Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Note: for a discussion of the conspiracy theories emerging following the shooting down of Malaysian Flight MH17 shot down over Ukraine, go here.

The blogosphere and the environs of youTube and elsewhere is beginning to explode with theories as to what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In particular, this radar track is genuinely peculiar.

One of the comments left on the YouTube page is also distressing and chilling.

It was shot down plain and simple. As soon as the trailing “boogie” let it’s “birds fly” and received that it got a confirmed hit, it turned off it’s APX-72 IFF Transponder and POOF! Disappeared.

<—– retired US military tactical air controller

Of course, we don’t know if this poster is a retired US military tactical air controller, but speculation that the plane was shot down is certainly widespread.

Malaysia-Airlines-Boeing-777-APHere is an article which argues the plane was shot down by a missile, perhaps from North Korea, which is testing missiles at the moment, and as this article rather scarily reveals, has actually caused China to complain to PRNK of danger to their flights within the last little while.

It would certainly not be the first time a civilian airliner has been downed in error. Even the most highly trained personnel can make terrible mistakes.

156 men, 53 women, 57 kids aged 2 to 12, and 8 babies aged 2 or less were on board when Iranian civilian Flight 655 departed Bandar Abbas Airport for Dubai.

156 men, 53 women, 57 kids aged 2 to 12, and 8 babies aged 2 or less were on board when Iranian civilian Flight 655 departed Bandar Abbas Airport for Dubai.

Iran Air Flight 655 was a civilian passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai that was shot down by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988.

The attack took place in Iranian airspace, over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, and on the flight’s usual flight path.

The aircraft, an Airbus A300 B2-203, was destroyed by SM-2MR surface-to-air missiles fired from the Vincennes.

All 290 on board, including 66 children and 16 crew, died. This attack ranks ninth among the deadliest disasters in aviation history, the incident retains the highest death toll of any aviation incident in the Indian Ocean and the highest death toll of any incident involving an Airbus A300 anywhere in the world. The Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters after one of its helicopters drew warning fire from Iranian speedboats operating within Iranian territorial limits.

According to the Iranian government, Vincennes negligently shot down the civilian aircraft: the airliner was making IFF squawks in Mode III (not Mode II used by Iranian military planes), a signal that identified it as a civilian craft, and operators of Vincennes mistook for Mode II.

According to the United States Government, the crew incorrectly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter (a plane made in the United States and operated at that time by only two forces worldwide, the United States Navy and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force). The Vincennes was signalling warnings on a military channel which the civilian plane could not technically receive. Hence, the airliner was unable to respond to several requests for it to change course.

The event generated a great deal of controversy and criticism of the United States. Some analysts have blamed U.S. military commanders and the captain of Vincennes for reckless and aggressive behavior in a tense and dangerous environment.

In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice. As part of the settlement, the United States agreed to pay US$61.8 million, an average of $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims. However, the United States has never admitted responsibility, nor apologized to Iran.

As of February 2014, Iran Air was still using flight number IR655 on the Tehran–Dubai route as a memorial to the victims, contrary to the informal convention amongst many other airlines that discontinue flight numbers associated with tragedies.

The destruction of KAL 007 plunged the Cold War to even greater freezing depths.

The destruction of KAL 007 plunged the Cold War to even greater freezing depths.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (also known as KAL007 and KE007) was a scheduledKorean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage.

On September 1, 1983, it was shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor near Moneron Island, west of Sakhalin Island, in the Sea of Japan. The interceptor’s pilot was Major Gennadi Osipovich.

All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, a sitting member of the United States Congress.

The aircraft was en route from Anchorage to Seoul when it flew through prohibited Soviet airspace around the time of a separate U.S.reconnaissance mission.

The Soviet Union initially denied knowledge of the incident, but later admitted the shootdown, claiming that the aircraft was on a spy mission. The Politburo said it was a deliberate provocation by the United States to test the Soviet Union’s military preparedness, or even to provoke a war. The White House accused the Soviet Union of obstructing search and rescue operations. The Soviet military suppressed evidence sought by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation, notably the flight data recorders, which were eventually released eight years later after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The incident was one of the tensest moments of the Cold War and resulted in an escalation of anti-Soviet sentiment, particularly in the United States. The opposing points of view on the incident were never fully resolved. Consequently, several groups continue to dispute official reports and offer alternative theories of the event. The subsequent release of KAL 007 flight transcripts and flight recorders by the Russian Federation has clarified some details.

As a result of the incident, the United States altered tracking procedures for aircraft departing Alaska.

Various witnesses claimed to have seen "something" approaching TWA 800 before it exploded - theories range from a naval missile to a UFO.

Various witnesses claimed to have seen “something” approaching TWA 800 before it exploded – theories range from a naval missile to a UFO.

In 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed 12 minutes after taking off from John F. Kennedy airport — killing 230 people.

After a four-year investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded defective wiring caused a spark which ignited the plane’s fuel supply.

However, that explanation contradicts the hundreds of FBI witnesses who say they saw a streak of light rise up towards the plane, where a fireball emerged.

These reports have caused some to believe the aircraft was actually shot down by a missile.

Who would shoot down a civilian plane over the US? Apart from terorrists wielding a ground-to-air missile, (unlikely, in retrospect, because no claim of having perpetrated the event was made) one of the prevailing theories is that the US military mistakenly hit it during Navy training sessions, which were scheduled off the Long Island coast on the same day. Other anomalies surrounding the event include explosive residues on the plane’s remnants, claims that the FBI tampered with evidence, and discrepancies between the radar data and the official theory.

And in 2009, Air France Flight 447 inexplicably dropped out of the sky and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean — sending 228 people to their watery graves. There was no mayday call, and no one was aware the plane went down until hours later, when the pilots failed to make their planned contact with air traffic control. The “self-flying” jet was supposed to be among the safest aircraft in history, and it seemed unfathomable for it to just disappear.

Air France 447 - it took two years to find the plane, and to this day people wonder what really happened.

Air France 447 – it took two years to find the plane, and to this day people wonder what really happened.

It was incredibly difficult to piece together the cause of the disaster — wreckage was strewn about the ocean floor.

The investigation seemed hopeless when the black boxes weren’t found after 30 days, when the boxes’ locator beacons stopped transmitting.
Still, French authorities continued to search. Two years later, in 2011, a private team was hired for the job, and they found the missing debris field within a week.
The French Navy was able to recover the black boxes as well as more than 100 bodies.It was officially determined the jet went down because of pilot error after the autopilot disengaged. Although the larger mystery was finally solved, many still wonder how experienced pilots (there were three on board) lost control of the aircraft in a seemingly manageable situation.Coming back to today, much speculation has focused on the rapid and total disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370. One possible explanation is that if a small terrorist bomb had been placed to both disable the pilots and destroy key controls at the front of the aircraft at the same time, the rest of the plane could have plunged virtually intact to the ocean floor.A small bomb designed to wreak maximum damage is not unknown in the Asian region, which has its own share of fanatics.

Philippine Airlines Flight 434 (PAL434, PR434) was the route designator of a flight from Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Pasay City, in the Philippines, to New Tokyo International Airport (now Narita International Airport), near Tokyo, Japan, with one stop at Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Cebu, in the Philippines.

On December 11, 1994 the Boeing 747-283B, tail number EI-BWF, was flying on the second leg of the route, from Cebu to Tokyo, when a bomb planted by terrorist Ramzi Yousef exploded, killing one passenger and damaging vital control systems. It was a part of the much larger plan, the ultimately unsuccessful Bojinka terrorist attacks, which were intended to destroy 11 airliners.

57-year-old Captain Eduardo “Ed” Reyes, an experienced veteran pilot, was able to land the aircraft, saving the plane and all the remaining passengers and crew. The flight crew also consisted of First Officer Jaime Herrera and Systems Engineer Dexter Comendador.

Authorities later discovered that a passenger on the aircraft’s preceding leg was Ramzi Yousef. He was later convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yousef boarded the flight under the fake Italian name “Armaldo Forlani”, an incorrect spelling of the name of the Italian legislator Arnaldo Forlani.

Yousef boarded the aircraft for the Manila to Cebu leg of the flight. After the plane was airborne, he went into the lavatory with his dopp kit in hand and took off his shoes to get out the batteries, wiring, and spark source hidden in the heel (below a level where metal detectors in use at the time could detect anything). Yousef removed an altered Casio digital watch from his wrist to be used as a timer, unpacked the remaining materials from his dopp kit, and assembled his bomb. He set the timer for four hours later, which was approximately the time at which the plane would be far out over the ocean en route to Tokyo, put the entire bomb back into his dopp kit, and returned to his current seat.

After asking a flight attendant for permission to move to seat 26K, saying he could get a better view from that seat, Yousef moved to that seat and tucked the assembled bomb into the life vest pocket under that seat. He exited the aircraft in Cebu. Philippine domestic flight attendant Maria dela Cruz noticed that Yousef had switched seats during the course of the Manila to Cebu flight and got off the plane in Cebu with the rest of the domestic flight crew, but did not pass the information along to the international flight crew that boarded at Cebu for the trip to Tokyo. 25 other passengers also got off the plane at Cebu, where 256 more passengers and a new cabin crew boarded the plane for the final leg of the flight to Tokyo.

After a 38-minute delay the flight took off with a total of 273 passengers on board and 24-year old Haruki Ikegami (池上春樹 Ikegami Haruki), a Japanese industrial sewing machine maker returning from a business trip to Cebu, occupying 26K. Four hours after Yousef planted his bomb, the device exploded underneath Ikegami, killing him and injuring an additional 10 passengers in adjacent seats in front of and behind seat 26K. The blast blew a hole in the floor, and the cabin’s rapid expansion from the explosion severed several control cables in the ceiling, which controlled the plane’s right aileron, as well as cables that connected to both the pilot and first officer’s steering controls. Fortunately, this particular 747, formerly operated by Scandinavian Airlines, had a different seating configuration and seat 26K was two rows forward of the centre fuel tank so that the hole in the floor punched through to the cargo hold instead and spared the plane from a fiery explosion that would surely have destroyed it.

The bomb’s orientation, positioned front-to-back and upward angled from horizontal, caused the blast to expand vertically and lengthwise. This configuration meant that Ikegami’s body absorbed most of the blast force and the plane’s outer structure was spared. The lower half of his body fell into the cargo hold and ten passengers sitting in the seats in front of and behind Ikegami were also injured; one needed urgent medical care. The bomb tore out a two square foot (0.2 m2) portion of the cabin floor, revealing the cargo hold underneath, but the fuselage of the plane stayed intact. Additionally, the 38-minute delay in takeoff from Cebu meant the plane was not as far out to sea as anticipated, which contributed to the captain’s options available for an emergency landing.

So. Shot down? By a plane? Or a missile? or destroyed by a carefully placed bomb.

One thing is for certain, it may be some time yet before we know. We may never know.

Despite the curiosity of the radar track video, our bet is on a bomb. After all, bombs on planes in flight can be utterly destructive, as we know from Pan Am flight 103.

Flight 103, you will recall, was a flight from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York City that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb on Wednesday, 21 December 1988, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew on board. Large sections of the aircraft crashed into Lockerbie, in Scotland, killing 11 more people on the ground.

One thing is for sure, we need transparency, and we’re not currently getting it.

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

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

From RT.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFP Photo / Etienne FranchiAFP Photo / Etienne Franchi

 

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

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

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

Reuters / Jonathan ErnstReuters / Jonathan Ernst

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Fukashima radioactive sea plume

Infowars, so often talking nonsense, today comes up with another important article. Where radiation is concerned, we don’t think people can be too jumpy. And we strongly suspect we are not getting the whole truth about Fukashima: we know full well we did not when the event happened. Our best advice? Look, read, learn, research, and demand that regulatory authorities in Japan, Asia, Australia and America – not to mention the South Pacific – both do their jobs properly and publish the results without redacting any “sensitive” material.

It might be nothing. Or … well, how would we know? Who do we trust?

“It’s not something that we feel is an immediate public health concern”

Mikael Thalen
Infowars.com
January 6, 2014

Health officials in California are attempting to brush off public concern after a viral Youtube video showed a large increase in radiation levels on a Coastside beach last week.

The video, which has garnered nearly half a million views, shows radiation levels over five times above the normal background level, prompting fears over the ongoing Fukushima disaster.

 

 

Following public outcry, a state investigation by health officials found similar levels while collecting ground samples several days later. According to County Environmental Health Director Dean Peterson, the public should not be concerned.

“It’s not something that we feel is an immediate public health concern,” Peterson told the Review. “We’re not even close to the point of saying that any of this is from Fukushima.”

According to “Dave,” the video’s author, radiation detected two inches off the beach surface several days prior produced levels even higher, nearly 13 times above normal.

Unconvinced of any link to Fukushima, Peterson pointed to items such as “red-painted disposable eating utensils” as a more likely cause of the heightened radiation levels.

“I honestly think the end result of this is that it’s just higher levels of background radiation,” Peterson said.

A group from GeigerCounter.com claims to have analyzed and found elevated levels of Radium 226 and Thorium 232 in the sand, two naturally occurring radioactive substances reportedly not associated with Fukushima.

According to Dave, after two years of measuring levels on the beach, the increase appeared almost overnight. Given estimates by physics experts that point to a massive radiation plume reaching the west coast by early 2014, some see the timing as more than coincidence.

Countless other issues plaguing the West Coast in recent months, such as the ongoing “melting sea star” epidemic, have raised increasing questions over the government’s handling of the disaster, or lack thereof.

Recent comments made by former MSNBC host Chenk Uygur have only fueled the public’s speculation over Fukushima’s severity. Attempting to speak out early on, Uygur was advised by the network not to warn viewers“because the official government position is that it’s safe.”

Unfortunately, initial concerns regarding Japan were validated after 71 U.S. sailors came forward last month, stricken with Leukemia, tumors and thyroid cancer after helping with initial Fukushima relief operations.

Just last week, the Department of Health and Human Services quietly ordered 14 million doses of potassium iodide, used to protect the thyroid gland during radiological disasters. Attempting to investigate the matter,DHHS officials hung up on Storyleak’s Anthony Gucciardi after questions regarding the incident produced conflicting answers.

As new mysterious plumes of steam continue to rise from reactor 3, Fukushima’s future remains increasingly uncertain.

This post originally appeared at Story Leak

UPDATED

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

Begins …

'Polar Vortex' Creates Huge Temperature Difference&nbsp;&hellip;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressive, and appropriate.

First-grader suspended for sexual harassment

A six-year-old was suspended from a school in the US state of Colorado, after kissing a girl on her hand after officials reportedly said the smooch was sexual harassment.

Hunter Yelton reportedly had a crush on a female classmate at his Canon City school.

The Grade 1 kid planted a smooch on her hand as a way to show his affection. A smooth move, no doubt.

Unfortunately for Hunter, the school didn’t agree. The kiss was seen as a kind of harassment. Hunter was sent to the principal’s office and suspended.

Hunter’s mother Jenny Saunders said that the subject of Hunter’s affection was OK with the kiss. Other kids told the music teacher about the sneaky smooch.

“That was the day I had the meeting with the principal, where she first said ‘sexual harassment’. This is taking it to an extreme that doesn’t need to be met with a six-year-old. Now my son is asking questions … “What is sex mummy?”

That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a six-year-old.”

Both mother and son admitted that Hunter isn’t exactly an easy kid to have in class. He’s been suspended before for “rough-housing” and for kissing the same first-grader on her cheek.

The media reports that the school district is sticking to its stance. The superintendent told the local TV station that Hunter’s kiss fits the district’s definition of sexual harassment.

His mother isn’t happy that her six-year-old now has that mark on his record. Understandably.

“How can you do this? How can you say this about my child?” she said. “Remove sexual harassment, remove it from his record. I’m going to stand up and fight for him because that’s not the case, that’s not what happened at all.”

The United States is already the most litigious nation on the planet. It is also the most painfully politically-correct. So little Hunter is a handful? Fine. So use your skills as teachers to correct his behaviour, enlisting his mother’s support for necessary action.

Bizarre. Ridiculous. Insanity. Right up there with punishing a Grade A teen student for collecting her drunk friend from a party at which alcohol was served (against school rules) instead of letting her drive home drunk, as we recently reported.

We would give up, were it not necessary to harness public opinion to turn this tide back.

(Partly sourced from Reuters)

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Two high-profile Egyptian trials, both arising from years of turbulent protests, have delivered sharply contrasting sentences in the space of just a few months.

In March, a policeman was convicted of shooting at protesters, deliberately aiming at their eyes, during demonstrations in November 2011.

The man dubbed the ‘eye sniper’ was sentenced to three years in prison.

This week, 21 women and teenage girls were found guilty of obstructing traffic during a pro-Islamist protest last month. The 14 women were imprisoned for 11 years, while the seven under the age of 18 were sent to juvenile prison.

You read that right. 11 years in an Egyptian jail for peaceful protest. So much for the democracy of the “Arab Spring”. Yet despite this palpable injustice, the West, and other power blocks, have remained very cautious about criticising the Egyptian military too strongly, obsessed with the fear of another fundamentalist Islamic state being established on the broken bones of what has been in recent years both a key Western ally and in earlier decades a co-operative partner to countries like Russia and China. Everyone seems to prefer a military crackdown to another Islamist Government to deal with.

The verdicts stunned local opposition and rights campaigners, even by the standards of a crackdown in which security forces have killed hundreds of Islamists and arrested thousands since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July.

“The ruling was shocking. We could not believe that Egypt would lock up its girls with the excuse that they are a threat to security,” said Ramadan Abdel Hamid, whose 15-year-old daughter Rawda and wife Salwa were among those sentenced. One can only imagine his anguish.

“Is this what is going to calm Egypt?” he asked. The answer is surely “no”.

As army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implements a promised roadmap towards elections, the United States and other countries are watching closely and has repeatedly urged the interim government to treat its opponents with restraint.

Since Mursi’s fall, the US has frozen some military aid to Cairo. The European Union has been encouraging political reconciliation in a bid to stabilise Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal.

PARDON SOUGHT

The security forces have been lionised by state and private media which denounce the Brotherhood as terrorists. But convicting women and girls who peacefully back Mursi has raised the campaign to a new level that could risk provoking a backlash.

So far there have been no street protests against the sentences, but criticism has appeared on social media.

Even leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi called for a presidential pardon, even though he is a fierce opponent of the Brotherhood.

The sentences could give the unpopular Brotherhood some political ammunition as it tries to recover from the crackdown that has all but decimated the movement.

In a statement, an alliance of pro-Brotherhood parties said: “The judiciary rules against the girls of Alexandria within days and goes at the speed of a tortoise in the trial of Mubarak and his gang.”

It said the verdict “proved that the independence of the judiciary has passed away”.


In the picture above, An anti-government protester waves a flag with a picture of youth activist Gaber Salah, during a rally against a new law restricting demonstrations, in front of Egypt’s Parliament in Cairo. Photo: Reuters.

DELICATE ISSUE

women protestingStreet protests are a highly sensitive issue in a country where people power has led to the downfall of two presidents in less than three years, beginning with veteran autocrat – perhaps kleptocrat would be a better phrase – Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The sentencing of the women and girls coincided with tensions over a law passed on Sunday that tightly restricts demonstrations.

While many Egyptians support Sisi and his roadmap, and while Mursi could never be considered to have ruled with any great skill nor restraint himself, even non-Islamists are becoming more critical of the military, suggesting the authorities may have to tread more cautiously.

“I was surprised by how quickly this case was decided,” said Anwar El Sadat, a former member of the People’s Assembly and chairman of its Human Rights Committee. “I was hoping they would show some mercy, especially because it’s women and girls.”

Tamara Alrifai of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch described the case as “shocking”.

“The seven girls are underage and considered children,” she said. “It is part of a wider campaign to put a halt to protests. People seized the right to protest in 2011 and they are trying to take it away from them.”

Relatives of the women and girls have condemned the court ruling, but said it would strengthen their resolve against what they call the military coup to remove Mursi.

womenSohanda Abdel Rahman, 13, said she could not believe her mother was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

“This is an oppressive and political sentencing,” she said after visiting her in prison. “But we began the path and know what will happen to us and we will not retreat.”

Those words should cast a chill through the collective consciousness of the Egyptian military. Here at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we would simply like to advance some arguments that invariably seem to be ignored time and again by politicians and military men the world over, with the same inevitable effect, and the same inevitable suffering for innocent people. As sure as night follows day:

  • History shows that the will of a people cannot be overcome forever.
  • People who disagree must eventually be brought to peaceably agree, no matter how far apart their opinions seem to be.
  • Peaceful protest can never be wrong.
  • Jailing innocents solves nothing.
  • Persecution is sooner or later served back ten-fold to the persecutors.
  • Local conflicts become civil wars in the blink of an eye.
  • Civil conflicts spill beyond a country’s borders like water finding its own level.

 

As many warned with Iraq, as we warned on this very blog with Syria – a conflict that we said was about to hurtle utterly out of control when the dead still numbered in the dozens not in the hundreds of thousands – Egypt is a live powder-keg and the fuse is lit. Anyone who thinks that moderately advanced countries with modern cities cannot stumble into chaos is ignoring Greece after the Second World War, they’re ignoring the Balkans, they’re ignoring Lebanon. Hell, they’re ignoring Europe in 1939.

And if a major conflict breaks out in Eqypt, one can see an Al Qaeda (and fellow travellers) fuelled insurrection right across the top of northern Africa, and spilling down into countries like Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Sudan … essentially a brushfire that could rapidly become uncontainable, setting Africa back a hundred years, destroying the trade its people need to live, with potentially millions of casualties, and cruelling fledgling moves to democracy. Meanwhile the Syria, Iraq, Iran situation continues to destabilise that region – with Israel uncomfortably co-existing between warring Sunni and Shia tribes, then Afghanistan without a sufficient American and Allied presence descends into turmoil, then Pakistan, then India …

Welcome to World War 3.

Over alarmist? We suggest you Google “Gavrilo Princep”.

Gestures can change perceptions. They can affect the public mood. Dramatically.

So: time to release those women? Well, that’s what we think. And fast.

The world of the interweb is a wonderful one that just keeps on giving. Those of you that follow our F*** Ups series through the meandering lunacies of advertising, sub editing, social media and, of course, packaging, will enjoy these. They’re right up there with the infamous Masterfoods cock-up we spotted a while back.

At least most of these have the excuse of being obviously “foreign”, unlike Masterfoods in the USA, and of course, we all know that foreign Ingrish (on menus, for example) can sometimes leave a little to be desired. Chicken Anus Soup, anyone? Nevertheless, these are utterly hilarious. Well, they are to our tiny minds at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, anyhow …

We don’t really understand why the Asian manufacturers of these products don’t think to check with a native English speaker for any concerns that might be raised. Then again, here we are advertising their products for them for free, so maybe, you know, those inscrutable capitalists are just cleverer than we thought?

Nice girls, your soup is in the next aisle.

Nice girls, your soup is in the next aisle.

 

Please ask the lady concerned for informed consent first.

Please ask the lady concerned for informed consent first.

 

One does not want to be a product taster in this factory.

One does not want to be a product taster in this factory.

 

Yummy. Not.

Yummy. Not.

 

Ditto.

Ditto.

 

We know Asians reputedly eat anything, but this answer to world population problems is a step to far.

We know Asians reputedly eat anything, but this answer to world population problems is surely a step too far.

 

A whole new level of refreshment. Where level includes "lower level".

A whole new level of refreshment. Where level includes “lower level”.

 

Everyone's always getting at the Jews. But juicing their ears is totally wrong.

Everyone’s always getting at the Jews for somethin’ or other. But juicing their ears is just totally wrong.

 

So that's what was wrong with that snack we purchased in Beijing.

So that’s what was wrong with that snack we purchased in Beijing.

 

Interesting flavour choice for crisps.

Interesting flavour choice for crisps. We can see it appealing to a certain audience.

 

We are not going anywhere near this. Nuh-uh. Lips are sealed. No, no, no.

We are not going anywhere near this. Nuh-uh. Lips are sealed. No, no, no. Don’t tempt us.

 

Pretty sure we've drunk this too. We remember a little cafe in Brentford.

Pretty sure we’ve been served this too. We remember a little cafe in Brentford before a football game.

 

Now we have definitely been served this with our vodka, often. Every time they serve that stuff that comes out of a pipe rather than a bottle.

Now we have definitely been served this with our vodka, often. Every time they serve that stuff that comes out of a pipe rather than a bottle. Clearly Ghana manufactures the stuff in bulk and exports it to my local pub.

 

Wishing you all one.

Wishing you all one.

 

Believe it or not, Dear Reader, this really IS a product we know. It is a very popular ice cream in Australia, and I can report it is utterly delicious confection of vanilla/toffee/nutty thing. And yes, everyone sniggers when they buy it, but the brand is a long-standing one, since long, long before the word “gay” acquired other meanings.

The makers have steadfastly refused to change it, and good on them, we say. Indeed, as it is 32 degrees in Marvellous Melbourne today, we may just treat ourselves to one a little later on.

Related articles

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE*

I am indebted to Ian Hanslope who immediately got back to me with these wonderful examples. Keep ‘em coming, people! (*A very famous Australian advertising punchline.)

Truth in advertising from Princebrim Foods?

Truth in advertising from Princebrim Foods?

And we all know how we feel after a few sakes.

And we all know how we feel after a few sakes, right?

Wandering the world wide interweb thingy this morning, with our eyes drawn by the massive opening weekend success of the second Hunger Games movie, we were also taken with the ongoing popularity of the film 12 years a slave.

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

It is the incredible true story of Solomon Northup who was a free African-American in New York who was kidnapped and held as a slave in the South before winning his freedom. No doubt the popularity of the film in the United States has been boosted by its appeal to the African-American audience, but it is also surely a universally appealing tale of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and bigotry, and we look forward eagerly to seeing it.

His astonishing history is related here.

Popular culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Popular youth culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Indeed, both movies are testaments to the power of the individual versus the state, and clearly tap into some deep need we have to believe that we can overcome awesome odds even when faced with the conspiracies of those in power, even if the politics of the Hunger Games series is a tad more subtle than Northup’s story, capable of being adopted by both sides of the political spectrum as a crie de couer for their side.

It may also be, however, that both movies simply leverage some deep need we have as humans to overcome the worst sides of our nature.

One of the more curious features of slavery in the United States was that of manumission, whereby an owner would free a slave, typically as a reward for long service, an act which was often used by proponents of slavery to go to the essentially benevolent nature of the system, or, at least, that it was not as bad as it was painted.

Exploring the phenomenon of manumission, one was then led, click by click, to read the fascinating historical snippet that in Ancient Rome, under the rule of Caesar Augustus, a law had to be passed to reduce the number of slaves freed by owners. Who knew? Indeed, over time, and counter-intuitively, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters. Attitudes changed in part because of the influence among the educated elite of the Stoics, whose egalitarian views of humanity extended to slaves. It has been said that one of the more important Roman Stoics, Epictetus, spent his youth as a slave.

The lex Fufia (also ‘Furia, Fusia’) Caninia (2 BC) was one of the laws that national assemblies had to pass, after they were requested to do so by Augustus. This law, along with the lex Aelia Sentia, placed limitations on manumissions. In numerical terms the laws meant that a master who had three slaves could free only two; one who had between four to ten could free only half of them; one with eleven to thirty could free only a third, and so on. Manumissions above these limits were not valid.

The limitations were established at the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, at a time when the number of manumissions was so large that they were perceived as a challenge to a social system that was founded on slavery, especially when Romans harked back to the chaos of the slaves’ rebellion led by Spartacus known as the Third Servile War.

That so many Romans were so keen to free their slaves that a law had to be passed to limit their doing so surely changes our popular view of their society, and also poses some fascinating questions about human nature.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

Certainly, a large number of slaves in Rome worked in close proximity to their owners, as house slaves, whose duties included cleaning, bathing, sexual services, and cooking. Over a period of time, it is perhaps understandable that mutual respect grew up between the parties to this social arrangement.

It is surely not some kind of 20-20 hindsight aided by rose-tinted spectacles to wonder if, in a society founded on concepts of liberty, many Romans might have been acutely aware that the rapid development of their Empire based of foreign subjugation and domestic slavery was a contradiction of their most profoundly held beliefs which simply made them feel uncomfortable, and especially so when they developed human relationships with their slaves.

One little known historical anomaly is that the role of master and slave was sometimes reversed, as at the celebrations of Saturnalia, where it was the tradition for the slaves of a household to sit down to the type of feast normally enjoyed by their owners, and actually to be served by their owners at table, during which time they could speak freely and critically of their owners. Clearly, the relationship between slaves and slave owners in Rome was far more complex than it is commonly portrayed. But with Saturnalia, everyone knew that the levelling of the social hierarchy was temporary and had limits; no social norms were ultimately threatened, because the holiday would end. Another slaves’ holiday (servorum dies festus) was held August 13 in honor of Servius Tullius, the legendary sixth King of Rome, who was the child of a slave woman. Like the Saturnalia, the holiday involved a role reversal: the matron of the household washed the heads of her slaves, as well as her own. But temporary or no, it is hard to imagine these celebrations occurring commonly if the basic setting for slave-owner relations was one of mutual distaste and loathing. Another curiosity is revealed by examining other Roman laws: if a master wished to marry his female slave and produce legitimate children with her, then he could free her before the age of 30, the minimum age for freedom set by Augustan law. Clearly, as such marriages were so common as to require legislation, such a woman could not have been regarded with such stigma that she could not be socially enfranchised by marriage to an owner.

The stories led us to consider how the abolition of the slave trade, and the eventual eradication of slavery in the United States, was actually led by members of the ruling class who were morally confronted – affronted – by the essentially amoral nature of the societies they ruled over.

It is easy to forget, in a world where daily cruelty and inhumanity seems to be a rule, that humane instincts and behaviour also have their day.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy's respectful oration has been credited with preventing America's cities descending into social turmoil.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy’s respectful oration has been credited with preventing America’s cities descending into social turmoil.

It is surely churlish to note, for example, and especially in proximity to the hagiographical anniversary of his death, that John F Kennedy was not especially personally committed to civil rights, and his administration had to be constantly encouraged to take up the fight. Yet there is a process whereby those that rule become aware of the depth of the wrong they inflict on others, and we should also, as we examine JFK’s legacy with clear eyes, celebrate the growth in consciousness, for example, of Lyndon Johnson and subsequently Bobby Kennedy, which was surely in direct relation to their increasing exposure to the legitimate demands of leaders of the African-American community. Jack Kennedy was a product of the ivory tower created by his father. After his death, both Johnson and RFK swung to the left on social justice issues, partly because of their life experience, and partly because of pressure from a growing and widespread liberalism in the community. Justice “seeped into” the ruling class, little by little.

It is a shame, perhaps, that we need our noses repeatedly rubbed into the ordure of injustice before we take up arms against it. But despite this uncomfortable recognition, we can also surely celebrate that one perceives a deep, abiding desire for justice at the heart of humanity that eventually wins out, again and again.

It seems to us that when we examine the entire sweep of history, human nature is ultimately attuned to reject the unjust, the domineering, the brutal, and to embrace the hopeful, the reasonable, and the inclusive.

One sees it in the predictable and certain implosion of autocratic dictatorships throughout the ages.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

Recently it has been evidenced in the peaceful “people’s revolutions” in the Eastern European block and Russia and in countries like the Philippines, in the progressive move away from military dictatorship in a country like Burma, and in the stumbling progress towards true, robust democracy in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and even, haltingly, China. Even, perhaps, in the unlikely election – and then re-election – of an African-American President in the USA. The outworkings of the “Arab Spring” are unquestionably a mixed bag, but here again, there is the unmistakable urge towards freedom – individual, communal, social, economic – that will simply not be quieted despite the odds against it, and those who have taken advantage of the chaos in the Middle East to erect newly-authoritarian replacements for what had gone before should look out for their heads. The genie of freedom, once having stretched its wings, rarely stays in the bottle for long.

It is as if we instinctively understand that a balance needs to be struck between free expression and freedom of choice and the needs of the State, and that when the balance is tilted too far towards a crushing of the human spirit we will, sooner or later, rebel.

Whereas becoming too granular and examining too many examples that appear to shove the argument one way or another would probably unhelpful, the simple fact is that by any rational analysis (of wealth, of disputation and wars, of the growth of representative democracy, of trade) our world is actually growing, inch by inch, less authoritarian and more open, such as with, for example, the general removal of fascist dictatorships in South America, (and the onward march of their economies), the reduction in internecine strife in Africa, the refusal of societies in Europe to descend into civil collapse despite the effects of the worst economic conditions in decades, and so on, and so on.

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden - one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden – one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Needless to say, however, the forces of convention, of conformity, of suffocating adherence to authority, are ever-present and tireless. The assumption that power corrupts is nowhere more obviously demonstrated than in the enthusiasm with which one-time liberals are content to crush freedom of expression when it serves their agenda. There can be little doubt that the Obama Administration has been sucked into the vortex of dissembling, suppression and intolerance, just as, for example, the Blair government in the UK were, as the current Abbott Government in Australia is now, and as Putin rolls back the green shoots of Russian democracy. It is for this reason, surely, that we should applaud the whistle-blowing of people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon, and the militant advocacy of groups like Wikileaks, Anonymous, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Pussy Riot, Femen and others, no matter how “inconvenient” they are to the smooth running of the State.

At the outer reaches of protest, they carry a torch for humanity. They puncture complacency. They tell us things that no one else was going to: things we need to know.

And if we are to be fair, we should also applaud the grassroots activism of the likes of the Tea Party in the USA, because in criticising the growing incompetence and waste of the bloated and complacent American Government they raise issues that should be a concern to everyone, not just the right. A dollar that is invested in mindless administrationism – a dollar eaten up by self-sustaining bureaucracy that has long since stopped caring about outcomes – is a dollar that isn’t spent on an aged pension, a sick child, a much-needed improvement to road safety, a diversion program for addicts, or social housing. In demanding that we hold to account the voracious appetite of Government for our tax dollars the Tea Party and their equivalents around the world serve a useful purpose regardless of what one thinks of their wilder assertions or tactics.

Knowledge is the oxygen of freedom: anything that feeds knowledge to the masses will inevitably result in greater freedom, and deliver stronger constraints on the excesses of those that govern us.

We have an absolute requirement for knowledge of those things we still need to rebel against.

propaganda

Which is why, if there is any one thing we should be more wary of than anything else, it is surely the trend of “embedding” of our media with government, the increasingly cosy relationships (which go much further than battlefield reporting), where it becomes more and more difficult to discern news from propaganda, and in the reduction in media diversity as newspapers fold one after another and television channels sub-contract their news gathering from a small number of sources. The growth in Internet-based news and comment of which this blog is a tiny part will compensate to a degree, but as major media organisations gobble up successful purveyors of alternative news and opinion, the creeping hand of conformity moves ever onward and threatens our access to knowledge.

This battle will never end, and in a media saturated world we need to be aware that an appearance of more media does not necessarily mean better media. However, we cannot but view the free availability of an uncomfortable, uncompromising and above all external news source such as Al Jazeera in America, Australia and elsewhere as a very positive development.

reality-tv

We need to rail against homogenised, dumbed down, and supine reporting, too. We once saw a statistic that over 80% of the news covered by newspapers was reprinted directly from press releases.

That was 20 years ago.

Do we really think the situation has improved as media management has become increasingly sophisticated? We suspect not.

And we need to guard against the endless trivialisation of mass media.

Not for nothing did the Roman elite maintain power through “bread and circuses”.

In short, humanity needs people who “subvert the dominant paradigm”, whether or not the paradigm is one with which we agree.

And thank goodness, those people always seem to appear when we need them most.

Whether it’s an uppity slave refusing to accept his kidnapping 170 years ago, a flame-haired Hunger Games contestant from some dystopian future, or, indeed, this collection of philosophers who wrote to the Guardian a couple of days ago, highlighting the ongoing travesty of the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members, we should praise those who subvert the dominant paradigm, and join them.

Wot they said.

For singing a “punk prayer” against Vladimir Putin in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, of the collective Pussy Riot, were sentenced in August 2012 to two years’ detention in a “prison colony” for “vandalism motivated by religious hate”. After having denounced the inhuman prison conditions and begun a hunger strike, Tolokonnikova, 24, mother of a five-year-old girl, was transferred 4,000 kilometres from Mordovia to the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s prison letters to Slavoj Žižek, 16 November).

According the Russian human rights commissioner Vladimir Loukine, “serving her sentence in this region would contribute to her re-socialisation”.

Now there is language we had not heard in Russia since the Soviet era and its hunt for all deviants.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

In fact, the singer of Pussy Riot has become a symbol of those repressed by the regime: gays hounded in the name of the now legalised struggle against homosexual “propaganda”, immigrant workers exploited and brutalised on the construction sites of Sochi and elsewhere, penalisation of anti-religious speech, significant ecological damage caused by construction projects undertaken without consulting local residents, the opposition muzzled, NGOs persecuted.

In the face of these increasingly numerous human rights violations, Europe has remained shockingly silent.

In a letter addressed from her prison cell to the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, Nadia Tolokonnikova criticises the complacency of western governments towards Vladimir Putin’s repressive and freedom-destroying policies. In particular, she writes in Philosophie magazine (November 2013): “The boycott of the Olympic Games at Sochi, in 2014, would be perceived as an ethical gesture.” As called for by Philosophie magazine, we, European intellectuals, call on our governments and all of Europe to break with their attitude of culpable tolerance and put pressure on the government of Vladimir Putin to immediately release Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina.

Russia is a constitutional republic and permanent member of the UN security council. It has signed the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. With the Olympic Games approaching this February, it is time to give them a reminder.

Elisabeth Badinter, Pascal Bruckner, Alain Finkielkraut, Marcel Gauchet, André Glucksmann, Agnès Heller, Axel Honneth, Claude Lanzmann, Edgar Morin, Antonio Negri, Hartmut Rosa, Fernando Savater, Richard Sennett, Bernard Stiegler, Gianni Vattimo, Slavoj Žižek

Activists in the US are trying to get a new trial for a 14 year-old boy who was executed in 1944.

George Stinney has been dead since 1944, when as a 14-year-old he became the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century, for killing two white girls.

Now his supporters are taking the unheard-of step of asking for a new trial.

Stinney’s case brings together two of the longest-running disputes in the American legal system – the death penalty and race.

Stinney was convicted on a shaky confession in a segregated society that wanted revenge for the beating deaths of two girls, aged 11 and 7, according to a lawsuit filed last month on Stinney’s behalf in South Carolina.

He was electrocuted just 84 days after the girls were killed. Newspaper stories reported that witnesses said the straps to keep him in the electric chair didn’t fit around his small frame.

The request for a new trial is largely symbolic, but Stinney’s supporters say they would prefer exoneration to a pardon – which they’ve asked for as well.

The judge may refuse to hear the request for a new trial, since the punishment has already been carried out.

The two girls were last seen looking for wildflowers in the racially divided mill town of Alcolu. Stinney’s sister, who was 7 at the time, says in her new affidavit for the lawsuit that she and her brother were letting their cow graze when the girls asked them where they could find flowers called maypops. The sister, Amie Ruffner, said her brother told them he didn’t know, and the girls left.

“It was strange to see them in our area, because white people stayed on their side of Alcolu and we knew our place,” Ruffner wrote.

The girls never came home. They were found the next morning in a water-filled ditch, their heads beaten with a hard object, likely a railroad spike.

The request for a new trial includes sworn statements from two of Stinney’s siblings who say he was with them the entire day the girls were killed.

Notes from Stinney’s confession and most other information used to convict him in a one-day trial have disappeared, along with any transcript of the proceedings. Only a few pages of cryptic, hand-written notes remain, according to the motion.

“Why was George Stinney electrocuted? The state can’t produce any paperwork to justify why he was,” said George Frierson, a local school board member who grew up in Stinney’s hometown hearing stories about the case and decided six years ago to start studying it and pushing for exoneration.

The request for a new trial points out that at just 43 kilograms it’s unlikely Stinney could have killed the girls and dragged them to the ditch.

The motion also hints at community rumours of a deathbed confession from a white man several years ago and the possibility Stinney confessed because his family was threatened.

(From AP)

What a movie this would make …

And not for the first time. Just put Facebook in our search box to see what we mean.

And not for the first time. Just put Facebook in our search box to see what we mean.

Hilarious story today about the typical computer-driven lunacy that is Facebook. Well known for suspending accounts willy nilly with no human involvement or appeal, the internet giant has now surpassed even its own previous levels of annoying behaviour.

As it seems every news outlet on the planet has reported,  Facebook user has told how he was banned from the site for saying: “I like faggots.”

Food lover Robert Wilkes, 54, was recalling his fondness for a classic English dish from his childhood.

Save the faggots! A meal fit for kings, should never be forgot. (Sorry, this caption just went all Guiy Fawksey without warning.)

Save the faggots! A meal fit for kings, should never be forgot. (Sorry, this caption just went all Guy Fawksey without warning.)

Faggots are meatballs traditionally hand-made with offal by butchers and served with mashed spuds and peas. (And onion gravy – see recipe below – Ed.)

Wilkes says he was bewildered when his Facebook account was shut for 12 hours for using “homophobic language”.

Ah, but of course. In the interconnected world we live in, cultural imperialism rules. In the United States, the word “faggot” is offensive slang for homosexual.

Wilkes, a former Ministry of Defence guard who grew up in the West Midlands, told The Sun newspaper: “It may have a different meaning in America but I used it in a food context. Facebook allows beheading videos, cruelty to animals, stabbing and terrible swear words – but not this. It’s political correctness gone mad.”

We can only agree. Especially as the same annoyance happened to Eileen Perkins, 68, when she discussed her favourite dish on the user-unfriendly website.

Meanwhile, in case you are moved to try the aforementioned delicacy (and we strongly recommend it) here’s a good recipe we found.

Faggots are an old-fashioned British food, and one that has sadly fallen out of favor in recent years. Traditionally Faggots are made from offal, usually pork, and from the bits of the animal that are generally discarded; the heart, the liver etc making Faggots a cheap and nutritious dish, as in this faggot recipe.Birmingham and the Midlands are considered the home of Faggots in Britain, along with South and Mid Wales, but with the revival of Faggots, they are now eaten all over the UK. Our personal favourite used to be in the supermarket freezer, made by a company called Brains as you can see in this TV commercial from 1980.
 
 
And as you can see here, although the packaging and brand name have undergone a bit of an update, they are still available.Faggots are traditionally eaten with mushy peas, mashed potatoes and onion gravy.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz/110g pork shoulder, roughly chopped
  • 4 oz/ 110g pig’s iiver, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz/250g fatty belly pork, roughly choppped
  • 4 oz/110g bacon scraps
  • 4 oz/ 110g bread crumbs
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Caul fat* or streaky bacon

Preparation:

Serves 4

Pre-heat the oven to 445°F/170°C/Gas 3

  • Mince all the roughly chopped meats, if you don’t have a mincer, then chop in a food processor.
  • Place the minced meat into a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, onion, herbs, spices and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • Divide the mixture into 8 and shape into balls.
  • Wrap each ball in caul or streaky bacon. Make sure the caul or bacon overlaps as it will seal as it cooks and hold the faggots together.
  • Place the faggots onto a baking sheet and bake in the hot oven for 50 – 60 minutes.

What to Serve with Faggots

Traditionally, faggots would be served, hot from the oven with creamy, mashed potatoes, and peas, preferably mushy peas and lashings of rich, thick onion gravy.

*Caul is the membrane which holds in animal organs and it makes a good container for the faggots. If you can’t get caul, then use strips of streaky bacon. One small change we would make to the recipe, we’d lose the chilli and add extra pepper. White, if you can still find it. The taste will be more traditional.

flowers_16x9-408x264

 

We noticed a comment made by a judge in America, sentencing a drunk driver who killed another driver to six and a half years in prison, that in America substance abuse was involved in 65 percent of criminal cases in which the accused pleaded guilty. We suspect the statistic is very similar elsewhere in the world.

Certainly visiting Old Melbourne Goal for the Whitelion charity “lock in” a couple of years ago means that Wellthisiswhatithink was made privy to some of the more alarming facts about the Victoria, Australia prison population. Specifically that over 80% of criminals in goal in Victoria on any given day are there for drugs offences. Most of them not drug kingpins, of course, but people a long way down the feed chain. People picked up for minor offences that would be better off in diversion or rehab programs than sitting in chokey, where access to their drugs of addiction, of course, are nearly always available.

The judge concerned commented that “I firmly believe that alcohol and drugs are almost an epidemic in this society. This is a very serious matter – a very serious matter – because it concerns all of society,” he said.

Every day in the United States, almost 30 people die in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, amounting to one death every 48 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a US government agency.

It put the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes at more than $51 billion and the total number of drunk-driving fatalities in 2010 at 10,228 – about a third of all traffic deaths.

Victoria leads the world in reducing road trauma, through an extremely aggressive program of driver education, (including extremely graphic TV ads), road speed cameras, and reducing speed limits. And at one level at least, the message on alcohol appears to have got through.

The proportion of drivers and motorcycle riders killed with a BAC greater than 0.05g/100ml has declined from 38% in 1987 to 16% in 2011.

Since 1991, Victoria Police have breath tested more than 20 million drivers and riders from Booze Bus operations, catching close to 70,000 drivers and riders  with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over this period.

The vast majority (99.6%) of drivers tested do not exceed prescribed blood alcohol levels. This must surely be considered one of the most successful public health campaigns anywhere in the world. Personal behaviour has changed. The stats tell the story, but so does our anecdotal experience. “Drink driving” has become socially unacceptable. To drive home drunk from a dinner party or pub would now be considered unthinkable by most of our friends and colleagues. People arrange “designated drivers” who stay sober, or use taxis, trams and trains.

But not yet, tragically, everyone. Close to one in four drivers and riders killed in the last five years had a BAC greater than 0.05. It may just be that there is a level below which society cannot put the demon of drink driving back in the bottle.

Nevertheless, jurisdictions all over the world have taken note of Victoria’s success. In an era when random breath testing, for example, is still considered an infringement of civil liberties by some Americans, we would urge them to consider giving up some of their ‘rights’ to achieve a greater right.

Survival.

An example of the “Bloody idiot” campaign that has changed society’s views over 20 years runs below. What is sad is that one can imagine wowsers complaining that the ad has a mild swear word in it, when they would be silent on the death toll on our roads. Sometimes, we feel a little bluntness is very much the lesser of two evils.

The Transport Accident Commission ads pull no punches. Nor, in our very considered opinion should they. The stats are their own justification.

So would you welcome seeing ads like this on your TV screen at night? The general opinion of most Victorians is to grit their teeth and bear it. Even as they induce a wince, it is a wince of recognition. There is communal gratitude that families are being protected by both the advertising and the law enforcement. But there is little doubt: it is very challenging.

I guess yer pays yer money, and yer takes your choice. What do you think?

Conspiracy theory or simple explanation of a political reality? You decide.

Conspiracy theory or simple explanation of a political reality? You decide.

I commend the article linked to below, from the consistently excellent salon.com, arguing that Southern conservatives have been pursuing a deliberate, essentially destructive and consistent plan to ensure that America remains a low wage economy with a dis-empowered working class. The line that the article draws from the Confederacy with its affection for slavery to the current shutdown is outlined clearly, cleverly and compellingly.

This discussion needs to take place in modern America.

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/13/the_south_is_holding_america_hostage/

Yes, the author is clearly partisan. To Wellthisiswhatithink that makes no difference. What he seeks is clarity about the motives of the side of politics he opposes, and a coherent response from liberals and their fellow travellers. That is appropriate. We would equally applaud a southern conservative arguing openly that the North is over-protective of worker’s rights and entitlements, and America should maintain its low wage economy.

We just think the arguments should be had in the open, not behind closed doors, or via code.

We also note that the author joins the growing number of voices (including ours) targeting independent boundary reviews (redrawing districts) as a key component of a thoroughgoing reform of the American political system, to get rid of the gerrymandering that bedevils it. We now see the point cropping up everywhere.

Hoorah. We are winning that one at least: let’s get that issue front and centre on the political table, and wrest from both the Democrats and the Republicans their ongoing ability to pervert democracy.

 

Mike Lee of utah - one of a number of tea Party representatives facing an uncertain future

Mike Lee of utah – one of a number of tea Party representatives facing an uncertain future

 

Fascinating article on Bloomberg making the same case that we have been making for some time that the grassroots Republican Party, and its central establishment, faced with increasing irrelevance, will turn on its recently-minted hard-right, Tea Party-supported Senators and Congresspeople.

The article is fair and reasonable as it nevertheless draws a bead on the Tea Party reps. As with this paragraph:

The meltdown on Capitol Hill doesn’t mean the end of the Tea Party. In fact, most of those lawmakers accurately point out that they are doing what the constituents in their painfully drawn, one-sided, overwhelmingly white, aging, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, science-denying districts want. Still, there are emerging signs — from declining poll numbers to the breach with the Republican Party’s traditional business allies — that the act is getting old. Mess with Democratic totems such as Social Security and nutritional programs for pregnant mothers, send Sarah Palin to Washington periodically to pour salt on open wounds, but don’t mess with Treasury bills and the markets.

We believe the article captures a key issue: the alarm felt in the business community, locally in the US and worldwide, at the prospect of an American default. In simple terms, those who recognise the scale of the looming disaster seem to be saying ‘this far and no further”.

What is interesting now is what will happen to Tea Party lawmakers in 2014 and in pre-selections/primaries.

One case the article singles out is:

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a Tea Party darling since his surprising defeat in 2010 of Robert Bennett, a beloved conservative senator. He’s become sidekick to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, chiming in during the recent filibuster about a childhood accident and his dream of being a pirate.

Lee is one of the new lawmakers who have been dubbed “wacko birds” by Senator John McCain of Arizona. Karl Rove said Lee’s scorched-earth strategy was “the one tactic that might be able to guarantee that the Democrats pick up seats in the Congress in 2014.” Even Lee’s friend and Capitol Hill roommate, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, refused to back his plan to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Lee’s favorable rating has dropped 10 percentage points since a June Brigham Young University poll, which – important note – doesn’t skew liberal. More than half of Utah voters see him unfavorably; 57 percent said he should be more willing to compromise. In a separate survey, a majority of Utah voters now disapprove of the Tea Party’s influence.”

Josh Romney

Josh Romney

What makes this particular seat really interesting is that Lee will be challenged from his left. And fascinatingly, Josh Romney is one of the options waiting in the wings. Back in June the telegenic son of former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in an interview with KSL that he wouldn’t rule out a potential run for office in the future.

“I’m not ruling anything in or out,” Romney told the Salt Lake City station. “But obviously, having spent the last couple of years on the political trail, it’s hard to give all that up.”

He continued, “I haven’t made any decisions on anything like that … I’m just really focused on my family and work right now and not looking at any particular office.”

Even if Lee survives a primary contest, there’s an excellent chance that Democratic Representative Jim Matheson — who’s been gerrymandered into unwinnable districts twice but still wins — could win a statewide race in the reddest state in the country.

Utah Republicans have been heading toward buyer’s remorse for some time. At last year’s convention in Salt Lake City, a robust 125,000 Republicans turned out. This was a reaction to the 2010 convention, when 50,000 Tea Party activists took over and eliminated Bennett in favor of Lee. By 2012, the establishment was back in charge, and Bennett got a long and loud standing ovation. At that same convention, Senator Orrin Hatch easily won the nomination and re-election.”

94bMeanwhile, the political ambitions of Mitt Romney’s son have long been an open secret.

One of the funniest moments of the 2012 election was when he became the unwitting star of a short-lived by amusing satirical meme that sprang from his intense look of concentration – well, that’s the polite way of describing it – while watching President Obama make mincemeat of his Dad in the second Presidential debate.

If Romney the Younger gets up in Utah, no doubt the meme will be revivified. Which is slightly unfair, as the man himself seems like a perfectly respectable, mainstream GOP type, and not at all like the menacing lunatic of one unfortunate photo. Still, such are the joys of public life, especially in America. No doubt he’ll laugh it off.

 

moon-pond-ripples

Stephen Yolland writes:

I am often asked – surprisingly insistently, by some people, actually – why I keep on rabbiting on.

Why don’t I just bugger off and make more money, or watch some more football, or make love to my wife or just sit and bliss out. (All attractive options, I must say.) Why must I choose to have an opinion on this and that, and with such ferocious passion, sometimes, and why on earth anyone would care, anyway, what I think?

Why do I feel I have the right to pontificate freely on topics of great diversity, and sometimes topics with which I am not, apparently, personally involved?

The answer is quite simple, and it is threefold.

Firstly, I believe we are all born with innate gifts.

Whether these are devolved to us in some spiritual way or merely the result of genetics, accidental wiring and our birth environment I have no idea. I have a suspicion, but I cannot be emphatic. I believe, nevertheless that it is true. It is why some people grow up to be fine artists, administrators, musicians, farmers, pilots, poets and so on. They have a natural aptitude which gets developed.

I believe passionately that the world requires us to build on our aptitudes: to contribute as much as we can with what we’ve got. That’s how the world keeps turning.

I can write. I have a good ear for tone, for a smart turn of phrase, and even though my memory is not what it was (helas!) I have a reasonably good vocabulary.

I cannot walk through this life alone.

I am interested in other people. I am connected. Whether those people are in Russia, America, Thailand, China, Britain, or my own country. I am interested in what makes them tick, why they think as they do, and what the results of their thinking are. “No man is an island”, and I am not. To be interested in other people, and to care about what happens to them, is in my DNA. It’s partly a spiritual commitment, and partly an observation that this is simply how I wish to be. It is an innate part of my humanity to be interested in others.

I know what I think. Well, I think I do.

Last but not least, I am opinionated. I have that type of mind that cannot look at a situation, or a problem, or an opportunity, and not create an opinion. It’s partly because, as a business consultant, it is my training. It is also because I have, for a “creative” person, a very logical and analytical frame of mind. I simply enjoy examining things from all directions, listening to all points of view, and then forming an opinion.

Once having formed an opinion, I then feel obliged to share it. Otherwise why bother holding it?

Are my opinions always right? No. Do I change them? Yes. Do I change them very often? Possibly not. My mother once said to me “If an opinion is worth holding, it’s worth fighting for”. I never forgot that.

What provoked this introspection, Dear Reader?

Howard Goldenberg

Howard Goldenberg

Well, I was privileged today to take a phone call from my friend and business colleague, Gideon Kline. Last evening, he was pleased to have been in the audience for some humanitarian awards the Jewish Aid community were handing out, and especially to have heard an inspirational speech from doctor, runner, activist, charity fundraiser and author Howard Goldenberg.

Goldenberg was speaking about the need for generosity of spirit, especially as regards our relationships with Australia’s first peoples and with the refugees who wish to live here. And his speech was, indeed, inspirational. Witty, apposite, empathetic, warm-hearted, and meaningful. You can read it here.

The speech is wholly wonderful: but what really hit home was his very Jewish insistence on how we are all beholden to continue to fight for a better world. A world in which the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you wish they would do unto you” is the one that holds sway. (The famous rule appears in all the Middle Eastern monotheistic religions in some form, of course.)

I reflected that it is so easy to become discouraged by the intractability of the problems our world faces. And as I reflected, this comment from Goldenberg really caught my eye, and sent me off to Wikipedia to lean more about the Pirke Avoth.

“Our sages taught, in Pirke Avoth – “The day is short, the work is great…

Lo aleicha ham’lacha ligmor, ve’lo atta ben-horin le’hibatel
mimenna …

It is not upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it …”

Along with others that were listed, I found this phrase extremely moving. And I realised it ultimately describes why I, and so many others, (many much more effectively than me), “keep on keeping on”.

I have also heard the exhortion described in a more contemporary way as “Be sure to be a planter of oak trees”. One never sees the fully grown tree oneself, because one simply cannot live that long, but one day someone will, and marvel at its beauty, and rest under it’s shade, and be glad of it.

“It is not for me to complete the work. but neither am I free to desist from it.”

That’s why.

That, and as many have said “When you cast a pebble into a pond, you never know where the ripples end.”

I have no idea whether my words ever change lives.

I know it would change mine if they were silent.

And yes: having grown one in my own back yard, which every autumn gives me a good crop of acorns, I also plant oak trees, occasionally, surreptitiously, around the immaculately native-strewn and over-politically-correct parks of Melbourne, too. In fifty years, they will be the wonder of all who survey them. As famous, one day, as the elms, alders and other wonderful Victorian imports that still lend such a gracious air to our City today.

So sue me, already.

LonelyElephant

For some weeks now, we have been predicting that the blame for the US Government shutdown – and any future debt default – will be laid squarely at the feet of the Republicans, and it is only because they are living in their own very badly advised bubble (just as they were at the last Presidential election) that they cannot see the approaching disaster that their behaviour is creating.

This article on recent poll results makes it very clear. Undeniable.

tea party childNo one in their right mind would want to see America become, in effect, a one party state. But that’s the way they’re headed, unless someone in the Republican leaderships starts to bang a few heads together and show some foresight – starting with isolating and ignoring the Tea Party representatives in their midst.

Will the GOP listen before it’s too late? I doubt it.

By Steve Benen at the Maddow Blog
Wed Oct 9, 2013 3:14 PM EDT

Have congressional Republicans been unpopular before? Yes. Have they been this unpopular? Not in recent memory.

 

This Gallup chart shows the parties’ favourability ratings over the last 21 years, and you’ll notice that sharp drop on the right side of the image. That shows GOP support falling off a cliff.

Republicans were deeply unpopular during the impeachment crisis in late 1998, but they’re in even worse shape now. Indeed, the angle that surprised me was comparing Republican favourability now to the party’s standing the last time GOP lawmakers shut down the government — they’re faring much worse in 2013.

 

 

And this is the image showing unfavourable ratings. Note, dislike for Republicans was also very strong at the end of the Bush/Cheney era, but once again, it’s worse now.

It’s obvious from the results that Democrats aren’t winning any popularity contests, but you don’t need to be a professional pollster to see which party is in better shape.

As for whether there are any practical consequences for poll results like these, I think there are.

The 2014 midterms are still a year away, and the prevailing political winds are bound to change direction – more than once – between now and then. What’s more, many Republican districts have been shielded from a voter backlash by gerrymandering.

But when one party’s public standing reaches a generational low – as opposed to, say, a minor downturn – it’s bound to have an effect. For one thing, it matters to the parties’ recruiting efforts, and there’s already some evidence to bolster this point. For another, it affects fundraising, and we’ve seen anecdotal evidence on this front, too.

What’s more, it starts to create a ceiling of sorts. As Republican popularity reaches new depths, it becomes that much more difficult to recover. If the GOP were to somehow add another 10 points to its favorability rating, it’d still be in horrible shape — and there’s nothing to suggest a 10-point boost is on the horizon.

It’s far too early for serious speculation about the midterms, but if Republicans are trying to position themselves for major setbacks in the next cycle, they’re off to an excellent start.

corruption-corruptionblog-blogspot-comIn a minute, you will find a link to a must-read article by blogger Valentine Logar.

But first: wedon’t care what your politics is. This woman is right.

Yes, of course, Val is coming from a Democrat perspective, but she is actually speaking for all Americans who care about the quality of their civil society.

About a truly participatory democracy, with freedom and justice for all.

It’s this simple.

Democracy in America is for sale, and the last chance to prevent it becoming completely corrupted is right now.

If you’re American, read this. Read it now. If you are living anywhere else in the world, but you value a vibrant and growing American democracy as a key bulwark against totalitarianism, read it now. Click now:

Wake Up Citizens.

There is a concerted effort by the extreme right in America – by which I mean the extreme corporatist right, “big business” that is – the 1% – to BUY the American government. Legally. Under the “cover of law”.

corruptionAll of it, not just the Republicans, but Democrats too.

The Republicans apparently could care less – or maybe they are already so controlled they can’t fight back – although I strongly suspect many Democrats are equally compromised – but the people of America, those who value the land of the free, it is the people that must wake up and realise what is happening to their democracy.

The shadow men that have always circulated behind the seats of power obviously no longer think they need to fear people realising what they’re doing. They are using the froth and bubble of the debate over healthcare, and the upcoming possible debt default, to mask far murkier moves.

The land of the free. For all our sakes, bury your differences, before you become the land of the bought and paid for.

Which would make the whole world tremble.

Please, America, the reforms you need are not that difficult:

  • Stop your election funding laws becoming an international joke
  • Stop allowing political parties to gerrymander boundary changes – create an independent electoral boundaries review commission
  • Insert a circuit breaker in your Constitution so that governmental logjams cannot persist forever.

 

PS On a related issue: if you do default on your debt ceiling, America, and throw the entire world economy into chaos again, just please remember who did it. As trade dies, as your jobs disappear, as your prices rise, as your programs are cut, as you can’t afford new roads, or schools, or your armed forces, please remember those politicians who really refused to negotiate. And remember this, too: some people make money in a recession just as easily as they make it in a period of growth. They have the levers, they can throw them whichever way they want, and still buy and sell at a profit.

Just remember, as you hurt, they won’t be.

"That's not an economy, Son. This is an economy."

“That’s not an economy, Son. This is an economy.”

We are constantly reminding our fellow Australians that we should be more generous with those in need in our own society, and with overseas aid (the growth in which has just been shamefully scaled back by the incoming government), and with those who seek asylum on our shores. And the most recent data confirms our view, and we will continue to make it.

But sometimes it does the soul good to revel in what’s going right. Which is why we note with interest that Australians are again judged to be the richest people in the world, by one measure at least. What’s more, we share it about more.

The median wealth of adult Australians now stands at $US219,505 ($A233,504) – the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest.

By the measure of average wealth, Australians fall back to second with $US402,578 per person, ranking behind the Swiss who were the world’s richest on $US513,000.

Credit Suisse chief investment strategist, Australia, David McDonald said the nation’s household wealth per adult grew by 2.6 per cent in the past year. That was slower than the global average of 4.9 per cent, but Australia still had the best distribution of wealth among developed nations.

There's a reasonable chance he or she is a millionaire, too.

Irritatingly for, well, just about everyone else in the world, there’s a reasonable chance he or she is a millionaire, too.

“Although we are up there at a high level of wealth per adult we’ve also got a better spread than a lot of the other developed countries including, obviously, the Swiss, but also places like the US,” Mr McDonald said.

The number of Australian millionaires increased by 38,000 to 1.123 million people.

The millionaire calculation includes the value of real estate and other assets less household debt.

If you get bored making money or playing on the beach, you can always go for a walk out back ...

If you get bored making money or playing on the beach, you can always go for a walk out back …

Australians were shown to have a much higher level of wealth held in property and non-financial assets – 58.5 per cent compared to the world average of 45 per cent and just 38 per cent in the US.

The US remains the millionaire capital of the world, with 13.2 million people topping the seven-figure mark and nearly 46,000 people in the ultra-high net worth $US50 million-plus category.

Australia has 2,059 ultra-high net worth individuals, 2.1 per cent of the global total.

While the Land Down Under has maintained its place at the top in median terms for three years running now, Credit Suisse reported that North America has regained its title as the wealthiest region in the world.

Rising house prices and stock markets fuelled a 12 per cent rise in North American wealth to $US78.9 trillion from mid-2012 to mid-2013, putting the region ahead of the Asia Pacific and Europe for the first time since before the global financial crisis.

Credit Suisse global head of research for private banking, Giles Keating, said Japan’s economic slump had dragged down the Asia-Pacific region.

“The fourth annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report shows an $US11 trillion rise in (global) wealth to $US241 trillion, with the US as the clear winner, overtaking Europe, while Asia Pacific fell back due to sharp depreciation of the yen,” Mr Keating said.

What do we think? Well, we think Australia has some marvellous natural advantages, not least, a tiny population by world standards, dotted around a massive continent, supported by staggering mineral and agricultural wealth.

All well and good. But it’s what Aussies have created with that money that impresses us. It is in the distribution of and the use made of that wealth that Australians really lead the world. You do not see the extremes of wealth in Australia the way you do in, say, Russia, America, or the UK.

Along the way, Aussies have created probably the world’s best and fairest healthcare system (even though we still complain about it volubly), a decent social safety net for most people (though some still fall through the cracks), the taxation system is reasonable and mostly progressive (even if it is held up in the air by an essentially regressive broad-based consumption tax, but that is now basically unavoidable if one wishes to combat the ‘black economy’), and entrepreneurial flair is encouraged and applauded.

Industrial disputation is at an all time low, inflation non-existent, unemployment persistently virtually non-existent, and at the root of all this is the obvious fact that the concept of a “fair go” – that calm, decency and fairness should still and always form the core of social planning – is seen in no way to contest the headspace devoted to entrepreneurship.

Aussie cities are essentially functional, safe and enticing, and culturally and sports-wise the country punches way above its weight, revelling in a rich and diverse contest of attractions, just as it also makes the most of the fragile natural beauty that sees it firmly ensconced as one of the eco-playgrounds of the world.

THE right to a "fair go" is the thing almost all Australians put at the top of their list when it comes to values. A survey in 2006 showed 91 per cent of people believe a fair go is important, with most listing the need for rights to welfare, housing and indigenous reconciliation to make the country fairer.

THE right to a “fair go” is the thing almost all Australians put at the top of their list when it comes to values.
A survey in 2006 showed 91 per cent of people believe a fair go is important, with most listing the need for rights to welfare, housing and indigenous reconciliation to make the country fairer.

Most of all, though, and despite all the financial success, Australia is truly a society where the value of one’s character is considered more important than the content of one’s property portfolio.

At the end of the day, the richest in society will sit down with the poorest and enjoy a glass of something cooling, and woe betide any fat cat who tries to pull rank.

And yet somehow, this affection for egalitarianism also somewhat miraculously translates into a society where plenty of people make pots of money, and enjoy spending it, too.

Australians have done something very right, for a very long time.

And whatever the political complexion of the Government, they essentially continue to do so.

When one views the chaos in Europe, and the stagnation of American civil discourse, it is very hard to resist crowing. Just a little.

Every country has its own demons, and no one solution fits all, or is necessarily easily transferable. And needless to say, self-congratulation can go too far – not everything in the Great Southern Land is perfect.

But in all seriousness, some countries could do a lot worse than take a close look at Australia’s modus operandi.

(Reporting from AAP and others)

Can you say "Delusional"?

Can you say “Delusional”?

Yes, we know we sound like a cracked record. We keep blathering on about the fact that the GOP is living in cloud cuckoo land.

But as far as we are concerned, the collapse of one half of America’s political system into internal civil war, the result of which is holding the whole of Congress and government to ransom, not to mention costing a small fortune and throwing innumerable people out of work, is genuinely worrying.

Here’s another example. Two of the most senior Republicans talking utter, patent nonsense to each other, caught on a so-called “Hot mic”. Rachel Maddow’s comments on the incident are a short, telling, and utterly required read.

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/10/03/20805052-paul-caught-on-hot-mic-were-gonna-win-this-i-think?lite

You can either watch this very revealing video over at Rachel Maddow’s site, or here.

And before someone says, “What’s it got to do with Australia?” the simple answer is “If the Americans don’t get back to governing themselves, and especially if they don’t agree a new debt ceiling and damned fast, they may default on their borrowing and usher in a Global Financial Crisis that would make the last one look like a bloody tea party.” Pun intended.

The only good that will come of all this nonsense is that as the weeks and months pass, it will become increasingly clear to Americans both that Obamacare is actually a great reform – flawed, but a huge step forward – and at the same time that the Republicans are really going slightly barmy, refusing to accept a bill that was been freely passed three years ago, the implementation of which an election was (emphatically) won on, and which the Supreme Court (packed with Conservatives, by the way) has said is legal.

These factors combined may clean the worst of the right wing loonies out of the GOP, starting with the mid-terms in 2014.

Let’s just hope we still have a world economy by then.

micheleAs noted by Talking Points Memo, last weekend Michelle Bachmann unwittingly revealed exactly what’s wrong with the GOP’s approach to negotiation with the President and the Democrats, how ruthless the Republicans really are, and how they are prepared to put their personal political agenda ahead of the country’s needs – even to the point of shutting down Government, at huge cost – personal and financial – to many of the American people.

Here’s what the genuinely awful Bachmann said to the Washington Examiner, explaining why she and other far-right Conservatives do not fear a Government shutdown. The bottom line is: They think this is their chance to stop “Obamacare”.

“There is a very large group of us who believe that this is it, this isn’t just another year, this isn’t just another CR fight,” Bachmann told the Examiner’s Byron York. “This is historic, and it’s a historic shift that’s about to happen, and if we’re going to fight, we need to fight now.”

“This isn’t just another bill,” Bachmann said. “This isn’t load limits on turnip trucks that we’re talking about. This is consequential. And I think the reason why you’ve come to this flash point is that this is an extremely consequential bill that will impact every American, and that’s why you have such passionate opinions. And we’re not giving up and we’re not caving in that easily.”

Bachmann also – in her terms – dismissed concerns about congressional brinksmanship, which some contend has a negative effect on the U.S. economy.

“I don’t get upset about brinksmanship,” she said. “That’s what negotiation is. I was a federal tax lawyer. That’s all I did – negotiation. And in negotiation, you usually don’t get anywhere until the final five minutes, and then everybody realises OK, we’re going to have to break and actually make this thing happen. That’s how negotiation works.”

Well, Wellthisiswhatithink has a message for Bachmann. That is not what negotiation is about, nor how it works well.

That’s called “oppositional disorder”. And if that’s what you learned as a lawyer, well, it’s just one more testament to the sick state of the American legal system. Of course, you did work for the IRS, so renowned for understanding the other side’s point of view in any dispute.

Anyhow: you are opining that you refuse to concede anything until the very last moment. Yet even then, there is no overt commitment that your side will be making concessions, too. That’s why this style of negotiation is called “Win-Lose” – for this negotiation to work, you are essentially saying, then “you”, my opponent, have to give in, and I have to win. That’s only one type of negotiation, Congresswoman, and it’s a pretty poor one.

That level of aggression in negotiations characterises people who do not really care about compromise, who don’t much care about the consequences of their own actions, and are prepared to push the point so far that they may end up walking away rather than concede anything.

It’s macho negotiating – old fashioned, full of bull**** posturing and usually limited to what Americans charmingly (and accurately) describe as “dick swinging exercises”.

How sad it is that a certain type of woman in politics seems particularly enthusiastic to engage in such nonsense … they seem determined to outdo the men in their obduracy. Bachmann, Palin, Thatcher, Gandhi, Bandaranaike. The list is unedifying, and it usually ends in tears. As opposed, say, to the example set by women like Golda Meir or Aung San Suu Kyi, who both combined genuine toughness of resolve and political skill without any apparent need to ape the worst excesses of testosterone fuelled nonsense from their male colleagues.

(Indeed, and notably, when millions of Arabs departed the newly formed State of Israel in 1948, Meir memorably called the exodus “a disaster”. What a difference to the current Israeli leadership.)

Anyway, a Win-Lose strategy, also known as distributive bargaining, is based on an attempt to divide up an amount of resources, resulting in a win-lose situation. When choosing this strategy, one always takes on an adversarial or competitive view. The focus is on achieving immediate goals, with little or no regard for building future relationships. Little time or energy is needed in resolving conflicts using a win-lose strategy, because few if any creative solutions are considered.

Bachmann and her Tea Party colleagues are crossing their fingers and hoping they don't wear the blame if Government gets shut down. In our estimation, they're wrong.

Bachmann and her Tea Party colleagues are crossing their fingers and hoping they don’t wear the blame if Government gets shut down. In our estimation, they’re very wrong.

Generally, one or two fixed solutions are presented and a decision or choice is expected almost immediately.

Some negotiators that employ the win-lose strategy engage in manipulative tactics to trick or force the other party into a decision. In this regard, Rachel Maddow’s argument that the Republicans have been set on this course for more than five months is instructive.

This strategy is only ever of any use in situations where achieving short-term goals is more important than maintaining or building a long-term relationship. Think about it this way. If one member of a couple was using this strategy to decide what to watch on TV, one of them would more than likely say something like, “This is the movie I want to see. Take it or leave it.” There would be no real discussion about the wants and interests of both parties. The resolution would be reached either by diktat or after some fierce arguing. Good luck resolving the next discussion happily.

A Win-Win strategy on the other hand – this strategy is also known as integrative bargaining by the way – focuses on both parties achieving their primary objectives without either feeling they lost. Prior to going into a negotiation you must choose if this is the strategy you want to take on. The goal is to collaborate and generate one or more creative solutions that are acceptable to both parties. This strategy takes more time and effort to prepare for, but allows you to continue on a long-term relationship with the other party long after the negotiation is over.

The problem for America, and for the Republicans, is that because the Republican base has move markedly towards the extreme right, they cannot start to construct such a strategy with POTUS, the Executive, and the Democrats because they essentially refuse to countenance the basic tenet of the Affordable Care act, which is that all Americans should have, as a basic legal right, access to affordable healthcare.

A more logical (and centrist) position for the Republicans to hold (unless they think shutting down Government is going to do them good in the 2014 elections, in which case, good luck to them and goodbye) would be something along the lines of:

“Well, Mr President, it’s been a long road, and we wouldn’t have done this ourselves, but we respect the fact that you won the election fair and square, and in the richest country in the world we agree it’s time we did something to bring everyone into the healthcare fold. But we think “Obamacare” as it’s currently constituted is overly complicated, it has made some people who can’t afford it losers not winners, and small business has genuine concerns about the effect on employment. We know you’re determined to go ahead with the change, so we’ll fund it so long as you give more businesses than you have at the moment a year’s delay, and you also give us a real chance to make valuable amendments in the next six months. It’s going to be nitty-gritty line by line stuff, but we promise we won’t try and gut the bill, and we’ll say so publicly.”

That’s what they would say if they were genuinely negotiating. But they haven’t. And in our estimation they aren’t negotiating in good faith, and they won’t. And in refusing to do so, we strongly suspect they are signing their own political suicide note. Because there is also what’s known as a Lose-Lose negotiation, of course, Ms Bachmann: and that’s when the negotiation founders almost immediately because of a total lack of willpower on both sides, and no one wins really anything.

If America goes into shutdown, the GOP will be castigated for precipitating an avoidable budget crisis by a public that is undoubtedly uncertain about Obamacare, but in repeated polls seem to also be saying “We’ll give it a go, we’ve come this far, we need to work out what it means for us personally, before we make a final call.”

In failing to recognise that, the Republican Party is showing once again that it has apparently irrevocably lost its political antennae. Thoroughly lost its way. And as such, it is in danger of losing all relevance to all except the most right wing Americans when they oppose with such implacable illogic a reform which is clearly designed to help those least able to protect their own interests, even if the legislation is flawed.

You heard it here first.

Note: Michelle Bachmann has announced she is not running for Congress in 2014. So it’s no skin off her nose if the whole thing turns to s***.