Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To:  Green ALP

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

 

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

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

 

andrewsspeech2

 

What now?

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

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

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

 

guy

 

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

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

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

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

The Abbott government - looking very tired, very quickly.

The Abbott government – looking very tired, very quickly.

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

Napthine’s gone.

Campell-Newman in Queensland is looking rocky next year.

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

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

Final seat count

ALP 47
Liberals 30
Nationals 8
Greens 2
Independent 1

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Naive? Possibly. Magnificent? Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘For What?’

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

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

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

American Risks

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

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

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

Six Years

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

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

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

‘Off Base’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Crucial Information’

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

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

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

Hard Choices

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

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

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

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

‘Gentler Approach’

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

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

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

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

obama_nazi_communist_muslim_peaceWhat’s the difference, huh, pontificator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst of the worst.

The worst of the worst.

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

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

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

Dead is dead, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He who pays the piper plays the tune.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have been warned.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British aid worker Alan Henning who is threatened with death

British aid worker Alan Henning who is threatened with death

With great anger and sadness, we regret to report that it has been reported today that Alan Henning has been murdered. We will not be commenting further out of respect for the Henning family, to whom we send our deepest sympathies.

Original story begins: The wife of a British aid worker being held by Islamic State insurgents has made a renewed appeal for his release, a week after receiving an audio message from her husband.

Alan Henning, 47, was part of an aid convoy taking medical supplies to a hospital in northwest Syria in December last year when it was stopped by gunmen and he was abducted.

He appeared in a video released by IS earlier this month, which showed the murder of another Briton, David Haines. In it, a masked man said Henning would also be killed if British Prime Minister David Cameron kept supporting the fight against IS.

Last week Britain’s parliament approved air strikes against IS insurgents in Iraq.

“We are at a loss why those leading Islamic State cannot open their hearts and minds to the truth about Alan’s humanitarian motives for going to Syria,” Barbara Henning said in a televised statement.

Barbara Henning’s courage and dignity beggars belief.

She said she had not had any contact from IS since she was sent an audio message last week of Alan pleading for his life. She pointed out that Muslims around the world have called for his release, and that Alan was working “with his Muslim friends”.

“Surely those who wish to be seen as a state will act in a statesman-like way by showing mercy and providing clemency. I ask again, supported by the voices across the world, for Islamic State to spare Alan’s life.”

We agree, and appeal from the bottom of our hearts to IS to spare this man’s life and to release him. What can be achieved by killing a man whose mission was to help the very people you seek to represent?

Readers, we urge you to post this story to your Facebook page, to your own blog, to tweet it, and so on. Perhaps if enough of the world speaks up, IS may listen. The life of a good man whose only crime was to try and get supplies to a hospital is at stake.

Red HijabThe nightmare of a terrorist attack on innocent Australians?

No. That has started already. It has been going on for years, and it will go on for years. It may never end. As long as some marginalised nutter can find a knife, a bomb or a gun, innocent people here and overseas will always be at risk.

No: what we face now is the nightmare of random abusive attacks on entirely innocent people just because of their dress, or their religion. Victims of the hysteria whipped up around IS and other groups, not least by our own government – for shame – and certainly by the media, and the Murdoch tabloid media especially.

In Melbourne last week a Muslim woman was bashed and pushed from a moving train in a vicious racist attack.

Police say the 26-year-old victim was standing near the door on an Upfield line train when a woman approached her and started making racist remarks.

The culprit then allegedly grabbed the victim by the neck and hair and repeatedly slammed her head into the wall of the carriage.

She then pushed the victim off the train as it pulled into Batman railway station, police said.

Police are hoping to speak to two men who approached the woman to offer help after the attack last Thursday.

Police do have a description of the attacker.

She has unusual light-coloured eye brows, short dark hair and a heavy build.

She was wearing baggy jeans, a puffy hooded top and runners.

The incident was captured on CCTV and police are now in the process of reviewing the footage.

We sincerely trust a severe example is made of this scum, who behaves as if 200 years of civilised decency had not produced, in Australia, a country which is uniquely racially content, even in today’s fraught climate.

We are a decent people – our country was built on immigration and always will be. Here, we do not judge people by who they are but by what they are – by the efforts they contribute to wrest a living from this challenging country. We welcome people from anywhere and everywhere.

Yes, there is naked racism in Australia. We are not naive. There is in every country on the face of the planet. But it is much less persistent or obvious than in most other places, and certainly in equivalent Western countries.

Let us make an example of this attacker – as a community, we say “no further”. Stop this insanity before it starts. Women all over the country are reporting abuse and worse as they walk the streets.

Not here. Not in our name. Not in Australia.

 

 

This very important article in Vox, based on Russian research, reveals an apparently staggering level of support for ISIS in Europe, and in France in particular, where one in six people report supporting the extreme terrorist Sunni group that has been slaughtering Christians, Shias, Sunnis who don’t agree with them, and anyone else who gets in their way.

And the level of support rises as respondents get younger.

 

Very, very worrying.

Very, very worrying.

 

We somewhat doubt the veracity of the research and wonder if people are confabulating “ISIS”, “Gaza” and “Hamas” in their minds. In any event, it’s a sad and sorry finding even if it’s only partly accurate, and the radicalisation of Islamic youth is one of the most distressing and tragically predictable outcomes of the growth of so-called “identity politics”, which is now playing out throughout the West, and increasingly in a new black-white divide in America, as well.

But despite this survey it would be wrong to see this phenomenon as something unique to young followers of Islam. Indeed, as one of the sources quoted in the article remarked:

The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally. At the same time, the emergence of “anti-politics,” the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

It is so. This isn’t a religious thing. It’s all about contemptuous disenchantment and disempowerment.

That said, the fact that we actually find most interesting in the graph above is the much LOWER figure – virtually negligible, in fact, in polling terms – in Germany.

In our analysis, this can be explained by three simple factors.

Whilst there is racial tension within Germany – particularly where the Turkish immigrant population is concerned, it is less of a problem than elsewhere.

Even with the persistent (if small) growth in Neo-Nazi skinhead violence, the vast majority of Germans utterly reject the balkanisation of politics based on race. Given their recent history, and the efforts the State makes to prevent racial abuse or anything that smacks of it, this is laudable and not at all surprising.

Another differentiator, of course, is that much of the Islamo-fascism currently being exhibited in the world is explicitly anti-Israeli and by extention anti-Jewish, and expressing sentiments that could possibly be interpreted or misinterpreted as anti-Jewish in Germany is still well-nigh impossible, again for very obvious reasons.

The third reason, and this is very significant, is that the German economy is significantly wealthier and more successful than the British, or the French. There is plenty of education and work to be had, and both are the perfect balm for the vast majority of young people, of all racial backgrounds, who might otherwise be led into more extreme conclusions about society.

Recent riots in France were painted as "Islamic" by commentators, in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Recent riots in France were painted as “Islamic” by commentators, but in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator says, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Unemployment – especially youth unemployment – is the perfectly fertilised and endlessly productive seed bed for extremism of all kinds, whether you look at 1789 France or France last year, 1917 Russia, 1933 Germany, 1970s Northern Ireland, the “Arab Spring” of 2011, or America, France and Britain today.

And where that unemployment falls most onerously on any particular racial or religious groupings, particularly a grouping that considers itself as a minority, then you have a recipe for immediate and predictable disaster.

But even when that miserable judgement is made, it is the generalised “anti politics” trend that concerns us most – even more than any passing fad for Islamic extremism that threatens us today.

The simple fact is that when people perceive their leaders as corrupt, when people perceive them as petty, when people perceive them as habitual liars, (with plenty of evidence), when people perceive them as lacking in required levels of intelligence or leadership skills, then they do not blame the individuals as much as they blame the system. And variously, they turn (and they can turn very quickly) to revolutionary creeds – Marxism, Fascism, religious extremism: whatever is around and easily grasped as a panacea, really.

Anti-democrats don't start out carrying a sign saying "crush democracy". They know it frightens the horses. And they can be alluring - Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster.

Anti-democrats don’t start out carrying a sign saying “crush democracy”. They know it frightens the horses. And they can be superficially attractive – Josef Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster, for example.

This is precisely why we have frequently labelled America a ‘pre-Fascist” state* – not because we believe there are organised groups of people seeking to subvert the American constitution and replace it with some Hitler-style figure – there are such groups, but they are still largely fringe dwellers, and there are also big money groups that wield far too much malign financial power over the political system, such as the Koch brothers, but their influence is still basically visible and trackable – rather, it is because the fracturing of America into potentially warring tribes is so very palpably obvious when viewed from a distance, matched (equally obviously) by an increasingly careless disregard for civil rights and privacy from the authorities.

A frightening realisation that often comes later in life is that democracy, in all its expressions, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The very thing that makes democracy so worth preserving – freedom of opinion and the resulting freedom of speech – is the very weapon that can tear it down.

History teaches us, again and again, that there is a tipping point when a majority of people despair of the system and when they do they are prepared to consider a replacement – any replacement. Or it can be a highly motivated minority, with good organisational skills.

Shorn of the wonderful, soaring rhetoric of its core principles by the behaviour of its key players – our political leaders, and the media – democracy simply seems increasingly and hopelessly out of touch and irrelevant. All it needs is a half-credible populist to repeat the people’s complaints alluringly, and the complaints are worldwide, and they are devastatingly simple and enticing:

“I don’t trust them”, “They’re all just in it for themselves”, “They don’t know what to do”, “They’re just taking the piss out of the rest of us, and we’re paying”, “They don’t care about us.” “What can I do? They won’t listen to me.”

At one and the same time, powerful cabals in business and the military foolishly consider they can take advantage of such unrest to position themselves to take over as “a strong voice”, to run things (skimming off the top, of course) while the hubbub of dissent dies down, until – inevitably – they realise they have seized a tiger by the tail, and they can’t control it. “Temporary” restrictions on freedom become permanent, and apply to these fellow travellers as much as they do to the rest of us. They imagine themselves isolated from the crackdown by their money, except – as they invariably discover – they are not.

Anti-politics. It is louder in the West than we can remember at any time since we started paying attention in the 1960s.

“They don’t care about little people.” “Just a bunch of snouts in a trough.” “They’re all stupid.”  “There’s no real difference between them, anyway. It’s all a game.” “I just don’t trust ‘em. Any of ‘em.”

Indeed, as we write these phrases, it is all we can do to stop from nodding in agreement. They are so seductive.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

Except if we are seduced by them, we will hate what comes after. As Winston Churchill supposedly famously remarked:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, it’s just better than all the others.”

Actually, and somewhat ironically, the most famous defender of modern democracy might not have actually generated those words, although in his lifetime he did say a lot about democracy, especially when its survival was threatened with the horrors of German and Austro-Hungarian Nazism, Italian and Spanish Fascism (amongst others), and Soviet-style “marxism”.

Churchill did say something like this in the House of Commons on  11 Novem­ber 1947) but it appears he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, page 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

So, although these are Churchill’s words, it is an amusing historical footnote that he clearly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democracy. We wonder who did. Anyhow, here are some orig­i­nal things that the great man did say about democracy over 70 years in public life:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insurance.” That is the future — insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dangers scarcely less grave and much more near and con­stant which threaten us here at home in our own island.
Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­racy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point.
House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­racy” to be inter­preted? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­ily, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­racy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and together decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­racy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”
House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

Stirring stuff. And how unlike any modern politicians that come to mind, except, perhaps, the trio of dead American heroes, JFK, RFK, and MLK. Little wonder that they seized the imagination so thoroughly, and are still revered to this day, even though their feet of clay have been comprehensively documented. They talked about the principles of Government, not just the outcomes.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept that breeds a system.

In today’s world, once again – and urgently, in our view – we need to make the argument for democracy itself. Not for nothing do the appalling leadership of extremist Islam, epitomised at its most horrible by ISIS, reject the very concept of democracy at the very same time as so-many of their co-religionists seek to acquire and embrace it. ISIS and others of their ilk know they are engaged in a death struggle for their narrow view of the universe against the very principles that democracy uniquely espouses: the principle of protection under the law whoever you are, whatever your creed, sex or colour, true justice that is separated from the government and which can hold the government itself to account, freedom to express oneself fearlessly, genuinely participatory government, the rights of women and minorities to be treated as equals, and much, much more.

For our own internal stability, and in defence of those who dream of democratic freedom everywhere, we need to make our passion for democracy loud and clear, recapturing why we believe it to be superior to the alternatives.

Even if we don’t care about personal freedom, let us carol from the rooftops that it has been shown to be more economically successful – and more sustainably – than any other system.

Even Communist China, containing fully one-third of the world’s
population, enjoying its hugely successful democracy in chinaexperiment in State-directed capitalism, is increasingly recognising that it cannot endlessly stifle the opinions and behaviour of the governed.

They have recognised that they can release a gale of innovation and improvement by asking the opinion of their own people (a truly alien view for the whole of Chinese history thus far) and thus they are taking faltering steps to introduce more freedom into their system without triggering a cataclysm of change.

As just one measurement, the level of openly critical comment in China today is measured in vast multiples compared to even ten years ago, as is the nationwide passion to tackle corruption, which has been endemic in China since time immemorial.

How ironic that the People’s Republic of China – until recently a vile and periodically vicious autocracy – is cautiously embracing a belief set that we seem essentially content to see wither on the vine. Certainly when measured by the public behaviour of our elite.

If nothing else, our leaders and opinion formers should be arguing for the success of liberal democracy as an economic vehicle – not, please note, arguing in favour of unfettered capitalism – as the proven way forward for humankind.

The evidence is that democracy spreads wealth better than any other system, to the widest possible number of people, even while it grapples with the excesses of the runaway freight train of capitalism. Democracy actually restrains the worst features of capital’s behaviour – environmental vandalism, for example. (And if you want to see the results of capitalism that is not fettered by democracy, both in terms of economic failure, cronyism, violence, and environmental vandalism, just have a look at Russia today.)

But more than mere words, more than argument, we need to make democracy work for the governed.

As a beginning, we need to act with utter ruthlessness when evidence of corruption or rorting the system is uncovered.

Sad Statue of LibertyWe need to be deeply suspicious of centralising power, and passionate and enthusiastic about devolving power to the lowest practical level concomitant with effective decision-making.

(For this reason, we are tentatively in favour of Scotland voting for its independence next month, despite acknowledging that it might not appear to be a sound decision economically, at least in the short term. Not that we think it will.)

We must watch our security services and police like hawks, ensuring that the work they do is effective, but that their understanding of the proper limits on their powers is thorough and genuine.

We must defend and encourage media diversity, because a plehtora of opinions expressed openly is the best possible way to generate the ideas we need to successfully navigate our new century and beyond. Anything that compresses media ownership into fewer and fewer hands, blithely covered up with promises of editorial independence that everyone knows are false – is actively dangerous. NewsCorp, and those like unto it, are bad for the health of democracy. “State-owned” news outlets – unless protected by the most rigorous legislation – are a contradiction in terms, wherever they are.

We must encourage bi-partisanship, not because we want our democracy reduced merely to fudge and lazy compromise, but because the public needs to see – to witness – people of good faith working together on their behalf or the social compact with the governed will collapse.

It follows that the role of Opposition is to oppose what it truly believes to be wrong, rather than simply “everything”, and that Government should habitually respect and consider the opinions of those who disagree with it. The impasse between Obama and the Congress in recent years was an economic annoyance, to be sure. But it was a political catastrophe.

Where disagreement is genuine, then the debate should be conducted with civility. Even when one considers another person foolish in the extreme, misguided, or lacking perception, the skill is to make that point in such a manner that they will at least consider you may be wiser or in possesion of a better idea, and also so you may carry public opinion with you. And so that the public can see your good intentions, and not just your muscular antagonism.

We “dumb down” our debates at great cost and at our peril.

If something is “dumb”, the people know they can do without it. When politicans dumb down their discourse, when they are relentlessly trite or scathingly negative, encouraged, aided and abetted by a media that has an increasingly – vanishingly – small attention span, they are not playing some clever stratagem.

In risking a backlash against democracy itself, they are lining themselves up to be thrown in a prison, or worse, by the tidal wave that replaces what they blindly thought was inexorable and irreplaceable. They are beating ploughshares into pikes, and putting them into the hands of those who – when they aren’t even offered complex, thoughtful or educated opinion to consider – can see no reason why they shouldn’t adopt simpler ideas expressed in slogans.

working mensAs democracy swept across Europe in the mid-late 19th century and into the 20th century, it was buttressed by wise souls who ensured that every village, every town, had facilities for the dis-semination of ideas and knowledge, for the edification of the working poor, (such as with the Working Men’s Institutes of Britain), so that they would become participatory members of a new compact.

The privileged who led these conscious efforts to uprate the skills and learnings of the poor were driven by belief, not by an empirical calculation that they were providing a safety valve for the expectations of the people. They believed that a government of all cannot exist if the all is disenfranchised through ignorance or lack of opportunity. So they set about creating the knowledge that would let people fully participate.

Yet today the efforts of those great communicators have been hijacked. Today they are largely directed into providing an endless diet of sport, or reality TV, or mind-numbing time-consuming soap opera and unedifying “popular” drama. Modern media resembles nothing more than an electronically-delivered diet of “bread and circuses” – a tactic for mind control, remember, employed by the Roman dictatorship very successfully for 400 years. “Don’t worry about how we are governing, or who for – here’s a load of bread and a free ticket to watch the gladiators. Come back tomorrow for more of the same.”

And today, devoid of any understanding of why democracy matters, the governed have essentially lost interest, and satiate themselves instead on a diet of moronic “entertainment”.

Ask yourself: where are the civics classes in our schools and universities? Where are our unions, who taught people not just how but why they should defend their rights? Where are the rhetoricians, stirring our minds with ideas and concepts? (Answer, making a “Ted Talk” to their fellow intellectual and financial elite.) Why have our political parties shrunk to be miniscule mockeries of their former selves, with memberships so ludicrously small as to make them nothing more than stripped-down bureaucracies, homes for duelling apparatchicks?

Un-engaged and uncomprehending, the people are ripe to be captured by that simplest and most terrifying of ideas.

“It’s all their fault. Let’s go get ‘em.”

Who “they” are varies from theatre to theatre, of course. Alarmist? Look at that graph at the top of the page again.

Democracy is not the natural form of government for humanity. Violence is. Democracy has been hard won with the stout arms and often the lives of millions, for over 2,000 years.

Democracy will not persist if it is dysfunctional. Democracy will not persist if it is not protected. Democracy will not persist if we lose the argument.

Think about it. Discuss.

 

*For history buffs, there is a famous quotation, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

  • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin were the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.
  • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'”
"Who's the guy over your left shoulder?" "Can't remember, keep smiling ..."

“Who’s the guy over your left shoulder?” “Can’t remember, keep smiling …”

Good news for everyone who has missed Julia Gillard in public life – and there are some – she’s back.

The former Prime Minister has lain low since the 2013 leadership spill — but she appeared in public today to launch a former colleague’s book. Looking healthy and cheerful, (and on her pension, frankly, why the hell not?) Gillard launched former climate change and industry minister Greg Combet’s memoir, The Fights of My Life, at the NSW Trades Hall this morning.

In her address, Gillard issued a language warning to readers — joking that anyone who blushed from bad language needed to have a cold compress on hand.

Interestingly for us, Gillard also confirmed she urged Combet to run as leader when it became clear it was her time to go, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. She said: “I wanted to see the next part of his life being for the support of his colleagues to lead the Labor government into the 2013 election but it was not to be”.

Former Labor minister Combet recently told the ABC’s 7.30 that Ms Gillard had offered to stand aside for him if he wished to do battle with Mr Rudd. Instead he retired from politics at the 2013 election.

In our opinion, history will judge that this was a crucial loss of nerve. Combet is tough as nails, as seen by his principled and courageous leadership of the dockworkers in their battle with Patricks and the Howard Government, especially when battling the intransigence and bullying of Peter Reith. As the veteran of dozens of industrial negotiations, he had the sort of “real world” experience that a political junkie like Tony Abbott lacks, and although he would probably still have lost to Abbott on the principle of Buggin’s Turn (Labor was surely un-re-electable, wasn’t it?) he would have made a thoughtful, serious, incisive leader of the Opposition and #onetermtony would have very predictably been up for taking in two and a half years.

As it stands, we suspect our next Prime Minister will be Combet’s mate Bill Shorten, (although he did back Albanese in the leadership contest), so no harm done, from their perspective. But with his gnarly, bespectacled intensity and sheer intellectual clout we think Greg Combet might just have been the Prime Minister Australia never suspected he could be. We said so at the time. No-one agreed – in fact, we were were laughed out of court by everyone we advanced the theory to. Which is why we now find Ms Gillard’s and Mr Combet’s revelations interesting. Or to put it another way, nar nar nar, we told you so.

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

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

We’re historically pretty good at picking winners.

Despite a recent (but very temporary) bump in the poll standings for Tony Abbott over his brawny Putin-tweaking response to the downing of MH17, put your money (if you can find someone to take it) on Malcom Turnbull to replace him in a coup before Christmas, especially after the shambolic ALP in Victoria nevertheless manage to reasonably comfortably topple the incompetent but poorly-communicating Liberal-National Party Coalition in November.

In Victoria, Labor are current 3-1 “on” a victory, (hardly worth the risk, except one third of your stake for certain is better than none of it for getting it wrong, we guess) and the Coalition 2-1 against. If the Coalition suddenly lifts its game we reserve our rights to change that prediction, because if a week is a long time in politics then 122 days and 5 hours is a positive aeon, but we don’t see any real sign that is going to happen.

Considering the Napthine Government just delivered the highest spending infrastructure budget in Victoria’s history without borrowing a cent, one does actually feel rather sorry for them.

Of further interest to those who mainline psephology, (oh, look it up), we see that Labour in the UK are 5/6 to win the largest number of seats there, against Evens for the Tories. We think that’s too tight, and Labour are currently much better placed. We’d be interested, if you disagree, to know why. And in the US the Democrats are paying 1.60 to the dollar against 2.25 for the GOP. Unless Hillary is discovered doing something highly illegal between now and 2016, we reckon you should lump on, although the mid-terms later this year will be a further helpful guide, so maybe hold off for now.

Er … that’s it.

*Gabbled in a very fast high-pitched voice “All betting advice is purely speculative and should not be taken as true. Don’t rely on us. All care, no responsibility. No, nu-uh, tough shit, so sue us.”*

Fog of war

Some days ago, we reported a widespread conspiracy theory (not of our making) that the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 was a “false flag” attack conducted by the Ukrainian government to put pressure on Russia’s leadership.

We came in for a lot of flak from a variety of people for giving oxygen to the theory, despite saying that our best guess was, in fact, that pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels shot the plane down, either as the result of a ghastly error or an act of unbelievable bastardy.

Why conspiracy theories need answering

On this blog and elsewhere we pointed out that any criticism of Russia needed to be watertight, and thus the conspiracy theories needed to be answered – debunked – to prevent Putin and his cronies being able to slough off responsibility.

Well, now, the Russians – entirely predictably – are making much of the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet fighter near the ill-fated civilian aircraft.

The Russian claims

They have responded to the widespread opinion that Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17 by reportedly claiming that it has flight records showing a Ukranian fighter jet was close to the passenger jet before it crashed.

At a specially called briefing, Russian Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov said MH17 had strayed from its regular route (why?) and had been recorded in the proximity of a Ukranian SU-25 fighter jet, which is equipped with air-to-air missiles.

“An altitude gain was recorded for a Ukrainian armed forces plane,” he said, adding that the fighter jet is capable of reaching a height of 10,000 metres. “Its distance from the Malaysian Boeing was three to five kilometres.”

“With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner? We would like to receive an answer to this question.”

 

The Russian briefing earlier.

 

The Lieutenant-General, head of main operational department of Russian military’s General Staff, left, can be seen above speaking  to the media during a news conference in Moscow. (Photo: AP.) General Kartopolov further claimed that the Russian Defence Ministry had detected a significant reduction in Ukranian radar stations after the accident.

Citing data displayed on slides and charts, General Kartopolov claimed that nine radar stations, which are used to operate missile systems, were operating close to the site of the MH17 crash on the day of the tragedy. Within 48 hours, only two remained.

He also strongly denied Russia supplying Buk missile systems to Ukranian separatists, which has been widely speculated across the world.

“I want to stress that Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware.” Well, whilst the first part of that sentence could be true, the last half is very obviously not. (Rebels are using Russian-supplied tanks in Donetsk as we speak.) So does that mean the whole sentence is rubbish? You be the judge.

Elsewhere, US network NBC reported that a report on Russia’s Channel One claimed the CIA was to blame for the shooting down of MH17.

LATER UPDATE

In the interests of integrity, we also point out this story, which has Western defence experts arguing that what damage pattern can be seen on the plane would seem to indicate a ground launched Buk-type missile rather than an air-to-air missile. If that is the case it would seem to be a crucial piece of information to be verified as quickly as possible. US intelligence officials think that the most “plausible” case scenario (and we agree) is that these separatists were not aware that MH17 was a passenger flight when they fired what the United States believes was a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Seeing through the fog

So what’s going on here? Bluster? Fact? Mis-information? Genuine disagreement? Are these the bleatings of a regime (and an unpleasant one, at that) who which to avoid responsibility being sheeted home to them, or the legitimate complaints of a Government that does not wish to be unfairly blamed for a murderous tragedy?

We do not purport to know. We really do not, and we do not make a judgement. It is virtually impossible to parse what is going on without access to all the technical information and analysis of a dozen intelligence agencies, and certainly not by wandering the internet and watching media.

We do say, however, which has been our point all along, that the world deserves to know the answer, if only to lay the blame where it accurately lies.

In the meantime, therefore, we urge caution.

Cui Bono

In particular, we would also urge consideration of the Latin phrase Cui bono /kwˈbn/ “to whose benefit?”, literally “with benefit to whom?”. It is also rendered as cui prodest.

This Latin adage is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be, or to argue that the way to find out who perpetrated a crime can be determined by asking ourselves “Who benefits?” Or equally, “Who is harmed?”

We confess that one nagging thought eats away at us. If you wanted to gain traction for a push back against the pro-Russian rebels, and in general terms to stymie the expansionist tone of Russian rhetoric and behaviour after their successful annexation of Crimea, (and noting the lascivious glances they are casting towards the now-independent Baltic states, for example), then what better means than to create an incident of such transcendent horror as to shoot down a civilian plane and blame the rebels directly and Russia by association?

We note, also, that while the world is focused on the crash site and the event itself, the Ukrainian government forces have seized the opportunity to mount a full-blown assault on Donetsk, moving from their foothold at the airport to assault the railway station and surrounding areas, as the first step in what may be a bloody battle to recover the whole city, which is the “second city” of Ukraine and a key target for the Government.

Too bizarre? Maybe. At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we are not, by nature, enthusiastic supporters of conspiracy theories. We have even seen it suggested – follow this if you can – that the extremist lunatics of ISIS murdered the three Jewish teenagers to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas in Gaza (and effectively destroying Hamas) while simultaneously causing huge outrage both locally and worldwide at the civilian casualties, so that ISIS (or their fellow travellers) can take over in Gaza when Hamas is basically marginalised.

The Israelis know the invasion of Gaza is wildly popular inside their own country, and the Americans, playing a long game, believe that the Israelis can effectively defeat Hamas and then resist ISIS incursion (probably by effectively re-occupying Gaza, which we must remember they left voluntarily, using the region’s strongest army and navy, unlike the weak resistance to ISIS put up by the Iraqi central authorities) so they arrange, via the Ukrainians, to shoot down Malaysian 17 because it takes the world’s attention off Israeli aggression in the key early days of the ground invasion of Gaza, and gives Russia a bloody nose at the same time. Winner winner chicken dinner thinks the CIA and the shadowy forces in the military-industrial regime.

Could such a hideously realpolitik and convoluted scenario ever possibly be true? The answer is, it could. Anything could be true. False flag attacks are common throughout recent history. (Just Google them.) We pray it is not, because what it says about the nature of governance in the world (and especially our bit of the world) is chilling indeed.

The cock-up theory of events

But in the final wash up, we are more pragmatic. Our instinct is always to accept the cock-up theory of international relations – essentially, anything that can go wrong will go wrong –  and we still hold to that view in this case, which is why we tend towards the “idiot Ukrainian rebel makes mistake on the readout on the Buk system and fires missile at Malaysian airliner”. Especially as we know the system had been used to attack military aircraft within the last two weeks. The Buk system “reads” the transponders of the aircraft it is tracking and theoretically identifies that aircraft to the man with his finger on the button. But we know to our cost that transponders on aircraft can give false readings.

Cock up. Bang. Right there. Three hundred bodies fall from the sky.

The absolute need for clarity

However, although that’s our best guess, we nevertheless urge all the authorities concerned to tackle the mysteries involved in this case as speedily as possible. As the Independent (amongst other people) pointed out yesterday, the really bizarre thing about conspiracy theories is that just occasionally, very occasionally, they are actually true. And if this was a false flag attack, then the world assuredly needs to know. Can you just imagine the Governments that would tumble? That’s why, above all, the truth would probably never come out even if it was, improbably, the case. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and find out.

But if it wasn’t, as we suspect, then we need to know who was responsible for this act: fast, and with certain proof. The level of international tension currently exhibited on all sides demands it. In California, Diane Feinstein opined that the level of tension between the West and Russia is now as high as at the height of the Cold War. That’s an exaggeration, to be sure, but it’s not a happy thought even if it’s only half true.

And for that reason alone, before the world stumbles ever closer to the precipice of conflict between its major powers, even the craziest of conspiracy theories need putting to bed, and right now.

We don’t know.

We know some of the components. It will involve vision. On both sides. It will involve a rediscovery of goodwill. On both sides. It will require confidence building. And patience. There will be many steps sideways and backwards as well as forwards.

We do not know the answer. What we do know is that this is not it.

 

dead

dead 2

 

It just can’t be this. This is not the answer.

Ukrainian crash site

The truth. We need the truth.

 

They talk about the “fog of war”. Well, what is going on in Eastern Ukraine at the moment is a full-blown war, and the truth about it is certainly foggy.

Infowars.com is well-known for peddling conspiracy theories, many of which are very obviously ludicrous and fanciful. But their post on the possibility that the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner was a “false flag” attack by the Ukrainian authorities to cast a pall over Russia bears scrutiny, if only to dismiss it, and because an event of such global significance deserves to be drenched in buckets of clear light.

Western leaders, including, in the most trenchant terms, the Australian Prime Minister, have condemned Russia for at the very least equipping and training Ukrainian rebels with advanced surface to air missiles, a charge Russia denies.

But the Infowars story raises serious questions that need to be answered.

The story they propound is so improbable, in fact – and potentially so shocking in its implications – that it absolutely requires answering, and fast.

The first crucial question is why the log of a YouTube posting that seems to ensure the rebels and their Russian allies are implicated seems to be before the actual event. This may of course simply be a mix up on a computer setting or to do with world time zones. Nevertheless, a prompt and straightforward explanation is required.

But the far more sinister query is the Twitter log of a Spanish air traffic controller working in Ukraine who frantically tweets that the Kiev authorities are responsible for downing the jet, and fears for his life as Ukrainian authorities invade the control room he is working in. The relevant portion of the video starts at just after 5 minutes.

http://www.infowars.com/video-did-ukraine-fabricate-evidence-to-frame-russia-for-mh17-shoot-down/

We stress that we make no judgement. How could we possibly? We merely say that these questions raised by Infowars and others must be answered.

If we had to guess – and who could do more than that at the moment? – we suspect an idiot with an itchy trigger finger loosed the missile imagining that any aircraft in the sky must be a belligerent, because he has been told no commercial traffic was using the skies above his head. There’s that fog of war thing, again. In which case, then Russia would stand rightly condemned for allowing the rebels access to such equipment. Then again, there’s all sorts of high-value high-tech weaponry in all sorts of places it shouldn’t be nowadays, so, again, before we rush to condemn we need to be sure the system that was fired came from Russia.

Meanwhile, our heart goes out to all the victims, and especially to their families and colleagues. We ache at the loss of many medical experts working in the crucial field of HIV containment and research, heading to our home town for an international conference. We are appalled at the loss of a fine man who worked on behalf of aborigines in Western Australia, and highly respected medical professionals from Queensland. We weep at the children and young lovers killed. As for the family who incredibly lost people in BOTH Malaysian airlines disasters, words simply fail us.

All these people – and us – deserve that the truth comes out. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth, whoever was responsible for this vicious, stupid and pointless crime.

For our discussion of the other missing Malaysian airliner and the history of civilian aircraft shot down by military forces, click this link.

 

 

Wot he said.

Wot he said.

We thoroughly enjoyed the recent TV mini series on the life of John Adams, second President of the United States, Dear Reader, not least because of the joy of watching the marvellous Paul Giamatti give it his all playing the title role.

In fact, we tend to enjoy anything which looks at the soaring ideals behind any major change in society that affected the course of history – the revolution against Charles I is another era where we voraciously consume both drama and documentaries.

We were pondering the life and thoughts of Mr Adams today who floated briefly across the environs of our internet world wide webby consciousness thingy, and were minded to look up some of his more brilliant aphorisms. And lo and behold, some of them as as valuable today as a few hundred years back.

On “Innocent before proven guilty”

“It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

A very good point, well made, right there.

On “Facts”

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

We need to remind more than a few of today’s politicians of that comment. And while we’re about it, this one, too:

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

John AdamsWhen one witnesses the lengths so-called democratic Government today goes to keep information away from the Governed, (you and me), this strikes us as a huge issue.

Do we, indeed, enjoy the liberties that for many decades now we have believed we do, or has the pendulum swung back the other way in so many gradual movements that we haven’t noticed the change?

Given the challenges faced by “liberal democracy” in the world, I must admit I found the next quotation rather chilling for a number of reasons.

On “Democracy”

“Democracy … while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Hmm. Is democracy inherently more bloody than authoritarian rule? There are many humanists and respected philosophers who have wondered so, despite their instinctive affection for democracy.

We have oft heard it said, for example, that “Left-wing Governments start more wars”, and our reading of history supports that notion to a degree. People of a progressive mindset tend to believe more passionately that things can be “fixed”, if necessary by the use of force, whereas the conservative mindset tends to preserve the status quo more deliberately.

Why would anyone prefer a powerful central government to democracy? Well, if one stifles dissent, one also stifles the painful struggles that invariably accompany dissent. But if one accepted that uncomfortable notion for a moment, then how would one ensure that any dictatorship is “benign”? And in any event, does not the very nature of a dictatorship mean that it cannot be benign, because it’s essential throttling of dissent is an act of violence against free expression?

Interesting stuff.

Decision making in a centralised system is also faster and more dramatic than in a democracy. Then20071025_JohnAdams again, that is something of a mixed blessing, is it not? Slower, more cautious decision-making processes can often lead to better decisions as well as worse ones. Not for nothing has the world been advised to Festina Lente since Roman times.

He destested anti-intellectualism.

On “Knowledge”.

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” And also:

“I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough … the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.”

And then again, ever the lover of liberty, he also saw the danger of over-cherishing the knowledge of the elite.

On “Power”

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.”

Quite so. We can list a dozen or so major world leaders off the top of our heads who exhibit that failing in spades. As communications is our lifelong obsession, when we were actively involved in politics (many, many moons ago) we never tired of counselling our colleagues thusly: “Never under-estimate the understanding or wisdom of the common folk: they may not speak in our sophisticated political language, that doesn’t mean they don’t know the answers to what ails them.”

Indeed, as a brilliant and inspirational (albeit somewhat irascible) wordsmith himself, he railed against politicians that used smart language to obscure or mislead.

On “Language”

“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”

But it was two of his longer and more thoughtful mental meanderings that really caught our eye. The first was on the very nature of American society, which Adams understood as a “work in progress”, a great on-going experiment. He said:

“While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice our local destination.

But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

It has always been our belief that America is both the worst of times and the best of times. For example, it is easy to forget that (despite turning up late, twice, as my sainted Mother always pointed out) the country made huge sacrifices in the cause of freedom in both World Wars. Yet did any country ever engage in a more brutal series of quasi-colonial adventures that have (usually entirely predictably) resulted in the impoverishment, injury and death of millions? It is easy to forget that America is hugely generous in terms of foreign aid just as it can simultaneously appear to be an economic tyrant, raping and pillaging its way across the globe. Internally, it is a country engaged in a permanent and roiling debate about the nature of society itself, and it’s civic discourse can reach depths (heights?) that are breathtaking in their profundity, and yet it’s everyday political discourse can be as mind-numbingly idiotic and ill-informed as an unsupervised kindergarten full of chimpanzees. It produces more “high art” than any other society on earth, and more dross, as well.

It seems Adams clearly saw both the opportunity and the risks.

The last, which is absolutely fascinating, refers to the relationship between America and Muslims.

If only ...

If only …

The relevance to today is obvious. In submitting and signing the Treaty of Tripoli more than three hundred years ago, Adams wrote:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims], and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

If only he’d been as right on that one, too.

detainee

 

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, AUSTRALIA,
JULY 2014 ~ A POEM

 

She takes a bottle,

smashes it against a breeze block

they used to build the barracks

that bake at noon and sweat at midnight.

 

Sorts out a piece of glass

sharp, fits neatly in her hand

draws it across her slender wrist

a green transluscent bow ’cross a brown cello.

 

She lies back, deeply tired.

More tired than she thought possible

sun incessant on her face

and, dignified, hoses her life over the wooden steps.

 

Within a few minutes they come running.

Rush her to the infirmary

wrapping her, scolding her,

but she is silent, crying silent, bleeding silent.

 

A dozen at least like this, they say,

because if they die their children

will have a golden future.

Dreaming of the lucky country.

 

And in the Ministerial offices

a man with glasses and a poor haircut

says we do not comment on detainee self-harm

we could not possibly comment.

 

We lock them up.

We send them back.

We give them over.

We un-person them by not talking.

 

And on the island, the woman lies

wrists bandaged, children frightened.

She is an operational matter:

she operated on herself,

but we are not allowed to know.

 

The blood bakes black on the wooden steps.

Birds carol raucous in the trees.

Her children weep midst the breeze blocks.

Merry Christmas Island.

Not.

broken bottle

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.)

A sign near Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

We are on record as saying that we think there are far too many guns in circulation in America, and that the very prevalence of them both encourages and creates the appalling gun death and injury statistics that the country endures on a daily basis.

To us, the logical conclusion of the pro-gun National Rifle Associations’s position is very simple: it is that every American should carry a firearm, in almost every conceivable situation.

And to us, that’s as sensible as arguing that every state in the world should have nuclear weapons, on the basis that Mutual Assured Destruction appears to have kept the USA and Russia from going to war. (Which is an arguable issue in itself, but one for another day.)

Or to put it another way, in our opinion, “The right to bear arms is about as sensible as the right to arm bears.”

But we do welcome those on all sides of the debate who believe it should be conducted with civility, with deep thought, and with respect.

Which is why we find this article so encouraging. It questions the current pro-gun environment in America, but in a gentle, thoughtful way, and from the perspective of a pro-gun individual.

We recommend it. Do yourself a favour, and click the link.

Joseph Wilcox, with his mother, who died attempt to stop Jared Miller in the recent shooting in the USA. He was shot in the back by Amanda Miller. A hero? Very possibly. But what is also certain is that he is dead.

Joseph Wilcox, with his mother, who died attempt to stop Jared Miller in the recent shooting in the USA. He was shot in the back by Amanda Miller. A hero? Very possibly. But what is also certain is that he is dead.

http://gawker.com/its-really-hard-to-be-a-good-guy-with-a-gun-1588660306

There. aren’t you glad you did?

Whatever the solution to the situation with guns in America, one thing that should enrage us all is that facts so rarely seem to get produced in the debate.

And whatever the solution might be, the facts in the infographic below need dealing with.

Urgently.

gun related deaths

Why care? Why care about what happens in Georgia or Illinois or California from our neat suburban homes in Australia? Why get involved? Why stick our noses in, uninvited?

Well that’d be because we have many great friends in America, many of whom have had a close shave with gun-related violence.

And because national borders should not stop us from providing advice to friends. Especially when the price of the situation not being dealt with is the same ghastly roll call of dead innocents, and so many of them innocent women and children gunned down in family violence, or in what seems to be the uniquely bizarre and tragic “school shootings” that plague the country. Should we care less about a kid shot down in Sandy Hook that we would if it were down the road from us in Australia, France, Russia, Britain, Korea, Japan or anywhere else? No, we should not. A kid is a kid.

JohnDonneAs John Donne wrote in 1624:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

blackLarge numbers of African Americans
gathered together with handguns, shotguns
or maybe semi-black2automatic weapons on your street corner.

How about a bunch of Muslims, say in full Arabic cultural dress and regalia, outside your local Church?

At your local kids’ football game?

Perhaps your favourite local restaurant?

Is that something all you pro-gun people would feel comfortable about?

Or is the right to bear arms limited to whites? This is the question the NRA and pro-gun people consistently duck, and should be called to task over. Only takes five minutes to read this article: click it now.

 http://www.forwardprogressives.com/racism-ignorance-hypocrisy-confrontation-open-carry-activist/

Strongly recommended. Debate welcome.

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?

Decision Day for Europe

Marine le Pen of the National Front in France: "The sovereign people have spoken loudly to say they want to be master of their own destiny".

Marine le Pen of the National Front in France: “The sovereign people have spoken loudly to say they want to be master of their own destiny”.

Chain-smoking, pint-drinking Nigel Farage has proved widely popular, despite admitting some of his own party's ideas are half-baked. His populist plain speaking has amused and encouraged some as it has appalled and worried others.

Chain-smoking, pint-drinking Nigel Farage has proved widely popular, despite admitting some of his own party’s ideas are half-baked. His populist plain speaking has amused and encouraged some as it has appalled and worried others.

UKIP is course for an emphatic victory in the European elections in the UK – with leader Nigel Farage promising to use it as a springboard for next year’s general election. It is a trend repeated throughout Europe.

Highlights
(Based on exit polls/provisional results)

France National Front storm to victory – 25%, 25 seats; Centre-right UMP 21%; President Hollande’s Socialists a poor third with 14% – lowest ever EP score

Britain Eurosceptic UKIP in first place, with 27%, Conservatives on 24% and Labour about 25%, Greens beating Lib Dems.

Italy Centre-left PM Matteo Renzi scores strong 40%, fending off ex-comic Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star with 22%, and ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia with 16%

Germany Angela Merkel wins another election – 35% for her Christian Union, 27% for the centre-left SPD. Eurosceptic AfD score strong 7%

Greece Partial results show far-left Syriza on 26%, PM Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy on 23%. Far-right Golden Dawn set to get three MEPs, with 9%

In the UK, Labour’s vote is up significantly on 2009 but it is currently neck and neck vying with the Tories for second place. The Lib Dems have come fifth behind the Green Party in most areas and have lost all but one of their seats.

An early breakdown of the major parties in the UK looked like this:

UKIP 28.73% +11.67% 22 seats won Up 10
Conservative 24.19 -3.68% 16 seats won Minus 5
Labour 23.98% +8.84% 14 seats won Up 5
Greens 7.78% -0.66 2 seats won Up 1
Liberal Dems 6.91% -6.82% 1 seat won Minus 8

Only Scotland, London and Northern Ireland have yet to declare. As we report these results, it looks as if UKIP may have taken at least one seat in Scotland as well, which will bolster their argument for being a truly “national” party. (Note: Labour have gained slightly on the Conservatives since this table was prepared.)

UKIP has topped the poll in six of the nine regions to have declared so far, with their strongest performance coming in the East Midlands, where their vote was up 16.5%. Nigel Farage’s far-right anti-immigration anti-EC party has made 10 gains so far and has 22 MEPs

Labour topped the poll in Wales, and the North-West of England, its strongest showing so far with an increase of 13.5%, and the North-East of England and has made five gains so far. The party has returned 14 MEPs.

The Conservatives have lost five seats so far and have returned 16 MEPs.

The Lib Dems have lost eight seats so far but avoided an especially humiliating wipe-out by winning a single seat in the South-East of England. Internal manoeuvring to replace Leader Nick Clegg has been gathering pace since the party’s disastrous local election results last Thursday. The party’s losses in local elections since the formation of the Coalition with the conservatives now number over 1,300 Councillors.

Despite a small reduction in their overall vote the growing Green Party have got two MEPs so far, gaining one seat in the South West at the expense of the Lib Dems, who lost one of their longest serving MEPs and previous group leader in the process.

In his victory speech at the South East of England count, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “The people’s army of UKIP have spoken tonight and have delivered just about the most extraordinary result in British politics for 100 years.”

He said the three main parties in Britain had led the country into the Common Market but had “twisted and turned” over an in/out referendum on EU membership.

“The penny’s really dropped that as members of this union we cannot run our own country and crucially, we cannot control our own borders.”

Far from being confined to the centre right of British politics, UKIP had also bitten into old Labour heartlands, he said.

“We’re genuinely a United Kingdom Independence Party. Our people’s army will go from here to Newark and move on to the general election. You haven’t heard the last of us.”

Roger Helmer, UKIP’s candidate in the forthcoming Newark by-election, was elected an MEP as the party’s lead candidate in the East Midlands.

Disaffection

Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps said the results were acting as “a command for Britain to get a better deal” in Europe – but he rejected calls by Tory grandee David Davis to bring forward the in/out EU referendum to 2016, saying negotiations on this could not be rushed.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said UKIP had tapped into people’s disaffection with politics, adding that it was important to her party that Labour beat the Tories into second place.

Lib Dem President Tim Farron said the results “looked as bad as I feared”.

He claimed the Lib Dems had been the only party to stand up to UKIP and anti-Europeanism, but said that policy “may have cost us votes”. He told BBC News: “Nick Clegg has fought and led our campaign bravely … we took the unpopular side of the argument, and we have been punished. But I tell you what, I would do it all over again.”

British National Party leader Nick Griffin lost his seat in the North-West of England, after his party lost 6% of its vote.

Anti-EU parties from the left and right are expected to gain significant numbers of MEPs across all 28 member states in the wake of the eurozone crisis and severe financial squeeze. In particular, the far right anti-EU National Front was forecast to win in France, according to exit polls. In Denmark, the anti-immigration Popular Party is also reported to be ahead in exit polls.

Pro-EU parties are still expected to hold the majority in parliament. Turnout across the EU is up slightly at 43.1%, according to estimates.

In the European elections five years ago, The Conservatives got 27.7% of the total vote, ahead of UKIP on 16.5%, Labour on 15.7%, the Lib Dems were on 13.7%, the Green Party on 8.6% and the BNP on 6.2%.

UKIP has been celebrating gains in Thursday’s council elections in England, which saw it add 161 councillors and led Mr Farage to predict it could get its first MPs elected next year.

The Green Party of England and Wales has set itself a target of tripling its representation from two to six MEPs and of finishing ahead of the Lib Dems in fourth place.

The BNP won two seats in 2009 after getting 6.2% share of the vote but opinion polls have suggested their nationwide support has fallen sharply since then and they could struggle to retain these seats.

‘Closed list’

In total, 30 parties contested the European elections in the UK, including the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party, which all won seats in 2009.

Britain is one of eight countries to use a “closed list” system where people vote for a party, rather than an individual.

The parties – here is the BBC guide to each of them – decide who goes on the candidate list for each of the electoral regions, with the ones at the top standing the best chance of being elected.

The way seats are allocated within each European constituency uses the D’hondt system, which is a form of proportional representation.

Across Europe as a whole, 751 MEPs will be elected to the European Parliament, in proportion to countries’ population size.

The powers of the parliament, which sits in both Brussels and Strasbourg, have expanded since the last election in 2009.

MEPs now negotiate legislation with national government ministers in what is called “co-decision”, before parliament votes on the laws.

They have a say on budget areas including agriculture and regional aid.

(The BBC and others)

Froth and bubble: the UK is engaged in a double election. But what do the results mean?

Froth and bubble: the UK is engaged in a double election. But what do the results mean?

The Local Council elections in the UK can be seen, pretty much, as an excellent opinion poll for the state of the major parties in the UK. But that comment must also be taken with a whoppingly large pinch of salt. They are historically much better at showing trends rather than accurately forecasting a future general election.

For one think, local factors can and do count. In a Borough like Eastleigh, for example, where the Liberal Democrat “machine” is well established, the Lib Dems just held all their seats and even gained one from an Independent. That result for that party is, however, very unlikely to be repeated elsewhere. They have lost control of Kingston upon Thames, for example, a “flagship” authority for them.

Various results are in and many more are not, but as at about 5 am it appears that certain matters are clearly becoming obvious, even if the analysis is still very much “broad brushstroke”, and subject to change.

Um. Er. Well. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg faces an uncomfortable future.

Um. Er. Well. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg faces an uncomfortable future.

Labour is doing moderately well, although not as well as it needed to, to look like a convincing alternative Government, hoovering up seats from the Lib Dems in particular.

The Conservatives are doing moderately badly, leaking seats to UKIP. But UKIP are also picking up seats (and missing many others narrowly) in all sorts of strange places against all the parties, including Labour.

The Lib Dems are currently looking to lose about a third of their Councillors, not quite as bad as the half that we predicted, but still a very poor result.

Which will do nothing to lessen the pressure on their embattled leader Nick Clegg. Who may well go down in history as “embattled Nick Clegg”, the phrase is being used so often now. Anyhow, here are the current standings:

 

Councils Seats
Party Total Change+/- Total Change+/-
Labour 20 -1 429 +54
Conservative 14 -7 374 -87
Liberal Democrat 1 0 96 -57
United Kingdom Independence Party 0 0 84 +83
Independent 0 0 30 +7

 

Euro election results will not be released until Sunday, and here again they are a good “opinion poll”, but will be skewed by the very nature of the body being elected. Thus we expect UKIP to do even better than they have done in the local elections, because of the particular focus their party places on Europe, and the widespread disapproval of much of the EU’s behaviour in recent years.

More news as it comes to hand for those political tragics, like us, who find much to ponder in these things. And if our early call ends up looking inaccurate, we will issue a new bulletin. We would also be delighted to hear “war stories” from the front line from any candidates or campaigners in the UK.

Tony_Abbott_-_2010And just as an aside, Dear Reader, the Washington Post has just christened Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as the most unpopular leader in the free world, after a swingeing “austerity budget” delivered a week ago, which is sitting somewhat uncomfortably on the shoulders of the population of the richest country in the Western world which is not at all sure it needs an austerity budget at all, thank you very much.

There’s now even an irreverent hashtag #MorePopularThanAbbott, which suggests that both toilet paper and flat tires are more popular than the conservative prime minister. Our favourite #MorePopularThanAbbott so far as been “the HIV virus”. #onetermtony is also trending well. This for a Government elected less than a year ago on a wave of enthusiasm.

Electorates are getting much more fickle. As Harold Wilson once remarked, “a week is a long time in politics”.

And those crowing at the moment in the UK might also carer to consider that other favourite aphorism: “Today’s rooster, tomorrow’s feather duster.”

 

From Jonathan Amos. Science correspondent, BBC News

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay

 

In a finding which will add heat to the ongoing climate change debate, key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat, a study team led by the US space agency (Nasa) says. It analysed 40 years of observations of six big ice streams draining into the Amundsen Bay and concluded that nothing now can stop them melting away.

Although these are abrupt changes, the timescales involved are likely measured in centuries, the researchers add. If the glaciers really do disappear, they would add roughly 1.2m to global sea level rise.

The new study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, but Nasa held a teleconference on Monday to brief reporters on the findings.

Prof Eric Rignot said warm ocean water was relentlessly eating away at the glaciers’ fronts and that the geometry of the sea bed in the area meant that this erosion had now entered a runaway process.

West Antarctica is one of the least accessible parts of the planet and it takes a huge effort to research the changes under way there. Now the scientists involved have the benefit of repeated flights, copious satellite images and data from field trips to work on. There is still a lot they do not understand about the pace of change and therefore the speed with which the melt will contribute to sea level rise. But the more detailed the research, the sharper the picture of rapid change.

“We present observational evidence that a large section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into a state of irreversible retreat; it has passed the point of no return,” the agency glaciologist explained.

“This retreat will have major consequences for sea level rise worldwide. It will raise sea levels by 1.2m, or 4ft, but its retreat will also influence adjacent sectors of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which could triple this contribution to sea level.”

The Amundsen Bay sector includes some of the biggest and fastest moving glaciers on Earth.

Other glaciers melting too

Pine Island Glacier (PIG), over which there has been intense research interest of late, covers about 160,000 sq km, or about two-thirds the area of the UK.

Like the Thwaites, Smith, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler Glaciers in this region – the PIG has also been thinning rapidly.

And its grounding line – the zone where the glacier enters the sea and lifts up and floats – has also reversed tens of km over recent decades.

What makes the group of glaciers especially vulnerable is that their bulk actually sits below current sea level with the rock bed sloping inland towards the continent. This is a geometry, say scientists, that invites further melting and further retreat.

The new study includes radar observations that map the underlying rock in the region, and this finds no ridge or significant elevation in topography that could act as a barrier to the glaciers’ reverse.

“In our new study, we present additional data that the junction of the glaciers with the ocean – the grounding line – has been retreating at record speeds unmatched anywhere in the Antarctic,” said Prof Rignot.

Recent European Space Agency satellite data has also recorded the glaciers’ thinning and retreat.

“We also present new evidence that there is no large hill at the back of these glaciers that could create a barrier and hold the retreat back. This is why we conclude that the disappearance of ice in this sector is unstoppable.”

The researcher, who is also affiliated to the University of California, Irvine, attributed the underlying driver of these changes to global warming.

This, together with atmospheric behaviours influenced by a loss of ozone in the stratosphere, had created stronger winds in the Southern Ocean that were now drawing more warm water towards and under the glaciers.

Dr Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist with Nasa, said it was clear that, in the case of these six glaciers, a threshold had been crossed.

“The results are not based on computer simulations or numerical models; they are based on the interpretation of observations,” he told reporters.

“And I think this is an important point because this sometimes can get lost on the general public when they’re trying to understand climate change and the implications.”

Prof Rignot and colleagues put no real timescales on events, but a paper released by the journal Science to coincide with the Nasa media conference tries to do just this.

It does include computer modelling and was led by Dr Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. The study considers the particular case of Thwaites Glacier.

Collapse “inevitable”

In the model, Dr Joughin’s team is able to reproduce very accurately the behaviour of the glacier over the past 20 years. The group then runs the model forwards to try to forecast future trends. This, likewise, indicates that a collapse of the glacier is inevitable, and suggests it will most likely occur in the next 200 to 500 years.

Prof Andy Shepherd, from Leeds University, UK, is connected with neither Rignot’s nor Joughin’s work.

He told BBC News: “[Joughin’s] new simulations are a game changing result, as they shine a spotlight on Thwaites Glacier, which has until now played second fiddle to its neighbour Pine Island Glacier in terms of ice losses. There is now little doubt that this sector of West Antarctica is in a state of rapid retreat, and the burning question is whether and how soon this retreat might escalate into irreversible collapse. Thankfully, we now have an array of satellites capable of detecting the tell-tale signs, and their observations will allow us to monitor the progress and establish which particular scenario Thwaites Glacier will follow.”

Prof Shepherd said the EU’s newly launched Sentinel-1a radar satellite would have a unique capability to assess the glaciers’ grounding lines. “As soon as the satellite reaches its nominal orbit, we will turn its eye on Thwaites Glacier to see whether it has indeed changed as predicted.”

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

This finding is particularly significant because it effectively adds 1 metre of sea level rise to most current forecasts. At 1 metre (the sea level rise most people accept as inevitable by 2100) the damage to coastal areas is relatively slight. But each additional metre causes more problems for humanity. As you can see here:

http://www.globalwarmingart.com/sealevel?lat=NaN&lng=NaN&zoom=2


									

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