January 30, 2012

The Creator predicted that Obama would a) fail to resolve America’s socio-economico-political crises, and b) would be a one-term President. The first has been fulfilled in spadefuls. The second may yet not be. It’s legitimate to ask why the Creator got it so wrong.

Let’s first review Obama’s accomplishments. He has continued his predecessor’s policies in withdrawing troops from Iraq while retaining colonial control of that country. He has continued his predecessor’s policies in transferring wealth from the public to the private sector, especially through “bailouts” of otherwise-unviable financial and manufacturing industries. He has continued his predecessor’s policies in attempting to dominate the world’s petrochemical supplies while extracting domestic petrochemical reserves at great speed and environmental cost. He has continued his predecessor’s policies in using U.S. military might to opportunistically use instability in countries to bring them under more direct control from Washington. He has also continued his predecessor’s policies in terms of the torture, detention without trial and murder of political opponents (although with a somewhat more energetic, mean-spirited and vigorous edge to his actions). These, which are to a great extent Obama’s main achievements, are things which the doorman at the White house could have accomplished.

So, what’s new? Well, he has passed a bill which, in the middle of his second term, will supposedly start ensuring that all Americans have health insurance. Which they will have to pay for, and since the bill was drafted by the health insurance companies, they will have to pay a great deal, ensuring that the bill will not, as it was supposed to, reduce health costs, but will instead further impoverish the poor — the very poor, of course, will end up getting healthcare, but then they could go to emergency rooms before. This is a modest improvement at best, and we don’t know how much of a real improvement it is (and since it is probable that the funding for the modest improvement no longer exists, there will be no real improvement at all).

He has, in cooperation with the Republican Party in Congress, passed a bill which mandates restraint on public spending. In other words, he has legally compelled the U.S. government to practice austerity, thus more or less guaranteeing slow economic growth and eliminating all likelihood of radical activities to improve economic or social well-being.

And, er, that’s about it. Gone a bit further down the George W Bush road, done something which might have been good but certainly isn’t very good and maybe is bad, and tied the U.S. government to a concrete lifebelt. Those are not accomplishments to go into an election with. So maybe the Creator was right to anticipate that Obama would not do well. Indeed, Obama is doing very badly indeed with the left, with black Americans, and with the activist “grassroots army” which supported Obama in 2008. On the other hand, he commands the unflinching support of the Democratic Party organisation, which has discouraged any primary challenges, so that Obama goes into the election without debate or discussion.

The main reason why the Creator anticipated that Obama’s first term would be an epic failure, however, was that the Creator assumed that Obama would be extremely weak on the economy. On the contrary, he has been strong on the economy, persistently redistributing wealth from poor to rich. By sequentially pouring public cash into private pockets, he has managed to keep the stock and bond markets from collapsing; indeed, they are flushed with the bright pink skin which comes from regular blood transfusions. As a result, the possessing class is quite happy with the state of the economy. As a result, Obama has retained the support of the Democratic wing of the possessing class, although the Republican wing of the possessing class is unhappy with him because he hasn’t poured enough public cash into their pockets.

Of course, the average Democratic voter is unhappy with the way things are — until recently the official unemployment rate was consistently above 9%, though it has now fallen to 8,5% — if it carries on like this, by the end of Obama’s second term, the unemployment rate will be only 1,5% higher than the worst unemployment rate under his predecessor. However, it’s unlikely to carry on like this — the forecast is for a slowdown of the current anaemic global economic growth. So Obama has alienated the blacks and the liberals (by doing nothing for either group after hijacking their support), while the workers have no reason to love him (in fact, the more unionised the worker, the more likely they are to be suspicious). Many blacks and liberals will sit the forthcoming election out. Some workers will actually consider shifting to Republican. The huge banking sector which turned to Obama in desperation in 2008 is fat, happy and has returned to its Republican roots. So Obama would be doomed, if it weren’t for his opponents.

What’s happened to the Republican Party is much more interesting than what’s happened to the Democrats. Like all social democratic parties, the Democrats have hollowed out to nothing. With no ideological content, they are purely an instrument to promote the financial gains of their party leadership. The Republicans, on the other hand, are a conservative party and, like all conservative parties, they have actual ideological values. In fact, they have, broadly speaking, two sets of ideological values. The one set, which might be called conservative conservative, says that the main goal of conservatism is to make money for the rich. The other, which might be called radical conservatism, says that the main goal of conservatism is to punish the movement’s official enemies — women, dark-skinned people, foreigners, leftists, workers and so forth — and to promote policies which hobble and disempower these enemies as much as possible. Since radical conservatism loves plutocracy, the two sides can get on quite well — but conservative conservatives do not generally hold all the opinions of radical conservatives, and therefore the two sides are in an uncomfortable alliance, especially since the conservative conservatives have all the money and usually have the final political say.

President George W Bush’s government was the most radical conservative government in American history, and it was a complete disaster. Part of the disaster arose from the fact that the conservative conservatives were able to become more radical than usual, and therefore plunged the country into further dependence on deficit spending and bubble inflation — immediately after the Clinton administration, which was also fairly radically conservative, had severely damaged the country with its tech bubble. Worse, they pursued their objective of gaining power by violence and intimidation with the threat of violence — “shock and awe” — and, as a result, destroyed American foreign policy by pushing numerous American clients beyond their limits. As a result, Russia and China were seriously alienated, and the failure of American intimidation bred rebelliousness in Latin America and South Asia.

The trouble with the combined failure of plutocracy and brutality was that it could not be acknowledged, because if the Republican Party admitted that its conservative ideology is misguided, it would lose all its reason for existing and become no different from the Democratic Party. The easiest way to avoid the problem is to say that the ideology is correct, but that it has been too timidly applied. Therefore, the Republican Party had an incentive to hand things over to the most extreme radicals. When the Tea Party appeared, it is tempting for leftists to assume that because it was funded by the neoliberal Koch brothers, it was simply a corporate scam. On the contrary, it represented an important element within the Republican Party (and to a degree with all conservative parties) — queer-bashers, wife-beaters, nigger-lynchers and Commie-killers. This hasn’t gone away just because the Tea Party has declined as an organised force. But the result was an upwelling of extraordinarily ugly politics, which was also delusory politics because it was founded on the assumption that all these brutal fantasies had not been tried and found wanting already, which they all had.

But in the end, when all the politicians thrown up by this force appeared in public, they all appeared too absurd to be elected. The last two nominees standing in the Republican primary contest were ex-Speaker of the US House of Representatives and major corporate lobbyist Newton Gingrich, and multimillionaire capitalist (and scion of the house of a failed Presidential nominee) Willard Romney. Basically, then, two men who are agents of plutocracy rather than of ur-fascism. Gingrich plays to the fascist gallery, whereas Romney is unashamedly concerned with the interests of his own class, meaning that Gingrich is more dishonest (and more desperate) than Romney.

However, this means that whoever stands against Obama is also standing in modest defiance of the core interests of a big chunk of his own party. It doesn’t help that Romney was governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts and enacted a healthcare programme there rather like Obama’s Affordable Care Act. (Massachusetts is an affluent state, so this programme was quite successful there, whereas nationally it’s far from clear that Obamacare would have worked out even without the gutting of public spending following Obama’s surrender in the “deficit ceiling” battle.) In other words, the Republicans have a similar problem to Obama’s, though naturally less extreme; no Republicans are going to march off to vote for Obama, but a fair number will probably sit out the 2012 election in disgust at the failure of their candidate to embrace sufficiently disgusting principles.

As a result, it seems probable that the race is going to be surprisingly close. Both candidates will be default candidates, supported not because they have made any promises to their constituencies, but because of party allegiances. Obama will be supported because although he has governed as a Republican, he calls himself a Democrat; Romney (probably) will be supported because although he is not a sufficiently extreme Republican, he is at least not a Democrat. This is not a new development, of course, at least not in the Democratic Party which has been going down this route for many years, but it is a more extreme version of the past, suggesting a further erosion of democratic values in the United States, in which nobody has any real reason to show up and pull the handle of the voting machine.

This is very convenient for the ruling class, given that the last thing they want is an active and informed electorate voting in their socio-economic interests. It is also convenient for the Republican Party, since the values of the far right will be promoted by both candidates.

However, there is probably another reason why this is happening. The Democratic Party is desperate to cling to what patronage it can find and does not care about ideological purity — therefore it is eager to put Obama back in the White House regardless of what happens. To them, the disarray in the Republican side represents a miraculous opportunity. The Republican party’s elite, however, are painfully aware that there is a strong possibility of a further lurch towards economic crisis as a result of the plutocratic policies which Obama is pursuing. In consequence, if Obama wins this November, he and the Democratic Party will take the blame for any disasters which are virtually certain to arise, and this could so demoralise and discredit the Democratic Party as to put it into opposition for decades, as happened to the Republican Party after 1932.

So whatever happens, Americans lose. Those of us who are not Americans may be grateful for that, since a strong, free and bold America is not good for the planet.


King Hussein.       

War is a Farce which Leaves us Moaning.       

The Obamanable Truth.


In A Province.

January 27, 2012

The decision by the Zuma administration to intervene in the administration of certain provinces in South Africa is interesting in itself, but is also interesting for the response it has received from the corporate propagandists.

The central state has imposed its own governors on one department in each of three provinces — Eastern Cape, Free State and North-West — and has imposed its governors on no less than five departments in the Limpopo province. What this means is that the administration of those departments is no longer responsive to the wishes of the democratically-elected government of those provinces, but instead responds only to central administration. This is remarkably similar to the way in which unelected governments were imposed on Greece and Italy by the European Union in order to pursue policies which the people of those countries did not desire.

Why has this been done? The four provinces in question had all revealed that they faced a substantial budget deficit at the end of the financial year. Obviously, such a deficit is undesirable, since it means that the central government, which funds essentially all provincial spending, would have to borrow money to sponsor the deficit, meaning that the central government would have a higher deficit than anticipated. This, in turn, would mean that the national debt would rise more rapidly than anticipated. Obviously it would be better that this did not happen. The installation of central administrators is supposedly intended to reverse this.

But why did the provinces run up such high deficits? In fact, all provinces, not just the four identified as the enemy by the Zuma administration, have suffered substantial deficits this year. The reason is not hard to see: the amount of money provided for them by central administration was inadequate to deal with both the continuing demands of service provision, and the demands created by central government when it granted a massive increase in civil service salaries (which are predominantly paid by provinces). In other words, the deficits were made essentially inevitable by the policies of central government, particularly the Ministry of Finance.

In that case, how can imposing administrators on provincial departments possibly reduce these deficits? Theoretically, because such administrators are not beholden to the people in the provinces, they can take unpopular decisions. Supposedly, one of these unpopular decisions would be to root out corruption, which is supposedly rife in provincial governments.

What the investigators are actually doing is confusing corruption with maladministration and with failure to fill in the proper forms in correct detail. Identifying forms improperly filled in is the speciality of the Auditor-General, whose “qualified audits”, when closely scrutinised, invariably entail failure to fill in forms or provide adequate documentation. This is a worthwhile activity, insofar as it shows a useful place to start investigating to see whether there was any illegal or incompetent activity in those spheres, which the inadequate completion of forms or submission of documentation is covering up. However, it is perfectly possible to lie when filling in forms, and to submit documentation which is either forged or bears no relationship with real activities, so that your records are perfectly satisfactory while your actual performance is disastrous. Therefore, it is important to investigate, not only the problems identified by the Auditor-General, but all provincial and municipal activities. Unfortunately, what is happening is that the bean-counters’ bean-counting is being fetishized and used to stand in for an investigation of corruption and proper service delivery. This is a disastrous policy.

Oddly, however, very little corruption has, thus far, been discovered. The most which can be said, thus far, is that tender procedures have not always been followed with the diligence which is demanded by the law. It is possible that some of these tenders were corruptly awarded and that money has been wasted, but so far nothing has been proven, although it is not tremendously difficult to see when work has not been done after expenditure has been made. This ought to surprise anyone who suspects that provincial governments are not only corrupt, but that the corruption is blatant, for this goes to suggest that the administrators are in some sense conniving with the corruption. (Which is more or less what the Creator has been pointing out for some time.)

As a result, despite expensive forensic audits and the wasting of everybody’s time (which is also creating massive problems in some areas as payments are suspended while their origin is under investigation, so that the people who are not being paid understandably refuse to provide services), these investigations are doing almost nothing to reduce the budget deficits now or in the future.

So why is it being done? One might, of course, make facile observations about how the Communist Party is essentially the only entity in the current government with any ideas at all, and since their ideas are rooted in the notion that Comrade Stalin is always right, their practice always entails making sure that everything is controlled from the centre, preferably from Cde Nzimande’s desk (Cde Nzimande is never actually present at his desk, since he is always away doing important things where nobody can find him, so this means that nothing gets done, but that is the fault of the white liberals).

The provincial governments do not want it to be done. Central government claims that this is because the provincial governments are corrupt and are quailing before the righteous flail of central authority. This would be more credible if the flail were being laid on evenly across the board. However, it is not. One can understand that the corruption in the Western Cape government is not being investigated — to do so would be to alienate rich white people, an idea which appals and terrifies the toadies of rich white people who staff the Cabinet and the NEC. However, the corruption in the Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal governments is not being investigated either. All these three provinces  have escaped curatorships — as has the Northern Cape government, the only provincial government to have been caught with both hands in the till, where the local ANC boss is facing actual charges, substantiated with evidence, of tender fraud. (Of course, the Northern Cape is such a tiny operation that it makes little difference whether it is investigated or not.) All these governments have substantial deficits, as well as substantial service delivery issues, yet the Marxist fanaticism characteristic of, er, the Obama regime is not being applied to them.

Three of the provinces which have faced central intervention, on the other hand, have something in common. Limpopo, North-West and Eastern Cape were and are heartlands of hostility to Zuma. (Free State is more ambiguous, but it is certainly not a Zuma stronghold the way Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal are.) The Mail and Guardian revealed that the massive intervention in Limpopo took place before the preliminary Treasury report on the provincial finances was completed — that is, the intervention was illegal. (Shockingly, this front-page news story actually appeared on the front page of the paper, the first time in years this has happened; for obvious reasons, the story was subsequently killed.) The obvious reason for rushing the intervention through was so that it would precede the provincial conference and thus empower opponents of the Limpopo Premier, one of Zuma’s main antagonists in high office. (This failed, it will be recalled, despite the enthusiastic support which those opponents received in the media.)

It does seem that there are reasonable grounds for assuming that a major reason for the provincial intervention is — as is usual in the Zuma administration’s activities — inept political manipulation.

It would certainly be easy, and ideologically appealing, for the press to criticise all this. Yet, intriguingly, the press is not doing so. The Mbeki administration was accused of being obsessed with overcentralisation on a weekly basis, but this central intervention, although more heavy-handed than anything the Mbeki administration has done, has received the blessing of most newspapers. (Which is probably why the Mail and Guardian‘s critique was hastily shelved; they received the memo late, or something.) It is customary for newspapers to condemn political manipulation — but not in Zuma’s case, and especially not in this particular case. On the contrary, the newspapers have essentially published the claims of Gordhan and his minions about the failure of the provincial governments without any real comment or analysis, acting as regime propaganda tools, not for the first time.

Meanwhile, what is actually being done looks more than a little alarming. In the Eastern Cape, for instance, the deeply unpopular Education Superintendent-General Mannya has been engaged in a deficit-reduction exercise of some note — firing teachers. He is starting off by firing the temporary teachers who are hired because the teachers provided at state schools are often incompetent or unsuited to the needs of the curriculum, so that additional teachers are needed to provide adequate education. In other words, Mannya is slashing the institutional wrists of the schools under his control, simply in order to save money. This is in the grand Kader Asmal tradition, and will lead to immense problems down the track, especially in a province where the matriculation pass-rate has fallen. (That is, where the matriculation pass-rate actually reflects educational performance, instead of, as in the other eight provinces, reflecting what the Ministry of Basic Education wishes it to reflect.) Moreover, it is unlikely to stop there; no doubt Mannya has plans for further retrenchment and disempowerment up his sleeve.

It seems likely that similar policies will be the order of the day wherever central government puts its thumb on the administrative scales. There will be cuts, of course, and these cuts will have nothing to do with the needs of the province, and are liable to hamper social development and economic growth. Such cuts fulfil three functions. Reducing provincial spending reduces the deficit of the province and thus enables the Minister of Finance to conceal his mismanagement of the national budget and the economy generally, by putting the deficit on the shoulders of the people instead of the government. Reducing provincial spending also provides the central government with a convenient scapegoat, the provincial governments, who are thus blamed for the mismanagement where it cannot be concealed. Reducing provincial spending only in provinces where party support for Zuma is low also serves to provide the political education which the Zuma cabal promised as Polokwane; get on the wrong side of the Big Chief and your wells will dry up, as in Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah.

All this is completely consistent with the neoliberal “austerity” policies imposed on Europe by the IMF and the ECB, and on the United States by the Boehner-Obama axis of evil. This neoliberalism is doubtless the reason why our largely foreign-controlled media are such praise-singers for the process. It will be the death of our country, if we do not do something about it soon.

Yes, somebody should do something about everything — that’s the Creator’s opinion.



January 17, 2012

There were only two interesting things about the ANC’s Centenary celebration. One was the way in which Julius Malema galloped around the Free State holding what were called mini-rallies (though they were quite substantial). He did not behave like a man who is in the political wilderness, as the corporate columnists and cartoonists insist that he is. Also interestingly, he campaigned for his supporters to rally together around the ANC and not embarrass the Party by attacking Jacob Zuma too openly at Bloemfontein, even though many sang the “shower song”.

The “shower song” is, in itself, a sign of the weakness of Malema’s position. There are good reasons for Malema to be angry at Zuma, and there are good reasons for people to support Malema in his anger because they, too, have reasons to be angry at Zuma. However, Zuma’s taking a shower after raping an HIV+ woman is not a reason to be angry. This is, iconographically, a construct of the white-controlled press. It suggests that the people involved are in many ways intellectual prisoners of the white opposition. Malema, in short, commands a lot of coconut support, which is not a brilliant base for a struggle against a man who commands a lot of bigoted tribalist Zulu support.

The other interesting thing was the position of Thabo Mbeki, who was playing the role of Lazarus. For three years he had been systematically snipped out of the ANC leadership picture, often preposterously, as if he had never been in charge of the ANC and the government for eleven years. He had never been mentioned except with scorn, a scorn underlain by a degree of panic, as if merely mentioning Mbeki’s name would suddenly cause him to manifest himself and perhaps create chaos. (No need; almost every member of Zuma’s cabinet creates more chaos than Mbeki could do if he worked overtime on the job for a year.)

Now, there he was, large as life, helping carry the ludicrous Centenary Flame into the stadium, like a superannuated Olympic runner brought back for one last stunt. (At least he did not participate in the cake-cutting celebration; the spectacle of the fattest cats in the ANC slicing up a cake to stuff themselves with was the most precious gift the ANC has ever given to satirists. The fact that nobody took advantage of this shows that South Africa possesses no satirists any more; only propagandists.) And there he was, hobnobbing and smiling as if he had never been turfed out by the people he was smiling at. One of the special recipients of his beaming was Malema himself, the man who had officially precipitated Mbeki’s dismissal in September 2008. Malema beamed back, having already called on the ANC to rehabilitate Mbeki and make use of the man’s gifts for the greater good of the Party.

What the hell is going on here?

The Zuma administration seems to have realised that the air is whistling out of its tyres on an extremely bumpy road. The idea is to rally everybody together, to unite the party, as Zuma pledged having devoted the last six years to dividing it. What better way than to try to co-opt the Big Absentee? Get Mbeki on board and half the energy will go out of the enemies of Zuma, since the enemies of Zuma, so runs the theory, are all motivated by unhappiness over Mbeki’s shoddy treatment. The problem with this is that those who were really unhappy over Mbeki’s shoddy treatment marched out and joined CoPe, and those who are returning with what remains of their tails between what remains of their legs, like the hapless Phillip Dexter, are hardly worth taking back. Those who remained in the party were purged, because the Zuma administration feared that they might use any power they possessed to undermine them, and also because the Zuma appointees did not want any competent or intelligent people hanging around to provide a comparative benchmark.

Bringing Mbeki back does not demobilise the opposition to Zuma, for most of that opposition sprang up not out of ill-treatment of Mbeki, but out of ill-treatment of the ANC itself, and fury at the corruption and incompetence which party management and government have unanimously shown. This would not go away if Mbeki gave his imprimatur and applause to corruption and incompetence; all that would happen would be that people would start to wonder if the Mbeki management style was really so good by comparison with Zuma. (And remember that it was Mbeki who tolerated Zuma’s shenanigans for all those years, in order not to alienate the Zulu vote.)

But Mbeki is the shrewdest figure in South African politics, and he is not going to do any of those things unless there is something in it for him. Showing up at Mangaung was not an indication that he has become a friend of Jacob Zuma; it was an indication, however, that he did not mind emerging from isolation. This has been obvious all along, since he has repeatedly involved himself in activities ranging from his Leadership Institute to his attempts to broker peace in Ivory Coast, which would have earned him immense publicity but for the fact that the press have consciously ignored him and the SABC have been warned off covering him. What is happening is simply that Mbeki has managed to break out of the basement where he was locked, very much alive and possibly not in a warm and friendly mood.

An Mbeki-Zuma alliance is not likely; it’s just a pretense in order for Mbeki to initially avoid suppression. (Of course the press will attack him, but Mbeki never worried much about that since press attacks are usually the best publicity for a maverick.) An Mbeki-Malema alliance, however, seems even less likely. Mbeki has always felt that populism was poison, and that the kind of support which Malema enjoys is fundamentally worthless. (Of course, when the chips were down, Mbeki discovered that the support which he himself enjoyed was little more valuable.) On the other hand, Malema has two positive features from Mbeki’s perspective; he is specifically aggrieved about the undemocratic activities of the Zuma gang within the ANC, and he is unhappy at the right-wing posturing of the Zuma government. Both of these are attitudes which Mbeki could safely endorse, even if Malema is the kind of crass blowhard which Mbeki always disliked, preferring to be a subtle windbag instead. (On the other hand it does seem that Malema and Mbeki share a degree of sincerity which Zuma couldn’t pretend to, and which many of Mbeki’s supporters turned out not to possess.)

Supposing that some kind of Mbeki-Malema alliance occurred, what would it matter? Granted, they are two very clever politicians, and both have the advantage of being hated by the press, but they are both wounded, and they are both short of the patronage without which it is very difficult to get anywhere within the ANC. Besides, how could they trust each other? It seems impossible that any such alliance would accomplish anything within the ANC.

However, there is a possible third figure to join the group who might make a considerable difference. It’s worth pondering the fact that the ANC Youth League’s preferred candidate for the Presidency of the ANC in 2012 is not Malema or Mbeki, but Kgalema Motlanthe. What do they see in him?

On the face of it, he’s the Deputy President. He’s also the ex-President, who might be expected to have a smidgen of desire to get his hands back on the reins of power — preferably without Zuma sitting on the buckboard shouting orders. Motlanthe should have spoken at Mangaung, but was banned from doing so under Zuma’s orders — a studied insult which was presumably intended to warn Motlanthe to back off from any attempt to challenge Zuma at the December conference. Like most of Zuma’s actions, it seems likely to have the opposite effect to the one intended.

The other thing about Motlanthe is his self-effacing personality. He was one of the key figures in Zuma’s rise to power, but he managed to do this, unlike almost anybody else, without alienating Mbeki. As a result, he and Mbeki could probably work together — indeed, Motlanthe’s public persona is modelled in Mbeki’s. (Close your eyes when he is speaking and he sounds remarkably like Mbeki — although an Mbeki without spine or intestines, so Motlanthe needs a surgical corset and steel splints to keep from toppling over.) He’s never been directly linked to corruption (the Arms Deal brouhaha should have led to Motlanthe being implicated because he ran the ANC’s investment arm Chancellor House, where any extorted money would have gone, but apparently the propagandists were warned off Motlanthe, or possibly were simply concerned to focus all the odium on Mbeki and unconcerned about the real world).

Motlanthe as President would provide Mbeki with an opportunity to run the country by remote control. It’s not certain, of course, that Mbeki wants that. Mbeki’s experience of running the country was one of the most thankless tasks which could be imagined. On the other hand, the opportunity for revenge would blend beautifully with the opportunity for trying to restore the country to administrative efficiency, and therefore Mbeki might be expected to throw some weight behind Motlanthe. And Motlanthe commands considerable administrative clout within the ANC. As former Secretary-General he chose most of the ANC managers through whom Mantashe now purports to run the Party (and does so very badly), and Motlanthe might conceivably be able to draw on some of those people who feel exasperated with the trashing of all their work. Also, Motlanthe is an SACP member, nominally privy to that organisation’s machinations and more familiar with the Party middle leadership than Mbeki is likely to be. He might well be able to identify the chinks in the SACP’s armour — and it is very unlikely that Motlanthe, who has been largely sidelined by Nzimande and Cronin, would have any qualms about sticking daggers through those chinks.

Do we have an M-plan here? Motlanthe to run for the Presidency, using his high-level contacts and the promise of reform and jobs for pals, with Malema handling the rank-and-file and the youth and Mbeki doing the brainwork and providing background prestige? (Mbeki could even run for the Deputy Presidency — and if he got it, he could be an inordinately powerful Deputy President of the country, a kind of Vladimir Putin showing two fingers to the white ruling class while Motlanthe provided the peaceable facade, very much Mbeki’s position in the last years of Mandela’s Presidency.)

It’s probably a fantasy, even though it’s a possibility. On the other hand, it’s probably the only way that Zuma could be stopped at Mangaung. It’s entirely possible that the chaos into which the ANC has fallen would make it hard for Zuma to stop a serious challenge of this kind.

And if the Devil and Tony Blair were standing against Zuma at Mangaung, there would be plenty of people who would say that we should give Satan and his minion a fair deal.


Pity Party.

January 9, 2012

There is a great deal which could be talked about at the beginning of the new year, but unfortunately the media is so utterly clogged with the big centenary that it is difficult for the Creator to ignore it completely.

Jacob Zuma has announced that he is “humbled” by the international support for the ANC’s centenary celebrations. And so he should be. Hardly anybody of any significance has bothered to show up, despite all the spectacular freebies promised. Of course, what Zuma is really saying is that everybody of importance has indeed shown up, thus displaying a supreme vote of confidence in the ANC and its government. He thus seems to be imitating a senile spinster eating dinner with all her imaginary lovers, deceased or otherwise departed. Of course he isn’t really mad or senile; it’s just that he and the ANC announced that there would be an immense turnout of foreign supporters, and since no such immense turnout has materialised, it is necessary to pretend that it has happened anyway, in order to save face (within the inner circle) even at the cost of making Zuma look imbecilic and ridiculous.

Even as little as five years ago, a national celebration of the ANC would have been an extremely popular affair. There was considerable recognition, from every sane person, of the decisive contribution which the ANC made to liberation, and back then a lot more people were sane. There was also substantial, even if controversial, appreciation of what the ANC had done to straighten out the country after liberation. There was plentiful respect for the ANC’s leaders. A 95th-anniversary party would have been well received. Of course, there would have been dissent — the press would have denounced such a party because the ANC was still led by people whom the press hated, and the white community would have jeered almost en masse. But these would have been conspicuously a minority expressing a viewpoint which was notably held to be false, and easily showable as such.

Now, things have changed immensely. The centenary party is, of course, going to be a success in any case. Offer people free food and booze, and they will come — most of them, anyway. Even so, however, it is striking that the ANC’s leadership has been astonishingly sensitive about the possibility that the party might not go well. They have hijacked the SABC to run a week of propaganda, they have bought immensely expensive inserts in all newspapers, and the whole government of the country and the party has come to a full stop while everybody on the National Executive Committee flooded to the Free State to charge around demanding that people must, shall, please, O God please, come and eat the free food, drink the free booze and wave the flags and wear the T-shirts which are to be provided. Please. We beg of you.

It’s all quite humiliating. In the past, the ANC would just have held the party and people would have come and that would have been that. Now, instead, it becomes an essential function of the ANC and of government — a hundred million rand has been spent, plus God knows how much state money wasted — and a triumph for the entire nation if people show up for freebies. A couple of years ago we were patting ourselves on the back for being able to organise a soccer tournament. Now we’re shaking our own hands with pride at being able to organise a party. What next? Medals to be awarded for successful completion of a bowel-movement?

The non-appearance of the international community is also rather striking. Mugabe decided not to come — almost certainly as a deliberate snub to Zuma. The Russians sent a delegation, but no leading lights. The Americans, with the exception of the senile mountebank Jesse Jackson, were conspicuously absent; so were the Chinese and Indians, so were the Latin Americans. A few years ago, this wouldn’t have happened; the ANC would have expected a much bigger international turnout. What’s happened since then? It’s certainly not that Zuma hasn’t devoted time to international activities — he’s spent much of his term of office jetting around the world clamouring to shake hands with foreign leaders in front of cameras. Instead, however, it simply seems that the international community isn’t greatly interested in reciprocating. To be blunt, the people who like Zuma don’t like the ANC (or at least its record as a principled anti-racist and anti-rich world organisation), and therefore don’t want to celebrate the party’s history; meanwhile, the people who like the ANC are not particularly fond of Zuma (or, like Mugabe, don’t trust him) and therefore don’t want to lend too much credibility to the man.

This, in fact, seems to be the essence of the problem with the party. It’s supposed to be a celebration of the successes of the ANC over a hundred years, but conspicuous by their absence is virtually everybody who has ever criticised or opposed Zuma and his cabal. Most conspicuous is a refusal to celebrate anything which was done by the ANC in government between 1994 and 2008, which means virtually all of the ANC’s administrative and political achievements. All this is because the party is not really a celebration of the ANC at all — it’s an attempt to bolster Zuma’s credibility within the party, in a province conveniently central to the country so that every possibly anti-Zuma province (except Limpopo, which is irretrievably lost anyway) can be brought on board, contacted and encouraged to do the right thing, whatever that might be.

And this, of course, is why the party has to be a success, and why the organisers have to pretend that the party is a success even though it is (in its wider ramifications than organising a gigantic Eatanswill By-Election) anything but a success. If it fails, then Zuma is perceived as failing, and then that’s one step further towards a troubled and contentious election at Mangaung, in that very same city where Zuma is posturing and pontificating now.

It would be a great opportunity to renew the organisation, of course. Instead of silly ceremonial lightings of eternal flames which will soon go out, the party could include a real ANC and Tripartite Alliance discussion on what has worked in the last hundred years, what has failed, how the last few years have not lived up to the party’s promise and how the party could transform itself into something much more able to get things sorted. But if that were to happen, inevitably there would be criticism of Zuma and his cabal, a thing which simply cannot be tolerated.

So instead there is anodyne, anaesthetic and decidedly apathy-inducing celebration. A noted Communist atheist named Mantashe calls on the churches to throw their weight behind the ANC (by which he means, of course, Jacob Zuma). Zuma himself, after holding a traditional-healing ceremony in a Wesleyan church (that must have delighted the Christians) calls on the business community to be nice to everybody and give the poor money, because obviously you can’t expect the ANC to do that. A few ancient politicians are wheeled out to dodder for the cameras. Someday we shall all be weak and senile and unable to resist voting for Zuma, apparently. There will be a disco. And the NEC organises a round of golf at an exclusive club inBloemfonteinto show their sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. (It does become increasingly difficult to see the validity of satire inSouth Africa, or anywhere else in the age of Bombardier Peace Prize.)

After it’s all over, what will remain? A hangover, which will swiftly lift. A few Chinese T-shirts which will remind the wearers of a few days of embarrassing nonsense. The memory of a pretentious time of empty speeches and politicians hectoring one to vote for them someday. Nothing that has happened at the centenary celebrations serve to solve any of the ANC’s problems or take the country forward in any way. All of it, instead, serves to show that the actual ANC has ceased to bear any workable relationship to the imaginary ANC being celebrated at the great vacant party.

It’s sad. It’s shabby. It’s a great, great pity.

The Softest Underbelly.

January 9, 2012

As we enter 2012, one of the key goals of the political elite is to persuade us that Jacob Zuma is, simultaneously, under threat at Mangaung, and invincible to all threats at Mangaung.

This apparent contradiction is easily resolved. On one hand, the ruling class needs to frighten Jacob Zuma’s supporters into turning out to support him, meaning that a threat needs to be acknowledged. On the other hand, Jacob Zuma’s supporters are weakly motivated, meaning that they need reassurance that such a threat can be easily overcome. All this indicates that Zuma is in an unstable position in his control of the ANC. The media is mistaken; Zuma can be beaten, if anyone wants to do so.

Does anyone want to? It seems evident that Zuma has made some enemies in his decade-long career of double-crossing and cheating, although many of these enemies are in too weak a position to act against him. The fact that these specific enemies are weak, however, does not mean that they have no power — for their resentment might lead them to work through agents, and at provincial level Zuma has less passionate, but nevertheless real, enemies who might be prepared to act as such agents.

Zuma’s power lies in patronage. He can promise jobs, and he can promise money through his web of links with big business and government. Therefore, he can bribe anybody who is willing to be bribed, and that means that he has been able to surround himself with corruptible people.

In such a system, however, there are enormous flaws. If your allies are mercenaries, you are constantly in danger that they may change allegiances. Furthermore, there are limits to Zuma’s capacity to pay bribes. Obviously government contracts are potentially in his hands, but most of those contracts are doled out through provincial ministries, or, less often, through national ministries. It is difficult to fire someone simply because they have practiced corruption in the wrong way. Therefore, the national and provincial ministers have to be under Zuma’s control, which suggests an explanation for Zuma’s very frequent reshuffles of the national Cabinet, and his continual meddling in provincial governments. Centrally taking over the management of a provincial ministry, as nobody has dared to say, gives central power direct control of the patronage arising out of that ministry, and this is surely what happened inLimpopo.

And inLimpopoit failed; the man who had his patronage taken away from him was still re-elected. If that is the case there, might it happen elsewhere? Might the whole apparatus of provincial patronage spin out of control? This is surely the reason why some of the most corrupt people in Zuma’s entourage, especially those who are resolutely opposed to democratic values like the SACP’s henchmen and the helots of COSATU, have called for the abolition of provinces. Centralised jobsworths ahoy! Once there is no longer an alternative, once all contracts are dictated from Luthuli House, is it not possible that the resistance to Zuma will crumble?

However, big business also wants its cut. Zuma cannot dictate to big business, because it provides him with most of his authority and wealth. Therefore, although a certain proportion of contracts may be doled out to Zuma’s friends, the cream must go to corporations. Where those corporations clash, Zuma and his friends are in trouble, because they have no control over the corporations and no capacity to mediate between them. The corporations also do not wholly trust Zuma, and therefore wish to have their own people in government who have business behind them — Sexwale, Manuel, Motlanthe and the rest. These people may clash with Zuma cautiously, even though the general ruling-class propaganda line is, of course, “All power to the Dear Leader”. These people are also politicians who wish to build power-bases, and while Zuma may play them off against each other, they have their own agendas, and most of them are more intelligent and astute than Zuma; their ultimate fear is not of Zuma, but of each other, which is why Zuma is still in power.

Unfortunately, too, there are more patrons than there are jobs or contracts. Also, most of these patrons do not wish to have to work; they want sinecures. However, someone has to run the system so that the jobsworths can benefit from it. This further restricts the number of jobs or contracts available — and where the jobsworths seize on jobs or contracts which actually need to be handled by competent and diligent people, the system breaks down. (Therefore the small towns have very incompetent municipalities because there the jobsworths have the most power and Zuma and his cronies have little control — but as the small towns have gone, the big towns are going.) As the system gets weaker, the amount of cream to skim off dwindles.

As a result, patronage becomes unstable. Some have to be removed because their bad performance embarrasses their patrons, and this breeds disgruntlement — “I was loyal, why was I sacked just because I was incompetent?”, which is a mirror to the earlier “I was competent, why was I sacked just because I was disloyal?”. Others hope to take their place, but do not do so because others have priority. “Why was I not given that job?” More disgruntlement. In a corrupt system, instability has a habit of breaking out, and this probably explains why provincial and municipal meetings so often end in violent clashes between the haves and the have-nots, the ins and the outs. And, of course, those who have not, and those who are out, are in an excellent position to appeal to the general public and proclaim that they will provide what their competitors cannot. Those in power are in a bad position to appeal to the public, because the promises which they make are speedily and conspicuously proved untrue, and particularly at municipal level, the public becomes easily annoyed at a lack of the provision of the basic services needed to sustain their daily lives.

To prevent this from becoming too dangerous, the Zuma administration periodically reshuffles posts, or arrives at the scene of an especially egregious scene of systemic failure to disclaim all responsibility, place the blame on the local beneficiaries of Zuma patronage (they used to blame the Mbeki administration, but this has become dangerous, partly because everybody is now aware that the situation was much healthier then) and make empty promises of resolving the problem, preferably in front of TV cameras or corrupt journalists who will report this back to a public which is increasingly unimpressed by such things.

It isn’t working very well, and so the corrupt system is becoming ever more unstable. Zuma has run heedlessly along a downhill path which unexpectedly turned into a narrow gangplank and looks increasingly like becoming a tightrope over the abyss. Unfortunately he is moving too fast to stop, and if he slows down he will lose momentum and fall, so he must carry on with what he is doing. Mercifully he spends most of his time either out of the country or relaxing at his fortified country estate in Nkandla, where he can simply ignore the increasing crisis which threatens to wreck his administration.

None of this guarantees that Zuma will lose at Mangaung. It is only a year away, and at the moment the mutterings of opposition have only led to a few direct challenges. At the present there is no sign that any of Zuma’s immediate underlings wish to take over the job of rope-dancer-in-chief. However, everybody knows that this corrupt opposition is there and if it becomes sufficiently powerful and vocal, one or more of Zuma’s underlings may decide to take advantage of it, even if only to ensure that if the system collapses they are not themselves buried under the ruins. Also, of course, the irresponsible businessmen who put Zuma in power are easily frightened, and if they choose to demand that someone like Sexwale challenges Zuma in order to safeguard their investments, they might find themselves in a position to shatter the system by accident.

Meanwhile, what about the principled opposition? Obviously, it is invisible. The ruling class has no interest in promoting principle or integrity in the ANC or anywhere else (the DA’s hilarious appeals to principle and integrity are purely intended to appeal to the crude ignorance and blindness of the white middle-class community). Therefore the media is not interested in acknowledging its existence in the Tripartite Alliance (what the media calls integrity is, of course, subservience to the interests of multinational capital). However, there are undoubtedly people out there in the ANC who are unhappy.

Some are unhappy for personal reasons, because they have been passed over for promotion or appointment while talentless hacks get preferment. Some are unhappy because they retain respect for the organisation and do not like to see elections rigged so that fools attain offices which they proceed to abuse to the detriment of the party, or simply do not like to see that detriment, that lack of democracy and administrative effectiveness, going on. Some would like to keep their jobs and are afraid that if the ANC fragments they will lose them, and anybody within the ANC can see that the processes that Zuma has set in motion will ultimately wreck it. Some can remember the ideals of the anti-apartheid era and the early days of government. Some are displeased by the incessant right-wing propaganda in the media which so often is couched in terms which simultaneously praise Zuma and his hacks (to which the name of Mandela is usually attached like the luggage-van of an old passenger train) while attacking everything good that the ANC has done, and everybody competent who has served the ANC, since its unbanning. Some just feel that, even if they believe Zuma’s lies at Polokwane, now that those lies are proved untrue it is time to look round for someone who might have a shred of honesty somewhere. These are all solid emotional and logical bases for a groundswell against Zuma and his allies, and none of this is going away.

So actually Mangaung might be a difficult time for the Zumatics. This does not mean that Zuma will be defeated. Nor does it mean that a Zuma defeat would entail a return to the good old days, let alone a step beyond the 1990s into a more democratic and socialistic system. The forces of corruption are strong and well organised, and they might simply be able to gain power through rigging the votes, packing the conferences and stampeding the delegates. However, the probability is that they are not going to have things all their own way at branch and provincial level. The more instability we see there, the more danger there is for Zuma, and the greater the likelihood that Zuma, his henchmen or his backers will do something extraordinarily stupid.

Which, after all, is what they do best.


Game of Shadows and Lights.

January 9, 2012

Every now and then it becomes all too much to bear, does Christmas, so the Creator dissociates from the physical world and enters one of metaphor, symbol and spiritual transsubstantiatiation. Not having any appropriate recreational chemicals handy, this entailed going to the movies.

It’s easy to mock the Hollywoodelite, such as George Clooney who directed The Ides of March, and for that matter Leonardo diCaprio who stumped up some of the cash for it (“executive producer”). However, what they have come up with is a fairly interesting moviefication of what must have been a tolerably interesting play, one originally called Farragut North, which is a suburb ofWashingtonDC, supposedly where the lobbyists dwell (the flying monkeys of the Wicked Witches of corporate capitalism). It’s a low-budget movie; no special effects, no spectacular scenery, and the most expensive props are probably the ties worn by the George Clooney character, the hopey-changey Democrat primary frontrunner seeking the nomination via a mammoth triumph inOhio. If he wins big he will be a first-ballot victor at the impending convention, and then, because the Republicans are so disorganized, he will go on to be President. So he devotes his time to bold bloviation about his rejection of religious motives and calls for less oil consumption and more green activities – particularly, a pledge to discourage cars running on petrol.

The hero of the movie, however, is the candidate’s media specialist, number two to the campaign manager, a sleazy figure who leaks lies to the press, chuckling that he doesn’t think anyone will believe the lies – he just wants to hear the opponent spending a day denying them. (This is a quote attributed to Lyndon Johnson via Hunter S Thompson.) The media specialist purports to believe – perhaps does believe – that the candidate is the superman who will save America, but we the audience are at liberty to doubt his capacity to judge this, especially since he is effortlessly capable of manipulating the press into whatever posture he finds convenient for his candidate. (Incidentally, the opening of the movie includes a moving wall of imaginary press commentary, including a couple of faked political cartoons by the leftish cartoonist Ted Rall.)

The hero proves to be a dodgy figure, however. The campaign manager of his opponent invites him to a secret meeting; he does notinform his campaign manager, then or later – until much later. Obviously he is flirting with the idea that he will gain some personal advantage from this. The opponent’s plan is simple; he has promised the most powerful Democrat in the state a Cabinet position, and he has persuaded right-wing webloggers to urge Republicans to vote for the opponent because the George Clooney figure is considered more of a threat. (In Ohio Republicans can vote in Democratic primaries.) So this seems to reaffirm the situation; the baddies are sleazy and unprincipled, the goodies (with the exception of the media specialist, perhaps) are squeaky-clean. Of course, one side effect of this is the clear indication that the media are easily manipulated, indeed eager to be manipulated.

But then still sleazier things crop up. On one hand, the Clooney figure is shown to be a shabby, selfish liar and hypocrite. On the other hand, the campaign manager of the Clooney figure manages to use the meeting with the opposition to have the media specialist fired, on grounds of disloyalty – which is reasonable, but stupid at a time of crisis; it’s obvious that he, like everyone else in the system, is using the situation for private gain. The campaign manager has leaked damaging information to a journalist, who turns out to have no sympathy for the media specialist (he had innocently assumed that journalists were manipulable friends, rather like the tobacco lobbyist in Thank You For Smoking). Eventually, thanks to sleaze and blackmail, the media specialist manages to succeed despite all efforts and at the minor cost of destroying the Clooney figure’s political independence. There is a rather foolishly staged scene towards the end when the vicious journalist, implausibly, appeals to the friendship of the media specialist – only to be told, sardonically, “You’re my best friend”; the media specialist stalks off into alienated, pointless authority over a campaign which he no longer believes in except as a vehicle for private gain.

It does seem as if Clooney and DiCaprio have lost some of their former enthusiasm for Obama. (Some of the posters for the Clooney character are evidently derived from the low-res two-colour posters for the Obama 2008 campaign.) It appears, too, that there is no sense that the current formal political system offers any way of improving the conditions of the average American (who does not appear in the movie except as gullible crowds uncritically cheering the increasingly implausible promises of the Clooney figure). You might say that some alternative to the system should have been shown, but that would probably have made the movie less effective. Essentially it is a long riff on the subject of “We are so screwed”, and as such, not half bad. The Creator emerged looking for a double-handful of prescription drugs and a half-jack of whiskey, but couldn’t find a chemist and all the bottle-stores were closed.

So much for intellectuals. Now for a header into the cesspool. For various unspecified reasons the Creator was at a loose end last night and decided to believe what he had read in the Mail and Guardian, namely that the latest Sherlock Holmes movie is the very best movie that Guy Richie has ever made. Which it may well be, whatever that means.

This is not a movie about Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, of course. This is a new franchise, in which Holmes and Watson are two homoerotic eccentrics with none of the characteristics formerly associated with them, with the general demeanour and acuity of teenage American undergraduates. Nor is the movie based on one of Conan Doyle’s stories; on the contrary, it is fundamentally based on a vulgarization of The Seven–per-cent Solution, a popular book and movie of the 1970s. Of course, none of this means that the movie absolutely has to be worthless.

Of course. But.

The movie plunges us into the action at once; the gangster Professor Moriarty is slaughtering people (mostly his own agents) right and left in an effort to promote anarchist violence inWestern Europe, thus provoking war betweenGermanyandFrance. Why does Moriarty want to use anarchists, whom both the Germans and French cordially hated and whose behaviour would thus encourage unity between the two countries, to provoke a war which very nearly came off anyhow? It transpires that Moriarty has used the proceeds of his criminal empire to buy up the Schneider and Krupp armament concerns (presented here under false names, of course, but recognizable) and thus hopes to engineer a war in order to make money.

There is a trifling problem with this in the real world – in 1891 a war betweenFranceandGermanywould have ended within a month with Uhlans riding intoParis. Moriarty’s holdings in France would have been speedily appropriated by the German government, which would very probably have noticed his ownership of Krupps and acted accordingly to seize this foreigner’s holdings – especially since in this world-vision Moriarty is a personal friend of Lord Salisbury and a leading light in the British Foreign Office, which rather disqualifies him from owning the largest armaments firm in Germany.

It is, of course, true that armaments had always been transnational. During the First World War, British artillery shells were detonated by Krupp fuses, while German submarines fired Whitehead torpedoes at British cargo ships. However, this “merchants of death” theme remains rather dull.

Not, however, so dull as the actual process of the movie. For no particular reason, Holmes goes to see Moriarty at his university, thus triggering off Moriarty’s vanity, so that Holmes and Watson have to flee the country. They go toParis, where Moriarty also goes, for no actual reason since he does not have to personally oversee the assassination of the owner of shares in the arms firm whose death will give him control. They gad about with gypsies, providing an excuse for the display of a modestly attractive wax model of an actress wearing gypsy regalia, but fail to prevent the assassination, which they do not anticipate, and which is concealed by an anarchist bombing, all organized by Moriarty for no obvious reason. (It is by this time obvious that neither Moriarty nor Holmes nor Watson has a brain in their heads.) Thereafter, they assume that Moriarty will go to his new German factory, modeled on the Gusstahlfabriek inEssen. He has no reason to go there, but they find him there (helped, for no obvious reason, by the gypsies).

Holmes has a plan; he wishes to pick Moriarty’s pocket, thus obtaining the details of Moriarty’s bank accounts, which will of course have no impact on anything. Nor is it credible that Moriarty will be walking around with bank details in his pocket, or that Moriarty will allow Holmes to come that close to him. The whole project is absurd, and is based on the assumption that Holmes knows essentially nothing about Moriarty – which proves to be more or less the case. The fact that this absurd plan comes off (partly thanks to the improbable notion that artillery pieces will be stored fully loaded in an armaments factory) is thus untenable and embarrassing.

Holmes has another plan; he, Watson and the gypsy girl somehow manage to get invited to a peace conference (though, realistically, there should be no prospect of war) at which they will identify the gypsy girl’s anarchist brother who has been hired by Moriarty to assassinate someone (they are not quite sure who) thus somehow destroying the conference. (The idea that a country would send an ambassador on a mission of assassination is in itself quite absurd.) Since they don’t know who the ambassador-assassin is, Watson upsets a tray of glasses which somehow makes the ambassador-assassin reveal himself, although an agent of Moriarty’s murders the ambassador-assassin before he can be interrogated. (The ambassador-assassin has had facial surgery, which would certainly have been revealed in an autopsy, so Moriarty’s plan is doomed to fail once it becomes obvious that the assassin is not really the ambassador at all.)

Meanwhile, Holmes, for no reason whatsoever, goes out onto an open balcony overlooking a hundred-metre-high waterfall plunging into a rocky chasm with Moriarty. They play “blitz” chess, which did not exist in 1891 but never mind, and then Holmes tells Moriarty, for no reason at all, that he has stolen all of Moriarty’s money thanks to his access to the banking details in Britain. (How this would make Moriarty lose his assets inFranceandGermanygoes unexplained.) Moriarty becomes infuriated and attacks Holmes, and the two of them plummet off the balcony, falling a hundred metres onto rocks and then into a high-speed current which batters both corpses against more rocks, crushing them to a pulp which sinks to the bottom so that no remnants are recovered. Later, however, we learn that Holmes has a panacea against the consequences of a fall of this kind – a primitive oxygen mask.

Now, it’s all right that we have a Holmes and Watson turned into a thirteen-year-old’s vision of how humans behave. Raymond Chandler once remarked that it was remarkable how in just a few years the movies had evolved from being made for eight-year-olds to being made for thirteen-year-olds, and then stuck, and since 1943 nothing much seems to have changed except a greater exploitation of a thirteen-year-old’s sexual and emotional imagination. However, thirteen-year-olds are not so childish that they can’t recognize dumb ideas and dickheaded concepts when these flash across the screen. It becomes apparent, then, that when a flick purports to appeal to thirteen-year-olds, but actually appeals to thirteen-year-olds’ willingness to abandon all pretense at intellectual activity and instead embrace stupidity, then there is an agenda here. They are not just out to make us children, they are out to make us stupid children, ignorant not merely of history and how the contemporary world works, but of how the contemporary world could work; buying into a flat, inhuman vision of sensibility for the sake of a momentary thrill or an instantaneous laugh before one has time to realize that the joke has been repeated ad nauseam and is nauseating and wasn’t really funny at the beginning.

We can have halfway decent movies if we are prepared to demand them. It doesn’t take genius; George Clooney is probably considerably less talented than Richie or Spielberg (whose horrid abortion of Tintin was trailered at the Richie flick). All it takes is a willingness to require competence, and an unwillingness to pretend that flatulence is sweet-smelling. And yet Richie’s trash has been given a far more respectful hearing in the reviews than Clooney’s modest competence.

Can it be that the evil conspiratorial system is oppressing us in yet another way?