December 19, 2021
Opinion by Greg Ray
2021 has been a grinding, dispiriting year for many of us. For a start, we’ve been on the Covid-19 pandemic roller-coaster, with its ups and downs of lockdowns, vaccinations, new variants and constant arguments between business advocates and health authorities about what we ought to do. Depressing because of the pandemic being used as a profit-booster by unscrupulous pharmaceutical corporations and as a divisive social lever by unscrupulous media corporations and unprincipled political puppets. And deeply troubling as an example of how our present model of rule-by-corporation really works in a crisis. Scandalous profit margins gouged from products created with immense help from governments, allocated with abominable unfairness so that much of the world is left without reasonable access to vaccines.
Talk about your Bill Gates, who for many years has been warning and talking about just such a global pandemic as we now encounter. He seems happy with the way the world has responded – certainly comfortable with the corporate patent-driven model of vaccine production and distribution. And yet, look at the result. Millions go without while corporations grow fat with cash and populous poor countries become breeding grounds for new viral strains. Good job Bill. Get back to buying all the farmland you can get your hands on, you old philanthropist you.
And in NSW at the end of 2021, with Perrottet as Premier, big business has finally got its way and we’ve got open-slather for the virus. Precautions are out the window as Delta and Omicron rip through the place. Let’s hope the political gamble pays off: that vaccination does its job, the cases are mostly mild and the death-rate doesn’t soar.
Relentless cold war propaganda
Apart from the pandemic, 2021 was worrying because of the relentless cold-war propaganda that seems to be setting the scene for future hot wars. Watching the USA striving to push China backwards while simultaneously making life hard for Russia, Iran and its other chosen enemies brings a sense of dread about where this is supposed to lead. Being in Australia, a colonial nation that climbs aboard every new round of global hostilities at a word from its Imperial master, isn’t necessarily comfortable, especially when our master is facing off against a big foe that lives on our doorstep, a long way from the USA. If there’s a hot war Australia won’t be far from the front line, with its US spy bases, US troop bases and other enticing targets. And now we’ve got US nuclear submarines on their way so we can help the USA and Japan keep China bottled up until it gets cranky and lashes out, providing a pretext for a fight.
Before the shooting starts, can somebody explain what is it that is being defended against these apparent threats? What splendid enlightened civilisation is at risk, and from what? Seems to me we are going backwards in many ways. Just looking at the USA, the voices of complaint from ordinary Americans are growing into a crescendo as more and more are pushed into poverty and low-pay slavery. Social progress seems elusive in the wonderful West these days. The increasing merger of corporations with governments in the west doesn’t seem to be helping anybody except those corporations and the political classes. Wasn’t that kind of merger Mussolini’s dream in the 1930s? Wasn’t it called Fascism? Should we call it that now? We are getting more surveillance of our lives and actions, less accountability from all levels of government and worse laws being enacted that seem to suit the big money interests over ours. Our jobs are less well-paid but more insecure. Our healthcare is more expensive but arguably not better. Our education system is much more expensive and definitely worse. We have fewer civil protections, clampdowns on protests, militarised police, stacked courts, more corruption and more poverty. The trend is troubling.
Many people found 2021 troubling because of the warning signs in the global economic system. A skyrocketing money supply is feeding mad asset prices and making the basic commodity of shelter unaffordable for many. Money is flowing into crazy “investments” while stock prices bear little or no relationship to the quality of the companies behind them. There is a tangible sense that this might be the mother of all bubbles and the fear is that its sudden deflation might bring a re-run of the 1930s. Nasty thought.
Coming home to roost
Environmentally, it has seemed this year as though humanity’s decades of wilful refusal to deal with its major challenges are coming home to roost. Record-breaking droughts, record floods, storms of shocking ferocity, tornadoes, forest fires and other terrors seem more common and are occurring against a backdrop of melting glaciers, melting permafrost and retreating polar ice. But instead of responding rationally to these challenges, humanity’s leaders seem intent on more of the same: ruthless depletion of water resources, accelerated deforestation, intensified fossil fuel extraction and burning and more rapid destruction and extinction of non-human species. Who thinks that can be a good idea?
Australia is a microcosm of the world picture. Politically part of the mighty US-controlled bloc, it is in thrall to the Murdoch media empire, which runs the propaganda for most of the Anglophone world. Indeed, the “old” media and the new social media platforms and big tech companies are more or less in lockstep when it comes to politics, essentially operating as the foot-soldiers, enablers and cheerleaders of global finance capitalism. Building on the lessons learned from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, Australia’s press and copycat political parties have weaponised a radical minority, using this group’s racism, religious bigotry and general ignorance to blast away social advantages that took decades and much sacrifice by previous generations to create. By grafting the reliable 10 to 15 per cent of voters in this radical group onto the increasingly right-wing Coalition, the corporate policymakers are making Australia a much less comfortable, friendly and progressive nation than ever before. Having done its job for the Coalition at the previous federal election, mining magnate Clive Palmer’s United Australia “Party” looks set to repeat the dose next year, with millions of dollars already being poured into nailing down the votes of the weaponised ignorant and pushing their preferences into the Coalition’s lap.
In both federal and state politics accountability is in retreat. Scandalous behaviour that once would have sunk a government is now considered routine, and only the most incompetent right-wing politicians – think Christian Porter as this year’s outstanding example – risk oblivion through their own missteps. Scott Morrison – without a shadow of doubt the worst prime minister Australia has ever endured – has normalised lying to a degree only matched by Trump and Johnson in the larger Anglophone Murdochracies of the US and UK. That is probably no coincidence. Yet, appalling as it is, it would hardly be surprising if Scomo’s government was re-elected next year. The large array of independent candidates already campaigning in many seats is perhaps our only chance of getting better political representation – assuming those independents can live up to their promises if elected.
What’s certain is that we face a federal election in which amazing lies will be told, shameful propaganda will be promulgated and pork-barrelling on a vast scale will occur. Perhaps irrespective of the result, our young people will continue to be offered insecure jobs on substandard pay and conditions and most will be unable to afford housing. Our old people will keep payimg through the nose for lousy care and the government will turn a blind eye. Our students will still fork out huge fees for education of patchy quality delivered by casual workers on poor pay and conditions, gaining qualifications that may or may not be of practical value but will certainly take years to pay for. Our governments will keep kowtowing to corporate whims and pass laws designed to favour political donors, mates and cronies. They will still hand out no-tender contracts to favoured organisations, paying millions for obscure returns while simultaneously claiming they have no choice but to sack more public servants and slash the services we want and need. As for the pandemic, who knows what will happen next, other than billions more dollars will be pocketed by pharmaceutical companies, poor people in much of the world will have to go without vaccines and more variants of the virus will probably emerge.
Business as usual, in short. Happy New Year.