Archive for the ‘Political musings’ Category

One of the startling thing about Western responses to current Islamic extremism is how it misunderstands the essential thrust of the problem.

We in the West are mesmerised by the ranting of so-called Islamic leaders against “the Great Satan” and threats to extend their rule over all the world.

In fact, nothing of the sort is happening. What is really happening throughout the Middle East and elsewhere is a sectarian conflict between Muslims and between ethnic groups who also happen to be Muslim.

As we mourn two dead hostages in Sydney, so Pakistan now mourns an infinitely more horrible attack from the Taliban from the tribal areas of its own country. As AFP and Yahoo report, a teenage survivor of a Taliban attack on a Pakistan school has described how he played dead after being shot in both legs by insurgents hunting down students to kill.

As surely the whole world knows, yesterday and overnight a mentally-disturbed man with a long legal history bailed up 17 or so people in the Lindt cafe in Sydney, demanding to speak to Australia’s Prime Minister, and seeking wide publicity for his points of view.

We do not wish to talk about him.

We do wish to note the outpouring of grief and support from the Australian people for the families of those killed, and the victims themselves, for those terrified and injured, and for ourselves – for the whole nation – which has been deeply shocked by the scenes of the last 24 hours.

The flowers are gathering at the site of the seige. All day, Aussies have quietly turned up, written in books of remembrance, laid down flowers, and stood in silence. Many in tears, all in shock.

They have been joined by politicians and notables, police officers and emergency workers, but mainly it has been the ordinary Australians who have trekked to Martin Place to be part of the mourning.

And uniquely, and so typically Australian, a single woman’s gesture – “I’ll ride with you”- spoken quietly to a Muslim woman who was removing her hijab for fear of being abused, spat on or assaulted – all things that have happened recently – has “gone viral” and been repeated by millions of people worldwide, who wish the wider Muslim community to know that they are not blamed for the actions of lunatics or fanatics.

Muslims arriving to place flowers at the site have been especially welcomed with quiet smiles, a touch of approval on a shoulder, a gentle look.

Today is a very sad day to be an Australian. It is also a great day to be an Australian. As so often in this remarkable nation, it is the ordinary people who show the true mettle of the country, who reveal in the simplest of human ways the unique communal nature of this wide brown land.

muslim flowers

flowersflowers2

There will be other horrors. There will also, sadly, be some extremist idiots who inevitably break the seal of national tolerance.

But the true Australian spirit – the spirit of its people, not its luminaries – stood up and was counted today, under the most painful of circumstaces. I am so proud of my fellow citizens, and have never regretted for an instant asking to belong to this tolerant, good natured, welcoming and egalitarian nation, the very essence of which is “everybody comes from somewhere else.”

Our deepest sympathies go out to all caught up in this madness.

#illridewithyou, Australia.

Regulars like you, Dear Reader, will note that we predicted a narrow win for Labour in the recent election in Victoria, but without a huge degree of confidence, and that’s the way it has turned out. The late swing back to the Liberal-Nationals we spotted was there, but it came too late to save them and Labor ended up with 9 seats more than the Coalition – which was at the upper end of our speculation, although their overall majority is just 6, which is about where we guessed it would be.

What’s more, the Greens won two Lower House seats – an historic result which most notably allows one of their MPs to second a motion by the other, which will make a hell of a difference to their impact on politics in Victoria, and which has been largely ignored by everyone.

We freely confess we didn’t think they’d win any lower house seats, and they are obviously to be congratulated for effectively outflanking Labor on the left.

A completely unexpected win over the Coalition for an Independent in Shepparton completely flew under our radar as well – although to be fair on ourselves, it did for everyone else, too. Even the successful candidate seemed surprised. It was also very annoying for us as we lumped on significantly with bookie Tom Waterhouse on the Coalition to lose the election by 8.5 seats. In the final wash up, thanks to the Shepparton result they actually lost by 9 seats, which means the Family Wellthisiswhatithink is drinking Jacob’s Creek Sparkling this Christmas and not Bollinger Special Cuvee. Helas!

The new Greens MP Ellen Sandell owes her victory to Liberal voters.

The new Greens MP for the seat of Melbourne Ellen Sandell owes her victory to Liberal voters.

Fascinatingly, the Greens defeated Labor in the seat of Melbourne on Liberal preferences, despite the Liberals very publicly and emphatically putting the Greens last on their how to vote card, behind Labor, as this extract from the VEC preference count shows, with a third of Ed Huntingford’s Liberal votes going to the Greens, enough to give them the seat.

Fully one-third of Liberal voters preferred the Greens to win – even if it might cause a “hung” Parliament, and against the wishes of their party – which is a significant fact to be considered when predicting future elections.

It also shows that a very significant number of voters simply don’t follow How to Vote cards …

To:  Green ALP

Transfer of 9412 ballot papers of HUNTINGFORD, Ed (5th excluded candidate) 3038 6374 9412

 

With all results declared the vote for Labor was 38.10% and for the Coalition 36.46%. – a margin just over one-and-a-half percent. So before they get too cock a hoop, it should be noted that Labour was really only delivered victory by Greens preferences. In their own right they were clearly barely preferred over the Coalition by the State’s voters, although it should be acknowledged that many people will have voted Green as a statement of political preference (or protest) intending that their votes would inevitably flow to the ALP before the Liberals or Nationals. But not all of them, as the seat of Melbourne showed.

In other words, the result was actually quite a lot closer than it might have been portrayed on election night or since.

 

andrewsspeech2

 

What now?

Daniel Andrews still has a significant job to establish credibility with the Victorian electorate in our opinion, (perhaps more than ever after belatedly and laughably asking voters and media commentators to “Call me Dan”), and he faces a competent and engaging new Liberal leader in Matthew Guy.

Guy is young and energetic, famously self-confident (although he will need to watch that), hard working and combative – perfectly suited to be an Australian opposition leader, in other words – and although he has been pretty quiet since assuming the top job we expect him to provide Andrews much more competition than the avuncular but somewhat unimpressive Ted Baillieu or Denis Napthine.

We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the opinion polls showing a very brief honeymoon for Andrews indeed. He has started poorly by immediately breaking a key promise – to release the East-West road link contracts on “Day 1″ of a new government for public scrutiny, and as ABC local radio pointed out this morning, also completely failing to say why he is suddenly reticent to do so, either.

 

guy

 

Critically one thing Guy HAS said since winning the leadership is that the Coalition will continue to support building the East-West Link, which by election time had garnered poll support from among Victorians of 63%. Despite the ALP’s election success, many Victorians are dismayed that the key road project is not going ahead – including many Labor voters – especially now Labor has also been forced to admit that their standout public transport project – the Metro Rail Tunnel – doesn’t have enough financial backing to actually go ahead anytime soon, which the Coalition said all along.

Indeed, the Federal Government told Labor point blank 18 months ago and regularly recently that a Coalition Government in Canberra would not be funding the Rail Tunnel. So now, in effect, we get no new road, and no new rail tunnel, but we do get $300 million of “planning”. Commuters driven mad by lack of trains, train delays, and bottleneck roads might very well argue that we have had more than enough bloody studies already, what we need is some action.

What’s more, transport experts are now talking about putting new tolls on the sites of railway crossing removals promised by Labor. Which is why they’re transport experts and not politicians, we guess. The argument is the removal benefits car owners, so they should pay for it. In fact, removing level crossings also means trains don’t have to slow down for them, so it benefits public transport users too. We look forward to the same experts arguing that Zone Fares should go up. Anyhow, the toll idea is ludicrous: an act more likely to enrage millions of motorists could hardly be imagined.

The result of all this confusion is very likely to be inertia. If that’s the case, don’t be at all surprised to hear Matthew Guy cry out “See! Labor is all talk, when are we going to see some action?” about every other day between now and the next election. The “do nothing” catchcry killed the Brumby Government, and history can, and does, repeat itself.

The Abbott government - looking very tired, very quickly.

The Abbott government – looking very tired, very quickly.

One term governments are likely to become much more common than they have been in Australian electoral history.

Napthine’s gone.

Campell-Newman in Queensland is looking rocky next year.

And we are more than prepared to call the big one right now – if the Liberals and Nationals don’t dump the awesomely unimpressive Tony Abbott soon (in favour of Malcom Turnbull, we hope, but just as likely Julie Bishop, which is somewhat alarming) then the current Federal Coalition will be a one term government too.

Daniel Andrews needs to start thinking already that the same fate could face him if he doesn’t “get something done”. And fast.

Final seat count

ALP 47
Liberals 30
Nationals 8
Greens 2
Independent 1

 

bloodymachete2

 

In another appalling crime which will shock the world, Pakistani police Wednesday were looking for four men believed to have killed a couple and four of their children as retribution for a perceived “honour crime.”

Police officer Mohammed Aslam said the killings happened Tuesday in the town of Athara Hazari in central Pakistan.

Aslam said the men are believed to have hacked the family to death with axes and knives. One daughter, identified by police as Aisha, survived and relayed what happened to authorities. She and the other bodies were found after a man delivering milk to the house noticed that no one was coming to the door, Aslam said.

Astonishingly, and completely inexplicably to Western eyes, Aisha told authorities the killings stemmed from her mother’s first marriage nearly 30 years ago to another man, Aslam said. How can such hatred last for so long? Apparently it is a common cultural feature of life in some societies.

Another police officer, Mian Mohammad, said Ghulam Fatima’s son from her first marriage visited the family a few days ago. He was joined on Tuesday by three more men, who the police say helped him with the crime.

The surviving daughter told authorities that the son said he was taking revenge on her for leaving her first husband.

“It is an incident of honour killing,” said Mohammad.

In Pakistan, leaving one’s husband or marrying against a family’s wishes is extremely rare. Such actions are often perceived as crimes against the family’s honor and the woman can be killed in order to restore the family’s reputation.

Such retribution can be carried out years, even decades later. The killings are rarely prosecuted.

Action to outlaw such murders have frequently failed in the Pakistani parliament. The incidence of honour killings is very difficult to determine and estimates vary widely. In most countries data on honour killings is not collected systematically, and many of these killings are reported by the families as suicides or accidents and registered as such.

Although honour killings are often associated with the Asian continent, especially the Middle East and South Asia, they occur all over the world.

Although men are sometimes victims, the murdered are far more like to be women. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women were victims of honour killings each year. According to BBC, “Women’s advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year.” Murder is not the only form of honour crime, other crimes such as acid attacks, (as we have previously reported), abduction, mutilations, beatings occur; in 2010 the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.

torture-on-trial-waterboardA storm of controversy is raging in the USA over the Senate report on how the CIA treated suspected terrorists, post 9-11. Only the executive summary is to be released.

In our opinion, it is entirely correct and proper that the American government release this information. For the following reasons, in summary:

  • It only confirms what is widely known anyway.
  • It sets America apart from those with whom it contests the global stage, by holding itself to a higher standard of ethical behaviour and public disclosure.
  • Anything that goes to ridding the world of torture by Governments is to be applauded. It has no place in a civilised society, no matter what challenges are faced, and in any event the intelligence it yields has been shown again and again to be unreliable. Or to put it another way, if someone is pulling your fingernails out one by one, you’ll tell them anything they want to hear to make them stop.
  • Convictions based on evidence produced by torture must be considered highly unreliable, and therefore it works against justice being done and ties the justice system up in ethical and practical quandaries.
  • Anyone planning to attack the US and its allies is intending to do so anyway, and telling the truth will do nothing to make them more aggressive. They don’t need encouragement.

In reality, issues like this are all about who we want to be. Ultimately, we cannot control everybody else’s behaviour, we can only control our own.

 

This was how they used to treat prisoners in Dachau. Is this how we want our governments to behave>

This was how they used to treat prisoners in Dachau. Is this how we want our governments to behave>

 

I well remember my mother, who was a deeply conservative person and passionate supporter of Margaret Thatcher, surprising me one day by speaking out at the dinner table against detention without trial and torture in Northern Ireland, the province which during my early years was riven with sectarian strife, terrorism, and a trenchant government response. She said:

“You can’t make a country safe by being worse than the other people. The rule of law us what sets us apart from the animals in the jungle. Everyone has a right to a fair trial. Our behaviour needs to stand up as an example against those who abandon the rule of law.”

Naive? Possibly. Magnificent? Definitely.

Tell us what you think in the poll at the end of the story below.

You can read the background to the story in the Bloomberg report as follows:

Current and past U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, have mounted a campaign to try to block the release tomorrow of a Senate report detailing harsh interrogation tactics previously used by the CIA on suspected terrorists.

The opposition comes as Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee plan to release an executive summary of the 6,200-page report, which found the CIA used extreme interrogation methods at secret prisons more often than legally authorized and failed to disclose all the activities to lawmakers and other officials.

Despite warnings of retaliation abroad against Americans from those opposed to making the report public, the Obama administration supports its release, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said today.

“The president believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired,” he said. Earnest said the administration has taken steps to improve security at U.S. facilities around the world.

Releasing the findings will give terrorists fresh ammunition to escalate their violence and put the lives of additional U.S. officials and allies at risk, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence panel.

‘For What?’

“All they’ve got to do is find something they think indicates something and they’ll use it for their propaganda machine,” Rogers said today at a meeting of Bloomberg Government reporters and editors. “Why are we going to risk the lives of some diplomat, for what? We’re going to risk the lives of some intelligence official who had nothing to do with this, for what?”

Secretary of State John Kerry supports releasing the findings, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today. Kerry discussed the policy implications of the release in a phone call with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence panel, and said it was up to her to decide when to do so, Psaki said.

Duke University law professor Charles Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general, disagreed, calling Islamic State by an earlier acronym.

American Risks

“Although there may be some demonstrations and even some violence, I don’t think that it will particularly directly endanger Americans or American allies because those who represent a danger are already doing everything they can to inflict harm,” Dunlap said in a statement. “After all, ISIS is beheading innocent Americans and others – they hardly need more motivation for barbarism.”

Dunlap and several U.S. military and intelligence officials and diplomats said the real risk is, as Dunlap put it, “really to the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to get the cooperation it needs from other countries, not to mention the debilitating effect on morale of CIA and other intelligence professionals.”

U.S. officials are bracing for international blowback that could fuel riots and retaliation in countries hostile to the U.S. The Defense Department warned U.S. commands overseas on Dec. 5 to take appropriate force protection measures in anticipation of the findings release, and the State Department has directed overseas diplomatic posts to review their security.

Six Years

The final report, which cost $40 million and six years to complete, is the most comprehensive assessment of the CIA’s so-called “black site” detention facilities and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Barack Obama, who said the program amounted to torture, ordered that the practices never be used again when he took office in 2009.

Subjecting detainees to waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other harsh tactics such as sleep deprivation and stress positions produced little timely, accurate or valuable intelligence in the U.S. war on terrorism, according to U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous because the findings haven’t been released.

Some Democrats and human rights activists have hailed the report for finally exposing flaws and possible crimes in the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, which largely operated from 2002 to 2005.

‘Off Base’

The report appears to be “way off-base,” Bush said in an interview yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” telecast.

“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” Bush said. “These are patriots. And whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.” Others who are part of the campaign include Bush’s former CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden.

Congressional and administration officials said that current CIA Director John Brennan and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough have battled the Senate committee for months in an effort to redact as much of the report as possible.

Opponents of releasing the report also have created a website, CIASavedLives.com, where they plan to publish declassified documents, opinion pieces and media reports to rebut the Senate Democrats’ report. The site is being curated by William Harlow, Tenet’s former spokesman at the CIA.

Republicans and former Bush administration officials who ran the program condemned the report as a biased attempt to rewrite history. They say the interrogations produced significant intelligence that helped capture terrorists and protect the country.

‘Crucial Information’

“Information from the detainees was absolutely crucial to us understanding al-Qaeda and helping disturb, disrupt, dismantle and, in many cases, destroy al-Qaeda networks,” said Charles Allen, who managed the intelligence community’s collection programs from 1998 to 2005.

“It’s hard for people in 2014 to understand how the world fell in on top of the Central Intelligence Agency” after the 2001 attacks, Allen, now a principal with the global risk management advisory firm The Chertoff Group, said in an interview. “There was no wide-scale abuse of any of the interrogation authorities, and CIA officers simply do not lie to the Congress.”

The CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 183 times in March 2003, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum released in April 2009. The agency used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, who is an alleged al-Qaeda operative.

Hard Choices

Allen, the former CIA official, said “very hard” choices had to be made and the interrogation methods were necessary. He recalled a meeting in the spring of 2002 where then Tenet asked a group of inter-agency officials to raise their hands if they disagreed with the methods used.

A representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the only one to object and walked out of the room, Allen said. That was acceptable to Tenet and the small group because they knew the FBI operated under different authorities, Allen said.

Another FBI agent, Ali Soufan, has argued in recent years that enhanced techniques are both unnecessary and ineffective. Soufan was the first to interrogate Abu Zubaydah.

“There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics,” Soufan wrote in a 2009 column for the New York Times.

‘Gentler Approach’

Allen disagreed. “Would we have gotten all the information through a more patient, more gentler approach over a period of months?” he asked. “You don’t know, and certainly the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence doesn’t know because it’s all hypothetical.”

Some high-ranking military and intelligence veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan disagree, saying their experience is that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity and other “enhanced” techniques produce inaccurate, tainted and sometimes false information.

Other critics of the report, inside and outside the U.S. intelligence community, also say it failed to examine how officials in Bush’s White House and Pentagon kept demanding that the CIA extract more information from its captives, and Justice Department officials allowed them to do so by using techniques such as waterboarding that are widely considered torture.

tamir-rice-11

Further shocking details are emerging about the killing of 14 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.

Millions of people worldwide have watched the video as a police car screams to a halt next to the young boy playing alone in a gazebo and two seconds later the boy is shot multiple times.

These key questions remain to be answered:

  • Why did the police despatcher not inform the responding officers that the person reporting the boy holding the gun that the gun was “probably fake”?
  • Why did the police car pull up next to him rather than a safe distance away and assess the situation more calmly?
  • How were “three warnings” given within two seconds? Police claimed, according to the Associated Press, that the officer who opened fire on Rice asked the boy to put his hands up three times, suggesting that Rice was given ample warning before he was shot. The video footage doesn’t specifically disprove this, but it suggests the officer who shot Rice, Timothy Loehmann, would have given the commands incredibly quickly — again: Loehmann shot Rice within two seconds of his squad car pulling up to the park pavilion. You try saying “Hands up” three times in two seconds. We can’t. Let alone in a manner that would be comprehended by a terrified 12 year old boy.

But the story becomes more incredible and painful. As Tamir Rice’s 14-year-old sister rushed to her brother’s side upon learning he’d been shot, police officers “tackled” her, handcuffed her and placed her in a squad car with the Cleveland officer who shot Tamir, her mother and a Rice family attorney told reporters Monday.

The mother, Samaria Rice, was threatened with arrest herself as she “went charging and yelling at police” because they wouldn’t let her run to her son’s aid, she said.

Speaking at a Baptist church in Cleveland, Rice recalled how a seemingly normal November 22 morphed into tragedy as two Cleveland police officers pulled up to her son outside a recreation center across the street from her home. As you can see here, within two seconds of exiting the police car, Officer Timothy Loehmann gunned down Tamir, 12. The boy died the next day. Tamir was playing with a pellet gun, and a witness who saw “a guy with a pistol” told 911 twice that it was “probably” fake but that Tamir was scaring people. It doesn’t appear the 911 dispatcher relayed the information to Officers Loehmann, 26, and Frank Garmback, 46.

Police have said that Loehmann, who has been criticised for his policing in the past, opened fire after Tamir reached for the gun in his waistband and that an orange tip indicating the gun was a toy had been removed. Rice said she didn’t allow her son to play with toy guns, explaining that one of his friends had given it to him.

Records from the suburban Independence Police Department obtained by CNN include comments from a supervisor detailing what they called “a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions,” a “dangerous loss of composure during live range training” and an “inability to manage personal stress.”

“He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal,” according to the letter written by Deputy Chief Jim Polak of the Independence police.

The letter recommended that the department part ways with Loehmann, who went on to become a police officer with the Cleveland Division of Police.

“I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies,” Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak wrote of the police shooter in a November 2012 memo. So the next question to be asked is:

  • Why was this man allowed to continue as a frontline policeman?
  • Were his immediate superiors in the Cleveland Division of Police aware of the 2012 report?

It seems likely not. Apparently Cleveland officials drove to Independence to gather information about hiring the officer who eventually shot the boy, but never looked at his personnel file.

Cleveland police spokesman Sgt. Ali Pillow said Wednesday officers asked Independence police about Timothy Loehmann before hiring him in March, but police there referred them to the human resources department.

Pillow said the Independence human resource department told them Loehmann had no disciplinary actions taken against him. Loehmann officially resigned from Independence but officials there had been prepared to release him from duty.

The personnel file contained the Polak reports who questioned Loehmann’s ability to handle the duties of a police officer after an emotional breakdown during firearms training and other incidents that caused concern for his superiors.

They eventually decided they wanted to release Loehmann from the department but allowed him to resign.

Cleveland police on Wednesday amended their written policy on reviewing public personnel files for someone trying to get hired, Pillow said. Incredibly, they previously had no policies about viewing personnel files.

A harrowing knock on the door

Tamir’s mother recalled Monday how she got the news that the youngest of her four children had been shot.

“Two little boys came and knocked on my door and said, ‘Police officers just shot your son twice in the stomach,’ ” she said. “I really thought they was playing, like joking around, but I saw the seriousness in their face, and it scared me,” she said.

She ran to the scene, admittedly frantic, and arrived at the same time as an ambulance. Officers wouldn’t let her check on her son, she said, “and then I saw my daughter in the back of a police car, the same one the shooter got out of.” Family attorney Walter Madison said police placed Tamir’s sister in the car with Loehmann.

Samaria Rice said she calmed down and asked police to release her daughter. They told her no, she said. Not only would they not release her daughter, but later, she said, they made her choose: stay with her daughter or accompany her son to a hospital.

She chose the latter but was told she couldn’t ride in the back of the ambulance with her son, so she rode in the front seat on the way to the hospital, she said.

“The treatment of the family is unacceptable,” said Councilman Jeffrey Johnson, who appeared alongside the family at the news conference. “It just shows the lack of training when we shackle a grieving sister, threaten a grieving mother and not even take care of a child lying on the ground.”

Cleveland police declined to discuss the family’s allegations. Detective Jennifer Ciaccia told CNN, “We’re really not commenting further at this point.”

first aid

In a lawsuit filed last week against the city and the two officers, the family says Loehmann and Garmback “refused to provide any medical attention to Tamir for at least four minutes as he lay on the ground alive and bleeding.”

We may never know if that four minutes was crucial in the death of the child. Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams has previously said that four minutes after Tamir was shot, a detective and FBI agent arrived and the FBI agent administered first aid. Paramedics arrived three minutes later, the chief said.

One has to ask: having realised they have needlessly shot a 12 year old boy with a toy gun, how could anyone, in all conscience, leave him terrified and bleeding for four minutes on the ground?

Attorney: Brown, Garner cases aren’t templates

Attorney Benjamin Crump said the Rice family is “very distrustful” of the justice system, and in light of the grand jury rulings in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, is demanding a transparent investigation.

In contrast to the Brown and Garner cases, the family also wants the officers — who are on paid leave — charged before a grand jury hears the case, said Crump, who also represents the Brown family.

“There is nothing written anywhere in the law that says police officers are to be treated differently from any other citizen,” Crump said. “We cannot have children playing cops and robbers on a playground and police officers coming and claiming their lives.”

Tamir was by himself in a gazebo when Garmback and Loehmann pulled onto the grass alongside the gazebo and got out of their car. From the despatcher’s failure to relay the report that the gun was probably fake to the haste with which Loehmann shot the sixth-grader, Crump said “several things were done inappropriately,” which is sufficient probable cause to charge the policemen.

The family attorneys also called for the ouster of Safety Director Michael McGrath and Martin Flask, executive assistant to the mayor — a call echoing one by Councilman Johnson, who asked for their resignations in a Cleveland newspaper last week after a Justice Department report that said Cleveland police had a pattern of excessive force.

The family’s primary objective, Crump said, is to “hold the killer of their child accountable.”

“Tamir was a bright child. He had a promising future,” his mother sadly said, explaining that he was a talented artist, drummer and athlete.

Asked what would represent justice in her eyes, Samaria Rice replied, “I’m actually looking for a conviction.”

A thorough and meaningful investigation and charges – if warranted – would be a start. And we assert that the place for these matters to be settled is in open court. Another Grand Jury sitting “in camera” and finding yet another policeman has no case to answer will lead to more civil trouble across the US, and a further widespread loss of confidence in the “system”. But currently it looks like the matter will go to a Grand Jury again.

Meanwhile, the innocents are left to mourn. On Sunday Tamir’s father Gregory Henderson said the youngster had his whole life ahead of him when he was gunned down.

Wiping away tears, he said: ‘Who would’ve thought he would go so soon? He had his whole life ahead. To be 12 years old, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Police, they know what they’re doing.’

Whether or not they do is what a court should decide.

And we also note, this case is different from the Brown case in Ferguson. In this case, there’s a video.

And we ask – not to create tension, but simply to speak truth to power – this question must be asked by anyone who sincerely wants America’s streets to be safer for all, and for that great nation to stop torturing itself in this manner – would this have happened if the young man was white? We will not enter a debate on the matter: we assert it is for every individual reading this sorry tale to ask themselves in the quiet of their heart, “would this have happened if the boy was white”, and to reflect on their ponderings.

crystal ballHere at the Wellthisiswhatithink crystal ball gazers society, we have something of a reputation for calling elections correctly. In fact, we have got every Parliamentary election (UK Westminster, Australia Victoria and Federal), and Presidential election (USA), correct since 1979, including the “hung Parliament” in the UK last time. And sometimes we’ve been spot on: we made quite a bit of dosh on the electoral college figures for Obama not once but twice.

It’s not really rocket science. It’s just about knowing what one is about. Check the polls, assiduously, all of them – not for the hard figures, but rather how they fluctuate over time. Or don’t.

Vitually all elections follow a trendline. The “Big Mo”, or momentum, the Americans call it. Viewed externally, that is to say not working for one of the major campaigns, it’s usually surprisingly simple to discern the mo. Just listen to people in the street, in your office, in cafes, watch the news, scan social media, sit in the pub with your ears open. Watch people’s faces. It’s normally unmistakeable who they intend voting for when push comes to shove.

Which is why we are absolutely certain that the Labor Party will win tomorrow’s election in Victoria.

Since the disastrous Federal Budget in April, the Liberal National Coalition have not headed the ALP. The poll then was 52-48. It has never been better for the Lib-Nats than that, although it has been worse.

And right up until today it was still 52-48, although the very latest poll for the Age (taken over the last three days) now has it as 50-50 on a “two party preferred basis” after a notional redistribution of preferences.

And 50-50, ladies and gentlemen, is mo. But it’s a switch: at the very last minute, it is momentum for the Liberals and Nationals, not the ALP. So whilst we are absolutely certain that the ALP will win, we actually aren’t, anymore. Certain,that is. Because if that momentum continues over into tomorrow, it could really be a real squeaky bum hole night for both major parties.

So after months of the contest being a “no contest”, what is happening?

The race is closing. It’s been obvious for a week or so. Whether it closes enough will decide the result.

Partly this is because people – ordinary folk, not political junkies – only really focus on who to vote for right at the last minute, and sometimes when they actually get into the polling booth. That effect is lessened when the election is interesting, or about great matters of moment. Neither applies here.

The other factor is there is a world of difference between answering an opinion poll question and actually voting for who you want to be your government.

Right up to the declaration of results for the last state election, for example, the incumbents – Labor – were considered a shoe in – steady, unspectacular Labor that was, with a respected if not loved leader in John Brumby, and no obvious slip ups in living memory.

Except there was a strong undercurrent running that the opinion polls failed to pick up because they couldn’t frame a question that could capture it: that the reason Labor never made a mistake was because they never actually did anything. And that was enough to deliver the narrowest of wins to the Coalition. We picked it – we hated Brumby’s smarmy, self-satisfied performance which was obviously mostly fluff, and we reckoned lots of other people did too – no media pundits did.

It was even acknowledged by the current leader of the Labor Party immediately after the election that this lack of achievement – talking a good story but doing little – was the single biggest reason for their defeat.

Is there such an undercurrent running now? Well, once again, we believe there is. And the undercurrent is made up of a number of factors.

The first is that the Australian electorate is incredibly and consistently “small c” conservative: it dislikes change. Less so nowadays, but still very discernibly.

There hasn’t been a one term Government in Victoria since 1955 – nearly 60 years ago. We have a visceral dislike for changing Governments at all levels, and only do so when we are convinced that the one in power currently is exceptionally incompetent or venal. Those criticisms cannot be levelled at Napthine’s government.

They have delivered a strong budget surplus, kept taxes down, are offering to spend a billion more on pork barrelling than Labor as a result – yes, the Libs are the big spenders in this election – and they have been effectively clear of sleaze or corruption with the exception of the hideous Geoff Shaw debacle in Frankston, which in our view the electorate has now pretty much forgotten.

It’s one thing to tell a pollster that you’re thinking of giving the Libs a kick in the tush because, well, just because it seems the appropriately iconoclastic thing to do – it’s quite another thing to consciously put geeky, gawky “Dan” Andrews into the big job when likeable old Napthine hasn’t really done anything wrong. We think that will give people pause for thought that hasn’t been picked up in the polls.

The second is that the Liberals and Nationals are infinitely more effective at encouraging and organising people to vote early by post or pre-poll, and there have already been 1 million such votes cast …

Earlier today we heard a radio commentator opine that the more that the gross number of pre/postal votes climbed, the more accurately they will mirror the overal vote pattern. That is to say, as they have been collected over the last three weeks in large numbers, they should be expected to break, say, 52-48 in favour of Labour.

But in our personal experience the effectiveness of the Liberal “ground game” significantly outweighs Labor’s, (the opposite is true in the USA), and therefore we suspect these already-cast ballots could break much closer to 51-49 to the Coalition. If that’s the case, and the vote in the booths tomorrow is roughly 50-50, then this could still be a very, very close election indeed.

Against that, and as a whole, Victoria tends to lean to the ALP at all elections.

It was the best state for Labor at the last Federal election, even with the relentless train wreck that was the Rudd-Gillard fiasco. And the feeling that the Federal budget was tailor-made to be nasty to the little people has been exacerbated by the very well understood piece of political calculation that Messrs Abbott and Hockey are both rich, both Sydneysiders, and both seem uncomfortable and sometimes contemptuous when speaking about the rest of Australia past the Blue Mountains.

Picking up on that angst, the TV know-it-alls reckon the seats down the Frankston line will be the deciders in the contest, chock full of annoyed battlers and retirees, and they might be right, at that – Frankston and Carrum look very wobbly at least – but we suspect that is so much received wisdom, especially as it ignores the contests in marginals in the countryside such as the regional cities of Ballaraat and Bendigo which might well be closer than predicted. There has been an assumption made that Labor will snap up some of the country marginals, too, but the very Melbourne-centric Labor Party doesn’t play well in regional Vic, whereas bumbly, horse-owning country vet Dennis Napthine plays unusually well.

In the country, Napthine is often touted as “one of us”, which could not with the best will in the world be said of long-term party apparatchick Daniel Andrews, despite him being brought up in Wangarratta in the State’s north. Not for nothing has he been spruiking that fact again and again in recent weeks: nevertheless, his urban veneer is perfectly obvious.

The last factor that is being largely ignored by the chattering chardonnay drinking classes in the inner city is that, far from being a vote loser, the very controversial East-West Link (road tunnel) which has led almost every news bulletin in what seems like a year has actually been becoming more and more popular with the voters as the Government has patiently explained its rationale, and voters in a string of semi-marginal Eastern and outer-Eastern seats have sweltered in traffic jams at the Hoddle St exits.

Certainly the project has been controversial, and one could argue the Government’s obdurate secrecy on much of the detail has been annoying for many. But ultimately, the question is, “Would I like to get to the Tullamarine Freeway from the end of the Eastern Freeway 20 minutes faster than I can now?”

There are tends of thousands of frustrated commuting motorists – not to mention commercial truck drivers – who will say “Yes”. Sure, they’re not the types that protest on street corners, but they do vote.

And the latest opinion poll on the topic, almost ignored by most of the media because it doesn’t suit the anti-tunnel hysteria they themselves have whipped up, has approval for the East-West Link sitting at a pretty emphatic 63%. That’s a big enough gap in favour to be significant. Not for nothing have the Liberals been bleating that only they will build the East-West Link. If they can get 50.5% of that 63% to vote for them, they’ve held onto power.

So there we have it. The Liberals and Nationals will retain power and Napthine will continue as Premier, at least for now. We know this to be true.

Except, we don’t. Our gut instinct still tells us that a small Labor win – perhaps a majority of as little as two or three seats – is the most likely result. A very good Labor win would look like a majority of maybe 8: anything above that would be a landslide and that is very unlikely. So if we had to part with our wrinkled ten shilling note at the bookies, we’d stick with Labor to win – just – if for no other reason than enough people might want to send a nasty message to the detested Tony Abbott and will sweep poor old well-meaning Napthine aside in the process.

And we’ve been confidently predicting Labor to win for a year. So: Labor to win. Just.

Unless, of course, they don’t. In which case, you – er – heard it here first.

PS Real political junkie stuff. Will the Greens win any lower house seats? We’re guessing no. Who would replace Napthine as party leader if he loses? Matthew Guy. Who incidentally, would have won this election hands down, if the Baillieu camp had not headed him off at the pass by handing the leadership to Napthine in the first place. Or to put it another way, be careful what you wish for.

viting historic

The Victorian State election is tomorrow (Saturday). It’s been so bloody dull this far most people will forget it’s on until they try to walk down the street and get accosted by wild-eyed fanatics handing out How to Vote cards.

Anyhow: non-Victorian readers who are not total election luvvies can turn off now.

For the rest of us, the only real interest in this election, given that it looks very likely than “Dan the Man” Andrews and his Labor Party will win, (although the very latest polls are showing a tightening), is what happens in the Upper House.

This house is like the Senate in Canberra – it’s elected in regions by proportional representation. Which means, of course, that it’s virtually impossible to know what will happen because preferences flow every which way, and we could well end up with an Upper House with all sorts of odd bods in it, making life tricky for any incoming government.

It also means that most voters don’t have a bloody clue how to actually vote formally in the upper house election. For all of you, here’s the facts courtesy of Anthony Green of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, edited judiciously by us.

What is your Upper House vote?

legislative council

The Victorian Legislative Council, or upper house, is like the Senate in Canberra. It is a ‘house of review’ with five members elected by proportional representation from each of eight regions.

Unlike the Senate in Canberra, the Legislative Council does not have staggered terms for its members. All 40 members of the Council face election every four years at the same time as the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, Victoria’s “House of Reps”.

Each of the eight regions consists of 11 of the state’s lower house electorates. When you turn up to vote you will be given the lower house ballot paper for your local electorate, (Melbourne, Richmond, Bulleen, etc) and the ballot paper for the corresponding Legislative Council or upper house region. Got that? Two ballot papers. On we go.

What do I see on my ballot paper?

Along with your small lower house ballot paper, (which you number “1” to however many candidates there are – you MUST number all the boxes) you will also be given a large upper house ballot paper. Your upper house ballot paper is divided across the middle by a thick horizontal black line.

Candidates and their parties are organised into columns running across the ballot paper. Each column has a single box above the line by which you can vote for a party, OR multiple boxes next to candidate names below the line by which you can indicate numbered preferences for their candidates.

Unless, of course, you’re in the North.

Sadly, the Northern Metropolitan Region ballot paper is even more complex. It has two rows of party voting boxes above the line, and two rows of party candidates below the line.

The first row of boxes above the line is for the first row of candidates below the line, and the second row of boxes above the line is for the second row of candidate boxes.

As Green remarks, it is truly horrible, but the alternative to doing this was the reduced font size and magnifying glasses issued at last year’s Senate election. Basically, good luck working out what the fuck is going on.

If you vote in Northern Metropolitan Region and get this ugly ballot paper, just double check with the Polling Officers that you have voted for the party you think you are voting for. A few extra moments checking avoids you voting for someone you didn’t mean to.

Don’t Confuse Party Names

Premier Denis Napthine leads the Liberal Party. His party appears on the ballot paper with the column heading ‘Liberal’ in the metropolitan area, and ‘Liberal/The Nationals’ in the country regions.

There is another party appearing on the ballot paper in all regions as the ‘Liberal Democrats’. Be warned that the Liberal Democrats ARE NOT the Liberal Party and have nothing to do with Premier Denis Napthine. So if you are intending to vote for Denis Napthine and the Liberal Party, don’t vote for the Liberal Democrats by mistake. Of course, if you like the Liberal Democrats best, vote for them first.

Daniel “Call me Dan” Andrews is the leader of the Australian Labor Party. They are not the same as the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). If you intend to vote for Daniel Andrews and the Labor Party, don’t give your first vote for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) ARE NOT the Australian Labor Party. Of course, if you want to vote DLP, go right ahead.

Remember, when you vote above the line for a party, THEY decide where your voting preferences go. So if you vote for any party above the line on the ballot paper, which is quick and easy, it is always possible your ballot paper will end up with another party through preference distribution.

And never start off by giving your first preference to the wrong party by accident.

How do I vote?

You have two options when you vote, voting either above the line or below the line.

You can place a single ‘1’ in one of the boxes above the line to simply vote for a party.

Or, you can vote for candidates from 1 to 5 below the line. You can then stop, or go on numbering below the line beyond five for as many candidates as you like right up to numbering the whole ballot paper.

Hang on, is this different from the Senate?

Yes it is, in a very important way. At last year’s Senate election, when you voted below the line you had to number every square. In Victoria you are only required to number from 1 to 5 below the line for a formal vote. All preferences beyond 5 are optional. Put one preference, five, ten, twenty, or the whole lot. Up to you.

What happens if I vote for a party above the line?

When you vote for a single party above the line, your ballot paper is distributed as if you have expressed a preference vote, and the preferences used will be those pre-decided by the party you vote for.

There have been some very weird and controversial preference deals struck by both Labor and the Liberals at this election, especially to the detriment of the Green Party. If you want to check the preference tickets of each party before deciding who to vote for, which we recommend, you can examine them at the VEC website.

Then again, if you believe and trust your chosen first preference party, you probably do not care much about who your chosen party directs preferences to.

Checking preference deals can be very complex. Trying to understand how a party’s preferences will be distributed requires understand the very complex counting system, and also making assumptions on what percentage of first preferences each party will poll.

So if you do care about your preferences, it is probably quicker and easier for you to vote below the line for candidates and keep writing in numbers until you don’t care any more, or you’re sure you definitely don’t want your preference to end up with the Monster Raving Loony Party*, rather than try to understand the very complex preference tickets.

*Despite what you may think we don’t have one of those in Victoria, although they do in the UK.

What happens if I give more than one preference above the line?

You can, but it won’t make any difference. Only your first preference ever counts above the line. Any 2, 3, 4 and so on preferences above the line would simply be completely ignored. Only your first preference ‘1’ counts, and your ballot paper is also deemed to have the preference tickets of your first choice party.

How do I vote below the line?

A vote below the line must have the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in some clear order to be a formal vote. If you wish you can go on to number 6, 7, 8, and so on for as many candidates as you like on the ballot paper.

You can vote for any candidates in any group below the line. Some parties are standing 5 candidates, which means you can vote 1 to 5 in that group, but you don’t have to. You can vote 1 for a Labor candidate, 2 for a Greens, 3 for a Liberal, 4 for a Sexual Freedom For Fish* candidate, and so on.

*Nope, we don’t have any of those either

If there’s a group or party that have fewer than five candidates that you want to vote for first, then you have to go on and number candidates in more than one column. You must number from at least 1 to 5, so if you were to just number 1,2 in a single column and stop, then your vote will be informal and won’t count.

Don’t mix and match between above and below the line. You can either vote a single ‘1’ above the line, or the numbers 1 to 5 below the line. Mixing up numbering between the two options will make your vote informal.

Then again, if you correctly number at least 1 to 5 below the line, and a single 1 above the line, your vote is formal both above and below the line, and the counting rule is to always apply a formal below the line vote before a formal above the line vote. Simples, huh?

Can I go on beyond 5 preferences below the line?

Yes, and the more preferences you give, the greater chance that your vote will stay live in the count for longer. If you vote below the line, ensure you vote at least 1 to 5, and then go on giving preferences for as many candidates as you know or like or care about.

What is the best way to number my ballot below the line?

It’s this simple: number candidates in the order you would like to see them elected. Give your ‘1’ vote to the candidate you would most like to see elected, 2 to your second preferred candidate, and so on.

If you try and get really tricky-clever with so-called strategic voting you might end up outsmarting yourself. Strategic voting is only possible if you are able to estimate the vote each party will achieve. Even pointy-head experts have difficulty determining this, so the best strategy for everyone is simply to number candidates in the order you would like to see them elected and if you don’t care after a while, stop.

Can my ballot paper “run out” of preferences?

Yes. If you just number 1 to 5, and all five of your preferences are for candidates who have already been elected or excluded (“knocked out of”) the count, then your ballot paper will ‘exhaust’ its preferences. An “exhausted” ballot paper is one that has no preferences for a candidate remaining in the count, so the ballot paper is put aside as out of preferences and plays no further part in the count. It cannot be further used to determine the election of another candidate.

For this reason, it is always best to keep numbering beyond five candidates. If you think all the other candidates are a waste of space and want to stop at 5, you can do that, of course. But if you have views on other candidates on the ballot paper, and you want your vote to have the maximum impact, it is best to keep numbering for as many numbers as you see fit.

Exhausted ballot papers mean that it is possible for the final candidates in the Council to be elected with less than a full quota of votes, which isn’t desirable.

How can I work out what to do in advance, so I’m not standing in the booth for half an hour?

When you vote, you must fill in the official ballot paper handed to you in the polling place. Only a duly authorised ballot paper can be admitted to the count.

But if you want to vote below the line, there are sites where you can prepare your list of candidates, print them out and take them along to vote. Then just copy your sequence of numbers across to the actual ballot paper.

You can try Cluey Voter.

There. Now that was all clear as mud, eh? Good luck.

The Upper House election is likely to be crucial this year as regards the future governance of the State. Make sure you know what you’re doing!

A friend challenges me to briefly discuss the difference between communism (as in, it’s a common refrain from the right that all sorts of left wing (or even mildly populist centrist) politicians are just communists, basically, and all sorts of public figures to the right of Ghengis Kahn in our political systems are just, essentially, fascists.

obama_nazi_communist_muslim_peaceWhat’s the difference, huh, pontificator?

Well, this was all started by the way the terms are used by all sides to demonise anyone the protagonists don’t like – most obviously, poor old President Obama, who seems to be one of everything depending on which angle the person doing the criticising is coming from.

So laving aside, for a moment, whether those insulting generalisations, have any meaning, and honing in on the core of the question – what is the difference between communism and fascism? – and the answer is, precious little, looking at history.

But it should immediately be said that most communists believe there has never been a communist society, and there have certainly been fascist ones, so that exemption should be acknowledged.

There is a real difference, though, even between Stalinism, state socialism, Sovietism, Maoism, (or whatever you want to call the regimes that have masqueraded under the title communist), and Fascism.

Fascism has been supported in the past because it protects the rights of the rich industrialists, and in Spain, Italy and Central America, the Roman Catholic Church, as well. (Which is why it has always been so split in half between deeply conservative opinion and “liberation” theology.) In general, fascism did a very poor job of protecting the needs of workers – as they were irrelevant to the programme, and was antithetical to any type of organised labour at all – and this was seen especially so in the rural areas of Spain and Italy, and later throughout South America. Other than in Germany, where it can be argued that materially the workers did quite well under Nazism at least for a while, but that was coming off such a low base that it hardly counts.

But at least sometimes, state socialism has historically been successful at delivering basic needs to many people. Cuba is probably the most obvious success story where literacy rates and free essential healthcare are better, for example, than in the USA.

But it must also be immediately acknowledged that any success has been through the removal of free comment, dissent and freedom of movement, and it has also been responsible for grinding poverty and even starvation, especially in Cambodia, China, Russia and North Korea, where it can further be argued that starvation was used as a shameful article of deliberate public policy.

The worst of the worst.

The worst of the worst.

There is no doubt that the worst mass murderer in history was Mao-Tse-Tung, whose crimes dwarf Hitler’s even, by a factor of at least three or four times.

Stalin was also responsible for maybe as many deaths as Hitler.

Of course, history is written by the victors, and I have heard it argued that the “industrialisation” of horror by Hitler sets him and the Nazis apart from all the other horrible people the 20th century threw up. I am not sure that’s relevant, though the images of the cattle trucks and crematoriums have seared themselves into the West’s collective consciousness, to be sure. Then again, if we had film of hundreds of thousands of those opposing Mao (and some supporting him) being machine-gunned or buried alive, we’d be just as deeply shocked by the ‘industrial scale” of that.

Dead is dead, after all.

We think what links all totalitarians (which is a better word, I think, than any of the names of specific movements) is that they essentially do not care genuinely about the rights or opinions of the governed, or they are prepared to discard them lightly, and they enact laws, and create situations, where the people governed have no recourse against the Government, whatever that Government is called. The move from a pre-fascist to a fascist state can then be accomplished virtually overnight, and often with a veneer of legality, as in Germany in 1933.

So is there any sense in which totalitarianism is still relevant to modern Western countries? Aren’t we past all that?

In our carefully-considered view, there are many in position of great power in America that have no regard for the rights of the Governed at all.

They are headed by industrialists like the Koch’s, (and there are many others), but they also include many of the multi-headed hydra-like organisations that continually denigrate the role of government per se, and lead people who are ill-educated to question the core principles of democracy.

By our observation, there is little doubt that these people are almost entirely on the right – often the far right – and they have, as a plan, the deliberate takeover of the Republicans as their stalking horses for the gutting and enfeebling of American democracy.dollar

They also flood the Democratic Party with money through more carefully concealed channels, in order to corrupt the system entirely.

Which is one reason their encroachment on the civil state rarely excites any attention from legislators.

He who pays the piper plays the tune.

TNY_electioncosts_optIn our view, until thorough finance reform is enacted, (and we don’t believe it will be), then the people cannot take back control of their republic, and that is why we believe America to be, quite genuinely, in a pre-fascist or neo-fascist state, and one that any thinking American should be utterly committed to resisting.

In short, we are deeply pessimistic about America’s future.

A final cataclysm could be triggered by the deliberate engineering of a legislative log-jam combined with a stock market collapse, very possibly based around a debt default, which would be equally engineered. Artificially creating concern about economic performance, or actually precipitating a collapse in economic performance, is a classic last-stage fascist tactic.

In our considered opinion, Democracy itself is under threat in many places in the world, but nowhere more obviously than in the United States, and we see little or no determination in America to face it, living in the bubble, as Americans so often are, of the oft-repeated nonsense that they are “the best country in the world”.

In many ways, and laudably, America is wonderful – but it is also very badly served by the continual lie that it is incapable of being improved or cannot learn form the opinions and experiences of those overseas.

fcWhere one sees it repeated parrot-fashion by an increasingly right-wing media, interpolated subtly into popular debate, into foreign news coverage, even into sports coverage, it is very easy to also see it as “Go to sleep. Go to sleeeeep. Everything’s OK, go to sleeeeeeeeeeep.”

Bread and circuses for everybody, and if you don’t think that’s enough, well, you must be an intellectual pinko Commie bastard.

And incidentally, the increased militarisation of police, and more significantly the constant excusing of excessive police force, incident by incident, is just one more very obvious precursor to fascism. The casual and growing acceptance that it is OK to harass and jail whistleblowers, or even to kill US citizens deemed to be a threat without trial, on American soil or overseas, are other indicators.

Well, Sleepers Awake! we say, before you wake up one morning and find Democracy has become little more than a sham, and your freedom to discuss it or to do anything meaningful about it has been stripped from you. We all need to understand that fascism works by taking over public institutions and making them its own, NOT by abolishing them. A semblance of Democracy is not the same thing as Democracy.

America will always have a Congress and a Senate. It will always have State Legislations. You’ll still elect the local Sheriff and Judge. That doesn’t mean they will always respond to voters, and can’t be entirely under the purview of the shadowy paymasters who really pull the strings.

You have been warned.

Further reading: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Communism_vs_Fascism

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

 

The latest utter drivel coming from the right in America is that they’re going to impeach Obama for using (well, threatening to use, anyhow, and he probably will) an Executive Order to break the (Republican organised) log-jam on Immigration.

Now, we don’t wish to comment on American immigration policy – too complicated from this distance, and we have enough problems with our own in Australia – but we sure as hell feel able to comment on the idiots who think he should be impeached.

Can you see the difference between Obama and these enthusiastic users of Executive Orders? There are two essential differences.

exec order

Yes, we think you spotted the two differences pretty quickly didn’t you?

Given the staggeringly low level of achievement of both the House of Reps and the Senate since Obama came to the Oval office, and the GOP’s deliberate and unashamed obstructionism which looks set to get even worse, we suggest that #uppittydemocratniggerwhoinsistsonfuckingdoingstuff just about explains the current impeachment push.

And just for the record, in case any of our Republican readers don’t do big three-digit figures, Obama has used Executive Orders less than any of the others except Lincoln.

Frankly, if the hard-right GOP continue to eschew any attempts to create any bipartisan agreement, then we’re hopeful that Obama just presses on and gives the Republicans the regular whacking they so richly deserve. He has been altogether far too polite and reserved with them thus far for our liking. It’s time to give these Tea-Party-led-by-the-nose numpties a lesson in Government. Which is not the same, please note, as Opposition.

In doing so, he’ll give his own party and supporters something to cheer, too. Which they need.

An exceptionally well-researched piece of work by AP and Rachel Maddow which you can read here goes even further than our irritated rant. It points our that at least three former Republican Presidents used exactly this sort of action to grant – yes, you’ve guessed it – protection to illegal immigrants living in the USA, when Congress couldn’t get it’s shit together.

Bizarre. Bring it on, we say.

Anzac dead in captured Turkish trenches in Gallipoli

I wrote this poem remembering attending so many Remembrance Day services with my mother, whose husband, the father who I never knew, died at 46, a cheerful but essentially broken man, after six years of service in the Royal Navy..

I am very proud of this poem, both as a poem, in and of itself, and as an authentic expression of my feelings and some things I consider important.

I am largely a pacifist in my outlook, but I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line defending values I hold dear, and opposing tyranny.

It references not only those solemn services attended at memorials with my mother, but the many times since I have seen elderly people stand and pay their respects to the dead of both World Wars, and other wars.

Anzac DayThere is a wave of emotion sweeping Australia at the moment when Anzac day rolls around, with record numbers of people attending Dawn Services both around the country and in places overseas such as Papua New Guinea and Galipolli.

Increasingly, those people have young faces. The great grandchildren, grandchildren and children of those who were wounded, broken, and died. Why the sudden upsurge of interest? Perhaps younger people today look back to a past when the issues were simpler and convictions stronger.

I am also sure that the 39 Australian service people killed in Afghanistan since hostilities broke out there have something to do with it. The Americans and others have lost more people, of course, but those 39 lives are a grievous loss to a country with a population as small as Australia’s, just as the disproportionate sacrifice of the World War I diggers left a scar across the country that took generations to heal: the faces and stories of those brave young people killed in Afghanistan in recent years sure focuses the mind.

I am also reminded, on this solemn day, of the most important thing ever said about conflict, which is, of course:

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story - just head here.

(Article re-published for Anzac Day 2013 and Remembrance Day 2014.)

abbottdutton

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.

 

As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.

 

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

 

Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.

mitch-mcconnell-glum
Excellent article on Rachel Maddow’s site today, which effectively skewers any idea that the Republican Party somehow now have a mandate to govern. The arguments should be read widely in America today: very good commonsense thinking.

It’s going to be a hot topic in the coming days and weeks. Having taken control of the Senate, is there a new GOP mandate for it to pursue with its new-found control of both houses of Congress?

That’s a question Republicans and Democrats will be debating in coming days, as the GOP makes the case that its election victories add up not only to an electoral “wave”, but to a mandate – a genuine endorsement of conservative policies – while Democrats cast them as something less.

Part of the problem is that we’re dealing with terms that have no specific, generally accepted meaning. For example, was this a “wave” election? Maybe, but there is no actual definition of the word, and because it’s somewhat subjective, opinions vary.

A “mandate,” meanwhile, also seems to mean different things to different people. Traditionally, it’s supposed to be part of a democratic model: a candidate or a party presents an agenda to the public, the public then endorses the candidate or party, and the winners claim a popular mandate. That is, by prevailing in an election, the victors believe they’ve earned the popular support needed to pursue the policy measures they presented during the campaign.

As of this morning, Republicans are predictably claiming just such a mandate, and at the surface, it may seem as if they have a point. The GOP took control of the Senate, expanded their House majority, flipped some state legislative bodies, and fared surprisingly well in gubernatorial races. The result, they say, is an endorsement from the American people that affords them the right to pursue their top priorities.

It’s a nice argument, which just happens to be wrong.

The Republican right can't have it both ways. But they will try.

The Republican right can’t have it both ways. But they will try.

Right off the bat, perhaps the most glaring flaw with the Republican pitch is that the GOP seems to believe only Republicans are capable of claiming a mandate.

Two years ago, President Obama won big, Senate Democrats kept their majority for a fourth-consecutive cycle; and House Democratic candidates earned far more votes than their House Republican counterparts.

Did this mean Dems had a popular mandate for their agenda? GOP leaders replied, “Absolutely not.”

Indeed, the Republicans said the opposite, concluding that Obama and his agenda may have been endorsed by the nation, but it was the GOP’s job to kill the every Democratic priority anyway. They proceeded to be the most obstructionist Congress in history, rendering the nation effectively ungovernable.

Elections have consequences? Republicans have spent the last two years insisting otherwise. It’s laughable for GOP officials to now change their mind and declare, in effect, “Mandates only exist when we win.”

What’s more, the obvious question for those arguing that Republicans have a mandate this morning is simple: “A mandate to do what, exactly?”

Think about the policy platform Republicans emphasised over the course of the last several months. Let’s see there was … well, we can’t forget about … but they certainly pushed … there was a real debate about issues such as … Ebola-stricken terrorists crossing the border from Mexico?

Look, it’s not exactly a secret that the GOP’s priorities, such as they are, do not enjoy broad national support. The party did its best to obscure its unpopular ideas for fear of losing. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even went so far as to tell reporters the other day, “This is not the time to lay out an agenda.”

Not to put too fine a point on this, but that, in a nutshell, effectively ends the “mandate” debate. A party, no matter how well it does in an election, cannot claim a mandate for a policy agenda that does not exist and was not presented to the people. Vaguely blathering on about smaller government, or using explicitly abusive negativity, (as we said yesterday), doth not a mandate make. What exactly do the Republican Party stand for as opposed to against?

Republicans ran an “agenda-free campaign.” Did it produce big wins? Yes. Unarguably. Did it create a mandate? Very obviously not.

donkeyWe do not consider ourselves to be either Robinson Crusoe or Nostradamus in predicting a poor day for the Democrats today in the USA. It does not require us to be especially prescient to predict a dark day for the centre left, and a big celebration night for the centre-right. Commentary and polls have been running strongly that way in the last ten days.

Many races will be a lot closer than people have been predicting, but in general we expect the Republicans to do better tonight USA time. We are ambivalent on whether they will take control of the Senate: on balance, we have suspected JUST not until very recently, but as the counting continues it is increasingly possible, undoubtedly, especially if the Democrats are in trouble in a swathe of Southern and Western States where they had hoped to hold off GOP challenges, as in states like Arkansas and Colorado.

Why the Republicans are doing well is perhaps more interesting.

A referendum? Maybe. But on much more than just the Presidency.

Barack ObamaThere is a general assumption that the result will be a “referendum” on President Obama, who has been struggling in the polls for some time now, despite a strong bounceback in the American economy.

There is a pervasive view in America that the economy is not doing well: despite a recovery from the depths of the recent recession, markedly higher employment levels and a soaring stock market, the economy remains the top worry for voters, with an overwhelming majority pessimistic that conditions won’t get better soon, according to Tuesday evening exit polls.

When Bill Clinton won the Presidency he famously had a large sign on his campaign headquarters walls that cried out “It’s the economy, Stupid”, to remind him and all spokespeople to focus on the economy as by far the most important issue for voters. Well today, 78% of Americans said they are worried about the economy, according to CNN reporting on national exit polls. Another 69 percent said that in their view economic conditions are not good. Nearly half of voters said the economy is the most important issue facing the country at 45 percent. Health care, foreign policy and illegal immigration are also top concerns, but ranked well below.

Overall, 65 percent said the country is on the wrong track and 31 percent said it’s headed in the right direction, the exit polls found.

The survey of 11,522 voters nationwide was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 281 precincts Tuesday, as well as 3,113 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 24 through Nov. 2. This will bias the results against the Democrat incumbent, as pre-poll votes favour the Republicans, and the poll quotes a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Nevertheless, the broad thrust of the poll is essentially right.

But Republicans shouldn’t celebrate too hard

The voters have thoroughly had it right up to their yingyang, according to exit polls released Tuesday evening. The national survey of voters showed broad dissatisfaction with both parties, the Obama administration and Congress.

58% of those casting ballots in the midterms were either dissatisfied or angry at the White House, while just 11 percent said they are enthusiastic with the administration and 30 percent said they were satisfied, according to CNN.

Another 54 percent said they disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job while 44 percent said they approve.

But the winners are winners by default. The Republican leadership does not fare well in the eyes of voters either, with 59 percent saying they are not happy with GOP leaders in Congress.

And as for the parties as a whole, 56 percent view the GOP unfavourably, while 53 percent say the same of Democrats. Hardly a crushing endorsement for the Republicans. More like “a plague on both your houses”.

And a whopping 79 percent said had a negative view of Congress, according to CNN. This statistic has hardly changed since the Republican-led shut downs of Government some time back.

Politics as a whole is the loser

Meanwhile, voters are split on how much the federal government be involved in people’s lives, as 41 percent said the government should do more and 53 percent said the government does too much.

The trust level is also staggeringly low. Sixty-one percent said they trust lawmakers in Washington only some of the time. Democracy itself is under question here. Accordingly, we expect to see some solid swings against incumbents of both parties tonight.

voter IDWe also expect to see a bigger turnout from Republican voters than Democrats, favouring the GOP, and that’s before we factor in the ludicrous “Voter ID” push from the right which may have effectively disenfranchised as many as 7 million Americans, almost all of whom would have voted Democrat. If the Republicans take control of the Senate by less than those 7 million votes in the States that have enacted voter ID legislation then what we will have been watching is little more than a legalised coup d’etat. It won’t be the first time, either. Remember the Gore-Bush fiasco in Florida?

Whatever you believe about the ID laws, the other factor is that GOP voters are currently more motivated to vote partly through their visceral hatred of Obama – some of which is undoubted racially-based, sadly, but also through perceived American weakness on the international stage, and other hot buttons – but also through deep concerns about the size of Government debt, especially on the far right with the Tea Party and its fellow travellers. The other significant factor is that voters that identify as Independents can expect to break heavily in favour of the Republicans, reversing recent trends, and again reflective of the generalised malaise with all incumbents and with Democrats in particular.

There is little question that along with a generalised dislike of Government per se in the Western world at the moment, there is a pervasive concern about the size of Government, and the arguments of small government libertarians have gained some traction with those who feel especially disgruntled. Whether this will turn into a broadly-supported consensus for what a small government democratic society would look like is, to our mind, far less likely. Small government is all very well until they start to abolish the bit you happen to like.

Building agreement to substantially reduce the role of Government following sixty years of mixed-economy high-touch post-WW2 consensus politics will be much more difficult than promising to keep expanding spending inexorably. We suspect pork barreling is not about to disappear anytime soon.

Ye will reap what ye sow. So be careful what you sow.

However, what we see in this election is the net result of years and years of relentlessly negative campaigning by the Republicans, in effect “talking down” the economy, talking down the President’s performance, and talking down confidence generally. In our entire adult life of closely following American politics we do not recall ever having seen such a sustained barrage of brutal criticism, virtually entirely unsupported by any serious policy alternatives.

In reality, apart from the race card, this is due to one factor above all others. Let down, in our opinion, by an inability to strike the right note in promoting their successes, the Obama Administration has actually been one of the more successful in recent American history, in a variety of areas, but this news has completely failed to cut through the miasma of rabble-rousing from the Republicans.

wall streetExamining just one of the key areas of Obama’s activity (there are many we could point to) reveals this to be true.

The economic cataclysm of the Global Financial Crisis can be laid squarely at the feet of two very contrasting Presidents, Messrs Clinton and Bush, who both bowed to pressure to de-regulate Wall Street and American banking practices, which led directly to the economic crisis and cost millions of innocent little folk worldwide their savings, and worse, their homes and jobs.

The resulting “austerity” measures didn’t touch those who played fast and loose with the world’s money, none of which was their own.

What the f*** did Obama ever do for us? Well, this lot, for a start.

In response, in terms of Consumer Protection, the Obama government has been one of the most involved and proactive in history. Just consider, he:

Ordered 65 executives who took bailout money to cut their own pay until they paid back all bailout money.  http://huff.to/eAi9Qq

Along with Congressional Democrats, pushed through and got passed Dodd-Frank, one of the largest and most comprehensive Wall Street reforms since the Great Depression.  http://bit.ly/hWCPg0http://bit.ly/geHpcD

By signing Dodd-Frank legislation, created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau http://1.usa.gov/j5onG

Created rules that reduce the influence of speculators in the oil market.  http://bit.ly/MDnA1t

Fashioned rules so that banks can no longer use consumers’ money to invest in high-risk financial instruments that work against their own customers’ interests.  http://bit.ly/fnTayj

Supported the concept of allowing stockholders to vote on executive compensation. http://bit.ly/fnTayj

Endorsed and supported the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2009 that closed offshore tax avoidance loopholes.   http://bit.ly/esOdfBhttp://bit.ly/eG4DPM

Negotiated a deal with Swiss banks that now permits the US government to gain access to the records of criminals and tax evaders.  http://bit.ly/htfDgw

Signed the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, which closed many of the loopholes that allowed companies to send jobs overseas, and avoid paying US taxes by moving money offshore.http://1.usa.gov/bd1RTq

Established a Consumer Protection Financial Bureau designed to protect consumers from financial sector excesses.  http://bit.ly/fnTayj

Oversaw and then signed a bill constituting the most sweeping food safety legislation since the Great Depression.  http://thedc.com/gxkCtP

Through the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, extended the False Claims Act to combat fraud by companies and individuals using money from the TARP and Stimulus programs.  http://bit.ly/SLTcSa

That’s quite a list. Yet these directly attributable, unarguable and very welcome successes – and this is just one area of government we could look at – have been largely drowned out by the constant cat-calling and nay-saying across the aisle.

No matter how much we support historic measures like Obamacare, the “pivot” towards Asia in foreign policy, and other historic changes, we freely concede as natural supporters of Obama that small revolutions are never without controversy, and even the success of a reform like the new health insurance system in the USA will always be something of a “curate’s egg”. Massive reform always involves partial failure, and results in future trimming of the sails. This is natural, and acceptable.

Just one of thousands of examples of the disgraceful tactics employed by the right to rubbish Obama.

Just one of thousands of examples of the disgraceful tactics employed by the right to rubbish Obama. Just pop “Obama is a Socialist” into Google and see for yourself.

What bemuses us is how so much of our politics has descended into complete opposition to the party in power, and viciously so in many cases, whereas previously the role of Opposition was to oppose with principle, to achieve bi-partisanship where possible, and to propose alternatives where the difference of opinion was unbridgeable.

We condemn this drift into mindless yahoo-ery as unhealthy for society.

The fault is by no means all on one side of politics – indeed there will be those who leap to accuse us of the very same failing, and possible sometimes justly, (we are only human) – but in general the verbal (and sometimes physical) thuggery is demonstrably more common on the right, often hiding behind the cowardly anonymity of the Internet – the modern equivalent of scrawling on a wall – to spread their ridiculous and offensive “memes”. And overwhelmingly, the target for these memes has been Obama himself, and his family. No President in history, even George Bush who was viscerally detested by the Left, was subjected to this level of abuse, vindictiveness, and outright falsehood. As my mother would say, “give a dog a bad name” … Well, it’s worked.

Disgusting "humour" like this is freely available all over the internet. Should concepts of "free speech" protect those who produce it from sanction? In our opinion: No.

Disgusting racist “humour” like this is freely available all over the internet. It seeps into the body politic and corrupts it. Deliberately.

Which is why, as they celebrate their likely successes tonight, we urge thinking Republicans to crow less and think hard that this is a very dangerous furrow to plough.

What we are seeing is a wholesale abandonment of decency and consensus as principles worth following, and that is a very dangerous and unwelcome step.

The GOP need to pause and consider that if they achieve some measure of power tonight by winning control of the Senate, then if they are not careful they will – in due course -find themselves hoist by their own cruel and destructive petard.

Is it too much to hope that faced with the reality of power the right will abandon their childish name calling and rediscover a sense of purpose beyond blind obstinacy and negativity? Yes, we rather fear it is.

We will post comment on the individual races in due course.

AbbottThe Australian government is facing yet more criticism for not sending health workers to Africa to help fight Ebola.

A 25-bed US field hospital that will treat international health workers who contract the virus is due to open soon.

The Australian government now has no excuse not to fund health workers to travel to Africa, said Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King. And she’s right.

“It is now up to the Abbott government to act,” Ms King told journalists in Canberra on Friday.

Australia has so far refused to send health workers to Africa because it says it could not evacuate and treat them if they got infected with the virus.

It has provided A$8m (£4.4m) to frontline services and A$40m (£22m) to the World Health Organization and has not ruled out increasing that contribution.

‘A risky situation’

“We will not be putting Australian health workers in a risky situation in the absence of evacuation plans and an appropriate level of medical care and we cannot currently supply that,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last month.

But the Australian Medical Association, the Public Health Association, the Healthcare and Hospitals Association and non-government organisation Medecins sans Frontieres have all called for the Australian government to substantially increase its contribution.

Sierra Leone and Amnesty International have condemned Australia’s decision to suspend entry visas for people from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa as “counterproductive” and “discriminatory”.

Ms King said there was a split in Cabinet about its response to the crisis, with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison “taking charge” and Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Health Minister Peter Dutton losing control of the debate.

Nearly 5,000 people have died of Ebola so far. More than 13,700 people have been infected in total, the vast majority in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

UPDATE NOV 5th It has today been announced that the Abbott Government have caved in and will allow volunteer medical staff to travel to the affected areas in a government-supported effort.

Diab

 

You can see, in this beautiful, soft face, the gentle soul of a professional who dedicated her life to helping others. A soul with hopes, fears, dreams, just like the rest of us. And now she is dead. For being a dentist.

We are posting this photograph in memory of Dr. Rou’aa Diab, a female dentist, who was arrested by the Islamic State on August 22, 2014.

She was arrested with four others in Al-Mayadeen, a city on the border of Iraq.

Without a trial, Diab was charged with the crime of “treating male patients”, and was executed by decapitation.

Dr. Diab was was beheaded for the crime of helping prevent and treat dental disease. She should be recognised by the dental community, and the world community, for her innocence, and her bravery and dedication.

And her name should never be forgotten.

May you rest in peace Dr. Rou’aa Diab.

IS are rabid animals who have slaughtered thousands upon thousands of completely innocent people. They must be put down.

tuni-MMAP-mdThe so-called “Arab Spring” was hailed at the time in the West as the beginning of a creeping democratisation of the Middle East, belatedly joining most of the rest of the world on the faltering path to democracy, separation of powers, and so on.

What is clear is those expectations were vastly overblown.

What happened in Egypt was one nasty dictatorship was replaced by an even nastier one when “democracy” elected a Government unacceptable to the military, to the capitalists, and to the West. In Libya the West got rid of Gadaffi but a lack of central leadership meant we replaced him with a series of vicious tribal warlords controlling their own little chunk of the country. We fomented an uprising against Assad in Syria and ended up with a brutal civil war and IS. In the deeply conservative Gulf States any change has been entirely negligible. If nothing else, the West has learned that involvement in the Middle East is always a matter of herding cats.

But there is one shining example of success. In the cradle of the revolutions that swept the Arabic-speaking world, the secular party Nidaa Tounes has now won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, according to two analyses of results across the country. The Islamist party has apparently accepted the result with good grace. “We have accepted this result and congratulate the winner,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, told Reuters. Zitoun said the party reiterated its call for a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country.

North Africa expert Michael Willis, a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, said the decline in Ennahda’s electoral popularity reflected public discontent with their handling of the economy. “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” Nidaa Tounes is 10 percentage points ahead of Ennahda. It has won 83 seats, with roughly 38 percent of the popular vote, to Ennahda’s 68 seats, representing about 31 percent of the vote, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported after tabulating its own count of 214 of the 217 parliamentary seats.

A parallel tabulation conducted by a Tunisian election observer organization, Mourakiboun, placed Nidaa Tounes at 37 percent and Ennahda at 28 percent. Those figures were based on a random sample of 1,001 polling centers across the country, with a margin of error of 2 percent and 1 percent on the respective totals.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new political process.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new democratic political process.

Officials from both parties said that although premature, the counts matched their information.

Official results have not yet been released, and parties are restrained by law from announcing their own count before the election commission does. Provisional results are expected on Monday, but final results will take at least 48 hours.

Early results also showed a surprise gain for the party of the Tunisian tycoon Slim Riahi, who ran a flashy campaign that included handouts and pop concerts. Some of the smaller political parties fared badly under a new voting system, in particular Ettakatol, a coalition partner in the former government.

Nidaa Tounes, led by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, 87, is an alliance of former government officials, liberals and secularists that was formed in 2012, largely in reaction to the post-revolutionary chaos under the Ennadha-led government. It was sharply critical of the Islamists’ performance and ran a campaign for a modern, secular society.

The results, if confirmed, would be a blow for Ennahda, which won a large popular vote and 89 seats in 2011 but struggled to manage rising insecurity and a sliding economy.

Tunisians filled polling stations on Sunday to elect a new Parliament, expressing a strong desire and some trepidation that, after months of political turmoil, the country would turn a corner nearly four years after a revolution.

Officials said the provisional turnout was nearly 62 percent, which election observers said demonstrated Tunisians’ support for democracy.

24The elections are the second in Tunisia since the popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and set off a wave of change that was later dubbed the Arab Spring. They will bring in a new Parliament and government for a five-year term. Presidential elections are scheduled for next month.

The immediate return for Tunisians in maintaining a lid on tension and achieving a peaceful transition will be, of course, yet more tourism dollars flooding into the country. The country has also maintained close relations with Europe, and with France and Italy in particular, with growing mutual trade.

colloseumAn island of sanity in troubled north Africa, it is also an exceptionally interesting and beautiful country, with a fascinating history of civilisation going back thousands of years, notably being the home of the Carthaginian Empire which was so dominant in the Mediterranean area in centuries before Christ, and it was later occupied by Rome which made good use of its vast fertile soils to produce huge amounts of cereals, plus olive oil, figs, and more. Various waves of conquerors including Ottoman, Arab and French have created a multi-layered and outward-facing culture.

The country lies within a couple of hours flight from the major population centres of Europe. No-one could begrudge them this “peace dividend” and let us hope they continue to provide a beacon for sanity for the whole Arab-speaking world. Indeed, the rest of the region can learn much from Tunisia beyond its peaceful transition of power – it also has a large number of women MPs, a highly progressive code of individual freedom for women, Islamic extremism is rare (although not non-existent), the country enjoys a relatively open low-tariff economy, and it is accepting of Christian and most significantly Jewish minorities.

Today, we salute the Tunisian people for their fortitude and commonsense. When we rail and wail at the inability of much of the region to behave intelligently, let us look to the example of Tunisia, and hope.

Akidi

Akidi

As the world focuses its attention on Ebola, Kurdish Journalist Muhanad Akidi and Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi have been murdered by Islamic State as acts of pure spite against those who oppose them.

Kurdish journalist Muhanad Akidi was murdered by IS militants on 13 October reportedly in retaliation for Kurdish self-defence in the north of Iraq and Syria.

His death was confirmed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who said he was executed at the Ghazlani military base.

Akidi’s death has not received as much coverage in the West as the beheading of American and british aid workers and journos. Akidi was reportedly captured two months ago whilst on assignment in the IS-held city of Mosul. He had been working as a journalist for a local news agency and also presented a television show.

Azzawi

Azzawi

News of the journalist’s death comes just days after reports that Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi was publicly executed near Tikrit.

The 37-year-old is believed to have been executed with a single shot, alongside his brother and two other civilians in the small village of Samra on Friday. It is thought they had refused to declare their support for Islamic State and work for the extremist group.

Their murders have also received relatively little attention in the West.

One of al-Azzawi’s relatives later said: “They came to his home and took him and his brother. He did nothing wrong; his only crime was to be a cameraman. He was just doing his job.”

Al-Azzawi, a father of three, was detained by IS militants on 7 September, according to Reporters without Borders.

Social media users have been circulating photos of Akidi and al-Azzawi, specifically calling for them to be remembered like western journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were beheaded.

The barbaric terrorists of “Islamic State” have declared that any journalist wanting to work in their territory must declare their allegiance to the caliphate or face execution.

One resident of the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa in Syria has confirmed that anyone who speaks to someone from the Western media will be killed.

 

australian progressives

As a bit of an ironed-on old radical, I have long despaired of finding a political home in Australia to nestle in, to work for, or even to stand for. The Memsahib and I used to be very involved with the Australian Democrats, but they sadly degenerated into squabbling and ultimately irrelevance, which is a great sorrow. We have happy memories of being a speechwriter and campaign organiser for Janine Haines, the great work done by Sid Spindler and Janet Powell, (all now very sadly deceased) and the consistency, clarity and dignity of Lyn Allison.

Anyhow, I simply can’t join the Liberal Party, even though I have some time for identities on the left-wing of their party, which still includes some old “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” centrist types. Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago a very senior minister in the Liberal Government in Victoria almost begged me to join. But I am afraid the party is now comprehensively captured at all levels by the hard men of the neo-con Thatcherite Friedmanite right, and we wouldn’t last five minutes in it before being comprehensively squashed or expelled.

The Australian Labor Party is so right wing it could virtually replace the Liberal Party and no one would really notice the difference, except, perhaps for the trade union barony replacing the influence currently wielded by the top end of town, and as anyone who has dined in top restaurants or clubs around the country can attest, away from the confected antagonism of the bear pit of Parliament or the Murdoch press, there is nothing a good Trade Union leader likes as much as a generous and compliant Captain of Industry, and nothing the Captain of Industry likes as much as a supine and properly tamed Union Leader. Plus the sight of Labor seeking to out-do the Coalition on creating ever-more brutish asylum seeker policy, and caving in utterly on environmental protection, makes one throw up in one’s mouth just a little. Or a lot.

The Greens have their moments, but the leadership is weak and faintly ridiculous, and they are far too oppositionally-populist for my liking. They seem obsessed with trying to take over the news cycle with what are often ever more silly statements, and as a result they have undoubtedly plateaued in support, and they also seem very uncertain as to how to broaden their support base from its current inner-urban trendry core plus a few “doctor’s wives” thrown in. I am not passionately opposed to them, but I am not encouraged to join them, either.

As for the Palmer United Party, that is one pup I am not buying. I actually quite like Jackie Lambie’s complete lack of guile – it’s moderately refreshing even when I don’t agree with her views – but Clive Palmer just doesn’t ring true to me, as anything other than a rather maniacal ego for hire with more money than sense. You just can’t make up policy on the run month after month with no clear identification of where you sit on the political scale – somewhere to the right, but where exactly? – and no clearly enunciated suite of policies for the future. Pure populism is all very well – and there is still considerable scope for Palmer to wreak havoc in the next Federal Election, hurting the Liberals and Nationals especially – but it is a waning asset, and I suspect PUP will die out before long, and they won’t be much missed, either.

I am not going to join the Nats, basically because I am not especially interested in country or regional development (I’m not agin it in any way, it’s just not where my interests lie, you understand) and I am not a socially-conservative-agrarian-socialist-protectionist with no real interests other than clinging to relevance in Government and the seats gifted them by their Liberal brethren. No tick there. And I have been impressed with the Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm elected by accident in NSW – he’s been excellent and uncompromising so far on personal liberty – but their laissez faire libertarian-right economic policies belong on the toilet walls of a lunatic asylum. So no tick there, either.

Which is a long way round of saying “A plague on all your houses” and announcing that I am so fed up with both established right and left in Australian politics that I have decided to join a new party as a founding member. That way I avoid just vegging out and leaving it to the idiots, and I get to help form the policies and direction of the new party.

Could turn into nothing. Most new parties do. And if it does fizzle and bust, well, no harm done. But I like the way it talks about working outside the electoral cycle to promote new thinking as well as being an electoral alternative. There are many ways to influence events, and not all of them involve winning overall power at the ballot box.

Or it could turn into something I distrust or dislike, at which time I will leave.

So it’s a punt, but really, Dear Reader, what have we got to lose?

Join me?

https://www.australianprogressives.org.au/

 

progressive values

 

I would welcome comment, positive or negative. And polite.

Stephen Yolland
Melbourne October 2014

 

putinshirtless“Look, I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin … you bet I am.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s fighting words about insisting Vladimir Putin face up to his complaints about the downing of MH 17 by Ukrainian rebels almost certainly sent the diplomats in the Russian Embassy rushing for their Australian slang dictionaries on Monday, not to mention Pravda’s opinion writers to bend over their sweaty typewriters in faux outrage.

Many Australian observers were also left scratching their heads at the evocative choice of words, which hails from the lexicon of Australian Rules football.

Ultimately Mr Abbott (or his media manager) may be the only one who truly knows what he plans to do during bilateral talks with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, at the G20 in Brisbane next month.

We wouldn’t have thought Mr Putin was the easiest person to shirtfront as he is so often without one.

So what exactly is a ‘shirtfront’? For those uncertain as to the niceties of Australian Rules Football, it goes something like this.

Shirtfront (Australian Rules) noun, “A fierce tackle, usually delivered by the shoulder to the chest of an opponent.” verb, “The act of delivering such a tackle.” – Oxford Australian Dictionary.