Archive for the ‘Political musings’ Category

It is a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions.

Raif Badawi received the first 50 of his lashes in January

His family now say that Raif Badawi, already sentenced to a vicious public flogging and appalling ten years in prison, could also be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty.

The case attracted worldwide condemnation when he was publicly flogged in January.

Now his family say they have been told he is to be tried for apostasy.

“Apostasy charge is punishable under Saudi law with the death penalty by beheading,” they said in a message posted on Facebook.

“We also received confirmed information that the Supreme Court has referred Raif case to the same judge, who sentenced Raif with flogging and 10 years imprisonment.This judge is biased against Raif.”

Background to the case:

In July 2013 human rights activist Raif Badawi was sentenced in Saudi Arabia to seven years in jail, and 600 lashes, for insulting Islam. His sentence has now been increased to ten years and 1,000 lashes.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Badawi, founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was convicted of “creating a website insulting Islam” and criticising the role of the notorious religious police. Before his arrest, Badawi’s network announced a “Day of Liberalism” and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia. He has been languishing in jail since June 2012.

According to this report, the lawsuit against him was instigated by Saudi  by clerics. An appeals court overturned the original sentence and sent the case back for the case back for retrial, which culminated in the even harsher sentence.

A further court upheld the 10-year jail sentence and 1,000 lashes – also ordered him to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666).

The rights group’s co-founder, Souad Al Shamari said:

The only hope now is an amnesty from the king or a swift move by the justice minister to form a fair judicial committee. Even the worst terrorists have not received such a harsh sentence.

Mr Badawi, 31, received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes in January. The rest of his punishment has been postponed because of injuries he sustained.

The flogging was surreptitiously filmed on a mobile phone, with footage uploaded to the internet.

It was conducted with a flexible stick, in front of a large crowd in the public square by the al-Jafali mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Mr Badawi was allowed to keep his shirt on, as is normal in Saudi Arabia, lessening the effects somewhat, but he can still be seen to flinch.

“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain,” Mrs Haidar said in an earlier statement released by Amnesty International, which has campaigned on his behalf. “He said that when he was being flogged he took the pain silently and rose above it, so that history will know that he did not react to their punishment.

Badawi was also given a jail sentence and a fine of £175,000 after being convicted of insulting Islam on a liberal online forum he created.

His family said he could not originally be charged with apostasy – abandoning his faith – because the criminal court could not deal with crimes that carry the death penalty. That changed with a new regulation passed last year.

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

They asked that Mr Badawi be pardoned and allowed to travel to Canada, where his wife and three children are now living.

“We call on the world citizens and governments not to leave Raif dragged by such bigots to death,” they added.

The death penalty is the standard penalty for apostasy in the Muslim world, though it is rarely carried out, even in Saudi Arabia which still carries out regular executions.

The Prince of Wales is believed to have raised the case during meetings with King Salman during a visit to Saudi Arabia in February.

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

We can only hope that the gale of protest around the world at the treatment of this entirely innocent man can cause the new Saudi regime to release him. These are our ALLIES, after all, with whom we have a huge trade relationship. That should count for something in asking them to listen to our concerns.

If you wish to do something, why not tweet your call for Badawi to be immediately released, using the hashtag ‪#‎Raifbadawi‬ ?

Alternatively, or as well, sign the change.org petition? Click below, and thank you:

https://www.change.org/p/free-and-safeguard-the-liberal-saudi-raif-badawy-no-600-lashes

Or perhaps you could simple share this blog on your blog, or on your Facebook page?

Whatever you can do to help, thank you.

One morning last week, Dear Reader, one found oneself up uncommonly early. On the freeway at a tad before 6am, the result of supporting a football team playing on the other side of the world. No sympathy required: and at least they won.

But it did give me the unusual experience of watching the world at a time when I am usually still snuggled comfortably under the goose-down doona. The freeway was full of traffic and moving very fast, with a much higher percentage of young adult male “tradies” in trucks driving like lunatics on their way to somewhere or other. It was like Monza for pick-ups, all doing a few mph above the speed limit about two feet from my back bumper, and, frankly, it was mildly terrifying to our rheumy middle aged eyes.

Heading into the City, I was also reminded of how many different types of people work at all sorts of odd hours, to convenience the rest of us. The rubbish trucks were well underway with their noisy stop-start rounds, cafés were already open with barristas blearily making perfect skinny cappuccinos for early-to-rise or late-to-bed forex traders, barrels of beer were being delivered to pubs, here a flower stall being set up, there some coppers guarding the as yet empty entrance to the State Parliament, and, incongruously, a lone TV reporter already practising her lines to camera for the morning newscasts.

One rather cold winter – I think it was 1977-78 – I found myself working over the Christmas period. Not coming from a wealthy background it was common for me to work during the school holidays, in fact I think I had done some work or other in every school holiday from the age of 14 onwards, and in this particular break, having reached the very advanced mark of 17, I found I qualified for work as a relief postman.

Postman with lettersIt’s hard for people to imagine nowadays (those below a certain age, anyhow) but there was a time when most homes had plenty of letters and parcels delivered almost daily, and at Christmastime a virtual blizzard of mail would arrive every day.

The advent of electronic greetings cards and social media has reduced “snail mail” to something of a trickle, and a “postie” has an easier job nowadays than then.

Not to mention they belt around on little mopeds rather than walking.

But way back when, deep in the last millennium, so many cards were posted that extra postmen (and I am not being sexist, as they were all men) had to be employed to get all the mail delivered to people’s homes in time for Christmas.

It was something of a culture shock to the 17 year old me. I had made cups of tea in a beach cafe, washed pots by the mile, waited on tables, sold ice-creams from a kiosk, even worked as a fruit and veg delivery van boy, but nothing prepared me for the rigours of being a relief postie.

BOURNEMOUTH38For one thing, I had to get up at 4.30 am, fling on some clothes and walk through the murky laneways that linked my home to the nearest bus route, and get the first bus of the day which was the 4.59 am, and it was always sepulchrally empty, except for me.

As the walk to the bus was about ten minutes in pitch darkness I think you can tell, Dear Reader, that I never spent long on personal hygiene, breakfast or my sartorial appearance. I took to going to bed in the clothes I needed to wear the next day. It was so damned cold the extra layer of sweat thus accumulated on my skin undoubtedly served a useful prophylactic purpose.

The bus trip into town was eerie at that hour. All the shops were still closed, of course, and this was before permanent retailer illumination and acres of neon became commonplace, so their windows seemed like so many dead eyes staring at us as the elderly yellow-paint-peeling Leyland double-decker lurched by, wheezing and coughing. Decades-old streetlights would struggle to do any more than bring a damp orange glow to the mist around their heads. Occasionally a battered old Austin or Morris would sneak past us in the other direction, puffing exhaust into the air, its driver swaddled in a bobble-hat, scarf and sheepskin overcoat. It wasn’t just me who felt the keen wind knifing its way inland from the English Channel.

Exactly 47 minutes later – never 46, never 48 – I would be deposited outside the central sorting office, wide awake now, but cold and hungry.

I recall the first time I went in with absolute clarity. Through a magnificent Victorian façade, the building opened up like some vast human zoo, packed with worker bees before dawn had even considered breaking, with vast clouds of cigarette smoke winding up to the distant frescoed ceiling. The regular postmen were already at work, each with their own little cubicle, busily sorting the post into delivery routes. A nervous enquiry at the entrance directed me to one of the cubicles, where I met the cheery, middle-aged chap whose deputy I would be for ten days.

sortingSizing me up in a glance that lasted mere seconds, he smiled and said “I’m not ready for you yet, go and get some breakfast and come back in 20 minutes” and went back to his work, filling a wall of slots with mail of all shapes and sizes from the pile on the counter in front of him. Every now and then he would put a rubber band around a bunch of mail. I didn’t know it at the time, but not only was this highly skilled individual organising the whole of his round (and mine) by putting the mail in some sort of logical street order, (requiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of his area that was at least as complex as the famed “Knowledge” of London taxi drivers) he was also sorting the mail within each street by house order, faster, it seemed, than the eye could follow. His hands flashed in front of him ceaselessly. Occasionally, with an irritated grunt, he would retrieve an elastic-banded packet, open it up and insert a letter he had missed the first time round, and return it to its little wooden home.

I wandered off in search of breakfast, following my nose, trying not to get in the way. In a side room off the main area I found Aladdin’s Cave. These were the days of “company canteens”, where vast quantities of very-bad-for-you food was served up for a few pennies to working men who were yet to hear daily from nutritionists and national health advisory boards why they shouldn’t start each day with two fried eggs, a mound of bacon the size of St Catherine’s Hill, and some steaming mugs of tea each sweetened with three teaspoons of sugar. I had never seen so much food in one place in my entire life, except just once in a NAAFI eatery on an army base which had a similar quantity-over-quality attitude to feeding the nation’s troops, which was warmly welcomed by a visiting bunch of schoolboy army cadets used to the more meagre rations served up by po-faced kitchen hands in the penny-pinching minor public school where I was perpetually hungry for seven long years.

beans_on_toastI found I could afford baked beans on two oil-oozing slices of fried bread for, if I recall correctly, three pence.

And it was unquestionably the best breakfast I had ever eaten, teaching me, for the first time but not the last time, that immutable law of the universe that asserts that timely, accidental simple pleasures outweigh more complex, well organised ones every time.

I sat at a plasticated trestle table wolfing down the beans, looking around me in amazement at the rows of black-coated men looking like a murder of crows bent over their plates and talking ten to the dozen, keeping my own counsel, much too frightened to speak to anyone.

When I returned to pick up my bag of mail, I discovered it was a large as me, and I could hardly lift it. I would have complained, were it not for the very obvious fact that my colleague’s bag was at least twice as heavy. “You’ll get used to it” he encouragingly said, although I was at that moment much more inclined to run for the hills than get used to this strange life. But the money on offer was excellent for a mere callow youth, so I hefted it on my shoulders and walked, bent double, back out the front door, and to the bus stop, where another bus waited to transport me to streets unknown. “Get off by the footie ground, and go from there” he advised, and settled down to do his pools entry.

I did as I was told, and he waggled his pencil at me by way of goodbye, not lifting his head from deciding whether Chesterfield were likely to execute a score draw with Newport County or not. Which is how I came to be standing at the beginning of a long street of fine middle class houses with a brown hessian sack bulging with mail, and very little idea what to do next. Deliver Her Majesty’s Royal Mail, I supposed.

Sink or swim training methods. I opened the sack, which had a flap over its mouth secured by a belt buckle, and found that on its inside face was a list of streets, with the first being the one I was perched on the edge of right then.

You get the picture.

You get the picture.

I worked out that I should deliver in that street order – someone had written the list for a reason – so I just started. Which led me to my next discovery: that not only were the letters sorted numerically, they were sorted into odds and evens, making it much simpler to walk up one side of the street and down the other rather than cross the road from odd to even each time. I breathed my thanks to my mentor, although I did notice that this would inevitably return me to the same point I was at already, and that the next street was at the end of the one I was in now, meaning I had to walk back again to deliver that street, thus doubling my walk.

In time I would learn to examine the mail for each street to evaluate in advance whether it would be quicker to cross the street as I go, or go up one side or the other and then retrace my outward steps. Of such problems was my teenage mind consumed, and especially when it rained buckets of ice-cold rain or sleet on my grumbling teenage head, which was often if not daily.

As I finished each street I noted that the next street was the next bundle down in the sack, followed by the next street, and so forth until the sack was empty. When I told my mother this breathlessly over the dinner table, she murmured “a stitch in time saves nine”, which was one of her many “little sayings” that leavened my youth.

On the days it rained, the hessian sack became progressively heavier and heavier and more difficult to swing up on my shoulder or to handle in any manner at all, especially when I was huddled into an anorak with a fur-trimmed hood pulled down around my face and using every excuse to keep my brown faux-leather gloves on.

Relief postmen didn't get hats - more's the pity.

Relief postmen didn’t get hats – more’s the pity.

I quickly learned to only open the sack under a spreading horse-chestnut tree or in the porticoed entrance on some of the larger houses, lest the mail inside become utterly sodden.

Nonetheless, sometimes, by the end of the round, it was like delivering a series of obscure papier-mache sculptures to the sentinel homes, watching me impassively as I struggled. Where the inky addresses had run so badly I couldn’t make out the intended recipient I simply delivered the whole remaining bundle to the largest home in the street, figuring that if they could afford a home that large they obviously had money, and money obviously meant time on their hands to sort out the mess, and anyway it would give the occupants a good excuse to actually speak to their less well-off neighbours when they found a letter or card from family members they didn’t know they had.

As one neared Christmas itself, one had the odd and oddly moving experience of receiving “Christmas boxes” – monetary tips, and sometimes quite substantial – from grateful householders who clearly assumed I was their regular postman.

One chap memorably came to the door in a padded dressing gown, bare-footed despite the arctic weather, and wearing a “Wee Willy Winky” sleeping cap. He could not have looked more alien to me than if he had announced he was from Venus. He was carrying a cut glass decanter of sherry and two glasses, and insisted I take “a little something to keep out the cold”, despite me being under the legal drinking age and it being 7 am. It did make the rest of the day a little easier, to be sure.

Incredible riches,

Incredible riches,

I always felt tips should not be given to me, so returned them, religiously, to the real postie the next morning, which mildly astonished him, I think.

On Christmas Eve he gave me a pound note, and then an additional ten shilling note, which was admittedly but a fraction of the whole sum collected, but which was nevertheless a small fortune for me, and probably half a day’s pay for him.

It was a cheering moment, and taught me something valuable about worker solidarity.

Didn't pick the right year to spark a demarcation dispute.

Did not pick the right year to spark a demarcation dispute.

This was, infamously, the “Winter of Discontent”, the biggest continuous episode of industrial tension in the UK since the General Strike of 1926, and the apogee of trade union influence in Britain, where “the dead lay unburied” and rubbish piled up in the streets. The chaos would usher in the Thatcher years and break the power of the unions forever, but we didn’t know that then. What seemed like the entire workforce was striking for higher pay, with their wage packets being eroded dramatically by a combination of short-time working and inflation at 26.5%.

To say that everyone was a little bit touchy is like saying that winter was cold and wet. There was one hilarious incident that made it all seem very real and close to home.

One morning, arriving early, I waited not in the canteen but by my chap’s desk, sipping a cup of tea and reading a copy of The Sun that had apparently been consumed and then abandoned in a nearby booth. A supervisor chappie breezed by self-importantly, and dropped a big bundle of mail on the desk.

“What are you doing?” he asked, snappishly. “Er, just waiting for Joe,” I answered, anxiously. “Well, sort those while you’re waiting,” he commanded. “Yessir!” I replied, and jumped to it compliantly. In those days any teenager would call an older male “Sir”. I still do, to this day, funnily enough.

When Joe arrived, he was aghast. Incredulous, he called his mates over to show them what the supervisor had ordered me to do.

Within seconds it seemed like the whole place was in an uproar. “You go and get some breakfast, Son”, he murmured in a friendly fashion, “I’ll deal with this.” And he bunged me sixpence. I wasn’t quite clear what was going on but I wasn’t about to turn down free baked beans so I trotted off cheerfully.

Within a few minutes, though, the whole depot was at a standstill. I had sparked – completely innocently – what used to be called a “demarcation dispute”. No mere yoof could be sorting the mail. That was a task reserved for the mailman on the route. This was long before computerised mechanical sorting, and it was part of their skill set, without which the entire Royal Mail service would descend into frightful disorder, and it was a jealously guarded activity.

Senior management came worriedly weaving into the canteen, and quizzed me on the story, which I related without embellishment. No one blamed me, but the supervisor concerned was disciplined, I learned later. After an hour or so of industrial argy-bargy everyone went back to work, but the mail was delivered late that day.

In the more mundane jobs she has taken on to supplement her soaring educational career, the Fruit of One’s Loins has worked in a retail bakery, usually arriving at work just as the bakers themselves were leaving, having started work at 1 am. She’s worked in other busy retail environments too, learning perforce that the general public can be as ornery (and stupid) as a bunch of mules, as well as occasionally charming and good-natured. And she’s often up at the crack of sparrow’s fart to head across town to “nanny” some kids who need to get to school while their parents are already at work.

She’s probably going to end up as a leading academic, a famous psychologist, or a top actor – or all three, knowing her. She’s a natural leader, and the sort of person who will change society for the better, given a chance.

But I particularly welcome her experiencing “real” life in this way. Indeed, I think all young people should. “Real life” is what happens to everyone else: those who aren’t comfortably ensconced in a “professional” career, relaxing over a warm computer screen, usually pushing money around and often making decisions high in their ivory tower.

A Saturday job for some: a life for others.

A Saturday job for some: a life for others.

Those who lead our society need to know what it’s like for the “little people”: we all need to know that there are skills and value in a whole variety of jobs, and it’s not only the Prime Ministers, the Bishops, the Captains of Industry, or Oscar Winners that have stories to tell, and that our common stories as people struggling to get by are what bind us together. Too often, in the political field, for example, we see people rising to the top who have never held “a proper job”, heading straight into their chosen party’s machine from school or University. Or we find medicos at the top of their profession that have never worked anywhere but a leading teaching hospital, or senior public servants who have spent their entire career in the cosseted marble clad halls of government, or educators who never went near a poverty-stricken school or funds-starved kindergarten in their life, and so on, and so on.

I am intrinsically disinclined to prescribe to society what an individual’s life should look like. So I am not about to propose “civil conscription”, where every late teen or early adult needs to spend at least a year working in their choice of society’s less glamorous and perhaps more demanding jobs. But it is a tempting idea, and one that would surely improve our society overall in countless ways in years to come.

But perhaps the next time little Joey or Jemima whinges that he or she hasn’t yet had his or her “gap year” lying around on a beach somewhere – and could Mummy and Daddy somehow magically produce a quick ten grand to make it happen? – more middle class parents should answer: “Absolutely, you need a gap year. Go and work as a postman for a bit and we’ll talk about it.”

I will end this article here, before I get to pointing out that at the age of five I had to shovel coal from the outdoors coal store for the heater/cooker in the kitchen every frozen morning before school, or there’d have been no hot water for washing, and no sweet cup of tea nor yet a plate of baked beans. But we should stop before we get to the seemingly inevitable “and we used to live in shoe box in’t middle of road” end of the tale.

I will content myself with: “Tell the young ones nowadays? They wouldn’t believe yer.”

Bali’s chief prosecutor says he plans to transfer two Australian drug smugglers out of their Bali prison in the next 48 hours in preparation for their executions.

Momock Bambang Samiarso is charged with the responsibility of transferring Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to an island prison off Java to face a firing squad.


So far all plans Indonesian officials have announced for the executions have been delayed. The two Bali Nine members were due to be taken away to the island last month before the move was postponed.

But Mr Momock now says he has an order to transfer them this week, and plans to do so tonight or tomorrow night.

The elite police unit BRIMOB, which will handle security, and the prison managers are on standby for when the order comes through.

Lawyers for Chan and Sukumaran are still attempting a legal appeal, but the government was effectively ignoring that, saying nothing could stop the executions.

And contradicting more positive comments by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, President Joko Widodo has again lashed out at foreign intervention over the death penalty in Indonesia.

 

firingsquad

 

Mr Widodo warned a room full of high school students about the dangers of drugs and reiterated his commitment to show no mercy to drug offenders.

“About drugs, please be careful. Now there are more or less 50 people from our generation who die because of drugs, 50 per day,” he said.

Those figures are hotly disputed by many, but the president has been using them to justify his tough line on drugs and he rallied students for support. Meanwhile opinion polls in Indonesia suggest up to 70% of the local population may support the death penalty for drug felons, which is very probably why he seeks to remain so obdurate on the matter that he did not even READ the arguments in favour of clemency detailing the thorough rehabilitation of the two Australians.

In an ironic move, Myuran Sukamaran has been awarded a degree in fine arts by Curtin University in recognition of his progress in creating art in prison in Bali.

If he is shot, the world will lose a more than competent artist, the Indonesian prison system will lose a man who has helped dozens of his fellow prisoners to lead more fulfilled lives, in Andrew Chan they will lose a warm-hearted and dedicated Christian minister-in-training, and the drugs trade will continue unabated. What a terrible, rotten and extraordinarily stupid shame.

At this stage, when time is obviously short, probably the fastest way to make one’s feelings known is to directly “tweet” the President. His Excellency’s Twitter account is @jokowi_do2

 

A hundred thousand twitter messages might just help. Please show clemency, Your Excellency. The prisoners deserve it.

A hundred thousand twitter messages might just help. Please show clemency, Your Excellency. The prisoners deserve it.

 

Those in Australia and around the world who are deeply concerned that Indonesia should not shoot Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran because they are very obviously reformed and rehabilitated will be bouyed by the news in today’s media that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has actually managed to get through to President Widodo to discuss their case.

As the grim prepaprations for their executions by firing squad continue, Australians have been deeply shocked by the revelations that Widodo had not even considered the representations made to him on behalf of the pair before rejecting their plea for clemency.

You can read about the story of Abbott’s phone call here:

https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/26434903/jakarta-urged-to-respect-bali-nine-appeals/

Meanwhile the pressure on the two men themselves must be unimaginable. For a little while, Australia is experiencing the horrific “on-off” farce that the application of the death penalty everywhere so often becomes, as prisoners who have strong arguments against being executed watch their cases grind through the various courts.

We can only hope Australians continue to apply polite but firm pressure to Widodo to consider these mens’ cases with care, and with compassion. The Indonesia justice system will, in the future, allow clemency for death row cases where after 10 years in prison it can be demonstrated that the prisoners are rehabilitated. Yet this entirely sensible provision does not apply to Chan and Sukumaran! What a Kafkaesque nightmare they are trapped in.

At this stage, when time is obviously short, probably the fastest way to make one’s feelings known is to directly “tweet” the President. His Excellency’s Twitter account is @jokowi_do2

 

 

rape victim_b60e1Australians are already tossing up whether to avoid Bali as a holiday destination in light of the Indonesian government’s apparent intransigence over the upcoming execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran for trying to import heroin to Australia, despite their obvious rehabilitation during ten years in prison.

News that Indonesian President Widodo did not even consider the facts of the mens’ case before rejecting their appeal for clemency – including urgings from their prison governor that they not be executed as they are so useful in the prison – has created considerable anger in Australia, and lawyers for the pair – the so-called “Bali2″ – are seeking to use the unseemly rush to shoot them as cause for appeal in Bali today.

Now news emerges that Indonesian police identified but let go a man accused of brutally raping a teenage Perth woman in Bali on Christmas Day, allowing him to escape the island.

The man allegedly assaulted the 19-year-old in a sustained attack that began in a villa and continued during a traumatic 30-minute taxi ride after she tried to escape.

When the woman reported the assault the next morning, she was subjected to a “virginity test”, watched on by medical students in Bali’s Sanglah Hospital. As if whether or not she was a virgin determined whether or not she had been raped.

She has been in hospital twice since her return to Perth for an aggressive sexually transmitted disease – “a revolting, painful reminder” – and must wait four months on an HIV test.

Her parents have now appealed for help to find her attacker.

Hours after the alleged assault, the woman named the man she said had raped her as Henry Alafu, identified him and led Bali police to the Jimbaran villa where the incident took place.

But police did not arrest the 25-year-old and told the woman they wanted to follow him to Jakarta so he would lead them to a “bigger network of criminals”.

The man is now believed to be on Java with a fresh warrant out for his arrest. “As the days and weeks go by we lose hope that there will be any justice,” the woman’s mother said yesterday.

The teenager said she was still fragile. She felt violated twice after getting no choice but to have the invasive virginity test she was told was necessary to report a rape to police.

“The hospital report confirmed I had been raped and assaulted,” she said.

“The police issued a warrant for his arrest. I don’t understand why he hasn’t been arrested.

“This man raped, threatened and humiliated me. He laughed in my face at my fear and helplessness.

“I was terrified. I have had my fair share of nightmares since the incident. Sleep is still difficult.”

In the days after the assault, the family employed a Balinese law firm to help. It billed them $US13,500 ($17,300) for six days work, including $US400 for replying to an email from the mother.

Her mother, who was holidaying in Bali with the 19-year-old and her younger sister, said the whole family had been traumatised by the rape and aftermath.

Young women, in particular, might consider that there are safer and equally inexpensive places to holiday in Asia than the island which combines a great sense of fun – as well as serene beauty in its hinterland, and the kindness of most of its people – with a very poor record for holidaymaker safety.

The White Rose

Sophie Scholl and members of White Rose

One of the most disturbing, heart-rending and thought-provoking films we have ever seen was “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days”.

The movie covers the efforts of a resistance group fighting the Nazis called “White Rose” Although the White Rose is well known in Germany, it is not well known overseas.

Der Weissen Rose was a group of mostly students at the University of Munich in Bavaria. Some were studying philosophy. Most, but not all, were religious in some way. Some of the boys had done military service but were allowed to do stints at university between stints on the Eastern Front. This experience provided them with more knowledge of what was actually going on than the average person living in Germany at the time, and it appalled them, but in their courageous resistance they still come across as young and somewhat naïve. It is this naivety that has made the White Rose so appealing. The operated from “pure” theological and philosophical intellectual opposition to National Socialism, to fascism, to dictatorship, to the war, and to the slaughter of Europe’s Jews.

To believe that there was very little resistance to Hitler inside Germany is a serious misunderstanding. Resistance to the Nazis began, of course, before they even came to power, and continued during the thirties and throughout the war.

Serving members of White Rose

Serving members of White Rose

Resistance came from political groups of the left, centre and even conservatives, from unions, from churches and religious people, from within the government and branches of the military. Several attempts were made to assassinate Hitler both by groups and individuals. Although it did not succeed in overthrowing Hitler or ending the Nazi tyranny, the resistance did have an impact on the war and the ultimate defeat of the fascist regime.

Why does it seem otherwise? Well, the Nazi regime set out systematically and ruthlessly to destroy all opposition. Thousands of the people who would have been part of an even more effective resistance movement fled into exile soon after Hitler came to power. Many more were perfectly understandably frightened by the danger and sank into silence and inaction.

Sophie Scholl was guillotined, as was her brother, another brother was lost on the Eastern front. In a final meeting, Scholl's father told her he was proud of her and not to regret her sacrifice. She replied that she would see them again in Heaven.

Sophie Scholl was guillotined, as was her brother, another brother was lost on the Eastern front. In a final meeting, Scholl’s father told her he was proud of her and not to regret her sacrifice. She replied that she would see them again in Heaven.

Yet many did not and paid the price. At least 5,000 were executed and many more spent time in prison. Some were simply murdered.

There was a feeling within Germany that people really shouldn’t undermine the government during wartime

Many ordinary Germans saw members of the resistance as traitors because that was what almost every source of information available to them told them they were.

Unlike in the countries Germany tried to conquer, the resistance had to assume that much of the population actually supported the government and would report their activities from a sense of duty or from totally justified fear, thus making their actions even braver. Nevertheless, their writings struck a chord with many in the community.

The nations fighting Germany during World War II also decided not to publicise the German resistance to Hitler during or after the war. The insistence on unconditional surrender and the strategic bombing raids which caused so many civilian casualties made it necessary to see Germany as guilty as a nation rather than as itself a victim of Nazi tyranny. The allied armies knew about the resistance and benefited from it but did not want to praise it, at least initially.

MovieSophieSchollSo the story of Sophie Scholl and her family and friends remained almost un-talked about until about the 1970s, when the German community started to discuss the war years more openly, and then again in 2005 when the remarkable film about the events was released.

You can watch the entire film, in its original German, with subtitles, below.

If you haven’t seen it, we cannot recommend it highly enough, but we warn you that it is gut wrenching.

Nevertheless, if you haven’t seen it, find a couple of hours, pour yourself a strong drink, and watch it. Those that died deserve to be remembered.


When people discuss the White Rose it has been suggested they were a brave but ineffective resistance movement. That is, in fact, not true. When they were active they caused the regime considerable annoyance. Although many who received the leaflets in the mail handed them in to police, many did not, and the regime had to deal with the fact that those who handed them in may have read them.

Sophie Scholl was an ordinary girl - devoutly Catholic, she fell in love with one of her fellow conspirators, she loved the countryside, she adored her parents. She was very ordinary, just very, very brave.

Sophie Scholl was an ordinary girl – devoutly Catholic, she fell in love with one of her fellow conspirators, she loved the countryside, she adored her parents. She was very ordinary, just very, very brave.

They managed to establish branches in Berlin and particularly Hamburg where sadly many of Hamburg White Rose met the same fate.

The White Rose also had a role in a student uprising in Munich— which was quickly suppressed.

After their execution graffiti appeared on walls in Munich: “Ihr Geist lebt wieter” “Their Spirit Lives On”.

Others carried on the fight. Copies of the leaflets were smuggled out to the Allies and later dropped in their tens of thousands by bombers over German cities.

An example of the leaflets (there were a total of five) is produced below. The courage of young people who could make these arguments against the might of the Nazi Reich simply beggars belief. Especially as they operated in the sure and certain knowledge that one day they must be caught, with their horrifying deaths as the inevitable result.

Many brave people died during the Second World War. These young Germans were amongst the bravest.

THE THIRD LEAFLET

Salus publica suprema lex (Public safety is the supreme law)

All ideal forms of government are Utopias. A state cannot be constructed on a purely theoretical basis; instead, it must grow and develop in the same way an individual human being matures. But we must not forget that at the beginning of every civilization the state already existed in a rudimentary form. The family is as old as man himself, and out of this initial bond man, endowed with reason, created for himself a state founded on justice, whose highest law was the common good. The state should reflect the divine order, and the highest of all utopias, the Civitas dei, is the model it should ultimately resemble. We will not compare the many possible states here—democracy, constitutional monarchy, monarchy, and so on, but one issue needs to be made clear and unambiguous; every human being has the right to a just state, a state that safeguards the freedom of the individual as well as the good of the whole. For according to God’s will, man should be free and independent, while fulfilling his natural duty of living and working together with his fellow citizens, and strive to achieve earthly happiness through self-reliance and self-motivation.

But the present “state” is the dictatorship of evil. “Oh, we’ve known that for a long time,” I hear you object, “and it isn’t necessary to bring that to our attention again.” But, as I ask you, if you know that, why do you not rouse yourselves, why do you allow these men in power to rob you step by step, both openly and in secret, of one of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunkards? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right—or rather, your moral duty—to eradicate this system? But if a man can no longer summon the strength to demand his right, then he will definitely perish. We would deservedly be scattered over the earth like dust in the wind if we do not marshal our powers at this late hour and finally find the courage we have lacked up to now. Do not hide your cowardice behind a cloak of expedience, for with every new day that you hesitate, failing to oppose this offspringof Hell, your guilt, like a parabolic curve, grows higher and higher.

Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets cannot see clearly how they can mount an effective opposition. They cannot see any avenues open to them. We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system. Solitary withdrawal, like embittered hermits, cannot prepare the ground for the overthrow of this “government” or bring about the revolution at the earliest possible moment. No, it can only be done through the cooperation of many convinced energetic people—people who agree on the means they must use to attain their goal. We have few choices as to these means. The only one available is passive resistance. The meaning and the goal of passive resistance is to bring down National Socialism, and in this struggle we can’t shrink from any means, any act, wherever it is open to attack. We must bring this monster of a state to an end soon. A victory for fascist Germany in this war would have inconceivable and terrible consequences. The first concern of every German is not the military victory of Bolshevism, but the defeat of National Socialism. This must be the first order of business; its greater imperative will be discussed in one of our forthcoming leaflets.

And now every resolute opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can most effectively fight against the present “state”, how he can inflict the most damaging blows. Through passive resistance, without a doubt. We can provide each man with a blueprint for his acts; we can only make general suggestions, and he alone will find the best way to achieve them.

Sabotage armament industries, sabotage every assembly, rally, ceremony, and organisation sponsored by the National Socialist Party. Obstruct the smooth functioning of the war machine (a machine designed for war that is then used solely to shore up and perpetuate the National Socialist Party and its dictatorship.) Sabotage in every scientific and intellectual field involved in continuing this war—whether it be universities, technical colleges, laboratories, research stations, or technical agencies. Sabotage all cultural institutions that could enhance the “prestige” of the fascists among he people. Sabotage all branches of the arts that have even the slightest dependence on National Socialism or serve it in any way. Sabotage all publications, all newspapers, that are in the pay of the “government” and that defend its ideology and help disseminate the brown lie. Do not give a penny to public fund-raising drives (even when they are conducted under the guise of charity), for this is only a cover. In reality the proceeds help neither the Red Cross nor the needy. The government does not need this money; it is not financially interested in these fund-raising drives. After all, the presses run nonstop, printing as much paper currency as is needed. But the people must never be allowed to slacken! Do not contribute to the collection of metal, textiles and the like. Try to convince all your acquaintances, including those in the lower social classes, of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists, of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to adopt passive resistance.

Aristotle, Politics: “Further….[a tyrant] should also endeavor to know what each of his subjects says, or does, and should employ spies everywhere…and further, to create disunity and division in the population: to set friend against friend, the common people against the notables, and the wealthy among themselves. Also he should impoverish his subjects; the maintenance of guards and soldiers is thus paid for by the people, who are forced to work hard and have neither the time nor the opportunity to conspire against him…Another practice of tyrants is to increase taxes, after the manner of Dionysius at Syracuse, who contrived that his subjects paid all their wealth into the treasury within five years. The tyrant is also inclined to engage in constant warfare in order to occupy and distract his subjects.

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as possible and pass them on!

abbott

According to the national Australian newspaper today, Australian PM Tony Abbot and his senior advisers seriously floated the idea that Australia attack IS in northern Iraq on our own with 3,500 troops.

In our opinion, that he could even think it, even in passing – even, if as charitably as we could put it, he was simply “floating options” – this lunatic suggestion proves him manifestly unsuited to high office. Blind Freddie could see that anything remotely resembling that action would be a suicide mission.

Personally we wouldn’t let him run a kindergarten, let alone a country.

How seriously Abbott considered the idea is hard to tell, but the story continues that this is not the first time Abbott has suggested committing troops to a boots on the ground deployment that the military planners had to hose down. He also apparently suggested that 1,000 Aussie men and women be sent to guard the site of the MH17 Malaysian airliner shot down over the Ukraine which killed 38 Aussies.

According to the Australian “leading military planners” had to point out to him that not speaking Russian or Ukrainian would have made their task just a tad tricky, and also that they would have had difficulty distinguishing between rebel and government troops.

The fact that they could have become embroiled in the conflict itself might have been a cautionary note, one supposes, although the story does not expand on that.

That somebody so ludicrously gung-ho could lead our Government and by implication our armed services is, surely, truly and deeply worrying. We can’t imagine your average service Joe or Josephine would be very happy at the news, nor their families and friends.

According to “insiders” quoted by the newspaper, Abbott sits for much of his day in Parliament House pondering national security, Islamic State, and reading Winston Churchill. A someone who is “weak on detail”, perhaps that’s an area he feels safe handling. Today’s revelations suggest his focus should be shifted elsewhere – fast.

The rest of the story by John Lyons, an Associate Editor of the paper, details in excruciatingly close focus the dysfunctionality of the current government, including ripping the coverings away from his much-disliked Chief of Staff Peta Credlin with a clarity we have not seen before, and how completely out of his depth Abbott seems to be.

And, of course, the near-inevitability of his replacement by the urbane and competent Malcolm Turnbull, which we have been predicting since before Abbott was even elected Prime Minister, for exactly the reasons that are now becoming so obviously clear.

But this latest revelation, we confess, has shocked even us, and we are old, wizened and cynical observers of the body politic indeed, Dear Reader.

What we wonder now is whether today’s revelations – carried, after all, in an outlet which is notable for its previous support of Abbott and the conservative side of politics generally – might be the final straw. Has a Murdoch-owned paper skewered yet another Prime Minister? We shall see.

You can read the “Exclusive” story in today’s paper. Online it requires you to subscribe – a detestable development in newspapers in our opinion – so we suggest you simply go and buy the paper.

As for when the axe should fall on the woeful Abbott, we can only urge the Liberal caucus to act. Enough is enough. We all know this is coming – get it done so the country can move forward.

It should be noted Abbott has subsequently denied the article. Does he really think anyone will believe him?

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/feb/21/tony-abbott-wanted-australian-ground-troops-in-iraq-reports

We have listened to his denial and are very doubtful.

As many commentators have noted, the Labor attack on Tony Abbott is carrying on with one hand tied behind its back. The restraint is easily explained. They don’t want Abbott going anywhere while his brand is so toxic. They know Tony Abbott is their best chance at springing an electoral suprise and winning the next election, and the last thing they want is to face the much more popular, amenable and centrist Malcolm Turnbull. Which is why, in Question Time yesterday, they bizarrely focused much of their attention on Turnbull, not Abbott. Attention which, it should be noted, Turnbull deflected with much more wit and aplomb than Abbott has been handling such matters recently.

Which is why the general public – who are heartily sick of Abbott – need to insist that the media and their politicians ask Abbot this question repeatedly until they get a decent answer, or until Abbott steps down or is pushed off his perch.

Almost three years ago, Tony Abbott, then-Opposition leader, rose in parliament to ask Julia Gillard a question that could and should come back to bite him in the coming days.

Ms Gillard had just faced down the first challenge from Kevin Rudd, who had days earlier resigned from his post as Foreign Minister and then announced he was running for the top job.

Gillard won the leadership ballot, 71-31. It was then Mr Abbott asked the fateful question.

“Given that one third of her parliamentary colleagues and a quarter of her cabinet colleagues have today expressed their lack of confidence in her, how can she claim to have a mandate to continue as Prime Minister?” he asked.

Well now Mr Abbott finds himself in a strikingly similar situation.

At #thespill the motion to unseat Abbott brought by West Australian Liberal MPs Luke Simpkins and Don Randall was defeated 61-39. So while the spill was averted, it still indicates almost 40 per cent of his colleagues had lost faith in the PM. A question repeatedly put to him last night by Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report, and repeatedly ignored by the embattled PM.

Liberal backbenchers say they have sent a powerful message to Tony Abbott that they want to be consulted and policies need to change. And Mr Abbott said in a brief statement in a video message after the vote that the matter had been resolved.

“We want to end the disunity and the uncertainty which destroyed two Labor governments and give you the good government that you deserve,” Mr Abbott said.

The question to be asked is simple: How can you possibly struggle on when your own party is utterly split over your leadership? We cannot rely on Bill Shorten and his cohorts to hammer home that question in the coming days and weeks, yet it is the question that demands an answer.

Meanwhile, Abbott’s essential nature (and his nervousness) is revealed yet again in two more glaring examples yesterday. The first was the panicky “Captain’s Pick” to throw open the submarine tender – on the day that he ruled out any more Captain’s Picks for a while. The leopard has not changed its spots at all, apparently. The second was his appallingly laughable assertion that “Good Government Starts Here”, which led, entirely predictably to the blogosphere, twittersphere, and main media asking the obvious question. “What have we had for the last 500 days then?’ The glee at such rampant idiocy was hardly restrained.

We have a message for the Prime Minister. This isn’t over by a long chalk, yet.

AbbottWell, yes and no.

In our long article yesterday afternoon we opined that Abbott would not be Prime Minister by this evening. Yet he survived the party room spill 61 votes to 39 (with one spoiled ballot, and one MP away, out of the Liberal total of 101 MPs). So “Yes”, in that sense, we were wrong.

However we were much more right than wrong in picking the terminal nature of Abbott’s leadership. The short story is, this deeply disliked man is now finished as PM.

As we said in our final para, no Prime Minister can effectively govern the country when 40% of his MPs actively want him replaced, and when even some of those who voted for him are reported as having done so out of a sense of loyalty to give Abbott “a few more months” to pull things round, but without any real confidence that he will.

As this article reveals, Abbott is apparently shell-shocked at the scale of the revolt against him. His speech to the party room after 39 of his colleagues effectively tried to sack him was apparently one of a man who has been shaken to the core.

What’s more, Abbott now has to endure two horrible moments in the next 24 hours.

First, he has agreed to front Leigh Sales on tonight’s 7.30 Report. It’s a foolish move, because Sales has had the measure of Abbott before, and predictably will again. Of all the TV journalists working she is unlikely to let him get away with trotting out a list of platitudes and non-specific promises about future changes which he can get away with more easily during a “door stop”. We confidently expect Sales to tear him to shreds over his very poor performance in recent weeks, and in the spill vote, and the fact that today’s media agenda is now that he is a “Dead Man Walking”.

On the other hand, the PM is between a rock and a hard place. The 7.30 Report is the country’s leading current affairs programme. To have avoided the appearance would have made him look weak and cowardly.

Second, he has to go into the Parliament to face the derision of the Labor Opposition and the Greens, although that Opposition may be somewhat muted by the bizarre calculation that they want Abbott to struggle on – even right up to the next election – rather than face Turnbull instead. Nevertheless, the atmospherics will be unpleasant in the extreme and cannot help Abbott to look like anything more than he is, which is mortally wounded.

Today’s opinion polls also bear out what we were talking about yesterday. Abbott’s “brand” is utterly toxic with the public. Ultimately, MPs in his party room will make a hard-headed judgement that their seat is at risk if Abbott stays, and likely to be retained if Turnbull takes over. It’s Hawke and Keating all over again, although we would be surprised if Turnbull were to retire to the backbench in the interim. He has carefully avoided challenging Abbott directly. To his eyes, the “two step” process is working just fine.

abbott angryAbbott’s instincts will be to stay on and fight. The man is aggressive and ambitious to the very tips of his bedsocks, and he took a long time to get to the top of the greasy pole.

He will grimly hold on, hoping against hope that he can turn things around, until he can present himself as a credible leader again.

In the meantime, he will make noises about being more collegiate, while continuing to just do whatever he feels like, in reality, just as with today’s announcement on the submarine tender, which even caught the leading South Australian Liberal Christopher Pyne unawares. Pyne is one of Abbott’s “lock-step” supporters – what does it say about Abbott’s leadership skills that he didn’t even ring Pyne – or get someone else to – to tip him the wink before the news broke?

In reality – and this won’t happen, although it should – having lost control of the best part of half of the party room, Abbott should now retire the Prime Ministership and hand it to the much more popular Turnbull. If he did, he would go down in history as a man who – with vision and dignity – genuinely put his own ambitions behind those of his party, and the country generally. If he did, he could still make a decent fist of a major Ministry, if he chose to. He is still a young man: this does not have to be the end of his public service.

If he does not, everyone understands that – barring a miraculous turn in fortunes – he will have to be dragged bloodied and screaming from the top job, suffering the death of a thousand leaks and endless behind the scene briefings and “less than enthusiastic” endorsements from those who would really rather see him gone. And in the meantime, the Liberal brand will continue to be tarnished, and his replacement will be given less and less time to turn things around.

Every fibre of Abbott’s being will urge him to fight on, but those closest to him, and his coterie of sycophantic acolytes in particular, should do the right thing and tap him on the shoulder and tell him to go now. They might recall Cromwell’s historic call to the Rump Parliament in 1653.

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

He is the lamest of lame ducks. And comedians and commentators will not hesitate to brand him as such. Have a look here at one brilliant skewering of his current situation from John Clarke and Brian Dawe.

Sadly, their performance in recent months suggests they will have nothing like either the guts or integrity to shirtfront Abbott and do so.

And so the game commences.

Tony-Abbott-Wink

There are a number of reasons Tony Abbott will no longer be Prime Minister after tomorrow, and some of them are linked.

Offending your deputy. Offending half your backbench. Offending great lumps of the Australian public.

But the main reason is really quite simple. He is very obviously, as far as any elector can tell, just not a very nice man.

Being considered a nice person is a much under-rated trait in politicians, as it is in the most walks of life in the body of the population.

Most of the really powerful and successful people we have met – and we have met more than our fair share over the years – have had a few things in common. They are usually personally charming, they exhibit humility, they have “the common touch” whatever their station in life, and they genuinely care about other people’s lives. Or at the very least, they seem to.

There are other characteristics, too. They tend to be ferociously hard workers, and they maintain a sense of perspective. Sometimes things will go wrong, sometimes they will go right, but there is never a reason to be nasty, or essentially unethical. Push the envelope, don’t rip it to shreds.

They have some advantages, of course. In the realms of the uber-powerful or the uber-wealthy, the rules that the rest of us find ourselves tied up in knots in don’t normally apply.

They don’t get caught drink driving, because they have drivers. They don’t end up in jail for tax fraud because they pay top dollar to stop that happening. And anyway, their affairs are so convoluted that the tax office doesn’t really want to look too closely, stretched for resources to prosecute cases as they always are.

They don’t seem as stressed as we do because they don’t queue for airline seats and the seats they buy are more comfortable. They don’t spend a day trying to negotiate a ticketing system to see a top show or sporting event, because their personal assistant gets them a seat in the Director’s Box, where they are always welcome because of their referred authority. Their holidays, such as they are, are smoother, more private, less noisy, less hassle, and more satisfactory. And if for some reason they aren’t, they throw money or influence at the problem.

But despite all this privilige, most truly successful people have an astounding ability to drop down to our level and chat amiably about our latest problem with an internet provider, how our local supermarket has stopped stocking our favourite fruit juice, or the problems we are having with our teenage progeny. It may be that they remember when they, too, were mere hoi polloi, or it may be that they recognise that while success is nice to have, it rests on the common consent of those around them.

There is a reason all those Godfathers in American hoodlum movies are seen kissing babies and helping little old ladies as they parade down the street in Little Italy. It’s good for business. And keen observers of human nature as all successful people are, they work at it until it comes naturally.

This is not to say they are all paragons. Clearly they are not.

Some drink too much, either in binges or habitually.

The most significant politician in 20th century history, Winston Churchill consumed at least a bottle of brandy a day. People in Melbourne still talk in hushed tones of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s capacity for the grog, even though he had the discipline to give it up when high office beckoned.

Some are sexually wayward. A bunch of Australian Prime Ministers have been enthusiastic adulterers, (the laws of libel dictate discretion here), and all the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, and Bill Clinton also come to mind without much effort. Francoise Hollande, for that matter.

Yes, powerful businesspeople run foul of the law with some regularity, especially in civil court. But rather than rant and rave at their misfortune, they merely view it as a sort of occupational hazard. A bit like the rest of us view parking tickets.

So they aren’t really like us, no matter where they started out. But in general, in our experience, it is the capacity to simply get on with people that marks the truly successful from the also rans.

Some time ago, we wrote a blog that talked about the demise of Kevin Rudd, which we titled “Kevin Rudd has his Lee Iaccoca moment”. In it, we explained that Rudd’s disonnection from the leadership of the Australian Labor Party rested entirely on his near-maniacal control freakery, which caused the distrust of those around him, (and it went back a decade), and an acid tongue which hurt people’s feelings. In simple terms, he failed the likeability test.

Yes, Rudd had the capacity to be chirpy and chipper and even make us laugh with his obvious erudition and quick wit, especially in public. Sadly, though, no one near him, or very few indeed, actually liked him. More than one political groupie muttered in our hearing that they thought he was unhinged. He was better liked in the public, mainly the first time round because he wasn’t John Howard, but he wasn’t really mourned when he left the leadership either the first or the second time, when, of course, he was only returned to the top job because he wasn’t Julia Gillard.

There were very few people rushing to lift his head away from the block when the axe started to fall in the initial leadership putsch that so reminds us of what’s happening in Canberra tomorrow. And he simply  couldn’t believe it. Him! Kev! The smiling Milky Bar kid, the good Christian, the clever little bugger who overcame adversity, and the man who beat John Howard. Who could chat to the Chinese Premier in Mandarin, no less.

He didn’t get it then, tears in his eyes at the enormity of the disaster, and probably still doesn’t now.

Political leaders need to understand something central to their careers. Not being someone – Beazely, Gillard, Rudd, Howard, Turnbull, anyone – isn’t a good enough reason to keep the top job. It might get you there, but then we want more. We want their capacity to be “not them” to turn into someone we can grow to support in their own right.

Was or is Rudd unhinged as the whisperers asserted? We suspect not. Personalities come in all shapes and sizes and types, and labelling someone barmy is just code for “not like most people”. It doesn’t really matter. But some character aspects were certainly publicly observable. Capricious when it came to policy announcements? Unshakeable certitude? Breathless cynicism? Two faced? Rudd was accused of all that by colleagues and more. Similarly, not for nothing is Abbot often referred to as “The Mad Monk”, and not just because he was a Roman Catholic seminarian at one point. People can be very harsh to those they personally dislike. Both to his face (reputedly) and to the media, Tony Abbott has had to endure a repeated theme from his colleagues in the last week.

“You’ve done this to yourself.” The phrase was no doubt delivered with some relish.

Exactly like Rudd, he has a terrible aptitude for making it up as he goes along, and his basic error has been his own over-weening self belief, expressed in an arrogant disregard for the real world outside his personal office bubble, and the Canberra bubble generally. We are not talking about mere self-confidence or a healthy regard for his own abilities. All leaders, in all spheres, need that. Abbott’s major problem has been the apparent impossibility of his genuinely (as opposed to begrudgingly) believing he could be wrong about … well, about anything, much, really. From the outside looking in, it feels like “collegiate” is a word that he only discovered last Monday.

And his righteous self-belief has been expressed with such vehemence that he has carved out a hard-edged role for himself that is so acutely defined that now he simply can’t escape it. He has created an image of himself that has become reality, inside him, and externally.

When Abbott was tearing down Julia Gillard, and just out-waiting the hapless Rudd when he returned as PM, people in general – the mug punters, you and me – even if they agreed with the need to get the Labor Governmet out before it made any more mis-steps, turned their head away from the spectacle in hand-over-the-mouth disgust at his tactics.

The people of Australia wanted the Labor Government gone so badly that their swallowed the reflux bile rising in their breasts and their concerns. But Abbott crucially mistook this mass real politik for “taking the country with him”. (Which is why his current desperate appeal is based around “the country elected me to lead our party and the Government”, which is a nonsense, of course. The country elected the Libs and the Nats because Labor needed to be flung out. They got Abbott as part of the package.)

With each prating, carping, negative act of savagery while Opposition Leader Abbott not only damaged Gillard but also his own long-term public persona. He should have seen a warning, for example, in the general head-nodding agreement – not just in Australia, but worldwide – when Gillard tore into him in the Parliament for what she characterised as his innate misogyny and sexism. People then, and now, felt sorry for Gillard, sensing that her competence might be in question, and certainly her political judgement and presentation, but also perceiving that there was a clear goal to damn her simply as a woman holding the top job.

The continual focus on her looks and dress sense in the rabid right media pack that Abbott did nothing to hose down, for example. Abbott standing and sneering in front of lunatics carrying “Ditch the Bitch” signs – such a specifically unpleasant anti-female expression – knowing full well that the TV cameras would film him grinning from ear to ear in front of them.

And then, the feeling grew, by implication, event by event, that Abbott just doesn’t like women generally, or at the very least holds views better suited to the 1950s.

Where were the women in his Cabinet? With one exception, nowhere.

His later insistence, as Prime Minister, that successful Foreign Minister Julie Bishop needed a Ministerial chaperone to the climate change conference in Peru was just one recent example of a continuing round of mis-steps in this area, and his refusal to accept her offer of help with his under-whelming National Press Club performance was just the latest, along with his clumsy and offensive co-opting of her support for his staying in the top job, only to be shot down a few hours later by a cool and clearly angered Bishop.

And during all this growing female angst, what was Abbott’s response to his enlarging personal “gender gap”? To announce a completely ill-thought through paid parental leave scheme as a “top of the head” sop to working women, that was derided as shooting from the hip and likely to be unaffordable the day it was announced, to gasps of despair from his own supporters.

Women from all walks of life noted that they didn’t need more money so they could stay home and bake cookies for a while, they needed childcare places so they could continue to pursue their career. Until last week, it appeared no-one could hear them.

And at a stroke, with “PPL”, Abbott skewered his own budget position with what looked like yet more Howardesque middle class welfare, and forced the Coalition into the position of “soaking the poor” to balance the books. It took Abbott 16 months to realise his mistake, and then his grudging retraction of the patently unworkable policy was mealy-mouthed. Tone deaf, as always.

Yet as he watches his colleagues say one thing to his face and then do another as they cast their private ballots, we would be very surprised if Abbott has any real understanding of what is happening to him. Well, we have a primer for him.

The very same people that don’t want unfettered flows of refugees into Australia also don’t want those refugees left floating about in the bowels of a navy vessel for weeks, or consigned to misery in tropical concentration camps, reduced to psychological illness, self harm, or worse. The first is an appeal to commonsense and good governance. The second is mean-minded and cruel. That our Government doesn’t seem to care about the latter upsets many more people than just those on the left.

Similarly, there may be no pressing mood for Australia to become a Republic. Australians are deeply small-c conservative most of the time, and if something’s working OK, such as our constitutional arrangements, we’re pretty much happy to leave it alone.

But we do like Australia for the Australians – we detest knee-bending to the Poms in general, and royalty in particular, with the exception, perhaps, just a little, in the case of the Queen herself, who is widely admired. The “in itself unimportant” decision to knight Prince Phillip – the decision to bring back knighthoods at all, in fact – made us feel like the whole country was a laughing stock.

That Abbott couldn’t have predicted this goes precisely to his inability to feel himself part of the herd, even momentarily or occasionally. His later embarrassed admission that his action had been a “distraction” during the disastrous Queensland election showed no sign that he really understood that he made us all feel faintly ridiculous, and as we hadn’t done anything wrong, well, that he could swallow all that, thank you very much.

It is often said that a politician can survive anything but ridicule. The ridicule that swamped Abbott in the days after the announcement revealed with stark, lightning-bright clarity one unmistakeable fact. And it is this.

We really don’t like him. This wasn’t a “Silly boy, oh well, all’s well that ends well” moment. This was a “You complete fuckwit” moment. His inability to truly take that on board in a convincing manner only made the whole sorry saga worse.

But his real problem – the one that will see him dumped – has been the gung ho manner in which he has chosen to address a “fiscal crisis” that the public simply doesn’t perceive. Backing his even more socially inept Treasurer at every turn, he foisted on the public a panicky, poorly presented and savagely deflationary budget (the only thing missing was the word austerity) that no one understands or wants, and then utterly failed to sell it.

Meandering between a self-satisfied “I know more than you do” smirk and a frowning, headmasterish “you need this” assertiveness, he managed in just a few short weeks – ably assisted by his tin-eared Treasurer – to offend just about every “ordinary voter” in sight.

As Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian yesterday, “The Abbott-Hockey fiscal consolidation is undermined by a popular revolt, Senate vandalism and election results that prove the public is unpersuaded of the case for reform.”

In this sentence, Kelly of course uses the word popular to mean “widespread” or generalised. But in fact, the core problem for Abbott is deeper than that. Not only is the broad mass of the public unconvinced of his policies, and therefore acting up, we are also communally delighting in watching Abbott being dragged bloodily from the throne. The revolution is popular. It is also popular.

In suburban households up and down the country, Madam Lafarge is click-clacking with her knitting circle in joyous expectation that Abbott’s head will soon tumble into the basket in front of them.

We. Just. Don’t. Like. Him. One too many (or perhaps a few thousand too many) ums and errs. One too many refusals to take responsibility. One too many unpleasant little jabs or full-blown haymakers. One too many unblinking cold stares.

Dear Reader, we have been on this planet 57 years, and since the age of 16 we have been actively involved in politics, current affairs or commentary to some degree or other, including even – once – facing the general public for endorsement ourselves.

Our fascination with ballot-box politics has seen us read, experience and learn voraciously everything that has passed our way from the minority governments of Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and the miners, Margaret Thatcher and the miners, Jim Callaghan’s winter of discontent, the breaking of union power in the UK, Thatcher and Reagan staring down Gorbacev, the Blair “Noo Labour”revolution, the failure of American policy in the mid-East from Reagan and Carter onwards, the near-perpetual antagonism of Howard and Peacock, the glittering landscape of micro-economic reform under Hawke, Keating and Kelty, the near-collapse of democratic Government in Italy, and now in Greece, the demise of fascism in Spain and Portugal and their current struggles to retain good governance, the economic miracle of Germany and its internally-mutually-supportive PR-based politics and worker-inclusive industry, the stumbling from economic powerhouse to economic stagnant pond in Japan, the growth and gradual opening of China (where we have done business, and a country we admire), the Asian tiger phenomenon, the descent of Central America into chaos and murderous civil conflict and it’s slow recovery, and, of course, the adventurism of Iraq and Afghanistan. All of it. We hoover it all up.

Which is why we feel it helpful to say that in all that time, and with all that political junkie obsessivenes, we have never – never – experienced such generalised dislike of a democratically-elected politician as we now experience in our daily life whenever Tony Abbott’s name is discussed. Irregardless of whether we are talking to ironed on Labor voters, Liberals, Nats or Greens, the man simply cannot buy a good word from anyone. He is no longer even seen as a necessary evil. The people have spoken, daily, for months and months, if not, in reality, for years.

We just don’t like him. We just don’t like him, a lot.

With his leadership lying in the hands of a group of people who would rather like to keep their jobs after the next election, that is why he is about to lose the Prime Ministership. Not because (as will be said afterwards) he attempted the hard yards of economic reform. But because he royally fucked it up.

As Grace Collar remarked yesterday (also in the Oz) “Trust and confidence have been lost. One decision has already been made. This government – in its present form – and the Australian people have parted ways. This decision is final. It cannot be undone, no matter what. No appeal can occur.”

People don’t like Tony Abbott. His own people don’t even like him. They may even hate him.

Malcom Turnbull, it will be noted by observant readers, is likeable.

And in politics, that, as they have been known to say, is that.

PS Even if Abbott somehow survives tomorrow – we dont think he will, but he might – he is doomed. The votes against him will reveal a very significant section of his party no longer believe in him. That is an impossible position for a Prime Minister to take to the people in 18 months or less. He has to win big – huge – to survive, and he’s not going to. Simple as that. You heard it here first.

Whenever there is a terrorist outrage, we often hear a call in the West for “Muslims to condemn the terrorists”.

This faux anger at the worldwide Muslim community (once has to wonder at the motivation for it) ignores the very obvious fact that hundreds of thousands of Muslims are actively involved in the fight against IS, (and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well), and also the oft-ignored fact that opinion in the Muslim world is as diverse as in any other multi-faceted community.

One of my favourite saying is “put two Jews in a room and get three opinions.” Exactly the same could be said of Muslims. The idea that Islam is one great monolithic set of beliefs or attitudes is simply nonsensical.

The West and Islam are often shown to be in conflict, largely because of the vitriolic propaganda and appalling actions of small but effective numbers of people allied to IS, Al Qaeda and others. But the fact is that an existential conflict is actually underway for the soul of Islam throughout the Middle East and beyond and we forget that the vast majority of violence in the area is Muslim versus Muslim.

Al-Azhar University

Al-Azhar University

Anyway, it would be hard to imagine a more trenchant response from the Muslim community to the latest outrage from IS than that which we have seen from Jordan in the last 24 hours, including what seems to have been a very effective air raid against extremist positions, and then this AFP report from Cairo: Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious centre of learning, has expressed outrage at the (Sunni) Islamic State group for burning to death a captive Jordanian pilot, saying its militants deserve to be killed or crucified.

Ahmed al Tayeb

Ahmed al Tayeb

After a video was released showing the caged fighter pilot, Maaz al-Kassasbeh, dying engulfed in flames, the Cairo-based authority’s head, Ahmed al-Tayib, expressed his “strong dismay at this cowardly act”.

This “requires the punishment mentioned in the Koran for these corrupt oppressors who fight against God and his prophet: killing, crucifixion or chopping of the limbs.”

“Islam forbids killing of the innocent human soul … It forbids mutilating the human soul by burning or in any other way even during wars against an enemy that attacks you,” Tayib added in a statement.

US "spy" crucified in Yemen

US “spy” crucified in Yemen

Ironically, IS itself has implemented such punishments against its own members for robbery at checkpoints or stealing funds from religious endowments in territories controlled by the group in Iraq and Syria. Jihadist group Ansar al-Shariah have also crucified “US sympathisers” in Yemen.

Despite the efforts of some to paint it otherwise, IS and other groups are regarded as deluded, mad and evil by millions of Muslims.

To say otherwise is, quite simply, to lie.

firing squad

 

A few weeks back, Indonesia executed five “drug mules”, including a woman. Executions in Indonesia are customarily carried out by firing squad and that was the case here.

The executions reflect the “tough on drugs” stance of the new Indonesian President. Of particular interest to Australians is that two citizens (members of the so-called “Bali 9″) who intended to import heroin to Australia are also scheduled to be executed together soon, despite having very obviously become rehabilitated while in prison in Bali, to the extent that the Governor of their prison has argued they should not be executed. A final appeal has been refused, and the executions could occur any day now, at 72 hours notice to the condemned.

The appeal was based on the simple argument that the two individuals, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, have been thoroughly rehabilitated in the ten years they have been in jail. Chan is training for the priesthood and does fine work helping fellow prisoners in his Bali jail. Sukumaran has developed into a fine artist and teaches painting to his fellow prisoners. Neither pose any threat to society. Executing them is entirely a matter of revenge, or internal Indonesian politics.

The two have now apparently penned a desperate letter from death row, begging the Indonesian government to spare them as they run out of options to avoid the firing squad, planned for the next two weeks.

Their friend, Pastor Matius Arif, says the pair are ‘very sad’ their bid for a judicial review was rejected in the courts on Wednesday.

He read an open letter – handwritten by Sukumaran and addressed to the Indonesian government, signed by both Australians – to reporters outside Kerobokan jail on Thursday. It argues they are more useful alive as they work to rehabilitate other prisoners.

‘We beg for moratorium so we can have chance to serve Indonesia community (sic)’ the letter says.

Mr Matius said: ‘There’s so many testimonies about what they’re doing inside. I also personally request the government to make a special commission or a special team to investigate what they’re doing inside.’

The team should then report on the rehab programs to the president, he said.

The application for a judicial review detailed the work of Chan, 31, and Sukumaran, 33, to assist others through chaplaincy and art programs.

Denpasar District Court determined it didn’t meet the ‘new evidence’ criteria for a review.

It was the last legal option for the pair, who have been denied clemency by President Joko Widodo.

Barrister Julian McMahon says their team is still examining the options after Wednesday’s setback.

‘At the moment our Indonesian lawyers are reviewing the decision made yesterday which was called a stipulation, which prevented us from proceeding with that appeal, and obviously while any legal options that have value remain open we will pursue them’ he told Sky News.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, too, says diplomatic efforts to save them are continuing.

‘We are not going to engage in last-minute, megaphone diplomacy but I just want to assure people that the Australian government has left no stone unturned to try to ensure that these two Australians on death row have their sentences commuted,’ he said.

The men’s families visited Kerobokan jail again on Thursday, with Sukumaran’s brother Chintu wrapping his arm around their mother Raji.

In any event, in our opinion, using the death penalty to fight drug usage is unhelpful.

The “purely” legal arguments

Firstly, the act goes against a number of international law standards (to which Indonesia is a party) which argue that drug trafficking does not meet the standard of exceptionally severe crimes that warrant the imposition of the death penalty. Despite widespread support for the death penalty for drug crime in Indonesia, this point has been made in an opinion piece in the Jakarta Times last month. (An impressive example of how far this once authoritarian society has come in recent years.) Typically, such crimes include the death of another person – murder. Whilst many would argue that drug trafficking can contribute to the deaths of the eventual drug users, a straight line cannot be drawn between the act of drug trafficking and any individual death.

Secondly, for a dug criminal to be captured it follows that their drugs were interdicted. As the drugs never reached their target market, no one was harmed. One cannot execute someone for the possibility of having caused harm had the drugs got through.

The social arguments

Drug mules are often individuals who suffer from addiction themselves, and are vulnerable individuals who are desperate for money to feed their own habits. Whilst this is regrettable, it has a lower level of criminal culpability than those, for example, who manufacture the drugs or mastermind their distribution. What’s more, their own drug addiction should be viewed as a health issue: a matter for treatment, not punishment.

The real drug kingpins almost never appear in court. Too many cut outs exist between them and their mules. That they are allowed to go free (often protected by substantial political and judicial influence achieved through bribery with the very money generated by their own mules) is detestable. We cannot have one law for the rich and one for the poor.

Similarly, if they are ever ensnared in the judicial system, they can use their power to avoid severe punishment, an opportunity not available to their workers. For law to contribute to a more just society, it must be levied justly and equally or society itself becomes corrupted.

Last but by no means least, there is no evidence that the death penalty provides a deterrent against drug trafficking. Convictions for trafficking have increased in Indonesia despite recent cases of the death penalty being imposed. More than 50 persons currently sit on death row in Indonesia because of drug offences.

So what should we do?

The solution to the drug problem is two-pronged.

First, we should attack the source of the drugs – go after the owners and managers of the drug cartels rather than their soldiers. this need not only be via head on assault – identifying and confiscating their wealth would make the business notably less attractive. Significantly greater resources should be devoted to this effort.

Second, we should dramatically increase the health-based treatment of “hard” drug users in Western society, offering them treatment options which reduce demand for heroin, cocaine and amphetamines. While demand exists, the free market will find ways to meet it. One entirely sensible move would be to decriminalise (note, not legalise) these drugs and dispense them via the pharmacy profession, which would break the nexus between traffickers and also reduce death due to overdose and allow health education to and intervention with addicts. This approach is widely regarded to have been extremely successful in Portugal.

Sadly, such moves are far less dramatic or newsworthy than tying people to a pole and shooting them. As always, politics is likely to win out over commonsense.

And in the meantime, those on death row and their families and friends go through the torments of hell wondering whether their sentences will, in fact, be carried out, and when. Such psychological torture is unconscionable in an advanced society.

american_sniperOver the last couple of weeks a number of people have been pushing us to go and see American Sniper and then to tell everyone what we think.

The film – which enjoyed the largest-grossing weekend for a movie ever when it launched in the USA – has divided opinion. Basically the left intelligentsia and many of those watching the film overseas have condemned it as at best simplistic and at worst American triumphalism, while some on the right have trumpeted it as a return to good ol’ USA values in movie making and a celebration of a folk hero.

We suspect the assumption is that, given our well-understood political preferences, we will immediately lapse into an anti-American rant full of left-wing certainty that the project is little more than an exercise in gung ho Tea Party patriotism and yet another example of director Clint Eastwood’s rightwards drift in his old age, epitomised by his dreadful Republican Convention discussion with an empty chair.

Actually, our reaction was much different.

As both its Oscar-nominated maker and Bradley Cooper have argued, the piece is above all a closely observed discussion of the effect of war on an individual who measures his life by some fairly simple yardsticks – love of country, love of family, and distaste for bullies. Some will be put off from seeing the film because of its subject matter. That would be a mistake.

Chris Kyle and his wife

Chris Kyle and his wife

Christopher Scott “Chris” Kyle was a United States Navy SEAL and the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills. Kyle served four tours in the Iraq War and was awarded several commendations for acts of heroism and meritorious service in combat.

Iraqi insurgents dubbed him the “Devil of Ramadi” and placed a series of ever increasing bounties on his head, purported to have eventually reached the low six figures.

Kyle was honourably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2009 and wrote a bestselling autobiography, American Sniper, which was published in January 2012. On February 2, 2013, Kyle was shot and killed at a shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas, by a fellow veteran he was seeking to aid, along with friend Chad Littlefield. Their killer is awaiting trial.

We suspect that much of the criticism of the film is based on the shock that it is presented in very spare tones. It is brutal. Elemental. Nowhere to hide from the subject matter. For those who prefer their war neatly packaged on the nightly news and with the blood and guts removed, this movie will be confronting, indeed.

mother boy

There is no attempt to gloss over the utter nastiness of war for the ordinary soldier. Indeed, quite the opposite. War is not presented as a cheery exercise for America or Americans, or anyone. It is shown in all its bloody reality. When Kyle shoots a young boy carrying a grenade, and then his mother (or sister, it isn’t clear), the horrific nature of the moment is presented with stark realism. The fact that it is his first “kill”  is explored in a few simple sentences when he later returns to barracks. His regret at the incident is expressed exactly as a working soldier would express it – he hadn’t wanted his first engagement with the enemy to be like that. His colleague closes down discussion with the ultimate justification. Kyle had saved his colleagues’ lives. That was his job. Job done. Move on.

The film makes no attempt to consider why a young woman and a young boy would be running up a street holding a hand grenade to try and slaughter American soldiers. It neither justifies nor condemns their action. The reason is clear: that’s not what Eastwood is examining. On the other hand, it is also a simple and effective way to encapsulate that the war in Iraq was also about a war with the local population, not just hardened Jihadist fighters.

If this movie is about anything it is about the horror of war and the stoic determination to endure it in support of principles. One can question the principles – one can argue that America should never have been in Iraq, or even that Al-Zarquari and his hoodlum army were justified in fighting the invaders. That is to entirely miss the point. The movie is a character study, and it is engagingly effective in that study. Yes, naturally, it is viewing that study from the American perspective, but it makes no attempt to sanitise the reality of American actions, which were bloody. Because war is.

The movie also unflinchingly reveals the reality of the opposition the Americans faced – at times well organised, determined to the point of fanatical, but also frequently very cruel towards its own population. To reveal one of the film’s more gut wrenching scenes would be an unreasonable spoiler for those who have yet to see it, but it makes grim viewing. That it is likely to be entirely true is merely emphasised by the current barbarity of ISIS burning people alive, beheading, mass murder, raping and kidnapping, reducing populations to slavery and so forth.

Above all, despite lifting Chris Kyle up as a figure to be exemplified, (and the final scene sent everyone in this one Australian cinema out in to the streets in near silence), the film is an anti-war monologue. It would be hard to imagine a more immersive experience that could lead one to understand the reality of being in a fire fight in a dense urban area – in other words, what the fighters on both sides endured day after day for years.

One many occasions in the film one finds oneself gripping the arms of the cinema chair and wondering how any halfway sane person could ever return home and be able to pick up everyday life with any degree of equanimity. In that sense, Kyle’s own story is also an appeal for the United States to improve its treatment of its own vets – a disgraceful number of whom linger with untreated mental illness or languish in jails around the country.

Much has been made of the fact that it is somehow wrong to create a movie celebrating the life of a man who took 160 lives (at least 160 – that’s his “confirmed” total) in his role as a sniper. And to be sure, the publicity surrounding the movie trumpeting his role as the most lethal sniper in American history doesn’t sit at all easily with those who regret the loss of human life in conflicts.

But then again, what do people expect soldiers to do?

Apart from the very obvious fact that Kyle saved many more of his fellow soldier’s lives than he took – a point demonstrated clearly in the film – soldiers are employed to kill the enemy in combat. The operator of a drone or fighter-bomber will frequently “take out” many more people than Kyle did in four tours of duty.

american-sniper-is-not-an-army-recruitment-video

If we don’t want to deal squarely with what we ask men like Kyle to do, then we need to campaign against war, not individuals. Kyle is exemplified as a decent man who did what he felt his duty demanded of him, at great personal risk and cost to his family. He is shown warts and all – a tad simplistic, as capable of reducing the war to a slogan as anyone, an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances – which is a treatment that will be appreciated by all those who have served in a hot war zone. But throughout, his essential decency shines though, which is remarkable given that he is killing people for most of the film. His deep affection for his family is especially moving, and let it be said that Sienna Miller is excellent as his long-suffering and loyal wife.

American Sniper is anything but a recruitment video for the American armed forces, although sadly some will seek to ride its coat-tails and present it as such. In one particularly telling moment, while Stateside, Kyle is called a hero by a younger man. “That’s not a title anyone would want” he mutters in embarrassment, almost inaudibly.

And that, surely, is the real point of this remarkable film.

Other critical reaction

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “A taut, vivid and sad account of the brief life of the most accomplished marksman in American military annals, American Sniper feels very much like a companion piece — in subject, theme and quality — to The Hurt Locker.” Justin Chang of Variety gave the film a positive review, saying “Hard-wiring the viewer into Kyle’s battle-scarred psyche thanks to an excellent performance from a bulked-up Bradley Cooper, this harrowing and intimate character study offers fairly blunt insights into the physical and psychological toll exacted on the front lines, yet strikes even its familiar notes with a sobering clarity that finds the 84-year-old filmmaker in very fine form.” David Denby of The New Yorker gave the film a positive review, saying “Both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior’s skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery.” Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+, saying “The film’s just a repetition of context-free combat missions and one-dimensional targets.” Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News gave the film four out of five stars, saying “The best movies are ever-shifting, intelligent and open-hearted enough to expand alongside an audience. American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s harrowing meditation on war, is built on this foundation of uncommon compassion.” Amy Nicholson of LA Weekly gave the film a C-, saying “Cautiously, Eastwood has chosen to omit Kyle’s self-mythologizing altogether, which is itself a distortion of his character. We’re not watching a biopic.” Kyle Smith of the New York Post gave the film four out of five stars, saying “After 40 years of Hollywood counter-propaganda telling us war is necessarily corrupting and malign, its ablest practitioners thugs, loons or victims,American Sniper nobly presents the case for the other side.”

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying “Bradley Cooper, as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and director Eastwood salute Kyle’s patriotism best by not denying its toll. Their targets are clearly in sight, and their aim is true.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club gave the film a B, saying “American Sniper is imperfect and at times a little corny, but also ambivalent and complicated in ways that are uniquely Eastwoodian.” James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying “American Sniper lifts director Clint Eastwood out of the doldrums that have plagued his last few films.” Rafer Guzman of Newsday gave the film three out of four stars, saying “Cooper nails the role of an American killing machine in Clint Eastwood’s clear-eyed look at the Iraq War.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, saying “Eastwood’s impeccably crafted action sequences so catch us up in the chaos of combat we are almost not aware that we’re watching a film at all.” Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film three out of four stars, saying “It’s clearly Cooper’s show. Substantially bulked up and affecting a believable Texas drawl, Cooper embodies Kyle’s confidence, intensity and vulnerability.” Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out New York gave the film four out of five stars, saying “Just as only Nixon could go to China, only Clint Eastwood could make a movie about an Iraq War veteran and infuse it with doubts, mission anxiety and ruination.” Inkoo Kang of The Wrap gave the film a negative review, saying “Director Clint Eastwood‘s focus on Kyle is so tight that no other character, including wife Taya (Sienna Miller), comes through as a person, and the scope so narrow that the film engages only superficially with the many moral issues surrounding the Iraq War.”

Eastwood himself has commented that the movie is intended to be anti-war. 

Responding to critics that considered the film as excessively violent, as celebrating war, killing, and as jingoistic, Eastwood said that it is a stupid analysis and that the film has nothing to do with political parties. He stated: “I was a child growing up during World War II. That was supposed to be the one to end all wars. And four years later, I was standing at the draft board being drafted during the Korean conflict, and then after that there was Vietnam, and it goes on and on forever … I just wonder … does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t. So each time we get in these conflicts, it deserves a lot of thought before we go wading in or wading out. Going in or coming out. It needs a better thought process, I think.” Eastwood called American Sniper “the biggest anti-war statement any film can make,” and said that “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did” and “what it (war) does to the people left behind.” 

 

abbott angry

There is a scenario that could see embattled Aussie Prime Minister Tony Abbott overturned as quickly as next week.

This weekend, the election in Queensland will be a disaster for the governing Liberals, or as they are in Queensland, the merged Liberal National Party. Such an outcome is hard to imagine, given their massive majority in Brisbane, but disaster it will be nevertheless, in this most reliably conservative of conservative Australian states.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

We think it unlikely that the LNP will lose Government, although it is just possible. Labor needs to achieve a 12 per cent swing to gain 36 seats if it is to win a majority government and recent polls have put the party within striking distance. But we think the swing is likely to be nearer 8-10%, especially as we expect Newman to do marginally better than Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk in the leader’s debate in Brisbane at 1pm today.

In that case what will happen is their majority will be slashed and loads of their seats lost. And we expect their leader, Campbell Newman, to lose his seat, too. Already desperate right-wing constitutional nerds are taking to the airwaves to argue he can stay as leader even if he’s outside the Parliament, ignoring the obvious fact that his personal standing will have been effectively rubbished by such an outcome.

Given the scale of the debacle, the blame will inevitably be sheeted home to Abbott on analysis TV and all the major talk shows on radio, worsening the standing of a man who is now so noxiously unpopular that he was effectively banned from campaigning in Queensland during the election.

What will make the sting deep and enduring is that Palaszczuk’s campaign has focussed repeatedly on health and education – the very areas Abbott has been foolish enough to attack repeatedly at a Federal level. The contrast can hardly be more stark or more telling if the Queensland election plays out as we expect.

But amongst all this gloom, what is even worse is that Abbott is slated to talk to the influential National Press Club lunch on Monday immediately after all that sickening analysis.

abbott

“Eli eli, lama sabachthani?”

Never at his best when challenged publicly, there is no doubt that he will be embarrassedly umming and erring his way through a barrage of amused questions first of all keeping the “Why knight Prince Phillip?” hare running, (which he will seek, but fail, to deflect), but then, more importantly, questions seeking to pin the blame for the Victorian election, the Queensland election, and the Government’s low standing on him personally.

Speculation on his leadership will not be put to his ministers, as in the last few painful days, it will be put to him personally.

In response, he will seek to combattively state that, “Er, um, I will be taking our great party to the next election, I am focused on selling the Government’s successes”, and end up sounding, in other words, exactly like every other party leader has sounded just before they’re rolled. And reminding everyone that selling his Government’s “successes” is exactly – precisely – what he has failed to do.

There will be nowhere for him to hide from this grilling, (we could almost feel sorry for him if he had not brought this all down on his own head), and he will wilt under its blistering heat, looking ever more uncertain and strained as it wears on.

Journos in the audience will have been assisted by plentiful leaks and background briefings from anti-Abbott forces in his party room, manoeuvring to get their preferred replacement into a position where the crisis has become so awful as to prompt their immediate elevation to the top job.

If, by some miracle, Abbott performs strongly at the Press Club, the inevitable chippy-chippy-chop may be delayed a little, but we repeat our oft-stated opinion that his metaphorical decapitation is now inevitable. Indeed, as we stated before he won the last election, it always was going to be.

He just has the wrong skills to be PM – always did have – and he has not managed to curb those elements of his personality that make him so self-evidently unfitted for the role. The Liberal Party is infinitely more ruthless than its Labor opponents, even though that is not generally understood. They know any replacement – and it would take a miracle for them not to choose the country’s most popular politician in Malcolm Turnbull – will need time to settle the ship before the next election. They will not risk losing what should have been an unloseable election against the largely inoffensive but also un-inspirational policy-lite Bill Shorten.

Time marches on, but Abbott’s Prime Ministership will not. Like some awful, inevitable Shakesperian tragedy, he will pay the ultimate price for the hubris that saw him persuaded to stand against the infinitely smarter and more electorally appealing Turnbull in the first place.

And if Turnbull does take over, we don’t expect to see Hockey moved from the role of Treasurer, in which he has been an unmitigated disaster. One thing will save him. If he were moved, we think Julie Bishop will put her hand up for that role – a step too far for the mad-eyed Western Australian in our view – and she would fail in it just as Abbott has failed as PM. It’s one thing to blather on aggressively about how rotten Vlad Putin is for shooting Australians out of the sky. It’s quite another to steer the ship of state’s financial well-being. Nothing in her period of Opposition or in Government shows her up to such a task.

Turnbull will not risk her messing things up for him, so will be inclined to leave Hockey in place.

In which place, he will be told to smoke no cigars in public, to stop shooting from the lip about the poor driving less than the rest of us, and essentially to shut up and leave it all to Malcolm. You’ll hear a whole lot less about “structural deficit” under Turnbull and much vaguery about “good management”. The great irony of the Abbott experiment for him and his backers like Nick Minchin is that his failure will kill hard right economic solutions for a decade.

Australia will return quietly comfortably to “tax and spend”, and not even notice the difference. and all of Abbott and Hockey’s painful Thatcherite striving will be forgotten. Shakespearian indeed.

The one thing against Abbott being moved against next week, of course, is that Parliament is not sitting again till 9th February. Liberal MPs would have to be called back to gather specially for a party room spill. Such an outcome is rare, but not unknown. It could, though, just save his bacon. But not for long.

Gabby Finlayson wearing the Audrey Hepburn-style dress

Yes, according to Lone Peak High School in Utah.

Gabi Finlayson was excited to attend a dance at Lone Peak High School. The 15-year-old girl and her mom were recently in Paris and they picked out “the perfect dress”, one that was reminiscent of iconic fashion idol Audrey Hepburn.Her happiness soon turned to shame and embarrassment. Shortly after arriving at the school dance, she was approached by school officials who said her dress was too risqué. Why? Her shoulders were showing.

Finlayson says she was angry after she was forced to wear her winter coat over her dress the entire dance, she says she felt as though the school was shaming her for what some of the boys might think.

“Somehow my shoulders are sexualised,” Finlayson said. “Like it’s my responsibility to make sure the boys’ thoughts are not unclean.”

Her mom was just as incensed:

“How have we gotten to the point that we look at shoulders as if they’re somehow pornographic? As if they are this shameful thing,” Kimball said.

Right on, Mum! Seriously, are shoulders pornographic? This dress style was popularized by Audrey Hepburn in the late 1950s and early 1960s and somehow in 2015 it is considered too risqué? Yes, some people should be embarrassed by this debacle. But, be it sure isn’t Gabby Finlayson or her mom.

(Daily Kos and others)

Another triumph for the American Taliban? Or reasonable dress restriction? What do you think, Dear Reader?

childs-white-oblong-casket

We despair at the gullibility, the laziness, and the downright stupidity of “internet generation parents” who continue to think their children are more at risk from being vaccinated than they are from catching horrible – and 100% avoidable – childhood diseases.

As a result, anti-vaccine parents throughout the world, but recently noteworthily in America and Australia, are taking decisions that are killing their children – not to mention infecting other persons via their un-protected children.

Los Angeles resident Derek Bartholomaus, who runs an excellent fact-based website called “The anti-vaccine body count” is keeping count of preventable illnesses (144,886), preventable deaths (6,312), and number of autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccinations (0) since June 3, 2007. He admits it is hard to convince the anti-vaccination crowd, despite research that vaccination leads to autism being totally and comprehensively debunked.

“It’s really hard because it gets into the conspiracy theorist mentality,” he said. “If it were just a rational and logical discussion, there’s no debate. Vaccines are safe and effective.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Jasjit Singh, associate director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, says she has seen her share of children die from a preventable infectious diseases.

“There is nothing more heartbreaking,” she said.

Key facts

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour. By no means all of these were in developing countries.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.
  • In 2013, about 84% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

Parents need to know this.

Chickenpox can leave your child scarred for life.

Measles can kill them.

Whooping cough can kill them.

Most children are infected with whooping cough by their own unvaccinated parents.

Stories that kids can be hurt by vaccines are LIES. A proportion of all children will develop autism whether they are vaccinated or not. It’s sad, but there it is. We just want everyone to consider these statistics from the World Health Organisation.

Immunization averts an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. Global vaccination coverage—the proportion of the world’s children who receive recommended vaccines—has remained steady for the past few years.

During 2013, about 84% (112 million) of infants worldwide received 3 doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine, protecting them against infectious diseases that can cause serious illness and disability or be fatal. By 2013, 129 countries had reached at least 90% coverage of DTP3 vaccine.

IF THESE VACCINES WERE HARMFUL AND CAUSING AUTISM, WHY IS THE WORLD NOT DROWNING IN AUTISTIC CHILDREN?

Yet as anyone with Google and three minutes to spare can read here, autism is NOT increasing.

If you know anyone NOT vaccinating their children (especially against Measles and Whooping Cough) we urge you to ask them to do so. Be prepared to back up your opinion with facts. Because it’s this simple: children’s lives are at stake.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we are old enough to have lost relatives to preventable disease within our lifetime. Forgive us, therefore, being so blunt. We’re over it. Yes, it is conceivable that there is a tiny – TINY – risk in vaccination simply because anything that is done to the human body can cause a reaction. But simply being alive is dangerous. Breathing is dangerous. The point is that we KNOW the risk from preventable diseases and it exceeds the risk from vaccination by such a large factor that we should ignore any miniscule risk and protect our children.

Did I hold my breath for an hour or two when my daughter was given her various vaccinations? Yes I did. Would I make the same decision again? Yes, 100 times out of 100.

argie

 

Regular readers will have seen our article the other day exposing the extraordinarily unlikely death by “suicide” of the prosector set to expose key members of the Argentine government as having been involved in covering up or collaborating with a terrorist bombing of a Jewish centre in 1994.

Today, reports emerge that Argentine President Kirchner – herself in the target range of the now dead prosecutor Nisman – has concurred with the widespread opinion that the brave prosecutor was murdered to prevent him bringing his case.

Other ongoing investigations show multiple ways his apartment could have been entered, and that no gunshot residue was found on his hands.

Read the full story here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-30931458

Meanwhile demonstrations continue calling for justice, with demonstrators chanting “Yo Soy Nisman” – I am Nisman – and echo of the recent “Je Suis Charlie” campaign.

abbottBefore he was even elected, we opined, publicly, that Tony Abbott would never make it to the next election. Or that if he did, he would never win it.

We tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to popularise the hashtag #onetermtony to encapsulate our point of view. Clearly we haven’t cracked working Twitter yet.

Our reasons were very straightforward. In our consideration, Abbott exhibited (and continues to display) the wrong skill set to be Prime Minister.

His “crash through or crash” style and belligerent University-debating-society arrogance is all wrong for leading a party, let alone a country. He was pitchforked into the job by Nick Minchin and others (by just one vote, remember) because of their visceral distaste for the much more electorally acceptable small-L liberalism of Malcom Turnbull. We said at the time, and we say it again: this was a gigantic strategic failure born of naked personal ambition, hubris and sheer political bastadry. And now it has entirely predictably come back to bite the Liberal Party in the butt, big time.

Be under no misapprehension, Dear Reader. As things stand, the Australian Labor Party is undeservedly coasting back into national power with a leader whose main role in the run up to the next election is to appear inoffensive. Policy development? None. Vision for the country? None. Hugs and smiles? Yup, plenty. The target is not just small, it’s miniscule.

Let us just revise the history of the last 18 months – Abbott won against the terminally wounded Gillard and the terminally incompetent Kevin Rudd. Through their own infighting and their catastrophic mishandling of various key policy imperatives, the ALP had made themselves virtually unelectable. Theoretically for a generation.

That they have now defeated a competent if un-inspirational Coalition Government in Victoria, look like they are at the very least competitive against a first-term LNP Government with a massive majority in Queensland, and currently seem a shoe-in for the next Federal election, is testament to the scale of the muddled, tone deaf yet vociferous incompetence of Abbott and many in his cabinet.

The chickens are coming home to roost so fast we shall all be eating them for breakfast for months to come. On Fairfax radio this morning a “through and through” Liberal voter on callback radio accused Abbott of being the “world’s worst salesman: in danger of handing the keys to the Lodge back to Labor”. Rarely can a Prime Minister have endured such a shellacking from one of his own in public.

Yet the caller, of course, had put his finger on exactly what’s wrong with Abbott. When you are Opposition Leader, you are an attack dog. You’re not selling anything, in reality, except the incompetence of the incumbent administration. When you are in power, you need to demonstrate you are LISTENING, not just spouting off. Abbott is inherently disinclined to listen.

HowardHe sees himself in the mould of his political mentor, John Howard, who paraded his “tough little Johnnie” status to considerable effect and turned himself into one of the most successful politicians in Australian history.

But Abbott lacks something Howard had in spades: the ability to not get in front of popular opinion, and to listen to the undercurrents in the electorate as well as what is actually said. For example, despite being both a social and fiscal conservative (or saying that he was), Howard (and his Treasurer Costello) actually maintained very high rates of taxation and social welfare, the latter aimed directly at the very Middle Class which Abbott is now seeking to soak to pay for un-necessary tax cuts for business and the uber-rich. Dumb.

But there are many other mis-steps that are down to Abbott personally. His office – led by the incredibly unpopular Peta Credlin – was highly effective in keeping the Coalition caucus on message (and largely, in fact, silent) while Abbott got himself elected. But the same unbridled disciplinarian approach in Government (which appeals to another side of Abbott’s nature, ever the proto-Roman-Catholic-seminarian) has antagonised Ministers and backbenchers alike. The most obvious mis-step being to enrage one of his rivals, Julie Bishop, by insisting on sending Andrew Robb as a right-wing minder to accompany her to the climate conference in Peru in case she should actually – gasp! – agree to do something to combat climate change. That’s not the sort of “direct action” on the problem that Australians expected.

Abbott’s record in Government on Medicare has been simply woeful, too.

The initial $7 co-payment idea was effectively (and accurately) seen as dreadfully

There are no votes in upsetting little old ladies. Or those who love them. Dumber.

There are no votes in upsetting little old ladies. Or those who love them. Stupid.

unfair to those who rely on bulk-billing medical practices to help them survive poverty and/or old age, and the illnesses associated with it. Frail little old ladies unable to pay to visit their Doctor was not a good look for a party which counts the majority of retirees amongst their supporters. Astoundingly stupid.

A more recent attempt to slap on a $20 fee on short consultations which was always doomed to fail in the Senate has simply added fuel to a still spluttering fire.

Why make such a mis-step for a second time, let alone the first time? Simple: crash through or crash, in action.

As the pro-Government Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph reported, Abbott defied Treasurer Joe Hockey and the former Health Minister Peter Dutton to impose the $20 cut to GP rebates before later backflipping on the policy he had demanded. In a highly damaging leak from the powerful expenditure review committee, senior ministers have confirmed they were told Mr Hockey and Mr Dutton opposed the move during a “heated’’ exchange with the Prime Minister. The warnings included concerns that rolling out new changes to GP consults in the lead up to the Queensland and NSW state election was “crazy’’. Doctors also immediately warned the changes would be passed on to patients, raising fears of even higher charges than the original co-payment.

But the Prime Minister instead insisted on changes including the $20 cut the Medicare rebate for short GP consults. These changes were developed by the Prime Minister’s Office and then costed by the Department of Finance and Health. Tony knows best. Although as the later reversal showed dramatically, it is clear he didn’t, fuelling both front and backbench dis-satisfaction.

Stung by a grassroots backlash to the policy by his own Liberal MPs, Mr Abbott formed the view that it must be dumped while “taking soundings’’ as he drank beers at the cricket on Thursday. These “soundings’ included a threat by senior MPs that they would go public in their opposition to the $20 rebate cut. Mr Abbott then discussed the problem with the new Health Minister Sussan Ley who was forced to disembark from a cruise ship to announce changes after they were rubber stamped by the leadership group on Thursday morning.

Tony Abbott defied Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton to impose “crazy” GP fee.

Abbott looked what he is: rather poor at running an effective collegiate Government.

It is also clear now that the Government is very likely going to fail to introduce “fee deregulation” (read: sell more degrees to overseas students at vastly inflated cost) for Universities, against trenchant opposition from both Universities and students.

The resulting budget chaos from this “tone deaf” policy failure is likely to run into the billions. But that’s not really the core of the problem for the Government. In households with teenage kids and young adults up and down the country, worried children asked their parents, “How will I ever be able to afford to get a degree?” Most of those parents, like members of the Government remembering with embarrassed affection their own free University education, shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and the Government inexorably dropped down yet another peg or two in their estimation.

It should be pretty simple. No one ever wins elections in Australia promising to hurt health and education. Government MPs are now pondering why Abbott appears to want to do both, spending what little political capital the Government began with (as most of the reason for voting for it was really not to vote Labor, after all) with reckless abandon.

Is there really a deficit problem? If there is, the Government has failed to make its case.

There’s a deficit, but is there really a deficit problem? If there is, then the Government has failed to make its case.

The other major issue for the Government is that it simply cannot persuade the people of either the need to tackle a “structural deficit”, nor the means to tackle it if they could even persuade people it exists.

Basically a structural deficit simply means that the country’s economic situation will continue to become more and more indebted as the years pass, because the Government is committed to paying out more money than it is collecting in taxes. You wouldn’t think that was too hard a case to argue, if it’s real. Perhaps stopping using the term “structural deficit” and using something simpler like “living on our national credit card” might be easier for people to grasp, but hey, we’re in the advertising business, what do we know, right?

cut-spendingThe Government’s solution to the situation has been to seek to savagely cut expenditure, mesmerised as they are by Costello’s previous performance in returning the budget to surplus. But unlike Costello’s performance, their cuts are being perceived as falling on the innocent and those least able to cope with them, which offends Aussie sensibilities, especially as people aren’t sure why they’re happening at all (see below).

Critically, their formula ignores the fact that Costello achieved his “economic miracle” based on a growing economy and consistently high overall taxation levels (whilst cutting personal tax, to ensure the Government’s popularity). The introduction of a Goods and Services tax at 10% made all the difference. Pumping up that tax is probably the long-term solution, but the move will be unpopular, and talking about increasing taxes is tough when you were elected on a rock solid promise not to do so. A little less hubris in the run up to the election would have gone a long way … but you can’t tell that to an attack dog.

But anyhow, and this is the crucial point, it is very easy to demonstrate (and Labor will increasingly do so in the run up to the next election) that Australia’s indebtedness is still very low by world standards, and like any household deciding its level of mortgage debt, we’re not really broke at all.

In fact, our mortgage, by world standards, is very small. We are – and feel – prosperous. If we want to splurge a bit, well, hell, why not?

Stop talking, just build it already ...

Stop talking, just build it already …

As the need to invest in national infrastructure is agreed by all sides of politics – we still have no train line to Doncaster in Melbourne, let alone to the bloody airport – the siren call to “keep spending and hang the deficit” seems to be more appealing than any desperation-stakes call to tighten our belts.

Put even more simply, it doesn’t feel like we have an economic crisis, so why are we acting like we do? Especially when the Government can apparently find umpteen billions for a more than fifty new fighter bombers which no-one can actually understand where or how we could even use them.

In other words, the most important job – by far, the, er, most important job – of a Prime Minister is to, er, well, sell the plans of the, er, Government, and, er, Tony Abbott has been, um, staggeringly unsuccessful and, er, unconvincing in doing so.

(Yes, he also has the most appalling public speaking manner, which only makes him appear yet more woeful. And he looks down when answering questions he doesn’t like, which makes him look shifty. One wonders why no-one has the guts to tell him.)

PUP Senator Glenn Lazarus, speaking of the latest debacle over University funding, remarked that you can only polish a turd for so long before the exercise becomes pointless.

It is clear that a significant part of the Liberal Party now hold the same view of their Leader. How long they will keep polishing is, of course, the question.

They could have just listened to us in the first place, of course. And before anyone gets swept up in the Julie Bishop love-in, rest assured that the party will return to Turnbull when they dump Abbott, because he has proven competence, his inoffensiveness will play well against Shorten, and remember, half the Parliamentary party wanted to keep him anyway.

Although he is very unpopular with the hard right, those MPs already eyeing losing their seats on current poll standings understand clearly that he has much broader appeal than any other potential Prime Minister with the general electorate.

If this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ...

If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then God didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …

Little wonder, then, that a quiet smile plays on his face most of the time.

Besides his huge personal wealth offering him an out anytime he tires of the Canberra game, it also recommends him to many on his side of politics as a “performer”.

His restraint in not agitating against the usurper Abbott in recent months has been remarkable to observe. This also demonstrates he possesses a strong strategic nous, and admirable patience.

He will need to take the top job on again with plenty of time to re-establish himself, but he has a little while yet before he has to move.

When he does, we suspect he will allow himself to be dragged kicking and screaming into the role, rather than being seen to assassinate his leader as he himself was assassinated. Unless, of course, assassinating him would prove electorally popular as well as a necessary lancing of the Abbott boil to save the deckchairs on the sinking ship. In which case, he will act decisively and with steel, which he possesses deep in his soul. For now, though, he will likely keep his powder dry. Not needing the job is a big part of his charm.

And after all, in the meantime, there’s the sheer fun of watching his replacement swing in the breeze, and revenge, as they say, is always a dish best eaten cold.

An activist group which secretly documents life inside the Islamic State-controlled Syrian city of Raqqa has reported that militants publicly executed 13 teenage boys for watching the Asian Cup football match between Iraq and Jordan.

Syria Being Slaughtered Silently, quoting Jordanian news agency Petra and other unspecified Iraqi media, reported that the teenagers were rounded up and shot by firing squad in the IS-stronghold of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

According to the report, the boys were caught watching the match and were being accused of breaking Islamic principles.

In a response to IBTimes UK, the group has confirmed the executions have taken place after corroborating the information with local Iraqi activists.

“The bodies remained lying in the open and their parents were unable to withdraw them for fear of murder by terrorist organisation,” the group also wrote on their website.

Before the victims were executed, their ‘crimes’ were announced on the streets of Mosul on a loud-speaker, the activists said.

The report has not been confirmed by international news agencies or Iraqi authorities and IBTimes UK cannot independently verify it.

The activist group secretly documents the executions carried out by the Sunni Islamist group in various places controlled by them.

The latest chilling execution emerges alongside the threat made by an IS militant, suspected to be “Jihadi John”, to behead two Japanese hostages if their ransom demands are not met.

The masked man – who is believed to be the same militant who appeared in earlier videos executing western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning – has asked for $200m (£132m) within the next 72 hours to free the Japanese captives.

Alberto Nisman

Alberto Nisman

An Argentine prosecutor was found dead just hours before giving what was expected to be damning testimony against President Cristina Kirchner, in what appears to have been a suicide, officials said.

The body of Alberto Nisman, 51, who had received threats, was found overnight in his 13th-floor apartment in the upscale Puerto Madero waterfront neighborhood of the capital Buenos Aires.

“All signs point to suicide,” said Public Safety Secretary Sergio Berni, an assertion backed up by initial forensic findings.

Federal prosecutor Viviana Fein said Nisman died of “a gunshot wound to the temple” and “there was no role of additional parties (in the death).”

However, there was no suicide note or witnesses, prosecutor Fein added, calling for “caution,” while the leader of one opposition party called it “an assassination.”

Investigators should look at whether Nisman was under pressure from anybody, and to whom the gun belonged, local media reports quoted Fein as saying. The weapon was not Nisman’s, the reports said.

Jewish centre bombing

Nisman, who had accused Kirchner of obstructing an investigation into a 1994 Jewish center bombing, was due to testify at a congressional hearing on Monday to provide evidence of his claims.

Firefighters and rescue workers search through the rubble of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community centre on July 18, 1994, photo after a car bomb rocked the building.

Firefighters and rescue workers search through the rubble of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community centre on July 18, 1994, photo after a car bomb rocked the building.

Since 2004 he had been investigating the van bombing of the Argentine Jewish Charities Federation, or AMIA, which left 85 people dead and 300 others wounded in the worst attack of its kind in the South American country.

The Jewish center bombing came two years after an attack against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

Kirchner, who has denied the accusation, released a statement ordering the declassification of intelligence information Nisman had sought a week ago.

‘Killed for investigating’

Meanwhile, several thousand protesters mobilized downtown in front of the presidential palace and Buenos Aires Cathedral, demanding an explanation for Nisman’s death.

Clapping and shouting “killer” the demonstrators held banners reading “justice” and “killed for investigating,” as well as “Yo soy Nisman,” meaning “I am Nisman”, a take on the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan that appeared after Paris attacks that included the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.

“I am here to seek justice for Nisman, so that we get to the truth about what happened to this man,” said Carolina Arias, 31.

And in Uruguay, some 500 Argentines demonstrated in the beach resort city of Punta del Este, singing the Argentine national anthem and cutting off part of the town’s main promenade.

Praise from Israel

Israel meanwhile expressed sorrow over Nisman’s death, praising him as a courageous jurist who “worked with great determination to expose the attack’s perpetrators and dispatchers.”

Officials said a .22-caliber handgun was found beside Nisman’s body, which was discovered by his mother in the bathroom of his apartment after his security detail was unable to contact him.

Nisman had also been expected to lodge accusations against Kirchner’s foreign minister Hector Timerman.

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks during a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York on the disputed Falkland Islands on the 30th anniversary of the end of war between the Britain and Argentina, on June 14, 2012.

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks during a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York on the disputed Falkland Islands on the 30th anniversary of the end of war between the Britain and Argentina, on June 14, 2012.

The prosecutor had accused Iran of being behind the attack and said President Kirchner hampered the inquiry to curry favour with the Islamic republic and gain access to its oil.

Nisman had also accused former president Carlos Menem (1989-99) of helping obstruct the investigation into the bombing, which has never been solved.

Since 2006, Argentine courts have demanded the extradition of eight Iranians, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, over the bombing. Argentina charges that Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement, carried out the attack under orders from Iran, although Tehran denies this.

In 2013, Argentina’s Congress approved, at the request of the executive branch, an agreement with Tehran to form a truth commission to investigate the bombing, consisting of five members from neither Argentina nor Iran.

Phone recordings

Nisman had said that he had phone recordings that allegedly show the Kirchner government and Argentine authorities had bowed to Iranian demands after Tehran dangled lucrative commercial contracts.

Nisman was supposed to be about to present proof of his allegations that Kirchner and Timerman had a “plan of impunity” to “protect the Iranian fugitives.”

In a further move which did not make him popular with the Government, he had also ordered the freezing of assets worth some $23 million of Kirchner, Timerman and other officials.

‘An assassination’

Opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich said she was shocked by Nisman’s death, calling it “a grave affront to the country’s institutions.”

Bullrich said she had spoken to Nisman on the phone just on Saturday on three occasions and he said that he had received several threats.

Elisa Carrio, leader of the Civic Coalition, an opposition party, bluntly called Nisman’s death “an assassination,” saying she did not accept that it was a suicide.

Argentina’s Jewish community of about 300,000 people is the largest in Latin America.

(AFP and others)