Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

plane

If only he WAS going to be flying one of the jets, Abbott might not be quite so enthusiastic.

In the last couple of weeks, we have watched dismayed as Australia has become perhaps the most gung ho of all the world’s nations waiting to wade in and “stop” IS – the so-called Islamic “State”.

Let there be no mistake – we also think these appalling thugs need expunging from the world, and as soon as practicable.

But we are alarmed and worried by the enthusiasm with which the Australian government – especially Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – have not just fallen in lock-step with our Western allies. but have been seen to be stoking the fires of conflict with a triumphalist air that amounts to “Look at us, we’re strong leaders, and you want strong leaders, right?”

We are undoubtedly already seeing the first signs of a deeply unpopular government using the conflict to bolster its electoral fortunes – a so-called “khaki election” looms – and given that our bravura chest-beating almost certainly increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Australians, that’s a very risky card to play. Nevertheless, for a Prime Minister with a Government that has proven itself both tone-deaf and gaffe-laden, the conflict with IS is the gift that keeps on giving. “Hey! Let’s all stop worrying about Medicare co-payments and go BOMB something, already!”

This rhetorical style has been echoed to a lesser extent by Cameron in the UK and the Republicans in America, especially the surely past-pensionable John McCain, but much less so by a carefully-nuanced President Obama. It’s almost as if Barack phoned Tony and Dave and said “Ramp it up a bit, will ya, cobbers? We’re a bit bruised over here and I have to be a more laid back.” Surely not?

There’s no question that IS are pretty much the worst of the worst going round at the moment, but let us be absolutely clear what their murderous public tactics are designed to achieve. These are people playing a long game, who have no respect or care for their own lives or for others. They are trying to drag the democratic West, against which they have a visceral, systemic hatred, into a seemingly endless conflict in a war zone where the alliances and influences shift weekly, and where the sectarian divisions are about as deep as it is possible to find them. It’s virtually impossible to “pick winners” in this environment, because this week’s ally is last week’s mortal enemy. As even Abbott himself once presciently remarked about Syria, “it’s a choice between baddies and baddies”.

We have already seen America co-operating with Iran and Russia to attack IS – both countries currently under sanctions and blockades from the West. We have seen America calling openly for Iran to aid in the fight against IS, despite the fact that they already are, a call that has been rejected by the top Ayotollah, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are already doing.

We have moved from being a day away from air strikes against Assad in Syria (thankfully averted when it became clear that the gas attacks on the Syrian public were probably carried out by rebels, and perhaps that the White House knew that all along, and even allegedly that the rebels were deliberately encouraged to do so, under Western guidance) to now cautiously needing to support him against IS, which will lead to the partial abandonment of the non-extremist Syrian opposition, or what may be even more bizarre, the joining of Assad with his former enemies to create a newly viable Syrian state to defeat the IS and Al Nusra insurgents.

How anyone is supposed to conduct a sane rational policy in this environment is beyond us. It’s a floating, shifting miasma of shifting lines, and we see no end to it. We are reasonably sure, though, that bellicose trumpeting is the least helpful thing we can do, especially as we have no idea how that plays amongst the general public in the contested regions.

What IS knows is that in this confused environment, mistakes can and will happen. IS and their backers know that the first time a bunker buster hits a school in Mosul there will be a flood of worldwide sympathy from both within the Sunni Muslim community and without it, and there’ll be a fresh rash of recruits flooding to a simpler, less complex view of the world than that offered by democracy. The angst and confusion created by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza will be seen to be just a shadow of what’s going to happen in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. Indeed, the mistakes (and concomitant slaughter of innocent civilians) are already happening, even if they’re not being widely reported in mainstream media.

Is there any question Bishop sees this as her chance to leap Malcom Turnbull and become Abbott's obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her "death stare", we'd be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

Is there any question Bishop sees this conflict – and that with Russia in the Ukraine – as her chance to leap Turnbull and become Abbott’s most obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her “death stare”, we’d be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

But that’s only the half of it. We cannot deploy hundreds of Australian troops (and thousands of Americans) plus people from all parts of the globe, and not expect some of them to fall into IS hands.

If we see that the road to war has been greased by the appalling executions of journalists and aid workers, not to mention the mass slaughter of civilians, Peshmerga and Iraqi army fighters, then imagine what will happen the first time video is released of a clean-cut Aussie or Yank fighter pilot or special forces hero having his head clumsily sawn off for the camera.

The calls for “boots on the ground” would surely become irresistible, especially if a newly-bolstered Iraqi army makes no discernible progress in recapturing rebel-held areas, or in forming a more broadly based Government capable of yoiking together Sunni and Shia in a workable state.

Having failed once to pacify Iraq, there is little doubt that we are very close to being dragged into the same maelstrom again, with a side serve of Syria and for all we know Lebanon and God knows where else as as well. We do not purport to know what the answer is – although one thing we cannot understand is why the Arab states, who are at least as much at risk from IS as anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia, cannot be prevailed upon to play a much more intrinsic role – perhaps they are so aware of the powder keg many of them sit upon that they dare not risk enraging them by sending ground troops to attack the Sunni IS as 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni – but as a start we could at least begin by not looking so goddamned happy to be heading off to war again.

We are not alone in our caution, which frankly borders on despair. This excellent opinion piece by experienced Middle East hand Paul McGeogh in the Sydney Morning Herald deserves to be widely read. His neat skewering of the lack of Arab co-operation, the unseemly rush to attack and the lack of an exit strategy (yet again) is spot on, and echoes our own concerns.

war sheepIt seems to us that only those who have actually fought wars show real reluctance to engage in them again. That is rarely politicians, especially those who have spent their entirely career crawling slowly up the political ladder.

Having seen the slaughter of innocents, the gore, the messy incompleteness of most military solutions, military men are almost invariably more cautious before setting off to the trenches once more.

But politicians revel in the limelight. It’s that set jaw, that gleam in the eye, the grimly-expressed determination. Not a hint of doubt, or worry, or regret. Nothing is allowed to ruffle their seeming purposefulness.

The prelude to war always looks to us like people with their egos way out of control about to play roulette with other people’s lives, and right now, it sure as hell looks that way again.

For reasons which need not concern us here, we were this morning browsing the Victorian Police crime statistics for the last year on offer, 2012-13.

We came across this staggeringly depressing statistic:

Incidence of rape against minors

This year 542 +0.71%

Last year 538

Incidence of rape against adults

This year 1,106 +1.5

Last year 1,090

child abuseYou might imagine, Dear Reader, that we are about to fulminate against the growth in the incidence of rape in both cases, in a sort of Colonel Mustard-like “Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells” manner.

But although we deplore the fact that the figures are rising rather than falling, we suspect the slight rise recorded is due to natural population growth.

 

Yes, we would have hoped that we would be seeing a steady decline in these stats, given that we are all supposed to be becoming more “aware” of the disgusting nature of sexual violence. But it appears it is a very slow process.

Something for those with the purse strings of Government advertising budgets to consider, perhaps.

We should see all domestic violence and rape and sexual assault as part of the same patriarchal continuum, and until men take it seriously, it will continue.

But what really horrifies is the raw number of more than 500 rapes against children in a year. Coming up for one-third of all rapes.

500? Five HUNDRED?

How many of these are against sexually active teenagers isn’t the point.

Rape is rape, it is never justified, and no excuses or attempted slut-shaming of the victims is ever acceptable. And although they were all against people who are legally children, ie under 18, and so there will be some mid-teens in there, it’s a pound to a penny that many of these crimes were against what you and I would recognise as children. Kids. Little tackers.

And this is the REPORTED cases. Ye Gods, the mind boggles. Unreported cases would run into the thousands.

Given the high profile given to many of these types of cases in the UK in particular, and in the various enquiries into child abuse in Australia, especially involving religious and community organisations, not to mention the recent brouhaha in the UK press about whether or not there was a high-level pedophile ring operating at the top of British Government (involving, allegedly, those close to at least two Prime Ministers, and perhaps even one (now deceased) Prime Minister), we simply suck in our breath in disgust and horror that this most avoidable and heinous of crimes, which leaves lives shattered sometimes beyond repair, is so persistent and pernicious despite the obvious fact that for the offenders the advice is utterly simple and unavoidable: don’t.

Just don’t. Do something else for your kicks, don’t do that. They are KIDS, for fuck’s sake.

To steal the innocence from a child, to betray their trust, to warp and bend that child’s value system until it is unrecognisable, to sometimes terrify the child into silence: these are crimes which demand the most urgent enquiry and vigilance, and an unrelenting determination to root out the offenders. Not one adult offender in this area can possibly imagine, for one moment, that their activities are anything more nor less than utterly destructive and illegal.

We must be unyielding in our attempts to cure this plague. Period. Full stop. That’s it. End of.

(Post scriptum: this article obviously talks about Victoria, Australia. I would be very happy to publish statistics from elsewhere if you can look them up. I urge you to find out how prevalent this crime is in YOUR community. And if you know of a community where it is LESS prevalent, perhaps we can all learn why.)

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

 

Bad news for Tony Abbott and the Coalition continues today with the publishing of another poll that shows just how dramatically the Liberal and National parties have slumped since 2013’s election.

The latest poll shows the Abbott government is now a full 10 points below its election-winning vote. This is way beyond mere “out of honeymoon” blues.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian on Tuesday, puts Labor ahead of the coalition 55-45 per cent in the two-party preferred vote, a further depressing drop of two points for the coalition since the previous poll two weeks ago.

Primary support for the coalition is also down two points to 35 per cent, from 37 per cent, while Labor is up one point to 37 per cent – two points ahead of the coalition. This result would have seemed impossible in the dark days when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were engaged in their death struggle. It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott goes down in history as the only man capable of breathing new life into the Labor corpse which seemed crucified, dead, buried, with multiple stakes through it’s heart and then cremated such a short while ago. That they are even competitive again so soon is startling.

It’s not all good news for Labor. Outflanked on the left, the Greens have also gained three points in the primary vote – up to 13 per cent.

Voter dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott has reached the highest level since he became prime minister, 62 per cent, and is his worst personal result since November 2012, The Australian reports. With his approval rating at 31 per cent, Mr Abbott’s net approval of minus 31 points is the worst for a prime minister since Julia Gillard scored minus 34 points just days before she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in June last year, when she was widely considered to be leading the Labor Party to certain disaster. It will not have escaped Liberal and National backbenchers that Abbott now appears to be doing the same.

 

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

 

Whether Abbott’s vast slump into extreme unpopularity will prove enough of a motive for the hard heads in the Liberal Party to replace him with the much more moderate Malcolm Turnbull remains to be seen. We have always been of the view, even before the last election, that Turnbull would be Prime Minister before Christmas 2014. Abbott is both simply too relentlessly self-satisfied and negative to play the role of Prime Minister, a job which requires the ability to reach across the aisle to independents and natural Labor supporters to build a centrists’ coalition.

Abbot is not a conservative. He is not a “one nation” Tory. He is a radical right winger – a born-again Thatcherite, his idol in his youth. As such, he was never going to sit well in power with the essentially small-C conservative Australian public. We are seeing the hubris of Nick Minchin and others on the hard right coming home to roost. They wanted their boy – they got him up by one vote – and now he is proving to be manifestly un-re-electable. A great opposition leader doth not a great prime minister necessarily make. They might have won less big had Turnbull remained at the helm (they might have won bigger, too), but they would have won more enduringly.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has also regained a 10-point lead as better Prime Minister that he took after the budget – on 44 per cent, with Mr Abbott on 34 per cent. We do not believe he is yet “popular” – he has neither the common working man’s touch of a Bob Hawke or the swaggering certainty of a Paul Keating. But he has hardly put a foot wrong yet, revealing that he has both a good “ear” and a smart brain. His meek persona also contrasts nicely with Abbott’s arrogance.

It is well-known that Shorten wishes to keep his powder somewhat dry, and not to “knee-jerk” to every mistake or missed step from the Coalition. Thus former federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan played Shorten’s stalking horse yesterday when said Liberal-National Party backbenchers were too gutless to speak out against the “savage cuts” in the budget, which he sees as reflected in the Newspoll. “If they had any decency, they’d be standing up in the party room and holding the LNP to the promises they made to the people of Australia at the last election but they’re not because they’re gutless,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “There’s no spine in the LNP backbench either at the state level or the federal level. They sit back and meekly accept the savage cuts … which are going to hurt the peace of mind and welfare of families right across Australia.” You can expect to hear a lot more of that as each and every Budget action wends its way trhough the legislative process.

To be fair, Swan was probably speaking from the heart, too. As a Labor backbencher during the early 1990s, Mr Swan led a revolt against the Keating government’s unpopular post-election budget that increased taxes.

Anyhow, the next few months will be interesting indeed. From being one of the most successful Opposition leaders the Liberals have produced in a long time, Abbott may well go down as their most unsuccessful Prime Minister. A recalcitrant Senate filled with newly hopeful Labor and Green representatives is now replaced with one with even greater complexity. At first blush, the new Senate looks like a more amenable one for Abbott. But appearances can be deceiving. Clive Palmer, for example, knows full well that supine agreement with the Government – any Government – would render his populist message irrelevant. There’s no point being “anti” the establishment and then joining it, as the Australian Democrats discovered over the GST, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Free Democrats in Germany can attest more recently.

We can therefore expect regular little eruptions of rebellion from Palmer and his mates, and watching his eye for publicity and gesture politics one can expect those rebellions to be on core issues, such as the politically smart agreement to scrap the unpopular carbon tax and return the dividend to ordinary voters as a reduction in household costs. And if they aren’t core issues, he will trumpet them as such, anyway. And every time he lays a glove on the Government, Abbott will not only look dumb, but weak. A terrible combination.

The essential problem that Abbott faces is that by manufacturing a financial crisis out of a structural deficit (which is not, after all, the same thing) he has critically reduced his room for manoeuvre. As a result, he is now stuck with slogging round the country telling everyone, basically, bad news, for at least the next 18 months.

He might even have pulled that off if his presentation, and that of his very lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey, had been less simultaneously preachily self-congratulatory and ham-fisted. But apart from his suddenly incoherent and uncertain delivery (has any senior politician anywhere in the world ever said “Er” so often?) he has also wedged himself by a serious of actions that were never going to get through the Senate, and which were guaranteed to appear mean and un-necessary.

The most obvious example is the GP co-payment, which looks and smacks like nothing more than soak the poor, and should never have been advanced in a month of Sundays. But once advanced, it was not “sold”, beyond a repeated mantra that this was somehow “for the good of the country”. Scores of worried little old ladies and the chronically ill duly queued up on talk-back radio stations of all political inclinations to tearfully ask what would become of them now they couldn’t afford to go to see their doctor. The message that the co-payment was theoretically designed to be capped at a maximum of $70 a year completely failed to cut through. Once again, the central Liberal Party message-meisters and their political puppets have been shown to be far less competent and aware than they are often painted.

Denis Napthine. If he's not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

Denis Napthine. If he’s not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

(A similar problem assails the Victorian Liberal and National Parties, where two years of good financial management and the resulting announcement of the biggest-ever infrastructure spending program in the State’s history – in any State’s history, actually – is being completely overwhelmed by the unpopularity of the Abbott Government. Liberal and National Party publicists seem at a loss to know how to punch their message through. (There’s a clue in this paragraph by the way, boys.) Meanwhile Denis Napthine despairs in his eyrie and Daniel Andrews hugs himself with glee, saying very little, cheerfully waiting to fall into office. But that’s another story.)

Those surrounding Abbott need to understand this: it’s one thing to drag down an unpopular Prime Minister in whom trust has been lost. It’s quite another to sell a swingeing austerity package that very few people think is needed in the first place.

They – and he – need to lift their game very fast, or yibbidah yibbidah, that’s all folks.

 

 

We'd like Holland to go all the way in this World Cup. Just, you know. Because.

We’d like Holland to go all the way in this World Cup. Just, you know. Because.

OK, Dear Reader, I have decided on the job I want in my next life.

Don't think we can bring ourselves to support Argentina for any reason. Then again ...

Don’t think we can bring ourselves to support Argentina for any reason. Then again …

It’s to be the guy who sits in a football stadium with a pair of binoculars as a “spotter” for the cameramen for those inevitable cutaway shots of beautiful scantily-dressed 18-25 year old women who are cheerfully sitting there looking stunning while they holler and hoot for the country, all festooned in team colours with their faces painted with flags and a big grin on their face. See, someone has that job. It’s not the Director, because he’s too busy looking at the overall coverage of the game, including those oh-so-vital flashes of “colour” – that’s what it’s called in the trade. You know the ones: the crying eight year old boy watching his life get ruined forever as his heroes ignominiously crash out of the tournament, the great tub of lard with no shirt, worker’s shorts and a sombrero clutching a vuvezela and a bottle of what looks suspiciously like what you’re not allowed to take into the ground, and, of course, the wannabee supermodels who have taken a day off their relentless rise to glamour stardom to bounce up and down looking all jiggly and happy while their boyfriends explain the offside rule to them. And it’s not the cameramen finding them either. Coz they’re pointing their cameras where they’re told to. Nope, there’s actually someone whose job it is just to scan the crowd and find the young ladies (80-90% of the job, I reckon), and just occasionally a crying kid or a nearly-naked middle-aged man so we’re not all bailed up for just being a bunch of dirty old pervs. We could do that. Giz a job, Mister.

Apparently this young lady from Korea is an instant sensation in Asia. And she thought she was just going to the footy.

Apparently this young lady from Korea is an instant sensation in Asia. And she thought she was just going to the footy.

Hey: it’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it. Here’s an example of the process. http://www.sooziq.com/11964/world-cup-cameraman-impossibly-finds-the-pretty-girl-in-the-crowd/. Why anyone would think we’d want to look at her instead of some gigantic black guy in a Nigerian shirt I can’t imagine.

A young lady from Denmark. We tried all the puns we could think of about horns but couldn't come up with any that would be publishable on a nice blog. You do the math.

A young lady from Switzerland. Oh, those crazy, whacky Swiss. We tried all the puns we could think of about horns but couldn’t come up with any that would be publishable on a nice blog. You do the math.

 

We are reminded that some years ago a very funny video circulated via email of a couple having awkward sex waaaay up at the top of a stand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, thereby fulfilling two of Australia’s obsessions – sex and sport – in one convenient time-efficient hit. Should you need to, you can see it here:

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/80740298/. Oh go on, you may as well see it if you haven’t already.

Colombia are doing expectedly well at this World Cup and garnering a lot of interest. Can't imagine why.

Colombia are doing expectedly well at this World Cup and garnering a lot of interest. Can’y imagine why.

It’s quite tame and rather funny, though probably still not safe for work – but that will depend on your work, I guess. What you can’t hear on this webpage, which you could on the version of the clip that circulated by email, is the amused banter between the Director and the cameraman. “They are, you know.” “Nah, they couldn’t be.” “They bloody are.” So funny to think that they’re probably now married with kids – either to each other or someone else – and in relatively senior professional jobs, we bet. Ah, the careless joys of yoof.

Australia have been, er, holding their end up. So to speak.

Australia have been working hard, er, holding their end up. So to speak.

Anyhow, the young ladies of the World Cup are altogether tamer, but so much nicer for it, too. Bright young lasses all of them,
to be sure. Bringing a little light relief to the fevered tensions of the game, and all quite innocently. And that, M’lud, explains why we were in the crowd with our binoculars trained on the young lady from Columbia in Row ZZ 17 and we conclude the case for the defence. Talent spotting in crowds has a long and honourable (ahem) history, of course.

*mops brow* Pammie does her first TV commerical. Photo: Tumblr

*mops brow* Pammie does her first TV commerical.
Photo: Tumblr

Belgium’s most famous teen is not the first to shoot to global stardom after being spotted in the crowd.

In 1989 a certain Pamela Anderson, then a fitness instructor, attended a local football game in Canada.Footage of the blonde on screen was well received and her success with Playboy ensued.

The rest, as they say, is popular cultural history.

And more recently supermodel Kate Upton found fame after a friend uploaded a video of Upton dancing in the stands at an LA Clippers game.

Meanwhile, here is further evidence, should it be needed, of why England, compared to the rest of the world, are really just a bunch of losers.

Right.

Right.

 

cyber bullyingWe are a big fan of this innovative and effective little TV spot, and not least because it was written and directed by an esteemed colleague.

It’s also emphatic evidence that a big idea trumps a big budget every time.

Sometimes a really strong idea can be produced for peanuts and still go on to change the world – commercially, or socially. This is one such ad.

We’d love you, Dear Reader, to spread its message widely.

Now it’s going to get a run on Channels 1, 10, 7 and 11 on Aussie TV, which is just a great result. You can read the story of the genesis of the campaign here.

http://www.campaignbrief.com/2014/06/bully-zero-australia-foundatio.html

Not all ad men are wankers. Well done, Pat.

Migrants arrive in Australia

Australia is a nation of immigrants. But why is immigration such a “hot button” topic around the world?

 

Recent events have us believe, Dear Reader, that we are in the tiny minority of people who actually welcome immigration to … Australia, Europe, America … and elsewhere.

In the EU, anti-immigration sentiment is running so strongly that right wing parties which previously would not have been given headspace have soared to unlikely prominence in the recent Euro elections, especially in France and Britain, but also in Denmark and elsewhere.

So why is this mood so prevalent at the moment?

It is simply, in our opinion, because it is so easy to mis-handle migrant programmes and annoy the host communities, and also because migrants become an easy target when people become disgruntled generally. And generally disgruntled many people undoubtedly are, with the stresses of the failures of a fundamentally de-regulated capitalist system (especially in America) manifesting itself as a “Global Financial Crisis” which is still reverberating through the world’s economies.

Let us take the first point first.

When waves of migrants land in a particular country, whether it is Chadians in Italy, Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, Poles in the UK, Latinos in America or Afghans in Australia, the Government needs to demonstrate that the society is capable of absorbing those waves comfortably.

A rally in New York protesting cuts in English as a Second Language classes and other adult literacy services.

A rally in New York protesting cuts in English as a Second Language classes and other adult literacy services.

It needs to actively sell the advantages the migrants bring with them, and to put in place rigorous and thorough integration programmes to both inculcate local values to the new migrants (eg an explanation of and belief in democracy if they come from countries with authoritarian governments, trust and confidence in the police, an explanation of how social support systems work, top up education where required, an introduction to local business norms, and, above all, host language classes) and to reassure the locals that the things they hold dearest are not going to be watered down or abolished.

These are areas in which Australia leads the world, at one time a generation ago having the clarion call “Populate or Perish!”, and it is no surprise that Australia absorbs immigrants with more seeming ease than almost anywhere else on the planet.

For example, there is almost no anti-Islamic sentiment in Australia, despite the current levels of tension between the Islamic world and the West (I say almost, because to pretend there is none would simply be a lie, it exists on the fringes as virulently as anywhere else), and this is in start contrast to the much more overt mutual loathing and suspicion of many in the Muslim community and the host communities in Britain and France, for example.

It seems to us that one of the worst signals a Government can send is to allow “ghetto-isation”, to wit, the geographic concentration of ethnic groups, with high expectations but low levels of genuine opportunity, and especially when they do not share the host country’s language. The people who live in those areas might welcome the variety that comes with it – the new shops, restaurants, looks, sounds and smells – but they are just as likely, depending on the scale of the immigration and its clash with the local culture, to be angered and unsettled by it. And in this respect, even Australia has shown itself to be less than imaginative.

It is not racist to acknowledge this reality. It is annoyingly politically correct, and stupid, to ignore it.

When Government ignores it, people vote with their feet. They often leave the areas concerned (increasing the effects of ghetto-isation) and wax lyrical about how they were “pushed out”, “overwhelmed”, “driven away”. Those who listen to them, who may not have experienced anything negative at all personally, are understandably concerned for their fellow host nationals. They then become easy fodder for those who prey on people’s fears of the unknown. One plus one becomes two then ten then a hundred and ten, and before you know it, a whole set of anxieties about immigration in general have grown up.

Populist parties, to continue to point two, then seize on this generalised anxiety and target migrant groups as a means of crystallising anti-Government sentiment. They could care less if they cause harm to the civic body: they seek power. Hitler was the ultimate exemplar of this process, but his egregious sins have been repeated, to some extent or other, all over the world, both before and since.

Over time, even ghetto-isation fixes itself, because in reality, of course, immigration does not equate to lowered economic results – rather the opposite. Survey after survey shows that migrants tend to work harder and be more entrepreneurial than their host nationality, they make a net contribution to levels of economic activity, and are socially more mobile than the locals. The ghettos become steadily better off, and the occupants move out to the leafy suburbs, while those that stay behind turn the area into a well-regulated locale with their own cultural flavour. (The Chinatowns of the world are the easiest example to grasp.) As it becomes clear that the whole area is not going to hell in a hand-basket, so it gradually becomes more diverse again, (with the children of the host nation often moving into lower-cost accommodation in the newly gentrified ghetto) and it forms a more comfortable relationship with the neighbouring boroughs.

 

An anti-immigration billboard in Zurich, Switzerland. And if that looks disturbingly familiar, that's because it is.

An anti-immigration billboard in Zurich, Switzerland. And if that looks disturbingly familiar, that’s because it is.

 

What saddens us about the generalised debate about immigration is that it becomes a catch all discussion for debates that are really about economics.

Invariably, immigrant communities make a stunning contribution to their local society, (the research is unanimous), driven by both ambition and their unique skills. Where would America’s track and field team be without African Americans, where would its music be without African and Latino influence, (where would world music be, for that matter), how would any English Premier League team field a side without descendants of West Indian migrants in it, where would Australian science, gastronomy and architecture be without the immigrants from Europe after the war, and so on and so on? Ad infinitum.

Indeed, one could argue that many countries of the world still celebrate elements of their former colonial overlords – which could be viewed as forced immigration, if you like – where would India be without its system of Government and law? In Vietnam they still idolise French cakes and pastries, in Singapore the mercantile system, and so on and so on, again ad infinitum.

It is this point we wish to stress. The mingling of races, cultures, religions and peoples is as old as humanity itself, and it is actually, more often than not, a spur to progress and positive evolution. Yes, it can create stresses and tensions, but it should not be beyond our wit and wisdom to ameliorate those, and certainly not beyond our ability to counter the toxic propaganda of those who argue fiercely and frequently ignorantly about the role that migrants play. It is all about a steady, unspectacular exercise of the political will. To often, though, our spineless politicians quake and quiver in the face of ignorance, lacking the leadership ability to win the contest of ideas.

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote these words. In 1903 they were engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

COLOSSUS

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me …”

How did we ever stray so far from ideals like that?

 

The Ainger Award winners from 2013 - last night was the 2014 final.

The Ainger Award winners from 2013 – last night was the 2014 final.

 

Your indefatigable correspondent has been given over to these ponderings in the last 24 hours because we have just finished judging the Ainger Awards, a competition for public speaking for teenagers in Melbourne.

Over 100 youngsters stepped up to the plate and spoke on any topic they liked for four high-pressure minutes, from new technology and how it blinds us to the world around us, to the plight of the disadvantaged native peoples of the world, to the position of women in society, to their inability to drive or relate to the opposite sex, their fascination with space travel to their love of words.

Over four heats and a final, the brightest and best young people from a host of Melbourne schools dazzled and occupied us with their intellectual capacity, their passion, and their empathy for the world around them. It is the fourth time we have participated, and it was, as always, inspirational. There is a blessed naiveté in the young that we should do everything to preserve as long into adulthood as we can. Theirs is a world of moral imperatives, or problems that can and should be righted, of moments that should be seized, or barriers that must be broken down. The wary and weary cynicism of adulthood is yet to invade their tired limbs and minds, and we are all the better for it. We should listen to them more.

What really struck me, though, in a quiet moment, was their ethnicity. As the Chairman of the judges, it was our role to announce each speaker, and more than once we simply could not divine how to pronounce their surnames. Impossibly complicated names from Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Albania, Russia, Ukraine, Kenya, Nigeria, China and Vietnam. It is a noticeable trend that increases every year, reflecting the variety of immigration into the country.

With a cheerful smile they would correct our stumbling attempt and then deliver their speech, sometimes in heavily accented English, and sometimes in perfect Aussie English, showing that their parents had been the immigrants and they were born here. To a boy and girl, they watched their fellow students with polite and rapt attention, applauded furiously, and chatted cheerfully to each other in the breaks. Reflecting, no doubt, the character of their school life, they were very obviously and completely oblivious to the ethnic background of their fellow contestants.

The kid from Russia talked, with a strong accent, of his magnificent stumbles and struggles to learn English and of how he appreciated the opportunities available in his new country. And yet here, also, in the blink of an eye, was already the cliched version of a perfectly-formed Aussie – tall, lithe of limb, blonde, an amiable ambling giant, modest and shy in company but with a ready smile.

The pocket-rocket daughter of an African immigrant delivered a riveting piece on concepts of self and identity, challenging us to look beyond the surface of people to understand their needs, their drives, exactly what it is that makes an individual. Immediately one could see her successfully prosecuting a case at the Bar, or leading some seminal social studies research.

And the winner, the child of Hare Krisna immigrants from Northern India, had us laughing our pants off with a humorous confection of “Things that annoy” me, delivered in perfect accentless English, but with a gleaming smile and confident swagger that could have been imported direct from the can-do markets of Madras. We confidently expect him to head a major corporation one day.

His parents, vegetarians, quietly and with great dignity, knowing that they were unlikely to be catered for but not wishing to make a fuss with the waiting staff, brought tupperware containers of their own food to the silver-service white napkin- and candle-laden table. They politely insisted we share their “paneer”, little cubes of cheese nestling with diced courgettes in a delicious lightly-spiced tomato gravy, which complemented the rubber chicken the hotel served us perfectly – saved it, in fact. Their generosity was as unforced as it was moving.

We have been given over to pondering, who wouldn’t want these people in their society? These driven, uncompromising teenagers. Their smiling, polite, and patently obviously decent parents, sacrificing, one does not doubt, some of the creature comforts of life to ensure their kids get a decent education in their new land.

As we left, the mother of the Russian boy, who didn’t win, by the by, pressed a small plastic key ring into my hand, with the Kremlin on one side and St Basil’s on the other. She patted herself on the chest and told me her name with a big grin. Then she indicated the keyring. “Moscow! Moscow! Hello to Moscow!” she beamed at me. “Spasibo!” I replied, to her obvious delight. Her son asked me to sign his speech notes. “I am not a rock star!” I protested. “To me you are,” he smiled, quietly.

I signed his speech, and then turned to congratulate the girl with Ukrainian parents who had just delivered the best exposition of society’s need for a rational, sane but determined feminism that I had heard in a decade. She pumped my hand with thanks as I urged her to smash through the glass ceiling when inevitably she came up against it, how it was as much in womens’ heads as it was in men’s hearts, and how inspirational I found her speech and how I hoped she remembered it when that day inevitably came.

And then I hurriedly left before my watery eyes betrayed how proud I was of all of them. My fellow Australians. Who wouldn’t want these people here?

Not me. I want more like them. Am I really alone?

ImageMany mental illnesses are as bad for you as smoking, research has suggested.

Life expectancy for people with mental health problems is less than for heavy smokers, experts have found.

Serious mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, when the average reduction in life expectancy for heavy smokers is eight to 10 years, according to researchers from Oxford University.

But critically, mental health has not been the same public health priority as smoking, they said.

The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, analysed previous research on mortality risk for a whole range of problems – mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability and childhood behavioural disorders.

The authors examined 20 papers looking at 1.7 million people and over 250,000 deaths. They found that the average reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder was between nine and 20 years, it was 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression.

The loss of years among heavy smokers was eight to 10 years.

“We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day,” Dr Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University said.

“There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.

Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Smoking is recognised as a huge public health problem.

There are effective ways to target smoking, and with political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline.

We now need a similar effort in mental health.”

Dr John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, added: “People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society.

This work emphasises how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case.

We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, like most people, we have had a few run ins with mental illness in the family and friends coterie. Thankfully, the stigmas associated with mental illness is reducing – albeit achingly slowly. Especially as it is increasingly understood that mental illness does not betoken “weakness” or “badness” but rather chemical imbalances in the brain that are no more the sufferer’s “fault” than, say, diabetes.

We warmly welcome this research finding and trust it is widely studied at government level. A heap of misery can be lifted off the shoulders of sufferers and their families through early intervention, prompt care and adequate treatment with “talking therapy” and medication.

Assuming Government now longer feels itself morally bound to take action (it seems simple need is the least strong motivator for many Governments worldwide now, sadly, as you can see below) then what about this thought?

mental-illness-not-contagiousJust imagine the hurricane of productivity and wealth that would be released if mentally ill people became weller, faster, and more thoroughly well, and lived that way longer.

Yes, that’s something we’d like to see in our shiny new hard-headed neo-con austere world.

Meanwhile, here’s some additional reading on how Government in rich “advanced” countries consistently fails the mentally ill:

UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/cuts-send-rates-of-mental-health-disorders-among-young-soaring-9392996.html

UK: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/risks-deep-cuts-mental-health

Australia: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mental-health-funding-cuts-spark-fears-of-social-mess-20140518-38hz9.html

Australia: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/these-two-budget-charts-show-how-much-money-joe-hockey-is-cutting-from-hospitals-and-schools-2014-5

USA (four stories): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/mental-health-budget-cuts/

USA: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/10/mental-health-loses-funding-as-government-continues-shutdown/

Repeat after me: You will like this.

Repeat after me: You … will … like … this.

 

Far from backing down over the howl of protest of the last few days at the floated “tax increase” ahead of the Budget, and in what is, in our opinion, an astonishing display of mule-headed tone-deaf bravado, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says voters will eventually thank him for trying to repair the budget bottom line, even if it includes breaking his very clear promise not to introduce new taxes.

But Mr Abbott says he knows people will be “disappointed” with some of his methods and is again refusing to rule out reports he will raise income taxes for those on higher wages.

Some Liberal MPs – closer, perhaps, than the PM to the Coalition’s overwhelmingly well-off blue-collar and middle-class backers, many of whom earn more than the mooted $80,000 threshold were the new income tax levy will kick in – are leading a backlash against the deficit levy with some even threatening to cross the floor in opposition to the move, if it is included in next Tuesday’s budget, as expected.

This, of course, would be something of a meaningless gesture, as it certainly will not be in large enough numbers to actually defeat the move. They would be better advised to try and “roll” the PM before it gets into the Budget bill. But given the locked-in support of the PM, the Finance Minister, and the Treasurer, this looks unlikely, too, meaning that the net sum effect will be “Libs split on new tax” headlines everywhere.

Abbott has obviously decided he can burn some of his political bank account and ride that out. We are not so sure. If the polls continue to turn relentlessly southward over the next few months we believe many of his backers, both in Parliament and in the wider party, will demonstrate long and accurate memories.

Potentially rebellious Liberal MPs say the new “levy” would breach the Coalition’s pre-election pledge not to introduce new taxes. They are, of course, absolutely right.

"Was that a core promise? Was it? Hmmm?"

“Was that a core promise? Was it? Hmmm?”

We cannot help but idly speculate who has been advising the Government on its post-election economic and political strategy, given that John Howard, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are all Sydney chums, and Howard and Abbott have historically been very close. In an eerie throwback to Howard tactics, the Prime Minister now says the Government’s “most fundamental commitment of all” was to “get Labor’s debt and deficit disaster under control” and that justifies changing tack from his pre-election commitments. This has strong echoes of John Howard’s much-derided “core and non-core promises”. We are surprised no-one in the mainstream media seems to have picked that up. Maybe today’s political pundits are just not old enough to remember.

For those who haven’t made a lifetime’s habit of watching Government, the Liberals have form. In 1996, the new Howard Government soon found that the previous Keating Labor Government had allegedly left them with an unexpected $7.6 billion “black hole” budget deficit. The new treasurer, Peter Costello, and Finance Minister, John Fahey worked at reducing Commonwealth expenditure. This involved reneging on a number of election commitments, which Howard defended as “non-core promises”. At the first Coalition government budget, the public service was “down-sized”, the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) was privatised, and cuts were made to all departments including with the exception of defence. (Readers will note that this budget, too, will be brought down against the backdrop of a massive $12.5 billion increase in defence spending on the new fighters from America.) Back in 1996, $8 billion in spending cuts were made over the government’s first two budgets.

But in the ultimate example of hubris this time round, Abbott says voters will eventually “thank” the Government if it meets its top promises. Is he right?

“I’m not going to deny for a second that there will be people who are disappointed,” Mr Abbott told Channel 9 this morning. “No-one likes difficult decisions, Governments don’t like taking difficult decisions, voters don’t like the consequences of difficult decisions.But you’ve just got to make hard decisions at times like this, and I think in the long run the voters will thank us for doing what is absolutely necessary if Labor’s debt and deficit disaster is to be tackled. I’m not going to comment on the detail of the budget, but I want to assure the people of Australia that this is a Government which is going to bring down a budget which is fair.”

In a week, and in following weeks, we’ll know if the country agrees with him. Our advice? Don’t hold your breath, Tony.

Those who ignore history are fated to repeat it. One option for tax reform (by which everyone of course always means “collecting more taxes, as painlessly as possible”) which is most definitely on the table in Australia is an increase in the rate of GST, or broadening the items it applies to, such as food.

Whilst we doubt we’ll see it in this Parliament, it is being constantly promoted by the business lobby, and could form a centrepiece of a “Give us the tools* to do the job” campaign by the Coalition at the next election. *Read: more money please.

Along with swingeing cuts, perhaps the most controversial of all of Howard’s economic reforms was pushing through a GST n the first place. In an early election dubbed a “referendum” on the move, on 3 October 1998, the Howard Government won a second term but with its March 1996 majority of 45 seats slashed to 12. Current Liberal MPs on smaller margins will be looking at that statistic with some alarm. The current Coalition majority is 30.

Back in 1998, exit polls had even predicted a government loss. Some smart marginal seat campaigning by the Liberals, and a phenomenon of Labor piling up votes in seats it was never going to lose, prevented that.

In the final wash up, a 4.6 percent swing away from the Government translated into a two-party preferred vote of 49.02 per cent for the Government to Kim Beazely’s Labor’s 50.98 per cent. (Leading to him being promptly installed as the most unlucky Labor leader ever.)

It’s worth remembering that one feature of an unpopular conservative government is that it tends to see a drift of inchoate disenfranchised protest voters to fringe parties on its own right. For more than a year in 1988, for example, the Libs had been leaking support to the far right, much as the Conservative Party in the UK are now to the UKIP, the result of which will be very decent levels of success for the appalling far right party at the upcoming council and European elections.

But despite One Nation winning almost 1 million votes and its 8.4 percent first preference vote being larger than the National Party’s, Pauline Hanson did not win her run for the House of Representatives seat of Blair. Howard was widely seen as having “seen off” One Nation.

Perhaps more accurately, given the inevitable drift back to him of their preferences, he had gambled and won that he could see them off “just enough” to retain power without being embarrassingly outflanked on the right.

But the runes don’t look as promising for today’s Coalition. In 2015 or 2015, Abbott will almost certainly face a much more cashed up and powerful populist force to his right in the Palmer United Party, and a force that appears definitely to eschew high-taxing Government. They will provide a much more natural (and less offensive) home for disaffected protest-minded “a plague on both your houses, but ‘specially yours, Tony” voters than One Nation ever did, or would have.

Here’s the thing: it is a long-term feature of Australian politics that Governments govern from the centre, and stray to their right or left at their peril. A combination of huge cuts and tax increases – especially as weapons against a “budget crisis” that few people either sense or understand – will mark Abbott’s cabinet as having shifted hard to the right.

That has its own dangers, but the murky future is made darker still when one factors in that when the next election comes, the Liberal National Coalition will not face a Labor Party weakened by continual bickering and top-level incompetence at the next election. Instead, they will face a photogenic and mild-mannered centrist leader with a good ear for popular soundbites who is very wisely keeping his powder dry at the moment – albeit a bit too dry, in our opinion. His “front and centre” deputies, Plibersek and Albanese, are generally very popular as well.

The current Government would well advised to remember that in the 21st century there are more “independents” than ever, and many fewer people consider themselves “ironed on” supporters of one party or another. As a result, we loan power to parties, not give it, and nowadays we have short memories and even shorter loyalties.

Howard successfully entrenched his position through endless handouts of welfare and tax cuts to the middle class, who quickly worked out that “they’d never had it so good”.

At its simplest, Abbot risks losing power and being condemned by history as a one-hit wonder if he attempts to skewer exactly the people he needs to keep him in the Lodge.

Those who care about such things should perhaps whisper in his ear: “Maybe we could do with a few less F-35s, Tony?”

Abbott and his friends make their opinion of "temporary" tax increases very clear after the Queensland floods.

Abbott and his friends make their opinion of “temporary” tax increases very clear after the devastating Queensland floods. Now he proposes exactly the same idea.

We are on record as eschewing the general “bagging” of politicians per se, believing that some respect for our system of Government – some general belief that it is not entirely corrupted and merely the venue for amoral power-hungry sociopaths to do nothing but big note themselves and promote their career – is necessary for the well-being of the community and the country, but sometimes, even for a committed small-D democrat, it is very hard not to despair and simply scream incoherently “a plague on both your houses”.

It’s not just the nonsense they spout: it’s the nonsense they spout when they defend each other spouting nonsense.

If you give it, you have to take it. Abbott ruthlessly and effectively crucified Gillard. Is it his turn now?

If you give it, you have to take it. Abbott ruthlessly and effectively crucified Gillard. Is it his turn now?

In Australia, senior Liberal Christopher Pyne (or “Christopher Robin” as he is known in the Wellthisiswhatithink household, because of his repeatedly childish behaviour in Parliament and elsewhere) has denied that the introduction of a “deficit levy” – read, an extra tax to pay down debt – would be Tony Abbott’s “Julia Gillard moment”, (Julia Gillard being the immediate past Prime Minister, deposed by Abbott, who never got over being christened Juliar for bringing in a carbon tax when she had said pre-election that she wouldn’t), despite a majority of Australians saying the Abbott move would indeed be a broken promise.

Abbott promised repeatedly not to increase taxes. “You can’t tax your way to prosperity” was a mantra. So was “Tax cuts, without new taxes”.

Despite this, the Liberal-National coalition frontbencher played down the latest Galaxy poll, which showed a whopping 72 per cent believe the tax hike would indeed represent a blatant broken promise.

Australians know the government will have to make tough decisions to get the budget back on track, he said. “They know it won’t be easy and it is important that everyone shares in that burden of repairing the damage Labor did to the economy and to the budget,” Mr Pyne told ABC TV on Sunday.

The Australian Government can afford 58 of these, but needs a new tax to pay for the "budget crisis", and needs people to work till 70 till they get their pension, and is going to make wholesale cuts in the coming budget. When people work out that these are choices, and not inevitabilities, the backlash for Abbot could be horrible.

The Australian Government can apparently afford 58 of these, but now needs a new tax to pay for the “budget crisis”, plus it needs people to work till 70 to get their pension, and it is going to make wholesale cuts in the coming budget. When people work out that these are choices, and not inevitabilities, the backlash for Abbot could be horrible.

This is, however, in the face of the Government paying a massive $12.5 billion to buy new fighter jets, the serviceability and usability of which are the subject of on-going debate in defence circles as well as the country as a whole.

The contrast between “toys for the boys” and forecast swingeing cuts to welfare has brought the debate into sharp relief, not to mention damaged the Government’s standing.

It now trails the Labor Party that it just replaced by four percentage points. Two party-preferred support for the coalition has plunged 5.5 percentage points since the September election, with its vote now 48 per cent compared to Labor’s 52 per cent. Short honeymoon even by today’s low-attention ten-second soundbite standards of public discourse.

According to the poll, published by News Corp Australia, the Abbott government is facing a voter backlash over the possible new debt tax on those earning more than $80,000.

Certainly, the government has yet to confirm the deficit levy will be included in the May 13 budget but it seems that only a howl of outrage from the Australian middle class will prevent it.

But with huge – some would say laughable – bravado, the Prime Minister has said any levy would be temporary, and therefore wouldn’t break an election promise not to increase taxes.

So let’s just get that clear. If you only break a promise for a while, it’s not a broken promise, right? So what does it become? A bent promise? A slightly tarnished promise? Do we now have a whole new level of Government probity (or otherwise) to parse?

Mr Pyne went on to deny that a levy (read: a new tax) would be Mr Abbott’s “Julia Gillard moment” – a reference to the former prime minister’s broken promise on the carbon tax. “There is no easy way out from the debt and deficit disaster that Labor’s left us,” Mr Pyne said. “But what we do has to be fair to everyone, and it has to be right for the country. That’s the job of government.”

Newly-minted Opposition Leader Bill Shorten finally woke up from his slumber and weighed in. He said Labor would oppose a deficit levy, and urged the prime minister to drop the tax hike before next week’s budget.

“Increasing taxes on working class and middle class Australians is a terrible mistake, and people will not forgive Mr Abbott for breaking this very big promise,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

Whilst we find it somewhat stomach-churning to hear it from one of the core team who allowed wasteful spending to again become a way of life for Australian Governments – and who lacked the guts to challenge Gillard for the top job in time to actually repair Labor’s fortunes – we think he’s right.

Having allowed his plans to leak and become discussed, Abbot is now between a rock and a hard place. If he backs down on the new tax because his advisors reckon he can ride it out (or, more likely, are so deep in their bubble they fundamentally misjudge the anger it will cause) then he will be seen to be weak in the fight against the very fiscal crisis that he has promoted as needing fixing.

If he levies the tax, he will be pilloried for breaking the most fundamental pre-election commitment he made.

And in other commitments made pre-election, Abbott also locked in several “No Cut” promises leaving him, hopefully in this correspondent’s opinion, with even less wriggle room. Just take a look at this:

 

Right: noted.

Right: noted.

 

Against a backdrop of Coalition MPs privately venting that the new tax move was “Crazy”, and “Electoral suicide”, even the uncontroversial (generally) Sydney Morning Herald asked yesterday “Could it become known as the “Abbott moment”, when a prime minister cursed his political fate and consigned his government to one term? A big call, to be sure, especially so far out from the next federal poll in 2016.”

We are under no illusion. We think Abbott is about to hand the Liberal Party leadership on a plate to the man who should have had it all along, Malcolm Turnbull, were it not for the “hard right” putsch that idiotically deposed him in Abbott’s favour by a single vote. Not immediately, not in the very short term, but before long. You heard it here first. Our tip would be just before Christmas 2014, as it was even before Abbott won the General Election.

To misquote George Bush Snr, “Read my lips: no way out.”

Well no, that ain’t true. On reflection, that was the successful ten-fingers and ten-toes birth of the Fruit of One’s Loins. But last Saturday was similarly exciting, and for many of the same reasons.

To have your own horse – a horse you own, or at least, a horse of which you own the left nostril and right fore-hoof – win a race at a major city track is simply thunderously, life-changingly, breath-holdingly thrilling. Especially when accompanied by Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and said Fruit O’Loins, neither of whom could historically be considered huge horse racing fans, but who are now swept up in the emotion of it all just like everyone else.

She’s been nursed along to this point. Some owners have dropped out along the way, impatient with her somewhat slow progress. The rest of us have hung in there, grimly muttering “She’s a big girl, needs time to mature.” As the starter heads to his position, the anticipation is almost unbearable. Will she load in the gate properly? (She has a habit of not doing so.) She does. An ironic cheer goes up from the “connections”, much to the amusement of the hardy souls braving the autumnal rain at Sandown. Will she get a jump? Can she make it from the outside barrier far enough in to be successful? She does. A huge start, settles nicely in second although it took a huge effort to get there from the outside barrier. Has she really got the lungs to win a 1600 metre race with a couple of other smart looking gee-gees in it after spending all that energy at the start? The trainer looks pensive, but excited. The trainer’s manager can’t even bear to watch. The jockey was confident heading out, but then again, he only looks about 12, so what would he know?

 

'At's my girl.

‘At’s our girl.

 

For the record, she hit the lead about 400 out and held on, showing real guts, and winning by a head. If you would like to watch the roughly 1 minute 40″ of heart-thumping action just click the link below.

http://www.racingnetwork.com.au/khutulun-takes-step-right-direction/tabid/83/newsid/19234/default.aspx

It takes a while to sink in. She actually won. A serious race, paying serious money, too. We have a racehorse on our hands, after all the wondering and worrying and hard work by the stables. And she simply seems to love running, to boot. She just seems to know what is meant for her, and gets on with it.

From here, fame beckons, and not just in the wildest imaginings of her over-excited owners. Texts turn up from “people who should know”. “Wow, what an effort.” “Blimey, mate, she looks really, really good.” The connections stand around, pinching themselves in half-disbelief. Probably one too many whiskies after in the bar, too, but who’s counting? Not today.

Khutulun – pronounced “Koo-too-lun” – which the commentator seems unable to master – was a warrior princess. Daughter of Kublai Kahn. A famous wrestler, horsewoman, and archer. Basically, one tough little lady with a heart of steel.

How very appropriate.

I feel like a kid who’s had ten red drinks and a bar and a half a bar of chocolate at a birthday party. I expect to come down by about this time next week. In the meantime, bear with me, Dear Reader. Normal service will be resumed when we find ourselves able to think about anything else but the feeling as she swept past the post …

You should try it. Really, you should.

The Australian public is agog at the news today that the Abbott Government has placed an A$12.5 billion order for the F-35 strike fighter. That’s a lot of money for a nation with 22 million people. The Labor Opposition (who started this macho nonsense) needless to say agrees with the decision.

F 35 fighter

Wheeeeeeeee!

Which is interesting, because the troubled F-35 programme has its limitations.

It’s been plagued with developmental problems, not least of which the plane is extremely noisy and annoys local residents wherever it is based, so the good burghers of Newcastle in New South Wales may find themselves less than enthusiastic about their soon-to-be top gun neighbours than they might have thought.

But perhaps most relevant for the Australian public is that without in-air refuelling (and Australia has just five in-air refuelling units, by the way, to service what will eventually be a collection of 72 sooper-dooper shiny fighters, so presumably now we’re going to have to invest in a lot more of the refuelling planes, too) the new fighter jet has a maximum range of 2,200 kms, out and back.

Which logically means that the residents of Queensland should probably leave off looking for mud crabs and start building air-raid shelters, as they won’t reach anywhere else. Big place, Australia.

Meanwhile, the Abbott Government is saying it is so worried about Australia’s budget position that they are flagging we will have to pay an extra $6 to visit the GP, on top of the money we already contribute to Medicare via our taxes, and we will eventually be allowed to retire and claim our pension (which we have paid into all our lives) when we are about 82 or some such nonsense.

Forgive me for being naive, but I am reasonably sure that I remember that what we spend our public money on used to be a choice? In which case, I vote for fewer toys for the boys, a health system free at the point of use, and to be allowed to retire when I was originally promised I could.

To be more serious for a moment. The only time these planes would ever be used in anger would be if America or perhaps the EU asked us to join them in some military adventure in some far-flung region, and offered us base space over there so we could help out. Just as we did in Afghanistan, flying from a base in Kyrgyzstan.

But does the Australian public have much of an appetite for such efforts, still? After the pain endured in Afghanistan and the wanton idiocies of Iraq, (and we are still waiting to see Messrs Howard, Bush and Blair arraigned as war criminals), we doubt it. And that’s really what should be being debated over this purchase. Just where, exactly, Dear Prime Minister, do you intend to be using these aircraft, and why?

Lockheed Martin and the American government will no doubt consider this a wonderful decision, but we consider this an egregious and excessive use of our tax dollars that concretes us in even more tightly in lockstep with America at exactly the time that our growing engagement with Asia, and especially China, suggests that a slightly more neutral posture would be a wise and measured stance.

Do you agree?

The as-yet un-named asylum seeker who attempted suicide yesterday.

The as-yet un-named asylum seeker who attempted suicide yesterday.

 

In just the latest horrific outcome of Australia’s current treatment of asylum seekers, a Tamil refugee set himself on fire in Sydney last night after his appeal for continuation of his protection visa and resulting refugee status was rejected.

The man, believed to be in his late 20s, was taken to Concord Hospital after dousing himself in petrol outside his workplace in Balmain and setting himself alight. He has burns to about 98 per cent of his body. He is in an induced coma, having already undergone at least two skin-graft operations. There is a slim hope he may recover, although at that level of burns it frankly seems unlikely.

A friend, Balasingham Prabhakaran, said today the man, who is from the Batticaloa region in eastern Sri Lanka, had received a letter from the Immigration department telling him his application for a protection visa in Australia had been rejected and he must to return to Sri Lanka. He has been living in the community on a bridging visa for at least 18 months after fleeing Sri Lanka because of threats from authorities.

“He has told me he has a genuine fear about being sent back to Sri Lanka,” said Prabhakaran, who runs a 24-hour Tamil radio station in Sydney, Inbathamil Oli.

self immolation

Not something we think you’d do just because you want a job in Australia.

“He was very disillusioned after getting the letter on Tuesday.

He rang many of his friends to say ‘Hi’, and then after he finished his work as an office cleaner about 8.30 p.m., he went outside, and set himself alight.”

Apparently the refugee swallowed the petrol before pouring it on himself.

A number of workers from a nearby shipyard came to his aid, pouring water on him and trying to put out the flames.

“He had the can of petrol in his bag. It was obviously planned. They also found the rejection letter from Immigration and a two-page suicide note in his bag.”

Tamil Refugee Council spokesman, Aran Mylvaganam, said this sad case was further proof that the Australian government’s refugee policy was creating desperation among refugee and asylum-seeker communities. “I suppose the Minister for Immigration will just shrug this off as more collateral damage in the war on asylum-seekers,” he said.

Tamil Refugee Council spokesman Trevor Grant says the man is in a critical condition in Sydney’s Concord Hospital, with burns to most of his body.

“There is some hope that he may survive,” he said.

Paramedics treat asylum seeker for burns

Ambulance workers seek to save the young man’s life.

“They’re trying desperately to get his 65-year-old mother to Australia to be at his bedside, along with his brother.

“But he’s already had a number of surgeries, skin grafts etc., and he’s apparently going to have more today.”

The Federal Government is in contact with the Sri Lankan High Commission over the incident, said a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, adding that service providers did not hold or report any concerns about the man’s mental health.

The spokeswoman said in a statement:

“The government’s focus is to ensure for the proper care and support of this young man, in partnership with the Sri Lankan High Commission.

“The Minister is advised the young man had arrived in Australia in June 2012 and was released into the community on a bridging visa in October.

“In July 2013 he was found not to be owed protection and this decision was affirmed on appeal by the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) earlier this month.

“The young man was receiving support in the community from our service providers, while residing in the community on his bridging visa, as well as receiving migration advice under the IAAAS scheme in relation to his case.

“The Minister is advised that following receiving the news of the RRT decision, service providers did not hold or report any concerns about his state of mental health.”

But Mr Grant says the young man is one of many asylum seekers terrified of being sent home. “This is really an inevitable outcome of a policy that is purposely designed to create suffering in order to deter people,” he said. “This man has been one of some 20,000 in the community. They’re undergoing psychological torture not knowing what’s happening to them, living in fear every day of being returned to danger.”

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan authorities – as they would – sought to argue that there was no reason for Tamil refugees to fear returning to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Consul General for NSW and Queensland, Bandula Jayasekera says:

“It’s safe for anybody and everybody is looked after well,” he said. “It is also sad what these so called refugee advocates and so called lawyers are saying … and I see that as a bit of a business. “They have to look at the situation in Sri Lanka before going and commenting without any facts.”

Really, Sir? You might care to comment on recent reports suggesting the opposite. Perhaps Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison might care to comment as well? And it would be helpful if matters such as this could be reported more widely inside Australia and journalists press for more information from Government instead of being “fobbed off”.

Could all the politicians and diplomats concerned explain specifically, for example, why the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in its annual human rights round up report and individual country of concern reports published today, expressed serious concern regarding the human rights situation in Sri Lanka?

Expanding on the reason behind the FCO involvement in securing a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution calling for an international investigation into war crimes, the report said:

“The UK sees accountability for alleged war crimes, respect for human rights, and a political settlement as essential elements of post-conflict reconciliation.”

It has to be said that the conflict with the Tamils was hideous, with war crimes undoubtedly committed by both sides.

But the peace leaves a lot to be desired.

Far from improving, Sri Lanka’s human rights situation may actually be getting worse. The report notes a ‘negative trend’ in progress on human rights issues over the last year and expands on a wide range of  issues including freedom of expression and assembly, human rights defenders, access to justice and the rule of law, the death penalty, torture, conflict and protection of civilians, freedom of religion belief, women’s rights, minority rights, children’s rights and LGBT rights. Pro-Tamil groups (easily found on the Internet by anyone making a modicum of effort) regularly report what they consider human rights abuses.

You can see the British Government’s Sri Lanka report here and an updated addendum here.

For further information about yesterday’s suicide attempt, you can contact the Tamil Refugee Council on 0400 597 351.

Five Christians were arrested after their group held a prayer vigil in reaction to what they described as Australia’s “cruel treatment” of asylum seekers on March 21.

Christians released

Commonsense prevails. They look like dangerous violent radicals, don’t they?

A spokeswoman for the group has said the charges were dismissed after they pled guilty to trespass in Sutherland Local Court this afternoon.

She said the magistrate noted that the protest was peaceful. “This was the other end of the scale to the Cronulla Riots,” she said.

Earlwood resident Justin Whelan, 38, was one of those who faced court over the protest he described as an appeal to Mr Morrison to “rediscover the ideals of his maiden speech”.

“I have witnessed first-hand the conflict and suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine I feel compelled to take action to draw attention to the plight of asylum seekers,” he said.

He was joined in court by Blue Mountains resident Donna Mulhearn, 45, Zetland resident Jaxon Jennings, 21, and Woolloomooloo resident Jody Lightfoot, 28. The fifth member of the group, 33-year-old Midland resident Jarrod McKenna, did not appear in court.

The group was supported by approximately two dozen protesters who gathered outside the court to hold another “asylum seeker prayer vigil”.

Protest spokesman Matt Anslow said the vigil participants had come from different Christian denominations, including Catholic and Uniting Church, as well as non-Christians.

Mr Anslow said his group had not had any contact with Mr Morrison since the March 21 protest.

“We recognise that we’ve been a party to allowing our government to continue these policies,” he said. “Today is less about an outcome, it’s about support”.

He had told the media that the March protest was not intended to target Mr Morrison in a negative way.

If ever a man needed praying for, it's this guy.

If ever a man needed praying for, it’s this guy.

“We were praying also for Mr Morrison, not in a way that was condemning or judgemental,” he said. “We were actually praying that Mr Morrison might have a change of heart. In his maiden speech for Federal Parliament, Mr Morrison gave a really amazing outline of his vision that included justice and compassion for vulnerable people. For us, we were hoping Mr Morrison might have a change of heart and join us.”

Wellthisiswhatithink has another and less gentle point to raise. What on earth were police officers doing wasting their taxpayer-funded time arresting these people in the first place? And once arrested, why on earth were they taken to court and not simply released? Who took that ludicrous decision?

I am reasonably sure the Christians who “invaded” Morrison’s precious little office would have left quietly if asked to do so, or would have allowed themselves to be moved outside, even if resisting passively. That should have been an end to the matter.

In a free country, people are free to say what they like, where they like, even if that causes minor inconvenience. What an utter nonsense this all was. Will the police in charge at this and other protests be counseled to show a little more restraint, and commonsense? Like hell they will. Will the prosecutorial authorities get dragged over the coals for wasted time, money and effort. No, they won’t.

Ridiculous.

coupleWe heard coverage of this story on the radio a little while ago, and it struck us as terribly sad then – it’s good to see people with some clout taking it up.

We are forever depressed and angered by the way the poorest and least able to defend themselves are chewed up by “the system”, when these are the very people we should be looking after most intensively.

Regular readers will know that we are especially concerned about the fate of “vets” in particular, most obviously in the US, where 100,000+ of them languish in jail, usually for drug abuse and minor theft issues, but also in many other countries around the world including Australia. This is just one more especially tragic and completely avoidable case of a hero falling through the cracks once he’s been discarded by the services.

Homelessness is very often the result of family break-up (especially for young people), substance abuse, mental illness, (especially affecting people who were tossed out on the streets under the trendy move towards de-institutionalisation, but without anything like adequate provision for the de-institutionalised being put in place), post-traumatic stress, and other matters that a genuinely civilised system would deal with effectively.

Instead, we see an increasing reliance on anti-homelessness laws that are a weak and vindictive response that ties up the time of police who should be doing much more important work, and which victimises victims.

We must do better.

The UN Human Rights Committee says the U.S. should stop criminalising homeless people for being homeless.

Jerome Murdough, 56, a mentally ill homeless veteran, was just trying to stay alive during a New York City cold snap when he thought he found his spot: a stairwell leading to a roof in a Harlem public housing project. But that desperate act set in motion a nightmare ride through New York’s criminal justice system that would end with Murdough dying of heat stroke in a Riker’s Island jail cell. New York officials now say the system failed Murdough every which way.

When he was discovered, he should have been offered shelter.

When he was arraigned, he should not have been slapped with $2,500 bail.

When, unable to make bail, he ended up in jail, Murdough, because he was on medication for a mental condition, should have been monitored every 15 minutes, not left unwatched for at least four hours.

It was during that untended time that Murdough, as an official told the Associated Press, “basically baked to death.”

Now, as New York officials discuss the “tragedy” of last month and scapegoat one Riker’s Island guard for Murdough’s death — suspending him for 20 days — the United Nations has taken notice. Murdough is just the latest statistic in a series of needless deaths of homeless people while under arrest for “crimes” related to being unhoused, such as loitering or trespassing.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Thursday condemned the United States for criminalising homelessness, calling it “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that violates international human rights treaty obligations. It also called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action, following a two-day review of U.S. government compliance with a human rights treaty ratified in 1992.

“I’m just simply baffled by the idea that people can be without shelter in a country, and then be treated as criminals for being without shelter,” said Sir Nigel Rodley, chairman of the committee in closing statements on the U.S. review. “The idea of criminalising people who don’t have shelter is something that I think many of my colleagues might find as difficult as I do to even begin to comprehend.”

The Committee called on the U.S. to abolish criminalisation of homelessness laws and policies at state and local levels, intensify efforts to find solutions for homeless people in accordance with human rights standards and offer incentives for decriminalisation, including giving local authorities funding for implementing alternatives and withholding funding for criminalizing the homeless.

Those recommendations run counter to the current trends in the nation. Laws targeting the homeless — loitering laws that ban sleeping or sitting too long in one public spot, or camping in parks overnight — have become increasingly common in communities throughout the country as homelessness has skyrocketed.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), a D.C.-based advocacy organization which monitors laws that criminalise homeless people and litigates on behalf of poor people regularly conducts reviews of cities criminalising homelessness and finds more and more laws banning such activities as sitting or lying in public places with each new survey.

“We welcome the Committee’s Concluding Observations and call on our government to take swift action to solve homelessness with homes, not jails and prisons,” said Maria Foscarinis, the NLCHP executive director, in a statement. The NLCHP had submitted a report to the U.N. Committee for review.

Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella organization of advocacy groups in the Western U.S. that is hoping states will sign onto a Bill of Rights for homeless people, said that more and more homeless people are being arrested, prosecuted and killed for actions relating to their poverty. (See below.)

Article reproduced from Alternet.org

Meanwhile, in a tragic irony given the UN report, video has emerged in the last few days of yet another tragedy.

We warn you, this video is very distressing.

 

The shooting in Albuquerque of a homeless man dead has drawn attention to the city’s officer-involved shootings, especially those involving the mentally ill.

Since 2010, the city’s police have shot 37 people, The New York Times reports. The New Mexico Public Defender Department estimates that 75% of those shot had a mental illness, even though nationally about half of those shot by police have mental health problems.

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has identified the man in the recently released video as 38-year-old James M. Boyd. The Albuquerque Journal reports dispatchers informed APD officers responding to the incident that Boyd was mentally incompetent and possibly had paranoid schizophrenia.

The disturbing video from March 16 shows officers aiming their weapons at Boyd, who was camping illegally. We later learn was holding knives, but he doesn’t appear to be threatening the officers.

At the beginning of the video, Boyd gathers his bags containing his belongings.

 

Police shooting James Boyd

 

One officer then says “do it” while another throws a flash grenade that explodes as officers and a police dog charge him.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

The man drops his bags and scuffles briefly with the police dog before turning his back as if to retreat, but he is immediately shot in the back.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

Officers then restrain the mortally wounded man and the video reveals he has a small knife in each hand, although it is unclear from the video when he pulled the knives out.

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

In a press conference held shortly after the March 15 shooting, APD Chief of Police Gorden Eden said he believed the shooting was justified. According to his version of events, the man threatened APD officers with knives after they approached while he was sleeping at his illegal campsite.

Eden said officers were attempting to use non-lethal means when they threw the flash grenade. But the man pulled out two knives and threatened an officer handling the police dog, according to the police. “The officers then perceived a directed threat immediately to the canine handler who was trying to redirect the dog towards the suspect, when the shots were fired,” Eden said.

While Boyd’s actions in the video appear non-aggressive, Eden said he had not obeyed officers’ demands. “The suspect did in fact make a decision not to follow the directions that were provided to him by the officers,” he said.

According to The Times, Boyd had a history of mental illness and may not have followed the officers’ directions because he believed he was a federal agent who shouldn’t be bossed around.

The APD has a history of allegedly using excessive force during confrontations with civilians, spurring the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an ongoing investigation into the matter in November 2012. Of the 37 people shot since 2010 more than 20 were killed, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

In 2013 a judge ruled that the 2010 fatal shooting of an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was not justified.

This week, an attorney announced he intends to file a class-action lawsuit against the APD over repeated shootings of people with mental health problems. The lawsuit would seek to guarantee additional training for officers to peacefully end confrontations with mentally ill people.

The video recently sparked a large demonstration in Albuquerque streets against recent APD shooting deaths, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Some community members have criticised the APD for making arrests and resorting to riot gear and tear gas during that 12-hour demonstration sparked by the shooting. Another demonstration followed, and another is set for Friday.

However, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Eden said the police actions were an appropriate response to some protesters who behaved like a mob committing illegal acts.

APD Chief Eden started at his position February 27. He previously spent eight years serving as the U.S. marshal for New Mexico in the same Department of Justice still investigating the APD. As the new ADP chief, Eden has vowed to begin improving the department before the investigation reaches its conclusion. He said his major priorities are community outreach, bolstering APD’s leadership structure and police retention. Eden also hopes to increase the department’s manpower, which currently stands at 900 officers although he said there is funding for 1,100 officers.

From Business Insider and others

Well, having viewed the video, we believe this is an unlawful or morally reprehensible killing, at best, and barefaced murder at worst. This man was clearly no threat.

The “flash-bang” is launched as he is complying with the police commands. He is further assaulted when he is clearly no threat whatsoever.

Even if he was initially considered a threat, (even though we cannot see why), why was force not used to disable him (shooting at his legs, for example) rather than to kill?

The police concerned are on “administrative leave”. In our opinion, they should be in court. As for the police chief believing the shooting was justified, well, if that’s what he calls “community outreach”, then words fail us.

yoThis well-researched article gives the lie to those that argue that corporate tax rates in America are too high, and continually blame the state of the economy on welfare recipients and the unemployed. If you tire of hearing this nonsense parroted daily by right wing politicians and commentators, I suggest you share this post widely with your friends.

What is bizarre is that here in Australia, and in the UK, American corporations are coming under increasing fire for not paying any taxes locally either. So one is obliged to ask, where is all the money going?

From RT.com

Twenty-six of the most powerful American corporations – such as Boeing, General Electric, and Verizon – paid no federal income tax from 2008 to 2012, according to a new report detailing how Fortune 500 companies exploit tax breaks and loopholes.

The report, conducted by public advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), focuses on the 288 companies in the Fortune 500 that registered consistent profit every year from 2008 to 2012. Those 288 profitable corporations paid an “effective federal income tax rate of just 19.4 percent over the five-year period — far less than the statutory 35 percent tax rate,” CTJ states.

One-third, or 93, of the analysed companies paid an effective tax rate below 10 percent in that timespan, CTJ found.

Defenders of low corporate taxes call the US federal statutory rate of 35 percent one of the highest companies face in any nation. But the report signals how the most formidable corporate entities in the US take advantage of tax breaks, loopholes, and accounting schemes to keep their effective rates down.

“Tax subsidies for the 288 companies over the five years totaled a staggering $364 billion, including $56 billion in 2008, $70 billion in 2009, $80 billion in 2010, $87 billion in 2011, and $70 billion in 2012,” CTJ states. “These amounts are the difference between what the companies would have paid if their tax bills equaled 35 percent of their profits and what they actually paid.”

Just 25 of the 288 companies kept tax breaks of $174 billion out of the $364 billion total. Wells Fargo received the largest amount of tax subsidies – $21.6 billion – in the five-year period. The banking giant was joined in the top ten on that list by the likes of AT&T, ExxonMobil, J.P Morgan Chase, and Wal-Mart.

AFP Photo / Etienne FranchiAFP Photo / Etienne Franchi

 

About 1 in 11 of the 288 companies paid a zero percent effective federal income tax rate in the five years considered.

Pepco Holdings – which supplies utility services to Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and parts of New Jersey – paid a cumulative five-year effective rate of -33 percent, the lowest of any company in that period.

In fact, utilities came out particularly well among other industries.

Reuters / Jonathan ErnstReuters / Jonathan Ernst

 

“The sectors with the lowest effective corporate tax rates over the five-year period were utilities (2.9 percent), industrial machinery (4.3 percent), telecommunications (9.8 percent), oil, gas and pipelines (14.4 percent), transportation (16.4 percent), aerospace and defense (16.7 percent) and financial (18.8 percent),” CTJ reported.

CTJ said the companies are allowed to pay such low federal rates based on factors that include offshore tax sheltering, accelerated asset depreciation based on continued investment, stock options, and industry-specific tax breaks.

“Of those corporations in our sample with significant offshore profits, two thirds paid higher corporate tax rates to foreign governments where they operate than they paid in the U.S. on their U.S. profits,” according to CTJ.

The non-profit group says this lax taxation climate among the most powerful US corporations comes amid an aggressive push by lobby and trade groups on Capitol Hill “to reduce the federal corporate income tax rate, based on the claim that our corporate tax is uncompetitively high compared to other developed nations.”

Just this week, US House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (Republican) introduced a tax reform proposal that would lower the maximum federal effective tax rate to 25 percent.

Though, tellingly, this aspect of the plan – among other attempts at bipartisan consensus in the proposal – renders it no chance of even getting a hearing in the Republican-dominated House during a mid-term election year, when such a conciliatory offering can be used as a cudgel against disapproving conservatives.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) (AFP Photo / Chip Somodevilla)House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) (AFP Photo / Chip Somodevilla)

 

Companies have already disputed CTJ’s report, saying that the study only looks at federal income taxes while ignoring other tax burdens they face, such as on the state and local level. In addition, the companies say low effective rates are part of congressional attempts to offer tax relief to corporate America in order to create larger economic opportunity.

To reverse low corporate federal tax rates, CTJ recommends Congress end corporations’ ability to “defer” taxes on offshore profits; limit use of executive stock options that reduce taxes by “generating phantom ‘costs’” the companies don’t really incur; end accelerated depreciation opportunities; restore the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax; and strengthen corporate income and tax disclosure regulations.

“These findings refute the prevailing view inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway that America’s corporate income tax is more burdensome than the corporate income taxes levied by other countries, and that this purported (but false) excess burden somehow makes the U.S. ‘uncompetitive,’” CTJ concluded.

Centralised wealth creating socialists more effectively than any socialist speaker ... some things haven't changed much since the early 20th century. Indeed, the trend continues.

Centralised wealth creating socialists more effectively than any socialist speaker … some things haven’t changed much since the early 20th century. Indeed, the trend accelerates.

Researching some photos to illustrate this article, and as luck would have it, I came across Charlie Chaplin’s astonishing cry from the heart in The Great Dictator, (see below), calling in both despair and hope for a better world.

It’s a dry old subject, but cracking down on tax avoidance and more equitably sharing the burden of creating a fair and just society would be a good start to creating a world that everyone can enjoy.

The power of centralised wealth is reaching epic proportions, greater than at any time in humanity’s modern history.

One does not have to hark back to the trade union-dominated era of much of the Western world post-WWII, nor to toy with ideas of reviving nationalisation and  government-owned enterprises (although in Australia renewed Government ownership of Qantas should be considered in return for taxpayer support) to see that the current situation is a million miles from the idealistic dreams of a participatory, share-owning democracy where capitalism would produce widespread wealth.

Concepts of “trickle down” economics from low-tax regimes have been comprehensively debunked as nonsense. I am a fan of markets that are as free as practically possible, but what business needs to face up to is that with freedom comes responsibility.

Where the Directors and Boards of massive corporations devote the bulk of their time to avoiding tax rather than growing their businesses, democratic Government must intervene to correct the balance.

If they do not, the reaction will be severe. The people are beginning to work it out: machine men with machine minds and machine hearts – be warned.

 

You, the people, have the power. Look up. Look up. Naive? Perhaps. But it is wonderfully, inspirationally naive. Little wonder the “powers that be” in America hated Chaplin with a passion. If you haven’t seen it before, I warmly recommend it.

TimeFor Christmas this year, the Wellthisiswhatithink household bought itself a subscription to Time.

In years past, as a reflection of the household’s main occupation (advertising) we used to get a weekly complimentary copy.

But a few career excursions (including a year off to write a book of poetry) meant that our freebies declined proportionately.

It’s embarrassing to ring up and mutter “I used to be important, please can you put me back on your complimentary list?”, so we simply stumped up the dosh for a change like the rest of the population.

And a very good investment it has proven to be. This consistently excellent news magazine gives us a good overview of a week of world events, backed up by really good in depth reporting.

One such report in the February 10th issue contained, for us, a staggering statistic.

jail vets flagThere are about 200,000 veterans in jail in the USA, making up about 14% of the country’s prison population.

Contrary to public perception, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are actually less likely to be incarcerated than those who fought in earlier wars, but they are three times more likely to suffer the agonies of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether inside prison or out.

All told, around the country there are around 10,000 veterans of the two most recent conflicts imprisoned, and in an environment where mental health treatment is spotty at best.

Let us just pause and consider those two statistics slowly.

200,000 vets languish in American prisons

200,000 vets languish in American prisons

Two hundred thousand veterans in total. Ten thousand veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army bridgadier general, remarked:

“We are throwing these guys away.”

One does not have to be a fan of American foreign policy or militarism generally to feel, very strongly, that this state of affairs is a disgrace. American society idolises its serving men and women, and a career in the forces is often held up as the most virtuous choice a young person can make. The very least that prevailing culture demands is that the resettlement back into civilian life and post-trauma care of people so seduced is proportionate to their sacrifice.

Perhaps equally significantly, the very large standing forces of the USA hoover up vast numbers of young people without better career prospects, keen to make a decent fist of their low-prospects life. These people, often turned loose like so much mincemeat from the end of a grinder at the end of one, two or even more periods in the military – and after they have seen service in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable – are often returning to backgrounds with poor employment opportunities and less-than-optimal social situations that make the drift to petty crime, substance abuse and mental illness depressingly obvious and sadly predictable.

By world standards America locks up a ridiculously high percentage of its population, anyway, and sentencing regimes are frequently savage.

Under the ludicrous “three strikes and you’re out” legislation that prevails in some states people end up incarcerated for life for the most minor felonies. In many states, “three strikes” and mandatory minimum sentences help politicians look “tough on crime” to their electors, but frequently lock up for ludicrously long periods people who the presiding judge would much rather set free and into a diversion programme.

The same legal excesses are now frequently demonstrated in other countries like Australia and the United Kingdom.

But locking people up and throwing away the key need not be the answer. In Sweden, for example, they are now closing jails because they haven’t got enough offenders requiring prison time to keep them open.

That the American jurisprudence system is sick is hardly revelatory commentary. The ludicrous obsession with petty and interminable legal wrangling in the civil arena is well-known, but more significantly the prison population is bloated way beyond anything that is necessary for public safety.

A concerted effort to free tens of thousands of people would reduce costs to taxpayers, and right many judicial wrongs. As the American economy picks up, there is work for these people to do. Of course, no-one would argue for violent or serious offenders to be prematurely released, but there is little doubt that the dominant factor in American sentencing, as elsewhere, is revenge for social non-conformity. Why, if it was otherwise, would we lock people up for years or decades for personal possession of small amounts of illict drugs?

The “war on drugs” has been comprehensively lost anyway, and the price paid by, in many cases, veterans, has been dis-proportionately high. Locking people up in their tens of thousands has become a fig leaf to cover the comprehensive failure of the American political system to tackle the problems of poverty, lack of social engagement, poor education, and more. That the matter is almost never mentioned by leading politicians and social commentators is a tacit admission that no-one has put any real thought into alternatives or has the will-power to devise them. A population that fails to engage with the problem – out of sight, out of mind – is equally to blame.

veterans court

Judge Mike Denton, who served in the Army, talks to a veteran in a new court where combat veterans who face nonviolent misdemeanor charges are eligible for special consideration.

Laudable efforts to stop veterans ending up in jail are underway.

Now, a determined attempt to free as many of those imprisoned veterans as possible, and to provide them with the appropriate support to re-make their lives, would be a good and honourable place to start fixing the bigger problem.

Vets do deserve special consideration, having served their country as volunteers, or, indeed, perhaps most poignantly, as conscripts, shipped overseas to fight in Vietnam for example, through the wrong-headed belligerence of politicians obsessed with empire building, and lacking the social connections or wealth to get out of the draft.

And anyway, if the only job you can get is to sign up to be a “grunt”, then really, what sort of life choice did you have anyway? Whether you’re conscripted by a law or by force of circumstance, the outcome is surely the same.

However they ended up in a trench, a humvee, or ducking behind a tree or a wall with armalite in hand, these are people – often young, terrified, and confused – who have given their lives, not by falling in battle, but by surviving it.

They deserve better.

Minh Duong case: Vietnamese man awaiting medical treatment after neo-Nazi bashing is banned from Australia (ABC)If this is not a case for Ministerial discretion, then nothing is.
Minister Morrison, over to you.
Attacked by Neo Nazis while a guest in our country, but not allowed to stay for treatment.

Attacked by Neo Nazis while a guest in our country, but not allowed to stay for treatment.

A Vietnamese man awaiting medical treatment after being bashed by Melbourne neo-Nazis is in limbo after being banned from Australia for three years.

In 2012, Minh Duong was punched and kicked by two Neo-Nazi sy7mpathisers 70 times, stabbed, and had a brick smashed over his head with such force that the brick broke in two.

His front teeth were smashed out in the racial attack and he is still awaiting $25,000 worth of dental treatment.

Last week Mr Duong was forced to leave the country after immigration officials at Tullamarine airport flagged that his student visa had expired in March last year.

He disputes that, claiming to have written confirmation from the Immigration Department that his visa did not expire until March 2014.

But despite his claims, Mr Duong was forced to leave the country as an “unlawful non-citizen” and is now residing in Ho Chi Minh.

He has also been told by the Immigration Department that he is not allowed to return for three years.

A petition with 67,000 signatures demanding that Mr Duong be allowed back into Australia to receive medical treatment and graduate from university was delivered to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday. But in a statement to the ABC’s 7.30 report, Mr Morrison’s office maintained that Mr Duong departed Australia as an unlawful non-citizen since his last student visa had expired.

The statement said Mr Duong would be supported by the Australian embassy in Vietnam.

The Immigration Department also said that it was investigating the apparent contradiction between its records and Mr Duong’s and that it takes instances of fraud seriously.

Community rallies around victim of horrific bashing

Adrian de Luca, a Melbourne musician fighting Mr Duong’s cause, says Australia has a responsibility to the Vietnamese man.

“We have to take care of this young man,” he said.

“He’s an international guest – he’s not a refugee, he’s not come here illegally, he’s not an illegal immigrant.

“Our citizens damaged him [and] our citizens should fix him.”

Detective Acting Sergeant Kevin Burke, who investigated the bashing, wrote a letter to the Immigration Department outlining Mr Duong’s injuries and asking the department to take the crime into account when making a decision.

“It’s certainly one of the most shocking and serious assaults that I’ve attended in my time as a detective and certainly my time in the police force,” he said.

Australia: rapidly gathering the reputation of being the least charitable, most unpleasant “civilised” country in the world.

Why not write and tell him what you think?

Why not write and tell him what you think?

You might care to tell Scott Morrison what you think of his conduct of the Immigration Portfolio.

If so, here’s how. No matter how angry you may feel, it is worth considering that polite comments or enquiries are more likely to elicit a response, although with this Minister, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Scott Morrison MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: 02 6277 7860
Fax: 02 6273 4144
Email: minister@immi.gov.au

Also read: When silence isn’t golden.
                          For shame, Australia, for shame.

Scott Morrison demonstrating his usual loquacious behaviour.

Scott Morrison demonstrating his usual loquacious behaviour.

Following on from controversially limiting his relationship with the world’s media to weekly set-piece press conferences at which he steadfastly refused to offer any information anyway, “Stop the boats” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has now indicated he will no longer even do that to update journalists about the Government’s “border protection” operations.

The Government has not held a briefing on Operation Sovereign Borders since December 20, after previously holding them on a weekly basis.

Mr Morrison, who held a briefing this morning, told the ABC’s 7.30 program that his weekly briefings will now be held on an “as-needs basis”. The briefings will be replaced by a written statement unless there is something significant to report.

“We will issue a statement on the numbers of arrivals and the transfers, and we will hold operational briefings – like we will [on Wednesday] – when we have something to say and when we have something to report,” Mr Morrison said. “We will do them on an as-needs basis to detail operational matters that are able to be released and we’ll respond to questions there.”

However, tellingly, Morrison declined to comment on reports of a protest on Christmas Island in which six people engaged in a hunger strike are thought to have sewn their mouths shut.

Astonishingly for a Minister in a so-called democracy, he offered the following nonsenical reasoning:

“We don’t comment on protest activity.”

Why, you may wonder, Dear Reader?

“We don’t publicise it because publicisation (sic) of that sort of behaviour, if it occurs, is exactly what the perpetrators want. That’s in the best interests of everybody – those who are the allegedly taking those actions and those who are seeking to manage those centres – it’s in all of their best interests and not to engage in that game.”

So let’s just unpick that. Publicisation (we think he meant “publishing”) is “exactly what the perpetrators want” but then contrarywise, its in the best interests of those “allegedly taking those actions” for them not to get that publicity. Curiouser and curiouser, you might think, and you’d be right.

So the response to asylum seekers sewing their lips together in protest that they can't be heard is to, er, make sure they can't be heard. For their own good. What sort of Kafkaesque nightmare has Australia become?

So the response to asylum seekers sewing their lips together in protest that they can’t be heard is to, er, make sure they can’t be heard. For their own good. What sort of Kafkaesque nightmare has Australia become?

We know what you mean, Minister.

Don’t think you are fooling us for one moment.

You think it is in your Government’s best interest to suppress news of disquiet, protests or riots in case the Australian people become so concerned by the concentration camp approach to legal asylum seekers that they start to question your outrageous policy settings. That is the one and only reason you are doing this. Shame on you.

At Wellthisiswhatithink we will make our attitudes perfectly clear.

  • Despite the Government’s desperate attempt to pretend it is so, there is no difference between asylum seekers arriving by boat or any other means. They are exercising a legal right to seek refuge under United Nations rules drafted, in part, by our very own country.
  • Asylum seekers who are not assessed to offer any threat to security can and should be housed in the community, not in camps. To do anything else offends for so many reasons they hardly need enunciating. Especially when so many of the asylum seekers are families, including children.
  • The appropriate response to this situation, (which by world standards of trauma-induced population movement hardly rates mentioning), and which craven politicians from both sides fail to insist upon, is to demand (not politely request) that the “way station” countries between Australia and the source countries sign the relevant conventions so migrants can stay there – for example, Indonesia. South East Asia has the lowest density of Refugee Convention signatory countries. Australia was among the first to ratify this 60 years ago but very few of our neighbours have followed our example. There is no reason whatsoever that these countries cannot offer safe haven to refugees, thereby obviating their need to riskily attempt to reach Australia by boat at all. If those countries need financial support to enable this, so be it. We are rich, we will offer it.
  • Last but not least, our refugee intake is pitifully small anyway. It could easily be doubled or trebled without anyone even noticing. The only reason it is not is fear of public angst. What we are witnessing is a total lack of compassion, of Christian values, of generosity, and of political courage. Given that senior members of the current Government parade their Christian beliefs in public, this is a disgrace. And for a nation built on immigration – built, indeed, on a policy open arms for those needing asylum – it is a disgrace that strikes a cold blow deep into the very heart of what it means to be Australian.

And now, it is a disgrace that increasingly takes place in secret.

And the level of double-speak on the topic, and not just from the Government but also from the Opposition, is so obvious and so rank that it would not disgrace Goebbels.

UPDATED

Oh, and by the way, please note that 2013 was the hottest year Australia has ever endured, since records began.

Begins …

'Polar Vortex' Creates Huge Temperature Difference …

Air temperatures varied by more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit across the United States Monday morning. A blast of Arctic air pushing south as far as Atlanta has caused air temperatures across the United States to plunge, creating a massive 140-degree Fahrenheit (77 degrees Celsius) temperature difference between the chilly Dakotas and balmy Florida yesterday (Jan. 5).

The pulse of frigid air, called a polar vortex, whirled into the United States this weekend on the heels of a major winter storm. But unlike that storm, the polar vortex won’t bring heavy snowfall. (The snowstorm dropped nearly 2 feet, or 60 centimeters, of snow in Boston last week.) Instead, the National Weather Service is forecasting dangerous cold and wind-chills. The cold temperatures are expected to last through Wednesday.

The polar vortex is a low-pressure system that circulates from west to east in the Arctic during winter. Late last week, a high-pressure system — called an atmospheric block — situated over northeastern Canada and Greenland stopped this circulation pattern, pushing the cold air into the United States. On Sunday afternoon, temperatures ranged from minus 55 F to 85 F (minus 48 C to 29 C).

On Monday morning, air temperatures in North Dakota and South Florida were still more than 100 F apart. Chicago set a new record low of minus 16 F (minus 27 C) Monday morning, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, broke a 102-year record with a new low of minus 1 F (minus 18 C) recorded at 7:14 a.m. local time, the NWS said.

Climate change scientists labour to explain to skeptics that global warming can produce extremes of cold, wind and rain as well as hotter zones. For some reason, this simple fact seems to elude numbers of climate change deniers … many of whom are funded by high polluting industries, such as oil, coal, and others. Other blogs such as the Raw Story have noticed what looks awfully like a co-ordinated conservative howl of trolling on the topic.

Our answer to that? We can do no better than this twitterer …

If you think snow disproves global warming, I’m going to assume you think jumping disproves gravity.
Well said @GrandOldParody …

One of the lesser known and more interesting features of the social media Leviathan that is Facebook is that every year they release some country specific data allowing us to see what different parts of the world are talking about.

They have just released their Australian data today, along with about 20 other major countries.

Most talked about topics (by Australian Facebook users):

1. Vote
2. Kate Middleton
3. Cricket
4. Kevin Rudd
5. Grand Final
6. Election
7. GST
8. Lions
9. Tony Abbott
10. Big Brother

Most talked about Global Topics:

1. Pope Francis
2. Election
3. Royal Baby
4. Typhoon
5. Harlem Shake
6. Flood
7. Miley Cyrus
8. Boston Marathon
9. Tour De France
10. Nelson Mandela

Most talked about Entertainment Topics:

1. Big Brother
2. The Voice
3. One Direction
4. Breaking Bad

Most popular Check-in Location in Australia:

1. Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

What does this tell us about ourselves?

Well, we’re sport obsessed. Duh.

We have an active and abiding interest in politics – read, in expressing our opinion – and social media is increasingly where we do it.

We seem surprisingly to still be very interested in “the Royals”.

And Miley Cyrus is, well, Miley Cyrus. We live in terror that the twerking popette will be chosen as Time Person of the Year.

Reviewing the full Facebook 2013 year in review is a fascinating glimpse into what “real people” are interested in.

Worldwide, our most commonly posted life event is a relationship. Getting married, engaged, or being “in a relationship”. How we perceive ourselves in a social sense is clearly an important part of our self-awareness that we wish to broadcast. And interestingly, sport in general seems markedly less important in Asia than it is in Europe or countries that “grew out of” old Europe.

Anyhow, you can checkout the Facebook annual report, including data from many other countries, here: http://www.facebookstories.com/2013/en-en

One of the quirks of this year’s results is the persistent success of “The Harlem Shake”. This silly internet meme was essentially tens of thousands of thirty second dance videos uploaded to YouTube worldwide. Always following the same format, the massive success of the videos was in part attributed to the anticipation of the breakout moment about halfway through the videos, and their universally short length, making them very accessible to watch.

The Washington Post opined that the meme’s instant virality by referring to the jump cuts, hypnotic beat, quick setups, and half minute routines. At Wellthisiswhatithink we were a little more cynical: the success is largely attributable to people having too much time on their hands and too little to do. Bah, humbug.

The Harlem Shake is technically very easy for fans to reproduce, as it consists of a single locked camera shot and one jump cut. Nonetheless, the simplicity of the concept allows fans considerable scope in creating their own distinctive variant and making their mark, while retaining the basic elements. In its simplest form, it could be made with just one person; a more sophisticated version might even involve a crowded stadium. Moreover, there is a level playing field for celebrities and fans alike, with no guarantee of success for either group. There is a strong vein of humour running through each video that is not dependent on language, further increasing its potential to spread virally.

Sample the best of the worst here. And a warning, this is four and half minutes you’ll never get back.

 

 

(In his “day job”, the author of Wellthisiswhatithink is a marketing and advertising consultant working for one of Melbourne’s leading ad agencies, Magnum Opus, see: magnumopus.com.au. To chat to Steve Yolland about proper grown-up paid advertising advice or to sample his communications knowledge, or maybe to get an opinion on your organisation’s current public profile, just email him on yolly@magnumopus.com.au …)