Posts Tagged ‘politics’

refugees

Refugees are not breaking the law. They should always be treated with respect, and with courtesy. They should not be met with armed guards and batons.

They are not the problem. They are the result of the problem.

When our countries sell arms to dictators to attack their own people, we create the problem.

When through our own lack of care those arms find their way through nefarious means to extremist groups, we create the problem.

When we prefer war-war to jaw-jaw, we create the problem.

When we allow, through our indifference, those that rule us to carve up the world into opposing camps that jostle and claw for preference, we create the problem.

When we demonise those we disagree with as sub-human, not-like-us, dirty, feckless or dangerous, we create the problem.

Every time we applaud a simple slogan uttered by a self-seeking politician or media commentator, instead of working harder and seeking to understand the depth of a situation, we create the problem.

When we keep the wealth of the world gathered into our hands instead of sharing it fairly, when we allow traders to destabilise whole country’s economies to achieve a profitable statistical blip on their trading charts, and when as night follows day when those countries dissolve into riots and civil strife, then we create the problem.

Refugees are not the problem. They are the result of the problem.

And we cause the problem.

 

child

If you want to make an immediate donation to help 4 million Syrian refugees, the most direct way will be via the UNHCR. Click here.

alison parker

 

There has been a lot of well-meaning commentary in the media that it was too shocking – too visceral, too intrusive, too disrespectful – for many media organisations to show the footage of a young American news reporter and her colleague being shot in America.

We respect those arguments. One of the better ones is here.

We also, respectfully, disagree.

One of the issues with gun violence – indeed, violence of all sorts – is that it is frequently sanitised before being presented to us. Filmed from outside a scene. Or blurred. Bodies are pixelated. Streams of blood are avoided or covered up. Body parts are swept away.

But in our view, only when people confront the truth might they be shocked into actually doing something about the problem.

The exactly similar debate occurs when we consider photo coverage of wars, or for that matter famines. Not for nothing was the Iraq war coverage reduced to mostly nonsense through “embedding” tame journalists. The Governments concerned knew that was the only way they could maintain support for the obviously illegal invasion.

In our view, we must all be made to turn our eyes to the reality of the state of the world. not glimpse it in a stilled frame or hear it in a sound grab. We need to look our world square in the face, and take responsibility for it.

Not because we are voyeurs, or because real life real time violence is manna for our satiated media-swamped pallets. Both those criticisms are fair, but they are not the point. We need to confront shocking truth because as the poet says “if any man dies, his death diminishes me”.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward deserve to be remembered not only for how they lived, but also how a mentally disturbed man with a legally-obtained gun ended their worthwhile lives, and cast their loving families into misery.

Because if we have the willpower, we can do something about mad people with guns – we can improve the connectedness in our society, we can  improve respect for law, we can make guns more difficult to get and keep, we can improve mental health provision, and we can build a world view that says taking another human being’s life should be the hugely horrible exception and not the norm. We can do all this, if we are moved to act together, and with determination.

We will never make our societies perfect. That way lies madness and the simple sloganeering of fools.

This is what war looks like. War is not how we see it on television. Every time someone cries "Drop a bomb!", this is what it means.

This is what war looks like. War is not how we see it on television. Every time someone cries “Drop a bomb!”, this is what it means. It means innocent deaths by the uncountable thousands – 500,000 innocent civilian deaths in Iraq alone, thus far.

But if we are to create coalitions of the willing to oppose the steady and seemingly inexorable slide towards casual violence and disrespect for others, then we need to face up to the truth.

If the innards of Dachau and Auschwitz and the rest had been seen in popular media in America and the United Kingdom in 1942 the Second World War would have been over sooner and fewer lives lost.

If the Gulags of Siberia had been exposed rather than just whispered about, Stalin would have been overthrown.

If the murderous indifference of Mao that led to umpteen dozens of millions being deliberately starved to death as political policy had been exposed in all its shocking brutality then he would never have come to rule one third of the world as a heartless despot.

How did Pol Pot do what he did? Why did the West stand by and support him – step forward Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – because he was a bulwark against Vietnam? Because that disgusting realpolitik judgement was never balanced by pictures of two million Cambodians slaughtered with pick-axes, machetes, sticks and pistols. No lens ever captured their suffering until it was too late.

Do you know why Kim-Jong Un is still in power in North Korea? Because saying “mothers are made to drown their babies in prison camps” does not have the same effect, even though it should, as showing those mothers’ hysterical, tear stained faces and the floating corpses of their children.

Too harsh? Too horrible?

Maybe. But it’s the truth. And the truth is also that the look on Alison’s terrified, innocent face as she confronted her insane, hate-fuelled murderer needs to be seen.

She deserves us looking into her eyes, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

Because only then will people demand that she is the last – or if not the last, sadly, then a very rare event indeed – of all those innocents slaughtered for no good reason by sociopaths who hold their life to be unimportant – or at least, not as important as what their own sick views or desires.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, and all those traumatised by this horrible event.

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

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

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

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

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

We wonder, frankly.

We’re with the kid at the front.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s happening.

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

Fast.

noose

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

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

How many more times?

How many more times?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump: Master of the demolition derby

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

 

Senator John McCain

Trump questioned Senator McCain’s war record

 

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

 

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker

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

 

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

Messenger or message?

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

 

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

Mitt Romney notably failed to secure the Latino vote

 

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

Early impressions key

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

 

Nelson Rockefeller

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not disabled in today's Australia

This is not disabled in today’s Australia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion.

Champion.

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

“I cried all day,” she said.

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

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

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

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

(Yahoo, Daily Telegraph and others)

abbott

Just submitted this question to ABC Television’s Q&A.

“Q & A is one of the few places in Australian media where Liberal/National leaders are subjected to both disagreement and cross-questioning. Is that the true reason for Tony Abbott’s bizarre banning of Ministers from appearing? Is he simply scared they can’t take the heat in the kitchen?”

If you agree, find the tweet from @yolly1234 and re-tweet it!

spit-the-dummyWellthisiswhatithink says:

This is the most politically stupid dummy spit in the history of dummy spits from a man who has made an art form of them.

The mother of all dummy spits. This is the world’s biggest dummy spit on the International Day of Dummy Spitting.

He’s over-reached this time – mark our words.

hanger

 

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

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

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

This is an actual 7 week abortion.

This is an actual 7 week abortion.

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

yolly

The author, Stephen Yolland

Or  USING THE SIX VITAL PRINCIPLES OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATION TO MOTIVATE YOUR STAFF

Either title works.

This is an article I first wrote some years ago. Coming across it by chance, not only does it still stack up well, (with a very little judicious editing) but sadly, I do not see the ideas in it being understood or implemented, at least not to any great degree.

Which is shame. Because this article is the distillation of some 35 years very successful experience in both management and communications – both internal and external – working with some of Australia’s leading organisations across a vast gamut of industry and public life.

If you are a senior executive, there is gold in this article. What you do when you’ve read it? Well, that’s entirely up to you.

Enough said, let’s go:

In any modern organisation, the power relationship of the executive and management team vis-a-vis the rest of the company has changed radically in recent years.

Many people will argue that that the primary responsibility of the boss or bosses is to shareholders, stakeholders and owners.

And that job is important, no doubt.

But if a happy and productive group of employees is the best possible way to ensure a viable and growing return on investment, then it follows that an executive’s first priority, logically, must be to create the environment that will deliver that type of workforce.

We all pay lip service to that principle. But “How?” is the question.

RE-THINKING THE BOSS’S ROLE

It is a cliche to point out that just as any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so any organisation is only as strong as the motivation and skills of its entire range of employees.

So in smart organisations today, executives are not appointed to “rule the roost”, but to guide and advise those around them and that means looking both up and down the corporate ladder.

Today, executives are making decisions and taking actions, in effect, as “ruling delegates” of the company’s entire staff – on their behalf, and in pursuit of greater harmony, efficiency and productivity.

“I’m warning you. If we tell them why we chose the coffee supplier we did there’ll be no damn end to it. It’ll be executive salary packages they want oversight of next, you mark my words.”

If one accepts that this is a healthy and effective model of modern corporate leadership, then it also follows that staff have an innate right – a need, in fact – to understand the activities of the executives that run their lives, and in detail if they so desire, or if it will help them perform their job role.

THE PRINCIPLE OF TRANSPARENCY

To achieve this, executives must thoroughly adopt a mindset that a matter is available to all to know, unless there are strong reasons of legality or personal confidence why that should not be so.

This reversal of the norm that applies in most organisations inevitably produces a markedly different result to the alternative mindset, which is, of course, that everything is innately confidential unless an argument is made that it should be public.

This extends to matters that appear that they should be confidential, but in reality need not be.

“I think they’re all gone. Quick, let’s take the chance to move the parking space allocation around a bit.”

Many matters are held tightly to the chest when in reality good things would result from them being made public at an early stage, and more thoroughly.

I once knew a 20+ year employee leave a company (and he was a good employee, too) because they moved his car park space without asking him politely if he minded. I kid you not.

It wasn’t the car park space that pissed him off, it was the secrecy with which it was handled.

Suddenly a thousand tiny resentments at a secretive management team boiled over, and off he went, taking his wit, wisdom and priceless knowledge with him.

Also: think clearly. You know that the free flow of ideas, suggestions, warnings and information is enhanced by a reduction in confidentiality.

That is why democracies, for all their faults, operate more efficiently than totalitarian states, and are inevitably more stable in the long term.

But the assumption that no-one else really has any right (or need) to know what “we” are doing is usually entrenched and often difficult to over-turn. It belongs to an older and more cynical age, when capital and labour were permanently locked in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and mutual blame, but many executives today still live in that paradigm.

Confidentiality – the knee-jerk, unthinking assumption of confidentiality – is a cancer.

It grows inside our organisations, eating away at our vitals, until we reach the oft-quoted situation that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. In the resulting confusion, people are often unwittingly working actively against each other, duplicating effort at best, and stymieing each other at worst.

In fact, confidentiality can become such a corporate habit, that the left hand sometimes doesn’t even know that the right hand exists.

Confidentiality is also a drug. It entices and bewitches those who have it within their grasp to conceal matters.

Why? That’s easy. To hold confidential information is to be of the inner circle. To be “in the know”.

And whether or not knowledge really is power (which it undoubtedly sometimes is) it is certainly a heady brew for many. And it produces workplaces that are excessively “political”  and internally competitive.

So: the solution to all this nonsense is simply to reverse the paradigm.

We should make people argue on a case-by-case basis that people should NOT know something, with the highest possible requirement for any such argument to be very convincing, rather than requiring people to prove that others should know before information is routinely made public.

“I don’t want you to feel threatened, but there’s a guy in the next building who I’ve been told has a really good idea.”

Just as one example of this style of thinking: why should any team meeting be routinely “closed” to “non-members” of the group who are having the meeting?

Why, indeed, should it not be actively advertised, with all those who feel they have useful input invited to attend?

Yes, yes, yes. One can instantly sense busy executives shuddering at the thought of endlessly extended meetings – as if we don’t all have enough of those already – enthusiastically infested by the eternal committee-sitters that are so easily identifiable in any organisation.

But restricting meetings to an elite few is not the solution to that problem.

Rather, the solution to THAT problem is to have meetings that have clear and concise agendas, chaired by people who are skilled at controlling wafflers and time wasters.

Or in other words, it’s better to have one waffling air-bag punctured in public than to have one staff member who actually has the answer to a problem excluded from contributing because no-one thought to ask them along to the meeting.

Here again, the democratic principle is a useful guide: Councils and Parliaments, for example, all have “Stranger’s Galleries”, and the most stringent conditions have to be met for those galleries to be cleared and for the body to go into secret session.

And needless to say, on those occasions when a cabal or clique is seeking to do the wrong thing, then corporate governance is enhanced when more people know what’s going on.

Which leads us neatly to:

THE PRINCIPLE OF PRO-ACTIVITY

In order to give meaning to the first principle, (instead of merely adopting it as a high-minded ideal that means very little in practice), there should be an assumption that a company’s bodies will make every effort to disseminate information pro-actively, straining every sinew to ensure that information reaches the further possible point of the corporate family in a timely and easily-understood manner.

“Goodness me yes, I’m pro-active. I sometimes even shout at them BEFORE they need it, just to keep the little blighters on their blessed toes.”

The leaders of organisations should critique their efforts in this regard, constantly testing to see whether such pro-activity is genuine, thoughtful, enthusiastic and effective.

Where this requires extra effort or expenditure, such burdens should be managed with equanimity, secure in the knowledge that what is being done is vital to the health and growth of the organisation, rather than a tiresome annoyance.

The goal should be to seek out the gifts of the widest possible audience as early as possible in any decision-making process, content that the best advice is frequently commonsense, and that commonsense frequently appears from the least-expected quarter, and frequently from outside the management team. (See: How to save eight million bucks by spending twenty.)

But of course, there is no point doing this unless organisations also adhere to:

THE PRINCIPLE OF SIMPLICITY

Information that is convoluted, partial, or badly explained is less useful that no information at all. It will cause misunderstanding and confusion, leading to mistrust and disputation.

As a logical consequence, every effort should be made to reduce unnecessary and tortuous prolixity, the purpose of such verbiage merely being, as far as one can ascertain, as much to obscure as it is to enlighten.

Simple enough for you?

Simple enough for you?

Or in other words, use fewer words.

And then communicate those words briskly and effectively. By embracing …

THE PRINCIPLE OF PROFESSIONALISM

If the foregoing principles are to succeed, then executives should seek out the best means possible to disseminate the information available, constantly critiquing performance in this area to check that other, more powerful mechanisms or technologies have not presented themselves as a better way to get things over to people.

And every communications item, whatever its medium, should be attractive and engaging, properly laid out and presented, or well performed, well-written, enticing, intriguing, and informative, and avoid unnecessary legalism, conventionalism, and conservatism.

“You want me to upload a video to our intranet website and send out an EDM to everyone at one minute to 9 so they start their day by watching it? And then copy the video to their partners on their home email with a polite explanatory note asking them to a company celebration? Yessir, Mr Hopgood, Sir.”

So here’s the homework. If you apply these standards to how your organisation works, how are you doing?

Bear in mind that any changes that organisations adopt will amount to a hill of beans, and a small hill at that, unless every decision taken is consciously subjected to the following checklist:

  • The matter we are discussing can anyone see any compelling reason why everyone shouldn’t know about this?
  • How can we best let the largest number of people know about it, and as quickly as possible at that?
  • What is the simplest, clearest way we can present the information?
  • What will be the most effective medium for transmission?
  • Do we know what we’re trying to achieve?
  • Have we made it easy and effective for people to respond?

If leaders are prepared to sign up to these principles as a guide, then work can begin promptly on the changes necessary to begin implementing them in a practical way.

As a first step, these principles could be “read into the minutes” of a Board, for example, and formally adopted as the principles by which the organisation’s peak bodies operate.

The next step would be to implement a communications program to have these principles understood by all management, and, in turn, by the staff as a whole, and to decide what impact the principles have on the way communication flow happens within the organisation.

But we have to be clear about one thing.

Effective communication is not a mechanical issue. It is a state of mind.

If anyone senior in an organisation has any serious reservations about adopting this style of management, and also has the power to “white ant” the process as soon as it gets underway, then there’s simply no point worrying about the “how to”.

Because it is clear that, like most things, achieving genuine progress in internal communications requires real visionary leadership.

So ask yourself: are you that leader?

Stephen Yolland is a businessman and business consultant working primarily in Melbourne, Australia, and also in the United States, Malaysia, China, and Britain. He lectures on matters of business interest and is a sought after public speaker on business, marketing and other topics. He has worked in a variety of senior roles in sales, marketing and advertising for 35 years, and is the founder of and major contributor to the Wellthisiswhatithink blog. He is also a popular commentator on political and civics issues, and is a published poet.

UK election results

The second question is easier to answer than the first. No, we were not. We predicted no overall majority with the Conservatives as the largest party, and they actually won an overall majority. So we have broken our winning run since 1979. Boo-hoo.

But we were almost right. We said that UKIP would win almost no seats, which was right. We said the Greens would only win one, ditto. We predicted the SNP would have a stellar night but not win Orkney and Shetland – correct. And we predicted that the Lib Dems would face a near wipeout, as we have been predicting like Mystic Meg for more than three years now. Correct. Indeed, their result was even worse than we had feared – while party grandees were blathering on about 20-30 seats or even 30-40 we were certain they would win under 20 – and their failure to keep their own seats was key to the whole election result, because if they had won 10 more of the seats they lost in swathes to the Tories throughout the West and South of the country they would probably now be in Government again. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

You will find below the results of the Lord Ashcroft poll taken AFTER people had voted, asking them how, but more importantly, why. People have no reason to fudge or obscure their actions and reasons after they have taken place, so this type of poll is usually infinitely more accurate than pre-election polls.

Microsoft Word - LORD ASHCROFT POLLS - Post-vote poll summary.do

Microsoft Word - LORD ASHCROFT POLLS - Post-vote poll summary.do

Consistently one of the more accurate pollsters, Ashcroft himself would be the first to admit that he didn’t see a Tory majority coming either. Indeed, no one did. (This fact makes us feel slightly less aggrieved with ourselves.) But his post poll explains what happened with great perception. So before the myth making begins, this is what really happened last Thursday:

  • Fully 31% of the electorate decided who to vote for in the last week, with more than one in ten as they entered the poling booth. This shows that, certainly as far as Labour and the Tories were concerned, there was all to play for right up to the end.
  • Lib Dem votes from 2010 went flying everywhere – some to Tories, some to Labour, some to the Greens, and many to UKIP. The Lib Dem vote is thus revealed as very “soft”, ie not “ironed on”. Desertions from the party to major parties went almost equally to the Tories and Labour.
  • The slide of votes from the Lib Dems to UKIP simply reflects the obvious fact that a third party is a natural home for voters who are disaffected with the status quo, and this time round these “protest” voters found a newer and more dynamic home within UKIP. This effect can also be discerned with “swinging voters”.
  • The collapse in trust for the Lib Dems is highlighted by the fact that their “trusted their motives and values” measurement is the lowest of all the parties, with nearly a third of the electorate rejecting the party on this basis. The fact that their candidates were respected locally merely makes the loss of so many sitting MPs even more galling for the party. In simple terms, one factor outweighed the other in how people made their decision.
  • A large number of UKIP voters slid back to the Tories as their minds focused on a likely general election result and who they wanted as PM.
  • Question seven reveals that, as always, bread and butter issues dominated what mattered to people, the highest being Improving the NHS, Getting the economy growing and creating jobs, and Controlling Immigration (which is incorrectly, in our view, conflated with the previous issue in many peoples’ minds), and then a bunch of others.Interestingly, though, when the issue is switched from the “whole country” to “me and my family”, Immigration disappears off the top 3 list to be replaced by Tackling the cost of living crisis. Or in other words, many people have been doing it tough, and they blame that (erroneously, in our view, but consistently) on Immigration.
  • Then again, fully 88% bought Cameron’s view that they were either feeling an economic recovery or believed they would. Thus Milliband and Labour continually bleating about the effects of austerity measures was aiming at the wrong target. Indeed, a very large number of Conservative voters believe austerity measures should be continued (84%) although 54% of the population as a whole believe it has either gone on long enough, or should never have been employed.
  • Partly as a result of this, David Cameron was much preferred by voters as PM, Ed Milliband scored very poorly at 37%. In modern elections the “Presidential” element has become increasingly important.
    Like him or loathe him, Cameron had a good war.

    Like him or loathe him, Cameron had a good war.

    This factor in boosting the Conservative’s overall result cannot be under-estimated. Only 39% of Labour voters preferred Milliband as PM, less than 20% of Lib Dem voters thought Clegg would make a better PM. And staggeringly, only 26% of Labour voters thought Milliband’s senior advisers would make a good government – goodbye Ed Balls, nice to have known you.

    For these reasons we pick the following factors as the crucial, game-changing stats in last Thursday’s cataclysmic event.

  • The collapse in trust for the Lib Dems.
  • The failure of leadership to appeal to the public for both – crucially – the Labour Party, and also the Lib Dems.
  • A very creditable performance by David Cameron, in comparison, and especially in the last week. We saw one very combative performance he gave in a public gathering a few days before the election and thought “Wow, he’s got the bit between his teeth”. Maybe Central Office polling was giving him good news. He now has some political capital of his own he can burn if needs be, although a week, as Harold Wilson once remarked, is a long time in politics, and he would be wise to spend that capital in small increments on things that really matter to him.
  • A feeling that things aren’t quite as bad as they’ve been painted – a certain latent, if sceptical, optimism in the electorate.

Last but not least, of course, there is always the near impossibility for UKIP (or any minor party) to beat the antiquated FPTP electoral system. For the Lib Dems, in particular, the patient accumulation of respect and thus better prospects, assembled over a generation of community campaigning, has been almost totally washed away.

Whilst Labour will be distressed at having done, in reality, quite poorly, of all the parties the Lib Dems’ is perhaps the most bitter bill to swallow.

Interestingly, though, since election night, over 4,000 new members have joined the party, in an act of defiance and hope that is really quite impressive – to this writer, at least.

LGIt is too early to write their political obituary, although it would be equally foolish not to acknowledge that as a force, British Liberalism, that great and honourable political philosophy of Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George, Jo Grimond, David Steel and others, is currently looking pretty sickly on life support.

 

Kim Rose

Kim Rose

In what must be just about the oddest story that will come out of this year’s UK election, a UKIP parliamentary candidate has been questioned over allegations he tried to influence voters by giving away sausage rolls at a party event featuring snooker star Jimmy White.

Kim Rose, standing in our old stomping ground of Southampton Itchen, had to report to police over allegations of “treating”. Electoral Commission rules state food and entertainment cannot be provided by candidates to “corruptly influence” votes. Mr Rose said he held the event on 21 February at a community centre in Weston. He invited veteran snooker star Jimmy White, who he described as a long-time friend, to play pool with local youngsters. Adult entrants were charged £2 for the event. Veteran snooker star Jimmy White attended the event in February.

 

Jimmy White at UKIP event

Mr Rose said: “It was fantastic day. We laid on teas, coffees, sandwiches and some sausage rolls. Now I’ve been reported for allegations of treating. Maybe it’s a bit naive but all the intentions were good. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I’m sure people aren’t going to change their mind [over voting] for a sausage roll,” he said.

Mr Rose was contacted by Hampshire Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit and asked to report to Romsey police station on Monday. At which point he was apparently counselled on the niceties of not entertaining people you want to vote for you.

 

Sausage rolls

Tempting.

 

The Electoral Commission said it was a police matter. Its summary of electoral offences states: “A person is guilty of treating if… they directly or indirectly give or provide any food, drink, entertainment or provision to corruptly influence any voter to vote or refrain from voting.

“Treating requires a corrupt intent – it does not apply to ordinary hospitality.”

We agree with the candidate. We don’t think anyone will be changing their vote to him over a sausage roll. It’s just silly.

An entire plate of sausage rolls every day for a year wouldn’t persuade us to vote for UKIP.

We do happily recall being a Parliamentary candidate in the UK deep in the last millenium. For five weeks one is unable – by law – to buy anyone a pint. Worth standing for that reason alone, frankly.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.'”

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