Posts Tagged ‘usa’

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

obama_nazi_communist_muslim_peaceWhat’s the difference, huh, pontificator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst of the worst.

The worst of the worst.

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

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

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

Dead is dead, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He who pays the piper plays the tune.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have been warned.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Republicans are doing well is perhaps more interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Republicans shouldn’t celebrate too hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics as a whole is the loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the level of support rises as respondents get younger.

 

Very, very worrying.

Very, very worrying.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it. Discuss.

 

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

  • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin were the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.
  • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”
Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

The current emergence of the ISIS (Islamic State) insurgency in Syria and Iraq reveals the curious nature of the background diplomacy that goes on all the time, invisible to the man in the street, because you have to read the news stories BEHIND the news stories to work out what is really going on.

The ritualistic condemnation of Russia over the shooting down (most likely by separatist pro-Russian rebels) of MH17 near Donetsk (and the previous less violent kerfuffle over the Crimea) has led to mild sanctions being employed by the West, and a lot of publicly-expressed anger, at least some of which was undoubtedly sincere.

In return, Putin and his cronies have placed bans on certain imports from the West, such as Australian wheat, which are going to be virtually ineffective as we can’t produce enough wheat for world demand as it is, and the Russian business will be quickly replaced by delivering the wheat to countries like Indonesia, instead. Nevertheless, there has been a general chilling of the relationship between the West and Russia, or at least it appears so on the surface.

And as usual, the relationship between America and Iran seems pretty well stuck in deep freeze, although some very minor steps towards a rapprochement have taken place recently, and especially since the departure of the conservative idealogue Ahmadinejad and his replacement with the much more pragmatic and moderate Hassan Rouhani.

Ironically, though, America, the West in general, and Russia and Iran find themselves on the same side against the Sunni insurgents now slicing off the heads of those they disagree with – including, according to some sources, beheading children and putting their heads on display in a public park in Mosul – stoning so-called adulterous women, perpetrating the most horrific massacres, driving out religious minorities including Christians, and generally proving themselves to be the worst of the world’s current crop of uncivilised, idiotic savages.

In a shocking revelation, it has emerged that in the week-long Islamic State offensive in Sinjar, which began last Sunday, the militants killed at least 500 Christian Yazidis, according to Iraq’s human rights minister.

Several residents, including children, were buried alive, while around 300 women (believed to be from those Buried_aliveChristians who chose to pay a fine rather than leave the area or convert to Islam) have been kidnapped as slaves. The revelation was made by Iraq’s human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. In an interview al-Sudani alleged that the ISIS buried some of their victims alive, including women and children.

“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Sudani pointed out.

“Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar,” Sudani said.

In response to the Yazidi crisis, President Obama has authorised air drops of relief food to fleeing refugees and air strikes against the murderous ISIS, but interestingly recent air strikes have been claimed not to be by US jets. In which case, who is doing the bombing?

The most likely answer is almost certainly a mixture of Iraqi planes, flown and maintained by Russian and Iranian pilots and engineers, as the nascent Iraqi Shia government hasn’t got around to training its air force yet, and Iran has definitely bombed ISIS previously as their fighters neared the iranian border. Or it may have been Iraqis themselves, although this is considered unlikely. Or even Turkish fighters, as Turkey (especially the Turkish military establishment) is alarmed in the extreme about the pressure on the Kurds in the north (who, despite their antipathy towards Turkey, provide a useful buffer against the chaos further south) and their fears that the extremist Sunni ISIS could start to destabilise their secular democracy even more than it is already being notoriously weakened by the populist and increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan who was re-elected over the weekend in a poorly-attended poll.

This interesting article seeks to make sense of the conflicting signals coming out of northern Iraq currently.

What is certain is that behind the scenes, American, Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats and spooks are undergoing a much less antagonistic relationship than we see in public. Information sharing is the very least that’s going on – in all probability, “real time” battlefield intelligence is also being shared to make the fight against ISIS more effective.

Which is yet another modern example of the famous old adage Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This understanding has powered geo-politics since it was first expressed in Sanskrit in the 4th century BC by Kautilya, the “Indian Machiavelli”, so perhaps it’s unsurprising to see it happening again.

As the fiercely anti-Communist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared during the Second World War, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons,” when speaking in support of British aid to Soviet forces.

So the next time you hear a politician thumping the table and weighing in against some other country, bear in mind the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes may be far different. Or to put it more simply, politicians frequently feed us bullshit.

Really, who knew?

 

Perth woman survives US shooting

Recovering: Amy Matthews. Picture: Facebook

As a father whose daughter just trailed round the world doing the gap year thing, this story made my blood run cold.

As the West Australian reports, a 21-year-old University of WA graduate from Mt Hawthorn has survived being shot in the face during a New Orleans shooting on Sunday. Amy Matthews was celebrating the end of her studies with her best friend from Stirling when she was caught in the middle of a firefight that injured 10 bystanders. After completing a bachelor of arts in March with majors in political science and economics, Ms Matthews and a friend had flown to the US for a gap-year holiday. They had made their way down the east coast from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee, where they hired a car and drove to New Orleans. Warning: Graphic Content Footage of the shooting

It was their third night in the historic French Quarter of the city and by 2.45am, it had stretched into their fourth morning. They were walking to the next neon-lit bar on Bourbon Street, barely halfway through their US road trip, when the crack of gunshots sent people running for their lives.

At some point in the chaos a partial or whole bullet entered Ms Matthews’ mouth through her right cheek and exited through her top lip, causing extensive injuries to her gums, teeth and palate.

At the time, she assumed a flailing hand had struck her in the face but when she stopped running, she realised her mouth was full of blood and teeth.

Speaking from her hospital bed at Interim LSU Hospital, Ms Matthews told  The West Australian that she felt lucky to be alive. “I have about 10 teeth left,” she said. “It shattered the top of my palate in four places and ripped my tongue in several places. “Because the bullet was so hot, it just ripped through my teeth and burnt a lot of my gums. They had to remove a lot of dead gum.

“I think I’m very lucky because I wasn’t the only person who got shot that night. There were two people who were critical and they think one of them is going to die. I can replace my teeth and my mouth will heal but if it had have been a few centimetres towards my brain or my jugular, who knows?”

The young male suspects in the shooting fled the scene, leaving two people fighting for their lives on a panic-stricken street.

Sitting together on the pavement, their dream holiday now a nightmare, the desperate Perth women found help from an unexpected source.

Two US marines kept Ms Matthews relatively calm for the 20 minutes until paramedics drove her to hospital. “One of the marines took his shirt off and used it for my mouth,” Ms Matthews said. “I was trying not to freak out too much and the marines were trained in that so they were keeping my mind off those thoughts. “They were making jokes and telling me how I was handling it better than most of their marine friends would have. They definitely helped.”

Over several hours in the emergency department, Ms Matthews had about 30 stitches put in her tongue and a metal support fixed to the roof of her mouth.

She has since had a visit from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and her mother Amanda has flown in from Perth to be by her side.

Ms Matthews lives with her parents in Mt Hawthorn and she hopes to fly home this weekend.

“I have to be on a liquid diet for six weeks until I get implants in my teeth,” she said. “Until the bone and the gum heal, they can’t do anything aesthetically about my mouth, so I’ll have no teeth for about six to eight weeks.”

Sunday’s shooting was the third major shooting in Bourbon Street in the past three years.

Gun Culture of the USA

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Ironically, Ms Matthews wrote a thesis paper at UWA examining gun use in the US. But she said her traumatic experience would not stop her returning to the country.

“Because of last year and all the little kids who were shot, I thought something would definitely be done but it just shows you how embedded the whole gun culture is in the US,” she said.

“This won’t deter me from coming back but it makes me angry that the Government can’t be strong enough to say, ‘No, something needs to be done’.”

We can only agree, and wish Ms Matthews well. A very brave – and lucky – young lady.

Perhaps authorities could at least make it illegal to carry guns in places that serve alcohol, at least? This was the third such gun battle in Bourbon Street in recent times.

There was 2011 – when a 25-year-old was killed in a Bourbon Street shooting-spree that injured eight on Halloween night, including a tourist from France. Or the 2013 Mother’s Day Shooting, whose grainy video mirrors video captured Sunday morning: a celebrating crowd breaking up, sprinting away from the sudden shock of gunfire that left 20 injured. New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas described the shooting in a Sunday press conference as the act of “two cowardly young men trying to hurt one another,” who settled a dispute with “no regard to others.”

That disregard of others has marked a spate of New Orleans crimes, when passersby have been caught in the crossfire. Goyeneche, of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, cited a number of New Orleans incidents when young children were hit by stray bullets.

The shooters “get so caught up in their mission, which is to retaliate and send a message,” Goyeneche said. “That they don’t care who gets in the way.” Or maybe they actually seek to get others caught in the crossfire to amplify the effect. The disregard of human life, as a message, is a strategy used by terrorists, said criminologist John Penny, of Southern University at New Orleans. “That’s a terrifying and a terrorizing message.”

As we keep saying, only a “war on guns” will reduce the number circulating in the America community, and in a community where 200,000 guns a year enter the illegal marketplace stolen from law abiding homes.

To pretend, as some do, that nothing can be done about this problem, or that any restriction on gun ownership is an assault on Second Amendment rights,  is simply not good enough. Just ask Amy.

A sign near Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There. aren’t you glad you did?

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

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

Urgently.

gun related deaths

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

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

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

JohnDonneAs John Donne wrote in 1624:

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

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

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

At your local kids’ football game?

Perhaps your favourite local restaurant?

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

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

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

Strongly recommended. Debate welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoking is recognised as a huge public health problem.

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

We now need a similar effort in mental health.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery first-grader’s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

Mystery first-grader s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

When photographer Jason Gardner visited a US public school to photograph some of the students and their families this week, he ended up taking one picture he wasn’t planning to — a shot of a poem, written by a first-grader, which has now gone viral worldwide. We’re guessing you’re going to love it and share it, too.

The poem, penned at an after-school program in honour of National Poetry Month, which takes place in April, quickly became a hit. As a working poet, we simply love it. We love the idea of National Poetry Month, too.

But since Gardner took a picture of only the unsigned poem and not the student who wrote it, at this point the world has no idea of the young author’s identity. The poem reads:

We did the soft wind.

We danst slowly. We swrld

Aroned. We danst soft.

We lisin to the mozik.

We danst to the mozik.

We made personal space.

Forget the spelling, read the thoughts.

 

Although the poem doesn’t seem complicated at first glance, there’s a surprising depth in those simple words. And it comes with the endorsement of several high-profile writers and critics, including Michael Dumanis, a literature and poetry writing professor at Bennington College in Vermont.

“I loved it!” Dumanis told Yahoo about the poem. “It captured the truth about personal space. The mis-spellings make it more primal and deliberate. At the end there’s an epiphany about dancing and what that means.”

And Dumanis isn’t the only one with good things to say about the elementary student’s work. After Gardner posted the photo of the poem to his Facebook page, NPR’s radio show “Studio 360″ shared it with listeners and called the poem its favorite poem of National Poetry Month. (The story has since become the most shared on NPR’s website and has gotten more than 4000 likes.) Meanwhile, a headline on Gawker.com blared “This Talented First Grader Just Wrote a Better Poem Than You Ever Could.”

Though some poets and scholars don’t like the idea of a National Poetry Month, worrying that it will dis-suade people from being interested in poetry during the rest of the year, Dumanis disagrees with that idea.

“Anything that draws attention to an art form is ultimately a good thing. Because of National Poetry Month, more people encounter [poetry], more people write it and find a role for it in their lives. It becomes a long-term pursuit.” He hopes that once the student is identified, he or she will find out how much positive praise the poem has received. He also hopes that the student will continue pursuing creative endeavors and continue to read, study, and write poetry.

“This poem, to me, coming from a first-grader, has so much spark and originality,” he said. “Anytime you put a word on the page, you are making a choice.”

And it’s clear that, for this six-year-old, it was the right one. More power to his elbow.

(Yahoo and others.)

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn't exactly going to hurt the Democrats either.

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn’t exactly going to hurt the Democrats either. Hey, Kennedy beat Nixon because he was taller, right?

A round of new polls conducted by The New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation have some good (and surprising, to some) news for a handful of Southern Senate Democrats in key seats. This news may hose down excitement in some GOP and fellow-traveller ranks that the Republicans could win control of the Senate: that now looks less likely, not that we ever thought it was.

The polls, released Wednesday, found Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) leading Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) by a comfortable 46 percent to 36 percent.

In Kentucky, controversial Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – long tipped as a very possible loser in the mid-terms by this blog – just barely leads Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) 44 percent to 43 percent, the poll found.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is also neck-and-neck with House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC) in a hypothetical matchup with Hagan getting 42 percent while Tillis gets 40 percent.

Lastly, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has a commanding lead over Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and the rest of the field in the Louisiana Senate race.

(That finding deserves a caveat: Louisiana’s primary system is something called a “jungle primary” where there is no Republican or Democratic primary. Instead all candidates run together and if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates face each other in a runoff election. The poll found Landrieu with 42 percent followed by Cassidy with 18 percent. No other candidate managed to get double digits.)

The polls were conducted April 8 to the 15. The margin of error for each poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points for registered voters. In other words, despite “weeks of attacks ads” quoted by one source, Mark Pryor in Arkansas has pulled out to a winning lead (his biggest lead since polling started) and looks comfortable in what should still be a relatively tight race. The other races are all within the margin of error.

We believe incumbency will be a negative for all candidates in November, and even more than usual. On that basis we think McConnell looks doubly vulnerable. We shall see.

police

 

This story in today’s Age (and many other newspapers around the world) is very amusing. Click the link if you have ANYTHING to do with business, advertising, marketing or communications.

http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/nypd-social-media-campaign-backfires-20140423-zqy75.html

We keep trying to tell people, you cannot do one thing in social media (or any other type of communications) and another thing in “real life”. It will come back to bite you. Big time. Just like NYPD, who got their “hashtag” hijacked, very embarrassingly.

Remember: the best “social media” your business or organisation can use is the oldest one of all. It’s called “Word of Mouth”. People who want to say nice things about you to their friends, family and colleagues, and do.

You don’t got that, you don’t got nuttin’. And if you got nuttin’, don’t broadcast the fact to the world.

Incidentally, social media messages are often left to the least senior member of a communications department while the marketing manager and other important people focus on the sexy stuff like TV commercials and big colourful press ads.

That would be a mistake.

To enjoy the full list of “F*** Ups” we have spotted, reported or re-reported, just put F*** Up in the search box on the top left of our page. Enjoy :-)

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn't usually involve AR-15s.

I am all for peaceful protest. It doesn’t usually involve AR-15s.

 

A question for all my America friends, especially those on the right of the political spectrum.

So, if irregular militia turn up and point semi-automatic guns at lawful officers who are simply trying to enforce multiple court orders to make a greedy rancher stop free-loading his cattle on public land, (which he’s done for 15+ years) how are those people not terrorists?

How is defending someone’s right to make money illegally about freedom?

Can you imagine the hoo-ha if the Occupy movement did anything remotely resembling this? Blocking a highway, defying lawful commands, ignoring court orders year after year, and threatening to shoot officers?

Please. Explain.

Seriously.

Never miss an opportunity to up the ratings, no matter where the truth lies.

Never miss an opportunity to up the ratings, no matter where the truth lies.

 

The appalling Murdoch-owned Fox News, various right-wing Senators and Congressmen, and other Tea Party types like Rush “Pig” Limbaugh and others, have relentlessly tried to stir up trouble for the Obama government about the attack on the American compound in Benghazi which saw four Americans killed.

9 September 2012, Benghazi

9 September 2012, Benghazi

There may, indeed, have been issues surrounding that event that warrant further cool-headed examination, and most likely in the area of how intelligence is handled in the chain of command, and many decent-minded Americans legitimately want those matters discussed.

But it is amazing how similar historical incidents worldwide failed to provoke anything like the froth and bubble surrounding Benghazi.

It surely couldn’t be that the GOP would do anything they can to stop then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton getting to the White House in her own right, could it?

This list of other incidents, including links to coverage, all happened under the previous Administration’s watch. They are reproduced from policymic.com and were originally compiled by Shwetika Baijal who is a PolicyMic columnist and writes for their Millenials and the Media column. She focuses on how the media frames policy and cultural issues, and how the media’s framing of events effects public opinion.

Article begins:

The incidents below include all kinds of attacks — gunmen on bikes, suicide bombs, car bombs, gunmen shooting outside, and terrorists storming Consulate compounds similar to what happened in Benghazi. During each of those incidents Fox News was only supportive of the administration’s reactions and there were no calls for the removal of Secretary Condoleeza Rice.

The GOP and Fox’s fixation on Benghazi is partisan propaganda. In some of these attacks the State Department had been forewarned about potential threats, unlike Benghazi. Instead of reporting the incident and the recent allegations from a whistleblower, Fox News is hacking together their own version of the events to further convolute the story’s reality.

Check out the timeline of attacks on embassies and consulate compounds during Bush’s tenure that received no similar fine-toothed-combing from Fox.

1.Jan. 22, 2002: Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami Attacks Indian U.S. Consulate

Five policemen were killed and 16 injured in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta because of an attack on the U.S. consulate by militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. American employees including the consul-general in Calcutta, Christopher Sandrolini, were unscathed, and those injured and killed were all Indians.

2.June 14, 2002: Suicide Car-Bomb Outside U.S. Consulate in Karachi

Twelve people died in an attack outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi when militants exploded a car bomb. A Taliban splinter group referred to as Al-Qanoon, or “The Law,” claimed responsibility for the attacks that also injured 51 people. Two hired guards, a Marine, and five Pakistani staff members were among the injured in the attack that followed then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to the country.

3.Oct. 12, 2002: String Of Bali Bombings Included U.S. Consulate

The U.S. consulate in Indonesia was attacked as part of the ‘Bali bombings’ on a devastating October night. While there were no fatalities at the consulate, seven Americans were among the 202 dead at the coordinated blasts inside a bar and outside a nightclub.

4.Feb. 28, 2003: Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, Attacked For the Second Time in One Year

Gunmen rode up on a motorbike to the U.S. consulate’s security checkpoints and rained gunfire killing two Pakistani police officers. One gunman arrested by paramilitary officers was found to have several rounds of ammunition prepared for what could have been a far more devastating attack.

5.May 12, 2003: 36 People Including 9 Americans Die After Terrorists Storm U.S. Compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The State Department had warned of a potential strike against the Saudi days before gunmen infiltrated the Al Hamra Oasis Village and two others killing 36 people and wounding 160. This was the most devastating attack on a State Department employees to occur under Bush. The Saudi government cracked down on terrorists group but that did not prevent another attack to occur a year later in Jeddah.

6.July 30, 2004: Islamist Attacks U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Two Uzbek security guards died in a bombing on the U.S. embassy in Tashkent days. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan claimed responsibility of the bombing after 15 alleged Islamist militants went on trial.

7.Dec. 6, 2004: Five Staff and Four Security Guards Die in U.S. consulate attack in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Gunmen fought their way into the complex, reportedly taking 18 staff and visa applicants hostage for a short time before Saudi security forces stormed the building. The final dead counted four security guards, five staff, and three attackers. No Americans were among the dead.

8.March 2, 2006: Third Attack on Karachi U.S. Consulate Killed U.S. Diplomat

U.S. Diplomat David Foy was specifically targeted in the third attack in as many years on the Karachi consulate compound. He was one of four people killed. The bomb occurred two days before President Bush was to visit Pakistan and also targeted the Marriot hotel in an upscale neighborhood of Karachi.

This was a planned and coordinated attack that nobody covered as more than a news item.

9.Sept. 12, 2006: Four Gunmen Stormed the U.S. compound in Damascus, Syria

Gunmen yellingAllahu akbar ” – “God is great” – fired on Syrian security officers guarding the U.S. embassy. The gunmen used grenades, automatic weapons, car bombs, and a truck bomb and killed four people and wounded 13 others. Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State praised the Syrians that defended the U.S. employees: “the Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people, and we very much appreciate that.”

10.Jan. 12, 2007: Greek Terrorists Fired a Rocket-Propelled Grenade at the U.S. Embassy

An antitank grenade was fired into the empty consulate building by leftist terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle angry at American foreign policy. Even though nobody was in the building at the time the attack was a blatant breach of security and showed enormous security loopholes.

11.March 18, 2008: A Mortar is Fired at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen

Similar to the Greek attack, a mortar was fired at the U.S. embassy building killing 19 people and injuring 16. This was the second attempt at a similar mortar attack on the embassy. The first one missed the embassy and hit a girls’ school next door.

12.July 9, 2008: Three Turkish Policemen were Killed When Gunman Fired on the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, Turkey

Four attackers drove up to the high-walled compound of the U.S. Consulate and started shooting the security guards. The gun battle took the lives of three of the attackers but the fourth one drove off. No Americans were injured or killed.

13.Sept. 17, 2008: 16 People Including 2 Americans Die in an Orchestrated Attack on the U.S. Embassy Sana’a, Yemen

An arsenal of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and two car bombs were involved in the second attack on the embassy in seven months. Eighteen-year-old American Susan El-Baneh and her husband of three weeks died holding hands.

Yes. Hardly a stellar list of events.

Anyhow, since their initial flurry of coverage, Fox may be back pedaling just a tad, and so may the right in general. This AP report, from April 10, shows some of the heat coming out of the issue.

GOP chairman satisfied with military response to Benghazi attack.

The GOP chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday he is satisfied with how the military responded to the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Republicans are pressing ahead with multiple congressional investigations, but Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said the military did what it reasonably could during a chaotic night of two separate attacks on Sept. 11, 2012. The assault killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“I think I’ve pretty well been satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn’t have done more than we did,” McKeon told reporters at a roundtable discussion. “Now, we’ve made changes since then. We’ve got more Marine fast teams that we built up security around the world.”

Republicans accuse the Obama administration of misleading the American people about a terrorist attack weeks before the presidential election by blaming the assault on protests touched off by an anti-Islam video. An independent investigation and a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report earlier this year blamed inadequate security and faulted the State Department.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Obama administration has not been forthcoming.

“They owe the American people the truth. And when it comes to Benghazi, we’ve got four Americans who are dead. And their families deserve the truth about what happened, and the administration refuses to tell them the truth,” Boehner told reporters at a separate news conference.

McKeon said five committees are investigating. His panel and members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee interviewed retired Gen. Carter Ham, who headed the Africa command, for nearly seven hours on Wednesday. McKeon said he was told lawmakers heard nothing new in the testimony by Ham, who has spoken to investigators at least six times.

“We have been working on this for a long time. We issued a preliminary report,” McKeon said. “At some point, when we run out of people to talk to, or we run out of people to talk to two or three times, at some point, we think we’ll have as much of this story as we’re going to get and move on.”

Democrats have called for an end to the investigations, arguing that Republicans are on a futile search for information to embarrass the Obama administration. Republicans reject those calls and insist there are numerous unanswered questions and that they owe it to the families of the dead Americans to investigate.

The Armed Services Committee’s interim report released earlier this year said the military’s response “was severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces, and because of lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding. However, given the uncertainty about the prospective length and scope of the attack, military commanders did not take all possible steps to prepare for a more extended operation.”

The Senate Intelligence committee report described the military’s actions. One unarmed Predator drone was diverted for surveillance, a seven-man security team with two Defense Department members flew from Tripoli to Benghazi to evacuate Americans and then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered two Marine anti-terrorism security teams from their base in Rota, Spain, to Libya.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Panetta have testified to Congress that the lack of intelligence about what was happening on the ground in Benghazi made it difficult to send in jet fighters or other aircraft.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

The mob is a dangerous thing. Excite it at your peril.

The mob is a dangerous thing. Excite it at your peril.

What we feel is really sad about events like Benghazi – beyond the tragic loss of life – is the way that partisan politics muddies the waters deliberately to whip up fury against those in authority, whoever they happen to be, before it is possible to parse exactly what may or may not have taken place.

We are all for clarity, and transparency. We would never argue that any administration, in any country, should be above scrutiny, and close scrutiny at that.

But neither should anybody seek, by the endless drumbeat of malicious mistrust, to inculcate the view in the general public that whoever is in power are automatically lying, mendacious  types who seek to rule without democratic oversight or who have something to hide. Sometimes, no matter who is in charge, “shit happens”. We need to be big enough to accept that.

The mob is universally poorly informed, easily excited, and it rarely serves any good purpose to stir them. There has been a lot of wanton stirring going on in the bloodsport that American politics has sadly become, where truth appears to be endlessly malleable, and where it seems nothing matters beyond pulling down the other guy to the lowest possible level of public respect.

The key point is that if our democratic institutions become too mistrusted, through continual howling and unreasonable attack, then they will be easily done away with by those who never believed in them anyway …

In our view, the only things that defends democracy from the mob is the endless and truthful repetition of facts; repetition that occurs in large enough doses that it can puncture the vested interests of those who seek to trivialise – and thus marginalise – democracy. You may care to share some of the facts you find in this article.

Every little helps.

stabbingIt is deeply distressing that an American student brandishing two knives stabbed 20 teenagers and a security guard in a bloody rampage in the classrooms and hallways of a Pennsylvania high school Wednesday.

At least four fellow students were critically injured in the assault at Franklin Regional High School, said Thomas Seefeld, chief of police in Murrysville, an outer suburb of Pittsburgh.

Stabbing is a hideous, violent, destructive act, causing terrible trauma and it is often deadly. The casual carrying of knives by “street kids” is a modern plague.

But it has to be asked: how many of those 20 would now definitely be dead if the assailant had been carrying guns, and especially a semi-automatic weapon. And how many more children might have been shot?

As Alfred Hitchcock once goulishly remarked, it is actually quite difficult to stab someone to death. You have to be next to your victim, the would is generally cleaner and more compact, and the blade needs to access a major organ or artery.

The pro-gun lobby often remarks “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. This event – tragic as it is –  nevertheless shows how hollow and disingenuous those remarks are. The nature of guns make them more deadly, and more in need of control.

The 16-year-old boy who has been charged with the attack was identified as Alex Hribal. He had allegedly made a threatening phone call to a fellow student the night before.

AFP incident report follows:

Hribal arrested.

Hribal arrested.

(Hribal) walked down a hallway wielding two knives eight to 10 inches (up to 25 centimeters) long, stabbing fellow pupils and the guard as they began arriving for the school day, police said.

Panicked students rushed for the exit and one reportedly set off the fire alarm, but 20 pupils and one male security guard were injured, mostly in the chest and stomach, officials confirmed.

The school principal and another member of staff overpowered the suspect, who was arrested within five minutes of police officers being alerted by radio, police said.

The motive of the attack was not immediately clear.

One student described the suspect as “shy” and told CNN that he was “very quiet” while carrying out the assault.

“He just was kind of doing it and he had this look on his face that he was just crazy and he was just running around just stabbing everyone who was in his way,” she told CNN.

She spoke of seeing at least two students gushing blood, one from his chest and a girl from the arm.

“I started hearing like a stampede of students coming down from the other end of the hall screaming, ‘Get out, we need to leave, go, there is a kid with a knife,’” she said.

The assailant, who sustained an injured hand, has not been named although Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he would in all likelihood be charged as an adult.

FBI and state police have been drafted in to assist with what is now expected to be a lengthy investigation.

Peck outlined the possible charges as aggravated assault and, in cases of serious injury, possible criminal attempt to commit homicide.

Doctor Mark Rubino at Forbes Regional Hospital, which is treating eight of the victims, said he expected everyone to survive, despite what he called “deep penetrating” stab wounds.

The knife wounds caused significant injuries to internal organs, Rubino said.

“Three of the patients had severe injuries and are still in the operating room right now. And two of them are in critical condition, but they have stabilized,” Rubino said.

“The other five that we had are still being evaluated, of whom one or two may require further surgery.”

Praise for teachers

Dan Stevens, a spokesman for Westmoreland County emergency management, told AFP that the teenage victims were aged 14 to 17.

The incident lasted from 7:13 am to 7:45 am, he said.

They were attacked in “numerous classrooms and hallways” of the school, Stevens added.

Wednesday’s attack comes after a long and frequent line of US school shootings that have inflamed a nationwide debate over gun control in the United States.

But even the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 young children and six adults were shot dead, ultimately failed to tighten gun ownership rules.

The police chief Seefeld praised school staff, who worked in close coordination with police and who were well versed in emergency procedure.

“It is my opinion that today, as unfortunate as it is… I think that it could have been a lot worse if there was not immediate interaction that occurred,” he told reporters.

Franklin Regional High will be closed for several days.

obamaIt is easy to be cynical about our politicians, and especially about those from parties or causes which we do not support. But sometimes, events conspire to show us the human being behind the facade, the empathy of a husband and a father rather than the dignity of a President.

We could but wish we saw this side of Barack Obama a little more often.

This is an excerpt from the book, The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He’s recounting the Sunday, two days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He had gotten word the day before that the President wanted to meet with the families of the victims.

I left early to help the advance team — the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event — set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry — so understandable that it barely needs to be said — and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is  . . .  and their child was . . . The second is . . .  and their child was  . . .  We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat — for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

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

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

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

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

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

We must do better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article reproduced from Alternet.org

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

We warn you, this video is very distressing.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Police shooting James Boyd

 

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

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

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

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

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

 

Albuquerque police shooting James Boyd

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Business Insider and others

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

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

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

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

This Target swimsuit model has been the victim of some shoddy airbrushing. Photo: Jezebel

Ah, it’s been a while since we had a “F*** Up” column, so we gellefully (and rather irritatedly) report that American retailer Target has come under fire for digitally altering an image of a swimsuit model to make it appear she has a ‘thigh gap’.

A young model wearing the Target ‘Xhilaration® Junior’s Midkini 2-Piece Swimsuit -Leopard Print’ swimsuit has been the victim of some over-zealous and very clumsy Photoshopping.

Shoddy airbrushing crudely removed a chunk of the model’s crotch area to create the ‘thigh gap’, a supposedly desirable – but evidently very difficult to attain – physical feature for young girls to have.

The model also lost part of her right hip and the area under her armpit on the same side.

The eagle eyes of “Ethical Adman” spotted the retailer’s attempts to slim down its swimsuit model.

Critics have questioned the need to digitally slim down the perfectly attractive model in the first place.

And it’s no surprise that the image has been taken down from Target’s website.

It isn’t the first Photoshop controversy to hit the headlines this year. In January the decision by US Vogue to airbrush Girls creator Lena Dunham’s physique had everyone discussing the merits of digitally altering images that are published in the media.

While the jury is out on that one, Target’s poor treatment of its young swimsuit model is a clear Photoshop fail.

We say? Sack the agency. Sack the marketing manager. Well … at least chastise them thoroughly with whips of blazing fire. Both for the dreadfully incompetent work, and also for yet another silly and unnecessary attempt to create a world that doesn’t really exist – an effort which, across the fashion industry and retailers worldwide – creates body-image problems in girls everywhere.

Just for God’s sake stop doing it.

(From Yahoo and others)

The accused

The accused

Why? Because the post-traumatic disorder being experienced by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is real. Combat, especially in wars with unclear goals, inadequate planning, lack of resources, and hopeless re-integration back into society, f**** with people’s minds, and it’s not their fault. And we argue it would be counterproductive to jail him because the treatment for such trauma in US prisons is woeful. Tens of thousands of veterans currently languish in American jails, forgotten and unaided.

They didn’t ask to go to war, and many US service people are simply desperate refugees from poverty and unemployment anyway.

In a civilised society, this man should be diverted into intensive psychological care and properly rehabilitated. At least given the opportunity to be rehabilitated. He is clearly suffering from trauma in his current life, not just when serving.

The quality of mercy is measured by how we treat those who think, say or do things we would find unconscionable, but whose responsibility is diminished by their mental state.

When that mental state is directly related to their efforts on behalf of the rest of us, for which they are inadequately rewarded, then we should be doubly careful in how we respond when they go off the rails.

The issues raised in the case apply equally to Australia, the United Kingdom, and many other countries …

From Raw Story:

kkk

 

An Alabama man is asking a judge for mercy after pleading guilty to hiring a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) hitman to murder his black neighbor.

Defense attorneys for Allen Wayne Morgan told U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre that their client — a veteran of over 175 combat missions in Iraq who struggled with post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and drug addiction — should not spend more than five years in prison. Judge Bowdre referred the matter to a government expert, who will review the report on Morgan’s mental health submitted by the defense.

On August 29, 2013, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Morgan at an Econo Lodge in Oxford, Alabama. He thought he was speaking with the KKK hitman he had hired to kill his neighbor, Clifford Maurice Mosley, a black man he believed had raped his wife.

He allegedly told an undercover agent that “I want this man hung from a tree like he is an animal. I want his penis cut off and I want him cut. You’re a hunting man right? I want him hung from a tree and gutted.”

Morgan is also alleged to have told the agent that he had recently confronted Mosley outside his house, firing several shots in his direction, but that he did not intend to kill him that day because there would be witnesses. He also said that he was certain Mosley had raped his wife, because when confronted, he did not attempt to stand his ground or reason with him.

He planned to check himself into a Veterans Administration hospital in order to provide himself with an alibi.

After being taken into custody, Morgan confessed to having tried to hire the hitman.

The previous year, Morgan had been profiled in a Birmingham News piece on Iraq veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and depression via music.

“During times of my deepest abuse, I would try to cancel myself out chemically,” he said. “But even if we’re just jamming, it’s like time stands still. I’m not saying like all of my problems go away. But for that little bit of a moment, everything is OK. If it can make me feel like that, I know it can make others feel like that.”

He also said that when unexpected people arrive at his house, “I usually pull out a gun and run them off.”

[Image via Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed]

Read more of what we have to say on the appalling treatment of Veterans here: http://wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/the-country-who-failed-its-vets/

Alfred Wright was a 28-year-old physical therapist, a “man of great faith,” and father of three sons. He grew up in Jasper, Texas along with four siblings, and a father who was both the town’s pastor and gym teacher. Friends described him as ambitious, clean-living, hard-working, fun-loving, brilliant and a wonderful father. He went missing for 18 days.
He was found by volunteers and his father, stripped down to his shorts and one sock, with his throat cleanly slit and one ear missing.

The police recorded the cause of death as “accidental drug overdose.”

Alfred Wright was also a black man married to a pretty white woman…in small-town Texas.

Alfred Wright 3

Alfred’s truck broke down in a package store parking while he was on his way to see a patient. He called his wife Lauren, who called her parents; by the time they got there, he was gone. Lauren attempted to call him back, but all she heard when he picked up the phone was heavy breathing. The store clerk, who remembers Wright because he was dressed in scrubs, said he saw him tuck his phone into his sock (where it was later found) and take off jogging “of his own free will.”

Four days later, the Sherriff’s department called off the search for Alfred, saying they had “exhausted all of their resources.” His wife and family maintained that there was no way he’d just take off into the woods for no reason, especially in a town as racially tense as Jasper. Doubtless, they had in mind another incident that had taken place in 1998 about 45 minutes away, when a black man by the name of James Byrd was abducted, dragged behind a pickup, chopped to pieces and left in the Jasper cemetery — by three white men.

They found Alfred in the woods on November 13th, stripped down, with two missing teeth, a missing ear and a slit throat. When the local authorities performed an autopsy, the examiner said that there were methamphetamines and cocaine in his system. He recorded the cause of death as a drug overdose, and chalked up the injuries to animals scavenging on his corpse. The case was closed as far as the Jasper police were concerned.

But Wright’s family wasn’t buying it. For several reasons.

  • Even at the time, it was noted that Wright’s state of decomposition was nowhere near what it should have been for someone left in the woods for 18 days and exposed to the weather. This indicated that he had died much more recently, long after he’d disappeared.
  • Animals don’t just break front teeth and cleanly slit throats. the missing ear might have been the result of an animal, but Wright’s body was, if anything, notable for its LACK of obvious animal scavenging in this coyote-infested area.
  • The family reported that Wright was a sober and religious man who had no history of drug use, never showed the slightest interest in drugs and displayed no signs of drug addiction or use.

The family paid to have its own autopsy performed. Full results have yet to be released insofar as Wright’s blood tests, but the private examiner did say this:

“Wright’s cause of death was severe neck trauma and a slit throat. The kind of severe neck trauma you get from getting hit in the face with a blunt object, and the kind of slit throat you don’t get from a cocaine overdose.”

Sheila Jackson Lee, Democratic congresswoman and member of the House Judiciary Committee said:

“The Department of Justice will investigate and take appropriate action and will conduct a thorough and independent investigation into all the circumstances surrounding this tragedy and to take appropriate action necessary to vindicate the federal interest, protect the civil rights of all Americans, ensure that all persons receive equal justice under law.We are all better off when the facts are discovered, the truth is discerned and the family and the community are at peace.”

Savion Wright, Alfred’s mother, has set up a GofundMe account to allow others to make donations to help support the wife and three children Wright’s murderers left fatherless and without a means of support. The stated goal is $20,000, and she has to date raised $13,351 and change.