Archive for the ‘Political musings’ Category

In their own words: why people were celebrating International Go Topless Day on Sunday

Women and men in approximately 60 cities across the globe took part in the International Go Topless Day on Sunday.

Demonstrators in cities like New York, Paris and London took to the streets in order to break taboos around female nudity, protest against double-standards and to make it easier for women to breastfeed.

In their own words, here’s why people were willing to bare their chests in public:

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We’re not protesting. We’re exercising our right to bring awareness to the subject. This is about equality. There’s no problem with men not wearing shirts at the beach. I made the drive here to take away the stigma for women.

As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right. Or else, men should have to wear something to hide their chests.

  • Claude “Rael” Vorilhon, founder of GoTopless.org

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In our society, men and women are supposed to have equal rights. But women are commonly arrested, fined and humiliated for daring to go topless in public, a freedom men have had for decades. To protest this unconstitutional gender discrimination, GoTopless.org is holding National Go-Topless Day events in cities nationwide. Thousands of women will be baring their chests that day in the name of equal rights.

  • GoTopless.org statement

It’s logical. Why can a man go outside topless and a woman can’t? We should be able to do it without anyone harassing us. It’s just meat, it’s just breast and it’s nature.

  • A demonstrator in New York speaking to the Guardian

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It’s absurd that someone has judged topless women as obscene, and yet topless men is considered normal in our culture. We just abhor the double standard. We are practicing our rights. We think everyone should try it — it’s a lot of fun.

  • Carolyn Estes, a demonstrator in Austin, Texas, speaking to NBC

The significance is really to challenge the double-standard and to challenge this notion that there’s something morally reprehensible about women being topless when men have been able to be topless for so many years. It’s just about loving your body in whatever state it is in.

  • A demonstrator in New York speaking to the Guardian

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A woman’s nipple being criminalised and so hyper-sexualised make certain things like breast-feeding really difficult, especially in public … It is discrimination based on gender to tell women to cover up.

  • Demonstrators speaking in New Hampshire

The main problem people have with breast-feeding is they sexualise breasts, so it offends them. If we could make them less taboo, breast-feeding would be much more acceptable in society.

  • Jessica Wardell, a demonstrator in New Hampshire speaking to Reuters
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There should be no reason why my breasts should be different from his chest.

To which we can only say, “HEAR HEAR”. This is a topic we have discussed on this blog before, and will again. This double standard is simple sexism, and should be done away with. Womens’ bodies are not “dirty”.

Last but not least – have a look at this photo, doing the rounds in American media. Why the f*** do you have to PIXELATE a nipple? Have Americans never been on holiday in Europe?

Don't look too closely, the demons will get you.

Don’t look too closely, the demons will get you.

Bizarre. Simply bizarre. The human body, in all it’s wonderful and weird shapes and sizes, is beautiful. We should celebrate it. Most of all, we shouldn’t let one half of the population do something the other half of the population isn’t allowed to. Patriarchal bullshit. So there. Harumph.

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And meanwhile, our new Kickstarter project just went live – whoo hoo!

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The decision follows the Federal Court’s move to overturn approval of Indian mining giant Adani’s $16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.

“This government will repeal section 487.2 of the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act which gives activists the standing to sabotage decisions,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Tuesday. The change was approved by federal cabinet on Monday night and went to the coalition party room on Tuesday.

Despite widespread community reaction, it is expected to be introduced to parliament this week.

It has been argued that the $20 billion investment in Carmichael could create 10,000 jobs, although estimates of jobs created in coal mines have previously been hugely over-estimated.

Summarising the Liberal-National Coalition’s position, Attorney-General George Brandis said the laws as they stood allowed “radical green activists to engage in vigilante litigation” to stop important job-creating projects.

“(It) provides a red carpet for radical activists who have a political but not a legal interest, in a development to use aggressive litigation tactics to disrupt and sabotage important projects,” he said. “The activists themselves have declared that that is their objective.”

Senator Brandis called on Labor to support the bill. In response, manager of opposition business Tony Burke urged the government to table legislation so Labor could scrutinise it. It will be interesting to watch and see if Labor just rolls over on this issue, again showing how close, in reality, the two major political parties in Australia really are.

Phil Laird from the Lock the Gate Alliance said the law change would also ensure farmers could not challenge coal mine approvals.

“The laws are there for a reason, to level the playing field between landholders and the community and the big mining companies,” he said in a statement.

Liverpool Plains farmer Andrew Pursehouse said the government had now approved three open-cut mines on some of the best food-producing land in the country. “Now they want to limit who can go to court to challenge it,” he said.

(AP and others)

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

This proposed change to the law sets an ugly precedent and tells us a lot about the mentality of the Government.

Why should environmental objections – or, indeed, any lawful legal objection to development – be limited to people in the immediate vicinity? For one thing, pollution is no respecter of artificially created legal boundaries. Water pollution can spread far from its original source, and once in the environment chemical pollutants can end up hundreds if not thousands of miles from the source. (Witness the radioactive material from Fukushima reaching the West Coast of the USA, for example.) Air pollution can spread over thousands of miles. And why would it only be the interests of those near the Great Barrier Reef, for example, if a development was proposed that threatened its existence or well-being? Or Kakadu?

More and more, the Abbott Government acts like a petulant child every time it finds itself opposed.

abbottAbbott himself – and Brandis, amongst others – adopts a discordant, hectoring tone that is superior at best and utterly dismissive of any opposition to their whims at worst.

This attitude is very unpopular with voters – rightly so – and is one of the main reasons the Government is so “on the nose”.

As it stands, it is clearly un-electable again.

That recognition is what’s feeding into renewed concerns about Abbott’s leadership, as swathes of anxious Liberal MPsDeputy opposition leader in the Senate senator George Brandis face losing their seats if opinion polls stay anything like they are now. We have always said that having been near-mortally wounded in the first challenge to his leadership it has always been a matter of time before another came along.

In our view, there is a strong argument that until “clean coal” technology actually eventuates – which it may never do – that the environmentally and socially-responsible thing for government’s worldwide to do is to slow-peddle on new coal developments. For one thing, they are likely to be only marginally profitable, hence the reluctance of many banks to get involved in financing them. This doesn’t deter coal companies from trying to establish new mines, of course. After all, they’re coal companies. It’s what they do. Turning around a company from its core purpose to do something else is so difficult that very few organisations ever even attempt it.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us need to fall into line.

Unsurprisingly, as it’s made from trees, Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. According to the United Nations Environment Program, coal emits around 1.7 times as much carbon per unit of energy when burned as does natural gas and 1.25 times as much as oil.According to the groundbreaking, peer-reviewed “Carbon Majors” study, tracing all historic greenhouse gas emissions back to specific companies and entities, the coal industries of the world own 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 1854-2010.

Renewable_EnergyInstead of fiddling with the law to remove legal protections put in place by their own Howard Government (how ironic) the Liberals and Nationals need to take a leadership role in moving away from coal as it’s default answer to energy, both here and overseas. As Greenpeace note: the world doesn’t need more coal, it needs an energy revolution. We have enough technically accessible renewable energy to meet current energy demands six times over. 

Our Energy [R]evolution blueprint shows how renewable energy, combined with greater energy efficiency, can cut global CO2 emissions by almost 50 percent, and deliver half the world’s energy needs by 2050.

The case against coal is very strong. This American argument lays it out in terms anyone can understand. Yes, moving away from coal requires investment, political will, bi-partisanship and imagination.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, no matter what coal industry lobbyists might say.

Warning: this article contains NSFW offensive language and an excruciating gaffe.

Friday marked 100 days until the official release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – be still our beating hearts – and the franchise managed to celebrate in the worst way possible.

The Hunger Games’s official Twitter account released a (now deleted) poster where the worst-of-all-never-let-it-be-breathed-in-public C-word was accidentally strewn right across dear old Jennifer Lawrence’s face.

Now we know JLaw’s a sport, but really. Gentlemen. NONE of you noticed before you did this?

Find art director. Fire his or her sad ass.

cunt

 

Thanks to The Independent for the spot. And most of the rest of the internet. Jennifer will be starting to wish the damn thing had never been invented.

For more F*** Ups, just put F*** Up in the search box to the top left of this page. Enjoy.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS's hands.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS’s hands.

Why does the so-called Islamic State engage in such brutal and shocking practices as beheadings, not to say crucifixions and burning people alive?

Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, and certain Muslim States still use it to inflict the death penalty – most notably and regrettably the Western ally Saudi Arabia – but only the most extreme Islamic non-governmental militants carry it out in the modern day. Why?

Psychological warfare is a key part of the Islamic State’s military strategy

Even where outnumbered, as they were in Mosul in June, the IS fighters have used their reputation for terror to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle.

Which poorly paid soldier wishes to risk decapitation, impalement, or amputation for the sake of a distant, crumbling government?

As strategists have noted from the Roman Empire onwards, fear is a uniquely effective weapon. Down through history, regimes and insurgents have all behaved in hideously violent manners to discourage their opponents from fighting effectively. This is one reason IS is so deliberately and theatrically brutal.

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. firefighters arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo Friday, November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. pesonnel arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo on November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

By no means is this limited to terrorist organisations, or Muslim extremists. The tactics of the indiscriminate use of snipers, wholesale slaughter of populations, systematic rape of the civilian population and more were all evident in the conflict in the “civilised” Balkans in the recent past, enacted by all sides.

It has been acknowledged that the initial Allied assault on Iraq’s capital was intended to create “Shock and Awe”, to the point of naming the assault precisely that, to deter the local population from supporting the regime and to encourage the largely poorly trained conscript army to lay down its weapons.

The atomic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by America was deliberately designed to force the Japanese Government to sue for peace. It was undoubtedly a “terrorist” act – designed to sow terror – but it has been long argued that the terror was justified to shorten the war and prevent a greater loss of life. That is as may be – the argument will continue forever – but it was unquestionably the most dramatic example of psychological warfare before or since in the history of mankind

Brutality is a form of deterrence

Slicing through the neck and vertebrae of a journalist or aid worker is one thing. With horrible calculation, IS understands that Western governments are, to some extent at least, dissuaded by the prospect of a British or American soldier meeting with a similar fate. It would mean not just political embarrassment, but also an unimaginable propaganda boost for the jihadist cause. Which is why, two days before declaring their caliphate, IS threatened to attack the US if they were targeted militarily. Their rhetoric presently outstrips their capabilities, as former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove has argued, but the track record of massacre and torture gives these threats, to Western audiences, added menace. Brutality is therefore also a form of deterrence, affecting both politicians and public.

Propaganda by the deed

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby - beheaded on the streets of London - knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby – beheaded on the streets of London – knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

Terrorism is a form of propaganda by the deed. And the more chilling the deed, the more impactful the propaganda. The graphic nature of beheading, the focus on the individual, and the act of bodily desecration involved all render this far more chilling than the explosion of a bomb, even where the latter’s death toll is greater.

In the UK, the killing of Trooper Lee Rigby was uniquely horrific because of the targeted, mechanical quality of the murder.

There’s little new in this approach, particularly the massacre of captives and the method of beheading for the purposes of terrorisation. The American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan in 2002, the American businessman Nick Berg in Iraq in 2004, and several others thereafter.

Does all this actually work?

It can. But there are two ways in which a strategy of brutality can backfire, as well.

The first is that it can induce your enemies to fight even harder, because surrendering is such an awful option. One academic study showed that the Wehrmacht’s policy of treating Soviet POWs brutally undercut German military effectiveness on the Eastern front. Moreover, the Soviets’ own relative brutality to Germans meant that German soldiers fought harder in Russia than in Normandy. The lesson? IS can make its enemies flee, but it would be a foolish Iraqi unit that surrendered – and the net effect is that the “Islamic State” has to fight all the harder.

The second problem is that IS says it is in the state-building game: creating “the caliphate”. It is out to conquer, not merely to annihilate. But it was precisely such excessive and indiscriminate violence that proved the downfall of IS’s precursor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni groups, armed and protected by a surge of US forces, turned on the group in the so-called Awakening, expelling it from the same Sunni-majority areas in which it’s now encamped. Although IS initially sought to restrain itself in the places it seized over the first half of this year, its record has been patchy, to put it mildly. Iraqis may be accustomed to being ruled by terror, but it doesn’t mean they like it. The conjoining of local Sunni militia (some of which have previously been in conflict with the USA) to fight IS is happening again now. The West’s attitude – especially given the extremely variable quality of the Iraqi army in contesting ground with IS – is obviously “better the Devil you know”, or, if you like, “the lesser of two evils”.

This is one of the reasons – in addition to the Islamic State’s megalomania – that the group was expelled from al-Qaeda earlier this year. As Osama bin Laden wrote in a letter, pursuing jihad “without exercising caution … would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war”. Thus the modern jihadist’s dilemma: when does a strategy of calibrated terror turn into a self-defeating orgy of violence?

One more factor, however, is especially chilling. It is that IS doesn’t really care if it wins or not, and might even be doing all it can to “lose”. It has been argued that the eschatological “end times” cult actually believes it will be defeated by a coalition of opponents on the fields of Iraq – reduced to 5,000 fighters – but in that moment Jesus Christ will return and defeat the invaders, ushering in the end of the world. Read more in this brilliantly researched article in the Atlantic at What does IS really want?

For the end times to happen, IS needs to suck in as many foreign opponents as possible, by becoming increasingly violent and threatening. But as The Atlantic article says:

… the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Acknowledgement: Partly taken from an article by Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a PhD Candidate at Harvard University in the Telegraph newspaper.

We told you we’re obsessed. And now, thank goodness, we have remembered this. And found it. Productive afternoon.

How jolly, jolly good Python were at their peak. They manage to skewer medical pomposity and the incompetence of most health systems in one wince-inducing spot. Enjoy!

What’s your favourite Python sketch and why?

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Fresh back from chucking umpteen bazillion dollars at Adelaide in a desperate attempt to shore up Coalition support in South Australia, where about four Coalition seats look very vulnerable to voter anger over the decline of the ship-building industry – Hey! Remember “We’ll build 12 subs in Adelaide” before the last election”? Guess that was a “non core promise. Also called “bullshit” – Tony Abbot was today in Geelong assertively announcing “Everything we do is focused on jobs and growth.”

“Everything we do”? A cheery message to a regional city that has seen it’s car manufacturing industry decimated and it’s ship-building in decline.

Sadly, this was also the day that saw the jobless rate “jump” – the ABC’s word, not mine – from 6% to 6.3%. Against expectations. And a major news item, unsurprisingly.

Could Abbott have chosen his chest-beating words more carefully? Assuredly.

Does he ever come into contact with the real world outside the Canberra bubble?

We wonder, frankly.

We’re with the kid at the front.

‘Heat dome’ covers the Middle East to bring temperatures up to bring ‘feels like’ temperatures up to 74 degrees.

An “heat dome” has fallen on the Middle East to create “feels-like” temperatures as high as 74 degrees. The people of Iraq were given a four-day holiday last week after the government declared soaring temperatures too much to deal with. Authorities in the Middle East cautioned residents to drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun.

earth on fire
The Iranian port city of Bandar-e Mahshahr recorded an extreme feels-like temperature of 74 degrees on Friday based on a calculated heat index. The formula combined the actual air temperature that peaked at 46 degrees with the highest humidity – or dew point – temperature reading that topped 32 degrees. A dew point exceeding 26 degrees is said to be oppressive on the human body as it struggles to deal with the heat through perspiration.

“That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani in a statement. Sagaliani pointed to a high-pressure system that has cloaked the region since July for the heat surge, making one of the world’s hottest places even hotter.

The heat dome is a high pressure ridge over the region which makes normal hot temperatures seem even hotter.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported that the “heat index” – a measurement of what weather feels like – is the highest ever recorded. The scientists monitoring the heat index say Iran are probably enduring among the hottest temperatures ever experienced by humans.

Meanwhile it has been warm across the globe with the north-west US and eastern Pacific starting to feel the effects of El Nino in recent weeks following the deaths of hundreds in May’s heat wave across South Asia.

climate-change-denial-350x242And Australia has since an unusually early start to bushfire season with one blaze in the Blue Mountains being fought into its forth day only two weeks after the mountains were blanketed in snow. Northern Australia also had record-breaking July with Gympie noting its hottest July day since records began in 1908 with the temperature reaching 29.4 degrees, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

It’s happening.

And it may already be too late to prevent the low end of temperature rise predictions, let alone the high end. Tell someone.

Fast.

noose

In yet another brutal so-called “honour killing” in Pakistan, a young woman was hanged to death by her two brothers for marrying the man of her choice in Punjab province.

Aslam and Waqas kidnapped their sister Ayla last week from her home at Bhowana in Chiniot district, 250 kilometres from Lahore, and hanged her to death at a deserted place before dumping the body in a canal, according to a statement filed by Ayla’s husband Ejaz Ahmad.

How many more times?

How many more times?

The body of the woman was found in a canal nearChak-144-JB. Ayla wanted to marry Ejaz but the family was against her choice. However, she had contracted court marriage after eloping with him some time ago, said Investigation Officer Faisal Majid.

“Her family then swore to kill her for preserving its honour,” Majid said, adding that the couple had left their locality after marriage and remained in hiding. Last week Ayla’s family got information of her whereabouts and her brothers kidnapped her. They also wanted to kill Ejaz but he was not present in the house when they arrived there, he said.

The women of the world need us all - and perhaps especially men - to stand up for them. When will the Government of Pakistan act to stamp out this scourge?

The women of the world need us all – and perhaps especially men – to stand up for them.

Police have arrested both the brothers and registered a murder case against them.

The accused told the police that they had taken their sister to a deserted place and hanged her from a tree until she died, before dumping the body in the canal.They said they had no regret for killing their sister as she ‘dishonoured’ her family.

Some 760 women were killed in Pakistan last year in so-called honour killings – the most dishonourable murders imaginable.

We cannot imagine the courage of Ayla and Ejaz. We cannot but wonder at the utter despair Ejaz must feel now. And we cannot fathom the depth of depravity of Ayla’s family.

You may care to urge the Government of Pakistan to act more decisively in these matters to protect the women of that country. If so, please address a courteous email to the Legal advisor to the President, Mamnoon Hussain. His name is Mr Muhammed Faisal Kamal Alam, Consultant (Legal Affairs) to his Excellency the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and his email address is  consultant_law@president.gov.pk.

As we said, seemingly alone amongst politics-watchers, the storm in a teacup – albeit a very big, expensive teacup – is duly passing.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras votes during a session at the Greek parliament in Athens early 23 July 2015

The Greek prime minister secured the votes after a debate into the small hours

Greece has taken a crucial step towards a bailout after its parliament passed a crucial second set of reforms.

The passage of the measures means that negotiations on an €86bn European Union bailout can begin.

The reforms include changes to Greek banking and an overhaul of the judiciary system.

Thousands demonstrated outside of parliament as the bill was debated, with protests briefly turning violent as petrol bombs were thrown at police by a few anarchists.

There had been fears of a rebellion by MPs but Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was easily able to must the support required. In total, the measures received 230 votes in favour and 63 against with five abstentions. Among those who voted against were 31 members of his own Syriza party. However, this represents a smaller rebellion than in last week’s initial vote. Demonstrating the breadth of understanding that the reform package had to pass,former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was one of those rebels in the first vote who returned to vote with the government this time.

Speaking before the vote, Mr Tsipras stressed that he was not happy with the measures that creditors had imposed. Well, he could hardly have appeared chirpy, could he? That would have been political suicide.

“We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe,” he told MPs.

Representatives of the European institutions that would provide the bailout funds will begin negotiations in Athens on Friday.

Last week, Greece passed an initial set of austerity measures imposed by its creditors. These were a mix of economic reforms and budget cuts demanded by the eurozone countries and institutions before bailout talks could continue.

This second set of measures passed early on Thursday morning were of a more structural nature, including:

  • a code of civil protection aimed at speeding up court cases
  • the adoption of an EU directive to bolster banks and protect savers’ deposits of less than €100,000
  • the introduction of rules that would see bank shareholders and creditors – not taxpayers – cover costs of a failed bank

More contentious measures – phasing out early retirement and tax rises for farmers – have been pushed back to August. As we said, these issues were always going to be the can that got kicked along the road. The political fallout will need to be managed by the Greek Government and that cannot occur in a few days.

Negotiations will now begin on approving the terms of a third bailout, with the aim of completing a deal by the middle of next month. It’s a tight timetable but doable. What is not clear is that Mr Tsipras still has to decide whether a successful conclusion of negotiations should be followed by early elections. Our bet is not.

The deal explained

On Wednesday, the European Central Bank (ECB) increased its cash lifeline to Greek banks.

The emergency injection of an extra €900m (£630m), the ECB’s second in a week, came just hours before the vote.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed on Monday that Greece had cleared its overdue debt repayments of €2.05bn and was no longer in arrears. The repayments, which included €4.2bn to the ECB, were made possible by a short-term EU loan of €7.16bn.

Greece’s next major deadline is 20 August, when it must pay €3.2bn owed to the ECB, followed by a payment of €1.5bn to the IMF in September.

Essentially, the deal is akin to a Bank lending money to a drunken defaulting home owner to repay the mortgage they unwisely lent them in the first place. There is a lot of talk about how irresponsible the handling of the Greek economy has been by successive Greek Governments – not to mention that tax avoidance is something of a national sport – and that is all true.work greeks

What has been especially annoying in much recent commentary has been the characterisation of the Greek people themselves as lazy. In fact, the opposite is true. They put in some of the longest hours of any workforce in the EU. Needless to say, the Greek people know this, and their anger at having to carry the burden of the stupidities of generations of those that rule them is justified. That they could be working more productively is hardly the point. At some stage, the role of both private management, union leadership and political governance needs to be taken into account. It’s not all the fault of the “bleedin’ workers”.

What also needs to be factored in is that for decades now Europe has been lending Greece money for Greece to spend on vanity infrastructure projects supplied to them by Europe – arms is a classic example, manufactured mainly in Germany – Greece has a ridiculously large navy, for example – so the EU is at the very least as culpable in helping the Greeks to get into this mess in the first place.

Historically, Obama’s intervention to urge the Europeans to settle with Greece will be seen, for those attuned to geo-political balances – as the tipping point. What is encouraging is that some of the other economic basket cases in Europe have not instantly put their hands up for extra funds. It appears that brisk diplomacy – along the lines of “Shut up, guys, we need to sort this out, we’ll look at your situation down the track” – has worked in a timely fashion. But the Eurozone is not out of the woods yet.

One good start for Europe would be to substantially reduce the overhead structure of running the EU itself. The peoples of the constituent countries might be more amenable to pulling their heads in if they see the bloated and out of control Euro bureaucracy being made to do the same. No matter how pro-EU anyone is – and we are pro-EU, for political reasons more than economic ones – the Eurocrats need a serious haircut, and fast.

Graphic: BBC

Graphic: BBC

 

(BBC and other sources)

The excellent article below – from the NY correspondent of the BBC – discusses the fascinating phenomenon that is Donald Trump, politician, businessman, and possessor of the most bizarre and oft-photographed hairpiece of all time.

For those of us wondering how this buffoon can suddenly look like the most popular candidate to lead the GOP into the next presidential election, it is chock full of good reportage and explanation.

We do not believe for a moment that donald-trump-bad-hairTrump will survive increasing scrutiny as the race progresses. We are still in the “silly season”. But he may, as this article points out, achieve something more lasting – the trashing of the Republican brand before the general election has even started. Because achieving knee-jerk popularity with the more fervent of the GOP’s right wing is not the task at hand. The GOP needs a candidate that can build a winning coalition in the whole country, and in America today, that means with the Hispanic vote. Calling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists” seems an odd way to do that.

Interestingly, the British Labour Party is currently mesmerised by a similar character on the other side of the political spectrum, the dyed-in-the-wool left-winger Jeremy Corbyn – a late entrant into their Leadership campaign – who unlike Trump increasingly looks as if he can win it. The right in the UK can hardly believe their luck – Labour would look marginalised and irrelevant to the mass of Britons in no time flat.

For the same reason, Democrats in America are hugging themselves with glee at Trump’s performance. He doesn’t have to win the nomination to deliver the White House to them on a plate for the third election running, he just has to make the Republican Party look un-electably bizarre. And unlike the UK, where any “Corbyn effect” could be dissipated by 2020 (especially if he didn’t survive all five years as leader) Trump has the money and the bull-headishness to keep campaigning till well into the Northern hemisphere autumn and beyond. The damage he does will still be causing the Republican brand to reek a year later.

No wonder party managers in democracies wince when someone suggests the membership should select their leader, and increasingly common phenomenon.

Those who are motivated enough to join a political party or register as a supporter are often the very worst people to judge who has both the gravitas and the broad credentials to win a general election.

Donald Trump: Master of the demolition derby

Donald Trump

And lately it has come to resemble a gruesome episode of Big Brother, where it becomes near impossible to evict a boorish and abusive housemate because of his popularity with viewers.

Trump, evidently, is more than a guilty pleasure, the political equivalent of a late-night fix of tabloid TV for those returning, drunkenly, from a long night in the pub or bar. Judging by his poll numbers, a significant proportion of sober-minded voters who will next year select the Republican nominee like both him and his take-no-prisoners message, even though to many it sounds deranged and racist.

The latest poll, conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post, shows him with a commanding lead: 24% of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, compared with 13% for the Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and 12% for the former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. Labelling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists”, as Trump did in June when he announced his bid for the presidency, sounded like the demagogic rant of a fringe extremist.

To question the military record of Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war tortured so brutally that he is unable still to raise his arms above his shoulders, would ordinarily have been suicidal. But Trump is operating under rules of his own making that are perfectly suited to the voracious metabolism of the modern media, and the hyperventilated style of modern campaigning. The more outrageous his remarks, the more coverage and social media comment he generates. And the more coverage he receives, the better his polling numbers seemingly become (though most of the polling in the latest survey was conducted before the McCain controversy). Increasingly, notoriety equals popularity amongst a large cohort of Republican voters.

 

Senator John McCain

Trump questioned Senator McCain’s war record

 

This was an equation that the Texas Senator Ted Cruz hoped to turn to his advantage, until he was trumped by Trump. Though easy to lampoon as cartoonish and crazed, the billionaire tycoon has come to personify the dilemma faced by the modern-day GOP. From the late-1960s to the late-1980s, when it won five out of six elections, the party dominated presidential politics largely by appealing to disgruntled whites unsettled by the pace of racial and social change – a constituency that includes many who agree with Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration. Nowadays, however, party leaders recognise that, after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential contests, the GOP needs to broaden its demographic appeal. It cannot rely on what was known as “the southern strategy”.

 

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are currently trailing Trump in the polls

 

Reaching out to Latino voters, who Ronald Reagan once memorably described as Republicans who didn’t yet realise it, has become an urgent priority. After all, in 2012 Mitt Romney secured just 27% of the Latino vote, proof of what Senator Lindsey Graham has called the party’s “demographic death spiral”. The GOP’s electoral conundrum has been finding ways of courting new voters without alienating longstanding supporters. Trump, who obviously runs the risk of erecting a wall between the GOP and Hispanic voters akin to the impregnable barrier that he wants to construct along the Mexican border, is single-handedly demolishing that strategy. Not only that. His early success suggests that the broad church strategy might be politically unfeasible.

Messenger or message?

If a quarter of Republican voters truly are embracing Trump – many presumably because of his nativistic rants rather than in spite of them – the outreach programme is in serious trouble. The party’s establishment will hope that voters are warming to the messenger rather than the message, but the two are increasingly entwined. Moreover, voters devouring the red meat being thrown them on a daily basis by Trump will surely look upon inclusive Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as kale-eating vegans. Now a major problem, a month ago Trump presented an opportunity writ large in the kind of large gold letters affixed to his hotels and office buildings.

 

Mitt Romney waits to address a campaign rally at Pinkerton Academy in Derry in January 2012

Mitt Romney notably failed to secure the Latino vote

 

Had the other candidates taken him down immediately after his “rapist” comments, they could have helped transform the Republican brand. Instead, figures like Jeb Bush hesitated. It took the former Florida governor, who is married to a Mexican, two weeks to come up with a strong rebuttal, calling Trump’s remarks “extraordinarily ugly”. Corporate America reacted more swiftly, with companies like NBC Universal quickly severing their ties with Trump, even though they know he is a ratings winner. There is an argument to be made that Trump helps the candidacies of Bush and Walker, the other front-runners, if only because he is eclipsing rivals, like Rubio, who pose a more realistic threat. But that line of reasoning surely underestimates the damage that he is doing, long-term, to the Republican brand. Here, the hope will be that Trump is seen as such an outlier, and such an outsider, that he does more damage to his personal standing than the party’s reputation.

Early impressions key

But early impressions are hard to shake, as Mitt Romney discovered in 2012 when the Democrats successfully cast him as an economic elitist long before he could define himself. Latino voters will surely remember the party’s rather feeble response to Trump after the media caravan has moved on. In the Twitter age, media cycles are so momentary that Trump could well turn out to be summer silly season special, much like Michele Bachman who unexpectedly won the Iowa straw poll in the summer of 2011. Certainly, party leaders will be hoping he follows the boom/bust cycle that was the hallmark of the 2012 race. Remember the Herman Cain surge or the Gingrich spike? But Trump is a seasoned pro, with more staying power and more money. His business empire has been built on his extraordinary gift for self-publicity – he is a human headline – and an ability to make improbable comebacks.

 

Nelson Rockefeller

Richard Nixon struck a deal with Nelson Rockefeller to secure liberal Republican support

 

Back in 1960, when Vice President Richard Nixon sought to tie up the Republican nomination, he ended up making a pact with the then New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, to secure the support of liberal Republicans. Because the two men met in Rockefeller’s luxury Manhattan apartment, it was dubbed the Treaty of Fifth Avenue. Arguably, the Republican Party needs a new Treaty of Fifth Avenue, the home of the famed Trump Tower, this time aimed at disembowelling “The Donald.”

Next month, he looks certain to appear on stage in the first televised debate of the campaign, qualifying as one of the ten most popular candidates.

That, surely, will be car crash television, and Trump has already proved himself the master of the demolition derby.

The statistics speak volumes about Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's management of the debating chamber, with 319 Labour MPs ejected under her rule, compared to only five Coalition MPs  as at  24.3.15. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The statistics speak volumes about Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s management of the debating chamber, with 319 Labour MPs ejected under her rule, compared to only five Coalition MPs as at 24.3.15. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In many people’s opinion (just check social media) Bronwyn Bishop – long-standing Liberal MP and culture warrior – is one of the most partisan Speakers in recent Australian history. As this article shows, she seems much harder on the ALP than she is on her Liberal and National colleagues.

Now Labor frontbencher Tony Burke says Bronwyn Bishop will have to resign as Speaker if it is shown she signed documentation claiming $5,000 helicopter charter to attend a Liberal Party function as “official business”.

Bishop will be either extremely determined or very lucky to survive the rapidly escalating attack from Labor, who will go for the jugular with undisguised glee. They never could stand her, and even less so nowadays after their experience of her as Speaker.

The leader of opposition business, Tony Burke, called for the release of original documentation surrounding the taxpayer-funded travel and said there was “absolutely no way” Bishop could remain in the role if that were the case.

Bishop faced mounting political pressure this week about her use of entitlements, which included an expense of $5,227.27 for chartered flights from Melbourne to Geelong and back on 5 November 2014.

The Speaker announced on Thursday she would repay the charter flight money even though she maintained her belief that the travel “was conducted within the rules”.

 

Tony Abbott at the wedding of Sophie and Gregory Mirabella, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Wangaratta in 2006, alongside Bronwyn Bishop and another wedding guest. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

Tony Abbott at the wedding of Sophie and Gregory Mirabella, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Wangaratta in 2006, alongside Bronwyn Bishop and another wedding guest. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

 

Bishop must also pay a penalty of $1,307, because new rules implemented after a series of parliamentary expenses kerfuffles in 2013 affecting a number of senior figures including Tony Abbott (see here if you’ve forgotten) require politicians to repay an additional 25% of any adjustment to travel claims.

Labor continues to pursue the issue, pointing to a standard government form for charter certification for parliament’s presiding officers that says “office holders may use charter transport (including aircraft, helicopters and other vehicles) for their personal transport in connection with their office holder duties”.

According to that form, the office holder must certify that “knowingly giving false or misleading information is a serious offence under the Criminal Code Act 1995” and that they “travelled on the charter and it was provided for official purposes”.

Burke said on Friday that Bishop should release the document that she had signed. The contents of the form would determine whether Labor would demand her resignation from the key role of presiding over the lower house of parliament, he said.

“The normal form would say this was official business and would also say that there are serious criminal penalties if this is put in error,” Burke told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program.

“Now, if she signs it off in the normal form and it is, you know, a Liberal party fundraiser that she’s gone to, then that’s the end of the matter, she can’t stay as Speaker, absolutely no way.

“People make honest mistakes and we all know people can make honest mistakes but you don’t accidentally get on to a helicopter and turn up at a Liberal party fundraiser, so we need to find out and the government needs to release this document for us to work out exactly what it is that Bronwyn Bishop has claimed she has done.”

News outlets are seeking comment from Bishop’s office about which form she signed, whether she will release it, and how the event in Geelong was consistent with her office-holder duties.

The Speaker denied wrongdoing when she announced the plan to repay the funds on Thursday afternoon. “Whilst my understanding is that this travel was conducted within the rules, to avoid any doubt I will reimburse the costs,” she said in a brief statement.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, had earlier demanded intervention from the prime minister, Tony Abbott, saying the case showed that Bishop “thinks she is so important that she can’t even be bothered getting a car between Melbourne and Geelong, a one-hour car trip”.

The treasurer, Joe Hockey, added to the pressure by agreeing with a radio interviewer that the helicopter trip did not pass “the sniff test”. “Look, instinctively it doesn’t,” Hockey told 2UE. The treasurer responded to repeated questions about the Speaker’s expenses by calling on Bishop to explain matters.

Unsurprisingly, after the repayment announcement, senior ministers sought to move on from the matter.

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said she would not pass judgment because she did not know the context or the circumstances in which the trip was undertaken. “But what I do know is that she has decided to repay the amount, including a penalty, so I think that should be the end of the matter,” the minister told ABC’s 7.30 program.

The leader of the house, Christopher Pyne, said the Speaker was “doing a superb job” and had his full support.

But the Government may find the matter is not swept away quite so easily.

For one thing, the case has eerie echoes of the problems in which former Speaker Peter Slipper found himself up to his neck, which resulted in on-going attacks from the Liberals and Nationals on his position.

On 8 January 2013 the Federal Police summonsed Slipper alleging three offences against Section 135.1(5)/ Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) in relation to allegations concerning the use of Cabcharge vouchers. Slipper was due to answer these allegations in the ACT Magistrates Court on 15 February 2013. According to documents released by the court, Slipper was alleged to have used Cabcharge to pay for hire cars to visit a number of wineries in the Canberra region in January, April and June 2010.

On 28 July 2014, Slipper was found guilty of dishonestly using taxpayer funds to visit Canberra wineries for his own enjoyment. On 24 September 2014, he was sentenced to 300 hours community service and ordered to reimburse taxpayers for the $954 total that was spent on the trips. Slipper appealed the sentence, and the case was heard in December 2014. Justice John Burns reserved his decision until 26 February 2015, when he ruled the appeal be upheld and the conviction and sentence be set aside.

Bishop may consider herself fortunate that the matter is breaking out on a Thursday and a Friday, as such stories can “die a death” over the weekend as the population turns its head to sport and relaxation. But Labor will be doing everything it can to ensure that doesn’t happen. Bill Shorten and his colleagues scent blood and they are overdue a win.

(Sources: Guardian Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Wikipedia and others)

Gold medal winning Paralympian denied assistance because she wasn t disabled enough

Tracy Barrell is an Order of Australia recipient, a gold medal-winning Paralympian, and a strong campaigner for those living with disabilities.

A gold medal-winning Paralympian has been told by the Australian government she wasn’t ‘disabled enough’ to qualify for an assistance card. Tracy Barrell is an Order of Australia recipient, a gold medal-winning Paralympian, and a strong campaigner for those living with disabilities.

This is not disabled in today's Australia

This is not disabled in today’s Australia?

Ms Barrel was born with no legs and only one arm due to a medication her mother was given for morning sickness during her pregnancy. Despite her disabilities, in 1992, she won two gold medals for Australia at the Barcelona Paralympics in the Women’s 4×50 metre Freestyle, and the Women’s 50 metre Butterfly.

But when she recently went to apply for a companion card from the Australian government, she was rejected on the grounds she ‘didn’t have enough evidence’ and wasn’t classed as disabled enough.

A companion card allows people with disabilities to be accompanied to certain events and venues by a friend, family member or carer without them having to pay.

“I wasn’t able to receive one due to the ability that I was still able to use my prescribed aids – my skateboard, motorised scooter and modified car,” Ms Barrell told The Daily Mail.

The single mum-of-two used a combination of the above to live her life as independently as possible, but said she still faced hurdles every day. A friend has since organised a Change.Org petition to push for a review of the decision.

Ms Barrell’s two sons are her biggest help and she does not have a full-time carer. However she struggles to get out of the house and battles with situational depression.

The card would allow her to participate in more activities without the financial pressure of having to pay for someone to go with her, or help her out.

Champion.

Champion.

‘I do brave it and do these things myself, but it would be a hell of a lot easier if I had help,’ she said. Ms Barrell told The Daily Mail she felt she ticked all the boxes for the card eligibility and was ‘distraught’ when she found out she had been rejected.

“I cried all day,” she said.

She hoped her story would open up the conversation about the support disabled people receive in Australia, and help inform the public about everyday struggles people with disabilities face.

“It’s not even my battle anymore, it’s everybody else’s battle too and that’s what I really stand for.”

Wellthisiswhatithink update: We are pleased to report that following social media pressure a card has been awarded.

The key question is, of course, why it took a campaign to achieve this. Please share this story widely to ensure that other disabled people are not put through what Tracy went through.

(Yahoo, Daily Telegraph and others)

President Barack Obama unexpectedly led the crowd at Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral in a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” last Friday. At the end of his impassioned eulogy for Pinckney, one of the nine people shot and killed in the racist terrorist shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week, Obama broke into the hymn.

To be a leader requires vulnerability, and authenticity. In this moment Obama shows himself perfectly in tune with his audience, with the wider audience in America, and his African-American roots. He is in one moment the leader of what is still one of the world’s most significant nations, and in the same moment a guy like the rest of us, finding solace in his faith, and perfectly understanding his role as the man who needs to bind his nation’s wounds.

Some will say it is mawkish. Mean-spirited people will say it is emotionally showy, or even unworthy of the dignity of a President. Some will say anything rather than warmly acknowledge that – at his best – Obama is a remarkable man.

We say “God bless the UNITED states of America”.

greek flag

The “bad news is good news” principle has been running hot again in the last couple of weeks with all the interest in Greece and its sovereign debt crisis. Economics reporters from around the world have been banging the drum with ferocity signalling that the end of the world is nigh. Very nigh. People gulp their coffee nervously. Stock markets are jittery.

But is a Greek exit from the Euro really likely?

The short answer is No. Oxi, in fact.

That the problem requires resolving is undoubted. Greek banks are very strapped for cash, and the stage is set for people being unable to access their savings. This is the nightmare scenario as far as civil peace is concerned, let alone international trade and business confidence.

But some factors are being ignored in the breathless doom-laden reporting. We summarise the key ones here.

The debt is unsustainable, so some of it will end up being written off. The question is when.

In or out of the Euro, Greek debt has reached levels that are unsustainable by an economy of its size, under any circumstances. It just can’t generate enough trade or tax receipts to pay it back at any sort of meaningful rate. Why this has been allowed to happen is another story, but it doesn’t matter now. It is what it is.

parthenonThe IMF has recognised this, and said that some form of “debt relief” is required.

In other words, writing off debt. (Probably about half of it.)

This will have to happen whatever the future relationship of Greece to the Euro will be, because unsustainable debt levels will make the Greek currency effectively worthless, which would be to no one’s advantage and would cause much greater ripples through the world economy than writing off some of the debt would.

The problem is political, not economic.

The money is, in effect, “gone” already, dispersed throughout the Greek business community and general population in lending, social support payments and so on. There’s no getting it back, and no way to generate it. What Angela Merkel and others have to do is “sell” retiring the debt to their own taxpayers, which is going to be made more difficult by the hard-edged rhetoric they have employed in recent months. Nevertheless, it’s worse than the alternative, so they will bite the bullet and do it.

What will happen?

A portion of the debt will be forgiven – probably about half – but to make this politically acceptable in the rest of Europe some or all of it may be theoretically rescheduled on the “never never” – the debt pushed out by 20 or 30 years – in reality, never to be repaid.

No one wants Greece in turmoil again.

The Greek civil war was recent, and very bloody, Here right wing militia display the heads of their victims.

The Greek civil war was recent, and very bloody, Here right wing militia display the heads of their victims.

It is easily forgotten that for the “mother of democracy”, Greece is a relatively recent convert to democracy. It was a military dictatorship as recently as the 1960s, and endured an horrendous civil war in the immediate aftermath of World War II. To see the country descend into chaos again is unthinkable for both the “European project” and for the geo-political balance in the region.

Long embroiled in conflicts with their neighbours, an aggressive dictatorship of left or right could spread uncertainty and trouble to Cyprus (dangerously near the Middle East), Albania, Macedonia, and worst of all, Turkey.

None of the people that really run the Western world are going to stand idly by and watch that happen over a pot of money, no matter how big that pot is.

What will happen?

The Western powers will stumble haltingly towards a solution to the debt crisis that keeps Greece stable. Expect to see the rhetoric and the bombast toned down significantly on both sides in the next few days, ahead of a compromise that sees Greece stay in the Eurozone and reduces the fractiousness inside the country. The unexpected discarding of the combative Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis by Greek Prime Minister Tsipras is a symbol that this process is already underway in earnest.

The Russia factor

Everyone in the West knows that a newly aggressive Vladimir Putin would like nothing more than to bail out Greece (which he has the money to do), both to thumb his nose at Europe (with whom he is enduring real on-going problems over Ukraine), and by bailing them out win an ally where he could base his Red Sea fleet actually on the Med itself. Which would be his price for the support.

What will happen?

America will never let Russia make such a move. So the lines are running hot between America and Europe right now telling the Europeans that they’ve had their fun and to pull their heads in. “Settle it before it gets worse” will be the message.

The European ideal

It is often forgotten – most often by those on the Right – that the EU is about much more than economics.

Greece suffered as much as everyone else in WWII. In 1953, they

Greece suffered as much as everyone else in WWII. In 1953, they “forgave” the new-born German state the debts it owed them.

It always was designed as a device to impose stability on a region that had been at war for thousands of years, and most horribly within living memory in 1939-45. It was rarely sold to the voters like that – who tend to be much more amenable to hip-pocket issues like how much tax they’re paying and whether or not they’ve winning or losing from EU contributions – but that is nevertheless the driving morality behind the whole project.

And as recently as the Balkan conflict Europe has been reminded of the capacity of the area to dissolve into internecine feuding. Issues of economic security dominate over economic efficiency.

That’s why the EU project consistently ignores bleating about “loss of sovereignty” from political parties and national parliaments and stresses instead the role each country plays in “running” Europe. This makes the EU top-heavy, over-centralised, frequently the butt of satire about its tortuous legislative burden, and unpopular. Nevertheless the blow to the European ideal of seeing a “Grexit” (which might lead to similar problems from other small countries) would far outweigh the benefit of disciplining Greece further.

What will happen?

The European ideal will triumph over neo-con economics. It won’t be sold like that, but that’s what will happen.

There is no legal mechanism to force Greek out of the Euro.

greece euro xendpayOne of the oft-repeated canards in the last few weeks has been that Europe will “kick Greece out”. The problem is, they actually can’t. There is no legal mechanism by which a member of the Euro can be made to exit it against their will.

As no-one in Greece actually wants to leave the Euro, whatever their attitude to the austerity measures Europe seeks to impose, Europe is stuck with Greece as a member whether Europe likes it or not. This scholarly article explains the law behind the situation.

What will happen?

The only way Greece can exit the Euro is if it chooses to. Greece won’t, as it knows a “New Drachma” does not have the gold backing to survive as a viable currency in world economy. The new currency would devalue by 25-50% overnight, destroying savings and making trade with Greece virtually impossible. No external traders or countries would trust the new currency. What’s more the very first step would be the IMF having to lend what has been estimated as $25 billion of new money to support the currency, which really would be good money after bad. It’s one thing to write off debts you’ve already factored into the balance sheet, quite another to keep making the balance sheet looking worse.

So what’s in it for Greece to leave? Nothing. So they won’t.

Commonsense will prevail.

In or out of the Euro, Greece is going to default in its debts, whatever it ends up being called.

It’s a bit like an ordinary working individual borrowing a home mortgage of ten million bucks to build a palace, and then turning round and saying “Oops, sorry, can’t pay you back. But the money’s gone: the home is built.

Sure, the lender can take back possession, but they still have to sell it to get their money back. Then they discover the home is actually made of ticky tacky and it’s really only worth $500,000. They’re going to eat the $9.5 million.

The bank can rail all it likes about how unfair that is, but the guy who built the house has now died, and his son is only 18. He claims – fairly – that he is not responsible for the lunacy of his father, over which he had no control.

Sure, be angry at the now dead home builder. And sack the idiot who gave him the ten million in the first place. But it still doesn’t solve the problem, and the bank still wants the son as a customer.

The only question at stake is by how much will Greece default, and when.

What will happen?

Given that Greece out of the Euro is even worse for Europe than Greece in the Euro, the hard heads are currently saying to each other “Damn, they called our bluff, we’re out of options, we have to make a deal.” What you will see (probably tomorrow night) is is a few crumbs thrown by the Greeks to the Germans so that the central bankers and Angela Merkel can save face.

The wash up will be that the Greek Government will appear willing to continue to reform the Greek economy and live in a $500,000 house rather than a $10 million one. And there are signs that, on their own terms, they are willing to continue the reform process, especially as regards fixing tax avoidance, which is a national sport in Greece. Whether they will increase their consumption tax or give pensions a hit is imponderable, but some small ground may even be yielded on those sticking points to sweeten the pill. And the lenders will settle for that. They have no choice. The money’s gone. What they will do is dress it up so that every other indebted country in the EU will not then immediately say “OK, us too, please.”

protestThe crisis will have to be resolved in the next 48-72 hours. We expect it will be. With Greece inside the Eurozone.

Which will be very boring for those journos that like nothing more than to stir up panic because it sells papers – or hits on websites, today – but there it is.

The long-term damage to the concept of Europe for its citizens is more difficult to predict. This heartfelt article should make us all pause and consider.

hanger

 

In a brilliant bit of agit-prop that we predict will give the lie to the arguments of pro-abortion activists in America, a pregnant woman has created a controversial website calling on pro-life advocates to pay $1 million to save the life of her unborn baby. As she says on the website:

The backward direction this country is headed in terms of its treatment of women I feel is due in large part to the influence of the religious right disguised as the pro-life movement. The pro-life movement cares very little about saving lives and far more about controlling women by minimising their choices in a wide variety of ways not the least of which is readily available reproductive health care. I will do my best to remain anonymous in this process as what I aim to prove has nothing to do with me personally. I hope to give the American public a concrete example that the conservative right in America doesn’t actually care about the life of a child, they care about controlling the lives and choices of women. We have to acknowledge this and we have to stop it.

The unidentified woman, who is seven weeks pregnant, says she will accept donations for 72 hours, which is how long women are required to wait for an abortion in some US states. If the target isn’t reached, the 26-year-old will go ahead with a scheduled abortion on July 10. The pro-choice advocate says she wants to draw attention to the “extremely restrictive” abortion laws that exist in the US state where she lives. “If one million dollars is raised in those 72 hours then I’ll have the baby, give it up for adoption and every cent of that one million dollars will be put in a trust fund for the child,” she writes. “Mathematically this means that every one of the 157 million Americans that identify as pro-life needs to donate less than one cent to stop this abortion.” As we have also often argued, the university student says the pro-life movement cares more about controlling women than it does about saving the lives of unborn children. “I hope to give the American public a concrete example that the conservative right in America doesn’t actually care about the life of a child, they care about controlling the lives and choices of women.”

This is an actual 7 week abortion.

This is an actual 7 week abortion.

Our position on abortion has been completely consistent. Women will get abortions whatever the law says, and we hope it is always safe, legal, and as rare as possible. When a woman does not want to carry an un-viable fetus to term that decision should be hers, and not one, I am sure, that the vast majority of women – or their partners – take lightly. This clever campaign – and the promise to donate the money into a trust fund for the child – is the perfect riposte to the hysterical animus of the “pro-life” campaigners. “Pro-life” campaigners who are very unlikely, you will note, to campaign against the capricious, racist and frequently incorrect application of the death penalty in the USA. Or to put it another way, hypocrites. As we have said so many times we are blue in the face, there is a difference between the potential for life, and life itself. Because I celebrate life I also celebrate the lives of women who won’t die at the hands of amateurs wielding knitting needles or coat hangers. Period.

kids_in_boat

 

There’s a lot of total nonsense talked about asylum seekers in Australia. Most of it whipped up equally by the deeply conservative Liberal Party and their weak-kneed Labor opposition.

Here’s a few things those who want to roll out the welcome mat to the world’s most desperate people need to know when cornered into an argument in the pub.

Fact 1: It’s not a crime to come to Australia by boat without a visa and ask for protection

But the Guardian found seven out of 10 people believe it is.

The truth is that it is not a crime to arrive here by boat without a valid visa and ask for protection. In the experience of  The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – in almost 100 years working with people affected by migration – those who do so often feel it is their only chance of finding a place where they’ll be safe from persecution.

asylum

Nor is it illegal to flee persecution, to cross borders without documents or passports in order to seek asylum – people have been doing it for centuries. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are basic freedoms and protections that everyone’s entitled to.

Fact 2: There’s no “official queue” for people coming to Australia seeking a safe place to live

But six out of 10 people think there is.

The United Nations process of resettling refugees in other safe countries doesn’t operate like a queue. It’s not a matter of lining up, waiting for your number to come up like at the supermarket deli counter.

The resettlement system operates as a discretionary process, based on changing criteria. It’s more like a lottery than it is like a queue.

If this mythical global queue did actually exist, based on the number of refugees there are in the world, people joining the end might wait up to 170 years to get to the front. Which would be a bit pointless, really, wouldn’t it?

In many parts of the world – East Africa being a classic example – the asylum seeker process is total chaos, disrupted by lack of Government control, famine, terrorism and war.

Fact 3: We’re not being “flooded by people”. Only 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be given safe haven in any given year

The Guardian’s survey found six in 10 people don’t know that.

Only a small group of countries offer resettlement through the UN system. Need consistently far exceeds supply and in any given year about 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be granted safe haven in another country – in fact the UN says fewer than 1% of refugees will ever get a resettlement place.

Fact 4: There are almost 18 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world

According to the most recent statistics there are 16.7 million refugees and 1.2 million asylum seekers worldwide, most of whom are currently living in developing countries such as Pakistan and Iran who are among the least able to deal with the influx. Pakistan and Iran house at least 1 million refugees from the Afghan conflict alone.

The Guardian found close to one-third of Australians reckon there’s 80 million, more than four times as many as there actually are. And almost another quarter of people think there are 9 million, half the actual figure. How it is possible to have an intelligent debate in the face of such ignorance is another matter.

Of course, if some of these myths were dispelled we would have a more compassionate, understanding, welcoming and stronger Australia.

The advocacy groups know from decades of experience working with vulnerable migrants that the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees flee to escape persecution, torture and death – dangers inflicted on them because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinions.

Some have seen their closest relatives and friends murdered, and their homes and villages burnt to the ground. They’ve suffered torture and their bodies, like their minds, are covered in scars that will never disappear. They are survivors. They come from all walks of life, rich and poor. They flee, simply, because they want to live.

This year for Refugee Week (14 to 20 June) some of the myths and misconceptions that ultimately serve no one are being challenged. Not that we expect Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten to respond any time soon.

But the next time you find yourself in the midst of this debate if you don’t recall anything else at least remember these four basic truths.

Thanks to the Guardian, The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the statistics and data referred to here.

At least 5,000 women are subject to honour killings every year, although it may be many more.

At least 5,000 women are subject to honour killings every year, although it may be many more.

A Turkish mother, 36, shot dead her daughter, 17, after finding out that she was three months pregnant, media reports said on Saturday.

The mother, named as Emine A., found out that her daughter Meryem A. was pregnant during a visit to neighbours, the Hurriyet daily reported.

She then went back home to find a gun and returned to shoot her daughter — who worked as a cashier in a market — five times, it said.

Bystanders outside the apartment block in the Selcuk district of the southern city of Nigde rushed to help and took Meryem to hospital but she died on the way.

The mother was detained by police but then had a nervous collapse and was hospitalised. The investigation is continuing.

Turkish authorities acknowledge there is a grave problem of violence against women in the country, although the vast majority of cases involving attacks perpetrated by men.

According to the non-governmental Platform to Stop Violence Against Women, 286 women were murdered in Turkey in 2014 and 134 so far in 2015.

(From AFP)

pat-robertson

 

The days must be drawing in, thank the Good Lord, on famed televangelist and former Republican Presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who recently told a grieving mum that God allowed her son to die because he may be the next Hitler.

A woman wrote into his show “700 Club” seeking comforting words for her friend who’s mourning the loss of her 3-year-old child. She admits she cannot believe in a God who could watch the child die.

“I told her that I don’t know why her child died, but God sees the whole picture, we see only in part. What can I say?”

Robertson could have answered anything – he could have said, for example, the standard Christian response to suffering for over 1800 years, to wit, “God didn’t design the world so that everyone lives for exactly 70 years and then drops dead, because that would make life pretty terrifying. That’s why some people live for three days, three years, thirty years, or a hundred and three years.”

What Robertson failed to explain, however, is why God didn't in that case "remove" the original baby Hitler. Or Stalin.

What Robertson failed to explain, however, is why God didn’t in that case “remove” the original baby Hitler. Or Stalin.

However, Mr Robertson bizarrely took the chance to say that God might have saved the world from the second coming of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.

“As far as God’s concerned, He knows the end from the beginning and He sees a little baby and that little baby could grow up to be Adolf Hitler, he could grow up to be Joseph Stalin, he could grow up to be some serial killer, or he could grow up to die of a hideous disease,” he said. God sees all of that, and for that life to be terminated while he’s a baby, he’s going to be with God forever in Heaven so it isn’t a bad thing.”

That’s just the comfort the people involved needed. In news to hand, as he’s now 85, the Good Lord tells us that it can’t be all that long now till he gathers Pat Robertson to Himself so that he can enjoy his eternal reward. Or whatever God has in store for him. Thank you, God.

Other Robertson controversies you may care to contemplate. Please note, these are sourced from other media and Wikipedia and we have not cross-checked them (we do not have the capacity to do so, even though we are aware of some of them already). Accordingly, we would, of course, remove and apologise for anything that is demonstrated to us as not true. But we do not expect to have to do so.

Banning inter-racial dating should remove your tax exempt status

Mr Robertson also made headlines this year after stating that Christian schools who ban inter-racial dating (really?!) should remain tax exempt stating that it was “chilling” to see the Internal Revenue Service punish Bob Jones University for their ban.

America is run by “termites” and “anti-Christian destroyers”

In an August 1986 New York magazine article Robertson was quoted saying, “It is interesting, that termites don’t build things, and the great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians, because Christians have the desire to build something. He is motivated by love of man and God, so he builds. The people who have come into [our] institutions [today] are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have… The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation.”

Sex before marriage

During Robertson’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1987, Robertson told a Wall Street Journal reporter that his wedding date was actually five months after the date he had always maintained. Reporters said that the actual wedding date meant that his first son was conceived out of wedlock and that Robertson had lied about the date of his marriage in an attempt to cover the truth up. While conceding the reports were accurate, Robertson said that conceiving his son out of wedlock occurred before Jesus Christ had entered his life. Robertson denounced the media choosing to report on the issue as “outrageous” and “reprehensible.” Or good journalism, depending on your point of view.

Other Protestants are the spirit of the AntiChrist

 

"Go on ... let's have women bishops. I dare you."

“Go on … let’s have women bishops. I dare you.”

 

On January 14, 1991, on The 700 Club, Pat Robertson attacked a number of Protestant denominations when he declared: “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” You might not have realised you were praying to the Antichrist if you’re a member of those denominations.

Only Christians and Jews should hold Government roles

Robertson has frequently criticised other religions. In his book The New World Order, Robertson wrote: “When I said during my presidential bid that I would bring only Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. ‘What do you mean?’ the media challenged me. ‘You’re not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?’ My simple answer is, ‘Yes, they are.'” David Cantor, Senior Research Analyst of the Anti-Defamation League, points out that such “religious tests for office are unconstitutional. It’s not just a purely a religious statement. It’s a political statement.”

On Feminism

Unsurprisingly, Robertson is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

He has described feminism as a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Wow. You might not have realised wanting equal pay and life opportunity means that, but there we go.

That’s why we need Pat Robertson, we suppose.

Deceptive appeals

Mark Earley

Mark Earley

An investigation by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Consumer Affairs determined that Robertson “willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications” and called for a criminal prosecution against Robertson in 1999.

However, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, a Republican whose largest campaign contributor two years earlier was Robertson himself, intervened, accepting that Robertson had made deceptive appeals but overruling the recommendation for his prosecution.

Support for Liberian dictator guilty of “aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history”

Robertson repeatedly supported former President of Liberia Charles Taylor in various episodes of his The 700 Club program during the United States’ involvement in the Second Liberian Civil War in June and July 2003. Robertson accused the U.S. State Department of giving President Bush bad advice in supporting Taylor’s ouster as president, and of trying “as hard as they can to destabilize Liberia.”

Robertson was criticised for failing to mention in his broadcasts his US$8,000,000 investment in a Liberian gold mine.

 

Charles Taylor

 

Taylor had been indicted by the United Nations for war crimes at the time of Robertson’s public support.

Prosecutors also said that Taylor had harboured members of Al Qaeda responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. According to Robertson, the Liberian gold mine Freedom Gold was intended to help pay for humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia, when in fact Wikipedia reports that the company was allowed to fail leaving many debts both in Liberia and in the international mining service sector. Regarding this controversy, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy said, “I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one.”

As regards Charles Taylor, in 2006, the newly elected President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally requested his extradition, after which he was detained by UN authorities in Sierra Leone and then at the Penitentiary Institution Haaglandenin in The Hague, awaiting trial. He was found guilty in April 2012 of all eleven charges levied by the Special Court, including terror, murder and rape. In May of 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Reading the sentencing statement, Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said: “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”

Politicians’ stroke and assignation “judgement by God”

The lead story on the January 5, 2006, edition of The 700 Club was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hospitalization for a severe stroke. After the story, Robertson said that Sharon’s illness was possibly retribution from God for his recent drive to give more land to the Palestinians. He also claimed former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination may have occurred for the same reason.

Anyway, we could go on – there is much, much more – but we feel that adequately demonstrates just who exactly this thoroughly disreputable man is.

CBNThe 700 Club is part of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

On its website, CBN describes itself as “a global ministry committed to preparing the nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ through mass media. Using television and the Internet, CBN is proclaiming the Good News in 147 countries and territories, with programs and content in 62 languages.” The CBN website also proudly announces:

The 700 Club can be seen in 96 percent of the homes in the U.S. and is carried on ABC Family cable network, FamilyNet, Trinity Broadcasting Network, plus numerous local U.S. television stations, and is seen daily by approximately one million viewers. CBN International maintains 15 television production centers around the world that create indigenous versions ofThe 700 Club and other Christian programs in 39 languages.  CBN International programs are broadcast in 138 countries to an estimated yearly viewing audience of 360 million people.

Terrifying.

 

Panorama of Dushanbe

Dushanbe – next stop for IS?

This article by Deidrie Tynan from the impeccably credentialled crisisgroup.org makes sobering reading. In the West we have been focused on the IS threat to Syria and Iraq and some other concerns about the ideological cover they give other extremists in North Africa, Nigeria and the Arabian peninsula. But were the eschatological lunacies of the jihadists – obsessed with their “end of days” interpretation of Islam – to also take root throughout central Asia then the cataclysmic effect on their weak civic societies could be catastrophic. And then they will also be cheek by jowl with China, too.

This fearful tide is digging its roots deep into the disposessed and desperate minds of the young in many areas. It will only be rolled back by a whole of world effort. The world’s superpowers must immediately co-operate to crush the group and return the areas it now controls to normality. And then, crucially, economic aid must flow in to rebuild the countries and provide legitimacy for the removal of IS.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan's paramilitary police unit (OMON) appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan’s paramilitary police unit (OMON), appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

The appearance of Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov in an Islamic State (IS) propaganda video on 27 May has sent a chill across Central Asia. The head of Tajikistan’s Special Assignment Police Unit (OMON), a key element in President Emomali Rahmon’s security apparatus, had disappeared shortly before. In the video he promised to return to Tajikistan to wage violent jihad.

A trained-in-Russia-and-America veteran of brutal Tajik government operations, Khalimov has the qualifications. And Tajikistan, a desperately poor country ruled by a venal elite, is a vulnerable target. As I drove to its capital, Dushanbe, last summer through the ancient city of Khujand and the rickety, fume-filled, Iranian-built Shariston tunnel, I saw poverty and isolation that eclipses the worst pockets of deprivation in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Khalimov has been an intimate of that elite, but at 40 years old he is relatively young and forceful, unlike the elderly, usually corrupt figures who have previously promoted themselves as Islamist guerrilla leaders in Tajikistan. His defection is a blow to Rahmon’s regime on many levels. He speaks to the parts of the elite not yet bought off and to the alienation of a substantial segment of society.

His message may be draped in Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric, but it is based on some of the potent, more worldly aspects of IS appeal. “Going out to work every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Are you ready to die for this state or not”, he said directly to the underpaid, overstretched Tajik security forces. “I am ready to die for the Caliphate – are you?”

More than one million Tajik migrants work low-paid jobs in Russia. The remittances they send back make up more than 40 per cent of its GDP. But the value of the remittances is plummeting as Russia veers toward economic crisis. Nearly 200,000 of the migrants went home to bleak prospects in the second half of 2014 alone.

To Tajiks still in Russia, the police commander’s message was “you have become the slaves of non-believers. Why do you humiliate yourself working for non-believers while they must work for you? Join us, brothers … there are no nationalities or states in the Islamic State and our nationality is Islam”.

The eight million people of Tajikistan have known much violence already in their quarter-century of independence since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Rahmon, the only president the country has had, consolidated his power in a civil war against Islamists that ended in 1997. By side-lining the relatively moderate Islamic Renaissance Party earlier this year, he further alienated the devout and gave plausibility to those who argue that with other options closed, extremism is only the politics of last resort.

IS and other foreign fighters, probably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, are already operating on Tajikistan’s southern border, but that is not the only fault line. Gorno-Badakhshan, high in the Pamirs – a twelve- to fifteen-hour drive when roads are passable – is inhabited by ethnically distinct Pamiris, who were with the rebels in the civil war and barely accept central power today.

Badakhshan has a long, open border with Afghanistan to the south, Kyrgyzstan to the north and China to the east. The Taliban are already active on the immediate Afghan side of that border. It may only be a matter of time before IS is there too.

The Tajik-Afghan border already attracts Russian attention. Even two years ago, an official of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) of a half-dozen ex-Soviet republics told me it was uncontrollable and deadly. This year a Russian diplomat said privately that if the Tajik government requested it, Russia would return troops to it.

The apprehension does not stop there. Neighbouring Uzbekistan – Central Asia’s most populated and most authoritarian state – and chaotic, coup-prone Kyrgyzstan, would be deeply troubled by serious unrest in Tajikistan.

International Crisis Group has been in Central Asia for fifteen years, arguing that the West, particularly the U.S., is building a dangerous debit sheet here. To gain logistical help for war in Afghanistan, it has partnered with dictators like Rahmon and Uzbekistan’s Karimov, accepting excesses excused as counter-terrorism, including repression of peaceful Islamic manifestations.

If other security figures follow Khalimov’s lead, the bill to pay could be steep, and there will not be credit left to pay it with.

Albert Woodfox in 2012. Louisiana's Attorney General has called Woodfox the "most dangerous man on the planet."

 

BREAKING NEWS

A federal judge in Louisiana issued an unconditional writ of habeas corpus, ordering the immediate release of the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox, and barring the State from creating a retrial. He could be released within hours or days after more than 43 years in solitary confinement. Sixteen years longer than the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

According to Tory Pegram, Campaign Coordinator for the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Judge James Brady of the Federal District Court in Baton Rouge “argues that this extraordinary remedy is merited due to the following 5 factors: Mr. Woodfox’s age and poor health, his limited ability to present a defense at a third trial in light of the unavailability of witnesses, this Court’s lack of confidence in the State to provide a fair third trial, the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty-years in solitary confinement, and finally the very fact that Mr. Woodfox has already been tried twice and would otherwise face his third trial for a crime that occurred over forty years ago.”

A federal judge argues that the State of Louisiana can’t be trusted to provide a fair trial. Think about that. Think about that hard.

A solitary cell in Angola prison in the 19970s

A solitary cell in Angola prison in the 1970s

Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement since 1972 for the murder of corrections officer Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Many believe that he and the other two members of the so-called Angola 3 were targeted for the crime, and subsequently held in isolation, not because of the evidence but because of their involvement in the prison’s chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Woodfox is the only member of the Angola 3 to remain in prison. Robert King was freed in 2001, following 29 years in solitary, after his original conviction for a separate prison murder was overturned. Herman Wallace, whose conviction for Brent Miller’s murder had also been overturned, died last year after more than 41 years in solitary and a few days of freedom.

In 2013 Judge Brady also vacated Woodfox’s conviction on the grounds that there had been racial bias in the selection of grand jury forepersons in Louisiana at the time of his indictment. Last November, the Fifth Circuit, considered one of the nation’s most conservative Federal Appeals Courts, voted to uphold Brady’s ruling.

The man most likely to abhor Judge Brady’s ruling today is Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell. Caldwell has called Woodfox, now 68 years old, “the most dangerous man on the planet” due to his political beliefs. More recently, when Woodfox’s conviction was overturned last year, Caldwell immediately vowed to appeal, saying: “We feel confident that we will again prevail at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, if we do not, we are fully prepared and willing to retry this murderer again.”

Caldwell asserts that the evidence against Woodfox is “overpowering”: “There are no flaws in our evidence and this case is very strong,” he said last year. But these statements belie the fact that much of the evidence that led to Wallace and Woodfox’s conviction has since been called into question. In particular, the primary eyewitness was shown to have been bribed by prison officials into making statements against the two men.

Solitary Watch’s James Ridgeway first wrote about the Woodfox case in 2009 in Mother Jones, providing a comprehensive history and analysis, as well as an account of the conditions in which Woodfox has lived for four decades.

Woodfox’s conditions of confinement have if anything deteriorated in the last five years: He was moved from Angola to David Wade Correctional Center in north central Louisiana, where, according to a separate lawsuit, he faced multiple daily strip searches and visual body cavity searches. Woodfox, along with Robert King and the estate of Herman Wallace, is also plaintiff in a major federal lawsuit challenging his decades in solitary on First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. That suit may also finally come to trial this year.

43 years in solitary confinement, always claiming his innocence, and patently obviously because of his political beliefs. Repeatedly denied proper reviews. Repeatedly denied a chance to get out of solitary. Suffering psychological scarring that can only be imagined.

43 YEARS.

In the land of the free. Bow your head and weep, America.