the source of our paralysis we will need a clear analysis of the politics of climate change and of neoliberalism. Read more…

Why we don’t really interrogate our racism

May 31, 2013

A whole lot of noise and three days as the whole sorry name calling affair involving a 13 year old girl and Eddie McGuire unfolded,  I was told over the weekend by some media outlets that the issue had adequately been covered and we’d all  moved on. While I’ve read a few insightful pieces, most of the quick responses missed the point entirely. And in doing so, inadvertently reaffirmed the racism.

This is post is something I wrote in response to the responses over the weekend – in frustration and after eating lots of dark chocolate.

So dear reader, if you have an attention-span that is longer than some in the media and you’re interested in a deeper interrogation of Australia’s racism – one that moves beyond incidents – then please read on.

(And because it was written with a wider audience in mind, if you like it then I’d really appreciate if you shared it far & wide).

Racism is about more than name calling.

Racism is about more than name calling.

Every time a racist incident like the brain malfunction Eddie McGuire claimed he was experiencing last week stirs debate, we are provided with an opportunity, no matter how brief, to start a conversation about race and racism.

Sadly, we’ve had quite a few racist ‘incidents’ of late gain the ire of the media and the twitterati. From veteran rugby league presenter David Morrow’s racist remarks inadvertently caught on air to Delta Goodrem finding someone dressed up in blackface ‘hilarious’. Just a few weeks ago, Media Watch put the spotlight on Alan Jones, a repeat offender of so many vile things, this time calling him on his persistent and offensive use of the term ‘nigger in the woodpile’.

You’d think by now we’d be getting this conversation well and truly started and figuring out the actions as a society we can take. Sadly not.

In each case we were right to be outraged. And to call out such racist attitudes as unacceptable. But so often we miss the point, get lost in our own introspection and ‘sharing’ of our experiences. Some noise and the moment passes, we move on not much wiser about why what happened just happened and nothing really changes.

Take for example this series of quite unhelpful questions that is often asked: Was that really racist? Are we a racist country? Aren’t other countries more racist? Some even leap to the defense of the pilloried saying it was all just a laugh, lighten up. None of these responses allow for a sophisticated debate, one that might help us figure out how to make Australia just that little bit less racist. Read more…

Gina Rinehart is killing satire

May 30, 2013

I’ve noticed in the last 24 hours a whole lot of my friends sharing this post about Gina Reinhart calling for the sterilization of the poor.


In the piece published on The Daily Current (a satirical news site in a similar vein to The Onion), Rinehart is reported as saying:

“I believe that any couple making less than $100,000 a year should be forcibly sterilized through a vasectomy or fallopian tubal ligation. Those earning more than $100,000 a year should be encouraged to have as many as 10 or 12 children. Only by eliminating waste and focusing on our brightest, most efficient workers can we hope to see off our rivals in the emerging world.”

Some of us immediately spotted the joke, though I’m not sure we were laughing very loudly. Many others, all intelligent and progressive, took her comments at face value and read the article as a straight piece of journalism. And so they expressed their outrage, tweeting and posting in disgust things like “There are some people so poor, the only thing they have is money” and lamenting the fact that it was now too late to sterilize her parents.

Why have so many of us been fooled? Read more…

A Leftist Conspiracy on Climate: Gerard Henderson & the Writers Festival

May 30, 2013

A friend just sent me this link to a post from Gerard Henderson a few weeks ago –  again he has taken a swipe at anything resembling a bastion of Leftist ideals, this time in the form of a Writers’ Festival. Everyone knows all literary types are (*gasp*) Communists or Socialists.

In this little missive he has a go at the panel on global warming that I was part of at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last week. It clearly presented him with an opportunity to point to it as further evidence of a Leftist conspiracy on the climate science and probably stood out for him because of Robert Manne’s involvement – an old friend who has come over to join us on the dark side.

To save you from having to visit Henderson’s blog (don’t one of the few remaining platforms he now has to have his little sulks about Robert Manne and the Left in general) I’ve copied the text below.

Judge for yourselves whether this is indeed a conspiracy and a waste of your taxes:


Due to unprecedented demand, MWD is repeating its analysis of the left-wing stack that is the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival – see here.

In a close contest, the session titled “Beyond Climate Denial on a Neoliberal Planet” has won Nancy’s award for The Most Daring Left Wing Stack.  All the more so because it features not one climate scientist or even one scientist or engineer.

Speakers are Robert Manne (the taxpayer subsidised academic who has called for the end of the coal industry in Australia), Antoinette Abboud (a leftist academic who teaches music, English and communications), Jeremy Walker (a left wing author who lectures in political economy) and Jeff Sparrow (a leftist academic who is into eco-catastrophe).

It should be a great occasion.  To give some of the political flavour, this is the somewhat confused poem which Jeff Sparrow quoted when Margaret Thatcher died:

Here, richly, with ridiculous display

The Politician’s corpse was laid away

While all of his acquaintances sneered and slanged

I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.

This means that Dr Sparrow wanted Margaret Thatcher hanged.

And this is the poem from which Jeff Sparrow quoted when Saddam Hussein was executed:

Be assured, you will sink into the generous pool of public feeling

as gently as a leaf – accept your role, feel chosen

You are this evening’s headlines. Come, my love

This means that Dr Sparrow was a bit in love with Saddam Hussein and didn’t want him executed. But, then, Margaret Thatcher was a much detested neo-liberal of the kind who will be comprehensively bashed at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Beyond Climate Denial on a Neoliberal Planet

May 22, 2013

Well, excitedly I’ll be at the Sydney Writers Festival this year on a panel with Robert Manne & Jeremy Walker, chaired by Jeff Sparrow: Beyond Climate Denial on a Neoliberal Planet

Together somehow we will to try to untangle the complicated web of economic doctrines, politics and climate policy that we seem trapped in. Hopefully some lessons for averting planetary disaster:

In an election year, there seems less impetus for climate action than ever. Why has the Left, which has always regarded itself as having science on its side, been outflanked on climate policy? What does the bizarre success of denialism and the radical calls for planetary scale geo-engineering portend for the changing status of science in our society? Antoinette Abboud, Jeremy Walker and Robert Manne untangle the complex relationships between climate, politics and economic doctrines in a discussion with Overland editor Jeff Sparrow.

The session is on Friday 24th May at 2:30pm.

And here is the essay Beyond Denial: Neoliberalism, Climate Change & the Left that I co-authored with Jeremy and Phil Mirowski published in Overland.

The death of Thatcherism not Thatcher

April 9, 2013
For all those throwing parties to celebrate the death of Thatcher, I recognise your anger and your need to vent at this time.

Billy Bragg powerfully summed up a legacy that illicits such responses from people in the UK (and in fact around the world where many of her ideas have taken some hold):

Of why ordinary working people are no longer able to earn enough from one job to support a family; of why there is a shortage of decent affordable housing; of why domestic growth is driven by credit, not by real incomes; of why tax-payers are forced to top up wages; of why a spiteful government seeks to penalise the poor for having an extra bedroom; of why Rupert Murdoch became so powerful; of why cynicism and greed became the hallmarks of our society.

Margaret Thatcher may have been the individual implementing this mean and punitive agenda. In dying she offers us little cause for celebration and changes not a spec of our reality. Though the revisionism is well and truly under way as politicians and other commentators coalesce around a version that paints her as Great Britain’s greatest post-war Prime Minister and a leader of conviction and courage. Such predictable whitewash had begun decades ago (my thoughts on one recent example of this, the film The Iron Lady to be posted soon) but in the last day it has reached a sickening crescendo. Particularly offensive was this statement from Obama.

Read more…

A Pep Talk for the Left

April 3, 2013

I’m re-starting my spluttering blog (after setting it up over a year ago, then leaving it dormant, neglected and hidden from search engines) at a time when Australian politics, and in most of the rest of the world for that matter, is bleak. So in my first blog post to you my fledgling readers, I’m offering up a little pep talk for the Left: the true believers as it were (not necessarily the same as those remaining in the ALP) who might be in search of a reason to go on and keep agitating for change.

It’s necessary to remind ourselves on a daily – perhaps hourly – basis that social change in the face of powerful vested interests is indeed possible.

So consider this your daily affirmation my fellow activists and concerned citizens.

A twist on the self-help genre as it were: collectively harnessing the power of positive thinking when it comes to our activism. And let me be up front, I’m no Pollyanna. Moderate doses of cynicism pepper my worldview. I’m a realist. Do not expect saccharine or the overuse of exclamation marks here. But we need to salvage some hope. For me, it’s either that or putting a bucket over my head and bashing it against a brick wall to save me from the self-referencing group-think that often passes for political commentary in this country. Read more…

The Year in Racist Magazine Covers

April 2, 2013

Here is a piece I wrote in October last year for Daily Life. I dragged my feet on it while I was away in the US and in the mean time they ran some other pieces along a similar theme. So it was alas never published, now without anywhere else for it to go, here is my slightly dated conversational, punchy article for a mainstream audience with a message:

Whether you attribute it to the digital revolution or the financial crisis, the magazine industry ain’t as glossy as it used to be. In the first half of this year, newsstand sales in the US for prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan fell in the double digits.

Despite declining profits, a magazine cover still has the ability to create headlines worldwide.

Time’s foray into the debate about attachment parenting featuring a 26-year-old mother breastfeeding her three year old shocked. A hyper-real illustration of Kate Middleton on the cover of Marie Claire in South Africa confused and surprised many. Was it creepy fan art or was it because they simply couldn’t afford the real royal fashion icon? And of course, we all remember Demi Moore’s culture jolting pregnant pose on the cover of Vanity Fair. (At least I do, I was around and talking back in 1991)

Sadly, in desperate attempts to grab our attention and boost sales, magazine covers can also offend. Especially when it comes to race.

michelle_Obama_MagazineCoverLast month a Spanish magazine wilfully courted controversy when they decided to superimpose the face of Michelle Obama onto the body of a female slave in the 1800 painting “Portrait d’une négresse” by French artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist. Here was the First Lady, bare-breasted, stripped of her identity, voice and intellect and instead assigned to the passive role of subject and slave. The debate in the US blogosphere has raged, with many describing the cover as nothing short of blatantly racist propaganda. Understandable when one considers the enduring historical depictions and myths constructed about black women. Say goodbye to the supposedly ‘post-racial’ America in which the Obamas entered office. Read more…

I was afraid I’d eat your brain

November 20, 2011

‎”I was afraid I’d eat your brains
Cause I’m evil”

In the hands of lesser musicians these lyrics are ridiculous. Somehow The National turn it into a song about the dangers of going through life’s motions, walking zombie like into middle age and away from real intimacy with the ones you love. So in love with them right now.

I think the kids are in trouble
Do not know what all the troubles are for
Give them ice for their fevers
You’re the only thing I ever want anymore
Read more…
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