Archive for the ‘Political musings’ Category

Recently, Dear Reader, we have been pondering the matter of free speech.

Specifically, should it be absolute? Anyone able to say anything they like, unrestrained by the law.

We are referring, of course, to the Western world. It is clear that in authoritarian regimes the world over nothing like “free speech” exists, or ever has. But as we argue that liberal democracy is the best form of government to adopt, no matter who or where you are, it is surely fair to ask – sensible, indeed – to ask whether all the shibboleths of free speech are, in fact, practically defensible.

One of the key schism lines in world opinion is around the concept of “Criminal Defamation”, where the expression of an opinion is taken to damage a Government, and therefore put the civil peace at risk. What are (or should be) the rights of the state in seeking to restrain comment that can be considered injurious to the whole.

(This is not the same as Civil Defamation, where an individual has a a right to sue another individual (or corporation) for saying or printing something about them that they consider to be both untrue and harmful of their reputation, causing loss. No one seriously argues that Civil Defamation should be abolished – although the bar is set so high in the United States, for example, that defamation laws are essentially unenforceable, with predictable consequences.)

With Criminal Defamation, ironically, Great Britain, the country which bequeathed the infamous legacy of criminal defamation to states like India, where it is currently being heatedly debated, abolished the law in 2009.

Such laws are believed to date back to the early 17th century, when the invention of the printing press enabled political writings to be circulated far and wide easily and inexpensively through pamphlets, thus broadening the scope of public debate. The Court of the Star Chamber (the English court of law from the late fifteenth to mid-seventeenth century), fearing that criticisms against the royal authority, regardless of their truthfulness, may disturb public peace, began charging the critics with the criminal offence of “seditious libel”.

Evidently, a kind of faux civil peace, resulting from the English citizenry’s ignorance of their State’s corruption, was preferred over the knowledge of truth because any exposure could have potentially led to the downfall of the government. This perhaps explains the origin of the well-known adage, “The greater the truth, the greater the libel.”

Not surprisingly, famous England-American political theorist Thomas Paine, who helped inspire the American Revolution, was also charged with seditious libel in England because of his insistence on the right of the citizens to overthrow the government in the second part of his work Rights of Man. Even though Paine would have been happy with the fact that seditious libel was finally abolished in England, such laws continue to thrive to this day in many countries, and even in some democracies.

Indian law, for example, provides for imprisonment to anyone “who brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India”. This law was enacted by the British to keep the Indian freedom movement in check. Not surprisingly, both Bal Gangadhar Tilak and MK Gandhi were charged with sedition, arrested, and jailed for six years and two years respectively. Like the pigs taking over the farm in the novel 1984, the incoming Indian authorities duly left the laws on the books.

But isn’t it reasonable to disallow unfettered free speech is the result is the overthrow of a peaceful, beneficial state? The answer, of course, is that the question is a fallacy. In a democracy, the government’s behaviour should withstand any such scrutiny in the “court of public opinion”, and if it does not, well, essentially the Government does not deserve to survive. Even if the change of Government may be painful. Truth, here, is elevated above social discord, and few would argue, for example, that a corrupt or inept Government should not be subject to completely free criticism.

The problem is that the view of what constitutes a “peaceful, beneficial state” can vary widely. Just as someone may consider a Government corrupt or inept, but another may not, even when presented with the same evidence. This is before we even get into utilitarian considerations such as “the Government may be corrupt, but it’s helping a lot of people and things are going pretty well, so let’s all pretend it isn’t corrupt and leave things be”. That’s the pertaining situation throughout much of Asia currently, for example.

Currently Governments around the world are reserving the right to restrict free speech where that speech is designed to overthrow their rule by violent means. But from a libertarian point of view, this can be problematical. Many would argue it should be illegal to say “Government A is evil, so go and get a gun and shoot someone, in pursuit of overthrowing the Government”.

But should it be equally illegal to say “Government A is evil, in my view it is morally justified for someone to get a gun and shoot someone, in pursuit of overthrowing the Government”?

The difference is the width of a butterfly’s wing, but it could be argued that the latter is legitimate comment – a bona fide intellectual opinion – whilst the other is incitement to murder. Yet the latter will today get you just as locked up just as quickly in many Western democracies as would the more direct statement. The argument employed here is that the fractionally milder comment might have exactly the same effect of encouraging violent action, and therefore seeking to discern a difference is mere semantics, especially if the Government’s primary goal is to preserve its status and prevent violence.

Where the line is drawn in such matters is an on-going debate.

How, for example, does one parse the case of Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning), the American soldier of Wikileaks fame, who dumped vast amounts of classified information onto the world stage in pursuit of his belief that the public had a right to know what was being done – often illegally – in their name.

Manning languished in a dire mental condition in an American military prison – arguably the subject of ongoing mental torture from the authorities – for telling the world … what? That American helicopter gunships were cheerfully slaughtering Reuters journalists and innocent civilians on the ground through hopelessly loose rules of engagement? Or that world leaders say one thing to each other’s faces, and another to their advisors, and yet another to the public? What part of what Manning revealed – do people think they were either too stupid or too irresponsible to be told – which resulted in no harm to anyone, you will recall, as confirmed by the CIA –  whether they were told by Wikileaks or by the newspapers round the world who gleefully re-reported the treasure trove of documents.

The incident was hugely embarrassing for many Governments, to be sure, but was it truly harmful? And why was Manning not protected by concepts of free speech? By all means argue that he contravened the rules of his military service (which is what he is technically being punished for) but should he have, if we believe what we say about free speech being sacrosanct, actually have been praised? Feted, even?

Why was he banged up in solitary when the journalists who re-reported him are free to pursue their careers, and the media barons free to bank their profits?

What led us to this pondering?

Yesterday, on radio in Melbourne, a “One Nation” Senator, recently elected in Queensland through the vagaries and lunacies of Australia’s Senate voting system, was given free range to spout his ludicrous theories that the United Nations were trying to impose “One World Government” on the planet through fear mongering on man-made climate change, change which wasn’t happening. That there was no empirical evidence that CO2 was causing global warming, or that if we scrapped all human fossil fuel emissions overnight it would make any difference to the state of the planet at all.

Mr Roberts has apparently also written numerous reports claiming climate change is an international conspiracy fostered by the United Nations and international banks to impose a socialist world order. According to the Sydney Morning Herald at least one report cites several anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, including notorious Holocaust denier Eustace Mullins among its “primary references”.

According to the SMH Mr Roberts, who used to work in the arch-polluting coal industry, also sent a bizarre affidavit to then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2011 demanding to be exempt from the carbon tax and using language consistent with the “sovereign citizen” movement.

Anti-government, self-identified “sovereign citizens” claim to exist outside the country’s legal and taxation systems and frequently believe the government uses grammar to enslave its citizens.

NSW Police say such people “should be considered a potential terrorist threat”.

In an affidavit he sent to Ms Gillard in 2011, Mr Roberts identified himself as “Malcolm-Ieuan: Roberts., the living soul”, representing a corporate entity he termed MALCOLM IEUAN ROBERTS.

In the document, Mr Roberts demanded to be exempted from the carbon tax and compensated to the tune of $280,000 if Ms Gillard did not provide “full and accurate disclosure” in relation to 28 points explaining why he should not be liable for the tax.

Mr Roberts addressed the affidavit to “The Woman, Julia-Eileen: Gillard., acting as The Honourable JULIA EILEEN GILLARD” and presented her with a detailed contract he expected her to sign.

That stylisation of names is said to be commonly used by “sovereign citizens” who believe the use of hyphens and colons is a way to evade governments’ use of grammar to enslave their citizens. Roberts has recently confirmed that he wrote the affidavit, but has stated that he is not a ‘sovereign citizen’.

The new Senator, who received 77 below-the-line first preference votes, will take his Senate seat on August 30 and will receive a taxpayer-funded base salary of $199,040, plus staff and entitlements.

The price of free speech is often very high indeed.

But the biggest price we pay is not monetary. It is seeing our public institutions – our broadcasters, and Parliaments – invaded by rogues, charlatans, and the frankly deluded, spouting theories that seek to mislead and derail intelligent debate under the guise of promoting “truth”.

 

Whatever you think of Martin McGuinness, or of his remarkable journey from senior IRA commander and reputedly Army Council member to Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland government, one thing is clear.

He was engaged in secret peace discussions with the British Government from 1972 onwards. And there is little doubt that, along with Gerry Adams, McGuinness was instrumental in turning the Republican movement away from continued violence and towards political engagement. He was a man driven in his eyes to violence, who came to reject violence as a political tool.

What is also certain is that without him, in all probability, Ireland and Britain would still be mired in violence over the future of the six counties.

He took huge personal risks for peace. His critics, he said were afraid of change.

“They would love the IRA to go back to war. I’m delighted that we have not fallen into this trap.

“I’m delighted that we have an organisation which understands the political dynamics [of the peace process].

“There is a confidence and assertiveness among nationalists,” he continued.

“We know who we are, we are Irish, we are proud of it.”

His republican credentials remained impeccable to his death. And ultimately, we all owe him respect for playing a fundamental – perhaps the most fundamental – role in stilling the guns.

McGuinness was living proof that we really can – and sometimes do – beat the swords we grasp all too readily into ploughshares.

Ireland is poorer for his passing.

Image Copyright Amnesty International- Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

As many as 13,000 people, most of them civilian opposition supporters, have been executed in secret at a prison in Syria, Amnesty International says.

A new report by the human rights group alleges that mass hangings took place every week at Saydnaya prison between September 2011 and December 2015.

Amnesty says the alleged executions were authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

The government has previously denied killing or mistreating detainees.

However, UN human rights experts said a year ago that witness accounts and documentary evidence strongly suggested that tens of thousands of people were being detained and that “deaths on a massive scale” were occurring in custody.

Amnesty interviewed 84 people, including former guards, detainees and prison officials for its report.

A detainee before his imprisonment, and after, his release from the prison.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Former detainee Omar al-Shogre before his imprisonment, and after his release from the prison.

It alleges that every week, and often twice a week, groups of between 20 and 50 people were executed in total secrecy at the facility, just north of Damascus. They are by no means all opposition fighters. They include lawyers, doctors, journalists, and other professionals whose only “crime” is to be “on the other side”, even if their relationship with “the other side” may be nothing more than a geographical location.

Before their execution, detainees were brought before a “military field court” in the capital’s Qaboun district for “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, the report says.

A former military court judge quoted by Amnesty said detainees would be asked if they had committed crimes alleged to have taken place. “Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, he will be convicted… This court has no relation with the rule of law,” he chillingly said.

According to the report, detainees were told on the day of the hangings that they would be transferred to a civilian prison then taken to a basement cell and beaten over the course of two or three hours.

syriasaydayadamascus

Then in the middle of the night they were blindfolded and moved to another part of the prison, where they were taken into a room in the basement and told they had been sentenced to death just minutes before nooses were placed around their necks, the report adds.

The bodies of those killed were allegedly then loaded onto lorries, and transferred to Tishreen military hospital in Damascus for registration and burial in mass graves located on military land.

On the basis of evidence of the testimony of its witnesses, Amnesty estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Saydnaya over five years.


Witness accounts

A former judge who saw the hangings:

“They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks.”

‘Hamid’, a former military officer who was detained at Saydnaya:

“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then.”

Former detainee ‘Sameer’ describes alleged abuse:

“The beating was so intense. It was as if you had a nail, and you were trying again and again to beat it into a rock. It was impossible, but they just kept going. I was wishing they would just cut off my legs instead of beating them any more.”

Source: Amnesty International


Although it does not have evidence of executions taking place since December 2015, the group says it has no reason to believe they have stopped and that thousands more were likely to have died.

Amnesty says these practices amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also notes that death sentences have to be approved by the grand mufti and by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff, who are deputised to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

The human rights group says it contacted the Syrian authorities about the allegations in early January but has received no response.

Last August, Amnesty reported that an estimated 17,723 people had died in custody as a result of torture and the deprivation of food, water and medical care between March 2011 – when the uprising against President Assad began – and December 2015. That figure did not include those allegedly hanged at Saydnaya.

These are the people that the West have stood by and idly watched as Putin and others have rained bombs on civilians. Certainly some of the Opposition in Syria are bad guys, too. No question. But many – and many of those killed in the war or in prison – are democrats who thought they could wrest their country from the grip of a cruel fascist dictator and turn it to democracy.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

Those who have been freed from Saydnaya, and those who have escaped its clutches, and those who have avoided being murdered by the secret police and paramilitary forces, and those who have escaped the barrel bombs and the poison gas, largely make up – with their families – those who have desperately fled Syria looking for refuge. Looking for the right to live in peace, free from fear of persecution.

You know: the ones that Donald Trump thinks are dangerous. To us. But Mr Putin and his cronies? They’re OK.

hm-queen-elizabeth_3273772kfff

May we correct a much-repeated mistake in coverage of the petition to the UK Parliament to prevent Donald Trump making a State Visit to the UK?

This has often been erroneously reported in Australian and United States media as a desire to prevent Mr Trump visiting the UK per se

This is not so. In fact, the petition refers specifically to such a visit being a State visit, the highest possible honour conferred on a visitor, and specifically so that he would not have to be entertained by the Queen.

As the petition states, Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen. The petition continues “Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales. Therefore during the term of his presidency Donald Trump should not be invited to the United Kingdom for an official State Visit.”

This is a little detail, perhaps, but surely a significant one. 

trumpkate

Britons are presumably concerned that a man who used his Twitter account to encourage Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, (then known as Kate Middleton), to sunbathe topless so that paparazzi could photograph her would be especially offensive to the Royal Family, who have frequently had to protest at the unwanted attentions of photographers, and who successfully sued to have the Middleton photographs restricted. The Royal Family would be far too polite to point this out, so the public are doing it for them.

And just days after Princess Diana died in a car crash, in which the paparazzi were again involved, President Trump notoriously asserted on the radio that he could have slept with her.

Howard Stern asked him: ‘Why do people think it’s egotistical of you to say you could’ve gotten with Lady Di? You could’ve gotten her, right? You could’ve nailed her.’ ‘I think I could have,’ Trump replied. 

The internet is full of funny memes about the Queen and Donald trump. This is our personal favourite.

The internet is full of funny memes about the Queen and Donald Trump. This is our personal favourite.

On the same radio show three years later, he referred to Lady Diana as ‘crazy, but these are minor details’, again saying he would have slept with her ‘without even hesitation’.

Presumably more than 1.8 million people feel the Queen shouldn’t be forced to share a royal carriage with such a man, much less have to make polite chit chat sitting next to him at dinner.

And no doubt similar considerations were behind House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s overnight decision not to ask Mr Trump to address Parliament when he visits.

In a post-truth world, it surely pays to remember facts.

australia aborigines

If you are genuinely unsure, simply read these stories, which represent the tip of the iceberg as regards the effect of white colonisation on our native brothers and sisters.

The Cape Grim massacre was an incident on 10 February 1828 in which a group of Aboriginal Tasmanians gathering food at a beach in the north-west of Tasmania is said to have been ambushed and shot by four Van Diemen’s Land Company workers, with bodies of some of the victims then thrown from a 60-metre cliff. About 30 men are thought to have been killed in the attack, which was a reprisal action for an earlier Aboriginal raid on a flock of Van Diemen’s Land Company sheep, but part of an escalating spiral of violence probably triggered by the abduction and rape of Aboriginal women in the area. The massacre was part of the “Black War”, the period of violent conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal Australians in Tasmania from the mid-1820s to 1832.

The Convincing Ground massacre at Portland Bay south-west of Melbourne probably resulted from the Gunditjmara people’s determination to assert their right to the whale as traditional food and when challenged by the whalers, were aggressive in return. The whalers withdrew to the head station only to return with their firearms. Robinson’s journal entry says “And the whalers then let fly, to use his expression, right and left upon the natives. He said the natives did not go away but got behind trees and threw spears and stones. They, however, did not much molest them after that.” No mention was made in the conversation as to casualties. Later reports arising from a meeting in 1842 that Robinson had with Gunditjmara people stated only two members survived the massacre. Accounts vary, but the number of Aborigines killed is believed to be between 60 and 200.”

The Pinjarra Massacre was an attack that occurred at Pinjarra, Western Australia on a group of up to 80 Noongar people by a detachment of 25 soldiers, police and settlers led by Governor James Stirling in 1834. After attacks on the displaced Swan River Whadjuk people and depredations on settlers by a group of the Binjareb people led by Calyute had, according to European settlers, reached unacceptable levels, culminating in the payback killing of an ex-soldier, Stirling led his force after the party. Arriving at their camp, five members of the pursuit party were sent into the camp to arrest the suspects and the Aborigines resisted. In the ensuing melee, Stirling reported 15 killed (eleven names were collected later from Aboriginal sources but because of local religious beliefs many dead would not be named); police superintendent T.T. Ellis later died of wounds and a soldier was wounded. A more realistic figure for the Aboriginal dead, including many woman and children, is 40-50. The flood-scoured slopes gave the men, women and children little cover as they tried to hide behind what logs or bushes there were. Many ducked into the water, holding their breath as long as they could. Some tried to float downstream out of range, but the water was too shallow to permit their escape. They, too, were shot. A white attacker’s journal records “Very few wounded were suffered to escape”.

massacreThe Waterloo Creek massacre occured when a Sydney mounted police detachment was despatched by acting Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales Colonel Kenneth Snodgrass, to track down the Namoi, Weraerai and Kamilaroi people who had killed five stockmen in separate incidents on recently established pastoral runs on the upper Gwydir River area of New South Wales. After two months the mounted police, consisting of two sergeants and twenty troopers led by Major James Nunn, arrested 15 Aborigines along the Namoi River. They released all but two, one of whom was shot whilst attempting to escape. The main body of Kamilaroi eluded the troopers, thus Major Nunn’s party along with two stockmen pursued the Kamilaroi for three weeks from present-day Manilla on the Namoi River north to the upper Gwydir River.

On the morning of January 26 – ironically – in a surprise attack on Nunn’s party Corporal Hannan was wounded in the leg with a spear and subsequently the police reported four or five Aborigines were shot dead in retaliation. The Aborigines fled down the river as the troopers regrouped, rearmed and pursued them led by the second in command Lieutenant George Cobban. Cobban’s party found their quarry about a mile down the river now known as Waterloo Creek, where a second engagement took place. The encounter lasted several hours, and no Aborigines were captured. It is this second clash where details of its occurrence contrast substantially. Estimates of Aboriginal dead range as high as 70.

Murdering Gully, formerly known as Puuroyup to the Djargurd Wurrung people, is the site of an 1839 massacre of 35-40 people of the Tarnbeere Gundidj clan of the Djargurd Wurrung in the Camperdown district of Victoria, Australia. It is a gully on Mount Emu Creek, where a small stream adjoins from Merida Station.

Of particular note for this massacre is the extent of oral history and first hand accounts of the incident and detail in settler diaries, records of Weslayan missionaries, and Aboriginal Protectorate records. Following the massacre there was popular disapproval and censure of the leading perpetrator, Frederick Taylor, so that Taylor’s River was renamed to Mount Emu Creek. The massacre effectively destroyed the Tarnbeere Gundidj clan.

The Campaspe Plains massacre, occurred in 1839 in Central Victoria, Australia as a reprisal raid against Aboriginal resistance to the invasion and occupation of the Dja Dja Wurrung and Daung Wurrung lands. Charles Hutton took over the Campaspe run, located near the border of Dja Dja Wurrung and Daung Wurrung, in 1838 following sporadic confrontations.

In April 1839 five Aborigines were killed by three white men. In response Hugh Bryan, a shepherd, and James Neill, a hut keeper were killed in May 1839 by Aborigines identified as Daung Wurrung, who had robbed a hut of bedding, clothes, guns and ammunition and also ran a flock of 700 sheep off the property, possibly as retribution for the earlier Aboriginal deaths. Hutton immediately put together an armed party of settlers who tracked and finally caught the Aborigines with a flock of sheep 30 miles away near the Campaspe Creek. An armed confrontation between the settlers and Aborigines occurred for up to half an hour. Hutton claimed privately that nearly 40 Aborigines were killed.

The Aboriginal people of East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, known as the Gunai/Kurnai people, fought against the European invasion of their land. The technical superiority of the Europeans’ weapons gave the Europeans an absolute advantage. At least 300 people were killed, but other figures estimate up to 1,000; however, it is extremely difficult to be certain about the real death toll as so few records still exist or were even made at the time. Diseases introduced from the 1820s by European sealers and whalers also caused a rapid decline in Aboriginal numbers. The following list was compiled from such things as letters and diaries.

1840 – Nuntin- unknown number killed by Angus McMillan’s men
1840 – Boney Point – “Angus McMillan and his men took a heavy toll of Aboriginal lives”
1841 – Butchers Creek – 30-35 shot by Angus McMillan’s men
1841 – Maffra – unknown number shot by Angus McMillan’s men
1842 – Skull Creek – unknown number killed
1842 – Bruthen Creek – “hundreds killed”
1843 – Warrigal Creek – between 60 and 180 shot by Angus McMillan and his men
1844 – Maffra – unknown number killed
1846 – South Gippsland – 14 killed
1846 – Snowy River – 8 killed by Captain Dana and the Aboriginal Police
1846-47 – Central Gippsland – 50 or more shot by armed party hunting for a white woman supposedly held by Aborigines; no such woman was ever found.
1850 – East Gippsland – 15-20 killed
1850 – Murrindal – 16 poisoned
1850 – Brodribb River – 15-20 killed

The Flying Foam massacre was a series of confrontations between white settlers and Aboriginal people around Flying Foam Passage on Murujuga Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia.

The confrontations occurred between February and May 1868 triggered by the killings of two police officers and a local workman. The confrontations resulted in the deaths of unknown number of Jaburara (or Yaburrara, Yapurarra) people with estimates ranging between 15 and 150 dead.

The confrontations followed the killings on 7 February, on the south west shore of Nickol Bay, of Police Constable William Griffis, an Aboriginal police assistant named Peter, and a pearling worker named George Breem, by some Jaburara people, along with the disappearance of a pearling lugger captain, Henry Jermyn. Three Jaburara were arrested and convicted of Griffis’ murder. Sentenced to death their sentences were commuted to twelve years’ penal servitude on Rottnest Island.

Pearlers and pastoralists from the surrounding region, with the approval and support of the Government Resident in Roebourne, R. J. Sholl,organised two armed and mounted parties, which travelled overland and by sea to Murujuga, the heartland of the Jaburara. The two parties moved towards each other on the peninsula in a pincer movement. Anthropologist T. J. Gara – utilising official sources and oral tradition – suggests that one attack by the parties, on a Jaburara camp at King Bay, on 17 February, killed at least 15 people, including some children.

The Mowla Bluff massacre was an incident involving the murder of a number of indigenous Australians at Geegully Creek, near Mowla Bluff, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 1916.

Mowla Bluff is a cattle station 140 kilometres (87 mi) south of Derby and 75 kilometres (47 mi) southwest of Jarlmadangah. Responding to the brutality of the white station manager, some local men gave him a beating. In reprisal, an armed mob which included officials and residents rounded up a large number of Aboriginal men, women and children who were then shot. The bodies were burned.

One account states that three or four hundred people were killed and only three survived.

The Forrest River massacre, or Oombulgurri massacre, is a disputed account of a massacre of indigenous Australian people by a law enforcement party in the wake of the killing of a pastoralist, which took place in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 1926. The massacre was investigated by a Royal Commission in 1927 which subsequently determined that 11 people had been killed. Charges were brought against two officers but dismissed for lack of evidence. A local man, Lumbia, was convicted of the killing of the pastoralist Frederick Hay. The findings have recently been disputed by journalist Rod Moran, whose analysis has received some academic support while other academic historians accept that a massacre did take place but disagree over the number of victims.In January 1968, Dr Neville Green interviewed on audiotape Charles Overheu, the brother of Hay’s partner and co-owner of Nulla Nulla station Leopold Overheu:

They all got together up there and there was a bloody massacre because I think they shot about three hundred natives all in one hit and there was a hell of a row over it. It was all published in the papers and somebody let the cat out of the bag and anyhow the government and the judges in those times they realised what the trouble was and the whole thing was hushed up you see.

In the same year, Forrest River Aborigines specified that the massacres had taken place at five different sites, and a German scholar, Dr Helmut Reim, from interviews with three Aboriginal elders, concluded that between 80 and 100 Aborigines had been killed in the massacres on the Marndoc Reserve, of which the Forrest River Mission was a small part.

The Coniston massacre, which took place from 14 August to 18 October 1928 near the Coniston cattle station in Northern Territory, Australia, was the last known officially sanctioned massacre of indigenous Australians and one of the last events of the Australian Frontier Wars. People of the Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye groups were killed. The massacre occurred in revenge for the death of dingo hunter Frederick Brooks, killed by Aboriginal people in August 1928 at a place now known as Yukurru, (also known as Brooks Soak).

Official records at the time stated that 31 people were killed. The owner of Coniston station, Randall Stafford, was a member of the punitive party for the first few days and estimated that at least twice that number were killed between 14 August and 1 September. Historians estimate that at least 60 and as many as 110 Aboriginal men, women and children were killed. The Warlpiri, Anmatyerre and Kaytetye believe that up to 170 died between 14 August and 18 October.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-3-35-08-pmThese records are merely the best known of the mass murders committed by the white settlers of Australia. That some of them were in response to provocation or retaliation is irrelevant. The indigenous people had been invaded and forcefully dispossessed. They saw themselves as fighting for justice according to laws developed over 40,000 of habitation. This, to a large extent, is why the native peoples of Australia still call for a formal treaty to be signed between the Government of Australia and its first peoples. For them, the war that was visited on them has never formally been recognised, or ended.

It should be obvious to anyone that 26th January is a needlessly provocative day to celebrate as Australia Day, and that a number of other dates offer themselves as equally significant and worthy of celebration. Anyone denying this simple proposition is merely continuing the assertion of white privilege and domination that these stories tragically demonstrate.

Remember, the killings of groups of Aborigines continued to within living memory, let alone later injustices which are just as well known.

We are big enough to acknowledge the past. It is time we made the change. Simple as that.

 

 

Dear President Trump

Congratulations on your election. We never supported your run for office, and we were frankly somewhat dismayed that it succeeded, as the trend in politics that you represent is far removed from our view of the world.

But we have to put that aside now. You’re in. And we have to work with you.

Of course we wish you well. The world needs a strong and successful America. You are still the locomotive at the front of the train that is the world’s economy. Or at the very least, one of the locomotives.

You are still the home of much of the most fortuitous innovations that will help us manage and preserve civilisation and the world. We need you to do well, which is why even those who oppose your brand of politics wish you success. Who knows? You may surprise us all.

But in saying that, Mr President, we have a problem.

It seems to us that a lot of what you’re saying simply doesn’t make sense. So we have some questions for you, which we hope you feel able to answer.

Your new White House website says the following:

The Trump Administration is committed to a foreign policy focused on American interests and American national security.

Peace through strength will be at the centre of that foreign policy. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.

Honestly, this strikes us as short-sighted.

 

Free the shit out of you

Whilst we understand that you need to protect American interests, “peace through strength” just sounds to the rest of us like “if we’re big enough and ugly enough to make you do what we say, we’ll get along just fine”. Or in other words, more of everything that has managed to piss the rest of the world off about America on regular occasions since WWII.

There’s every chance that this type of attitude won’t result in a more stable or peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground, but possibly the very opposite. More chances for your country and others to rub each other up the wrong way, to create distrust about your motives, and to lead to more conflict, not less.

Next, we will rebuild the American military. Our Navy has shrunk from more than 500 ships in 1991 to 275 in 2016. Our Air Force is roughly one third smaller than in 1991. President Trump is committed to reversing this trend, because he knows that our military dominance must be unquestioned.

“Military dominance”? There you go again. But hang on a minute here, yes, you might have retired some ageing ships and aircraft – replacing them with better ones – but you still spend as much on defence as the NEXT TEN countries in defence spending in the world PUT TOGETHER.

So, Donald, if you don’t have military dominance now, we strongly urge you to look more closely at how you’re spending your trillions. Because you should be far and away the most powerful country in the world already.

And you are, of course.

You know that. Everyone knows that.

So what’s an increase in military spending really all about?

0053_defense-comparison-full

You know, since Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex in the first place, we have seen the taxes of Americans and the profits from American trade ploughed into a vast, bloated military, making some American corporations richer than Croesus. Is America really safer, as a result, or are just a bunch of banks and Wall Street types much richer?

Also, you said:

Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority. To defeat and destroy these groups, we will pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary. In addition, the Trump Administration will work with international partners to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to expand intelligence sharing, and to engage in cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable propaganda and recruiting.

See: we’re not awfully sure what you’re getting at here. Sure, it sounds good, but honestly, what has the world been trying to do for more than a decade now? We’ve all been busy cutting off funding, expanding intelligence sharing, engaging in cyberwarfare and all the rest of it.

So the only thing that’s really different here is pursuing aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary.

 

Iraqi dead child is prepared for burial

A violently killed young Iraqi girl is prepared for burial. The photograph originally appeared at Salon.com some years ago.

 

It might be an idea to explain what that really means. See, we’ve just seen America endlessly tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq for what seems like forever. Apart from American losses, civilian losses in Iraq alone are up to about 600,000 and counting. We’re certainly not doing a great job of bringing enduring freedom to the Iraqi people, are we? And we’re getting out of Afghanistan with our butts kicked, and the probability that we will have achieved nothing very much at all. Honestly, we don’t really think the American public has the stomach for much more of that, do you?

So how about an alternative idea?

Sooner or later – and this is a very simple thought, but we encourage you to consider it carefully – the West is going to have to accommodate itself to an Islamic world with some very different agendas to ours, and different rules. As Churchill said, “Jaw Jaw is always better than War War”.

It would be hard to imagine more implacable enemies in the Cold War period than Russia and America – the titanic, historic struggle between state socialism and capitalism. And yet, ultimately, it was talking that wound back the tension levels, and created opportunities for both sides. Many, many more people died in the proxy wars fought to promulgate the cold war than have died in conflicts between Islam and the West. Yet we managed to talk our way to a better place.

So who in the Islamic world are you going to talk to, to try and bring some conclusion to the current conflicts? Yes, we know there’s no point talking to the leaders of IS, but they are only a very small part of the problem, and frankly most of the Islamic world hates them as much as you do. So where in your world view is the great West-Islam dialogue that must, inevitably, be the real solution to the problems we now face? What’s the plan? A few words about embracing diplomacy doesn’t really cut it, Donald. Would you care to be more specific?

Now. Trade.

Your website says:

For too long, Americans have been forced to accept trade deals that put the interests of insiders and the Washington elite over the hard-working men and women of this country. As a result, blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close and good-paying jobs move overseas, while Americans face a mounting trade deficit and a devastated manufacturing base.

Forgive us, Sir, but trade deals are not why blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close. Nor why America has a trade deficit. Nor why your manufacturing base is devastated.

All these things have happened because the American people have been sold a dream of an endlessly expanding consumer paradise with everything one could need for a modern lifestyle provided ever more cheaply, whether it’s cars or phones, or TVs, or white goods, or clothes.

 

china

And overseas – especially, but not exclusively, in Asia – clever, determined people produce those things at a fraction of a cost to them being produced in America. That’s why some of your very own private businesses manufacture over there, right?

So, Sir, the only way you can protect those all rust-belt manufacturers is either to forbid people from buying cheap consumer goods from overseas (good luck with that project) or by slapping tariffs on goods made overseas. That’s what your policy really means. And as soon as you do that, the countries currently supplying you will simply do the same to you, so the things you ARE selling into those countries (less and less already, as you know) will be priced out of their markets. (And the growing middle class in China and India and other such places will simply buy their own products. After all, they’re just as good. That’s why your own population buys them so enthusiastically.)

It’s called a trade war, Mr President. And like some other wars we could mention, it’s a war you can’t win.

Or we suppose you could try and persuade American workers to accept much lower pay and conditions. Somehow we don’t think you’re going to attempt that.

Sure, you can try and re-negotiate trade deals, but who’s to say anyone is going to want to negotiate with you? When you stand on the steps of the Capitol and call out “America First” like some sort of mantra, don’t you realise that what the rest of us hear is “And you guys second. Or last. Or nowhere. We really don’t care.”?

If you don’t believe us, can we suggest you watch this video from Holland? It’s not only very funny, but it explains the problem better than we can.

You see, if the success of a trade deal is no longer to be a quid pro quo – as the Jews say, “leaving a little something in the deal for everyone” – then can you explain, please, why you think anyone is going to want to negotiate with you?

Sir, the ONLY solution to America’s economic decline is to work harder, and more innovatively. To produce things that the rest of the world hasn’t worked out how to make yet, and to continue to produce those things at the lowest feasible cost until everyone else catches up, and then to repeat the process. Endlessly. That is your only defence against the new Tigers, wherever they are.

But we don’t hear anything about that from you.

Instead, for example, when the world is desperate for new, non-fossil fuel energy sources, smarter batteries, new power transmission technologies and all the rest, what do you offer us?

A huge increase in fracking and coal consumption. Have you walked down the streets in Beijing and Mumbai recently? Why would you want to visit more pollution on the people of the USA?

 

The inevitable result of an economy based on coal-fired energy. If we're wrong, please tell us why.

The inevitable result of an economy based on coal-fired energy. If we’re wrong, please tell us why.

And you say:

Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.

But Mr President, even with “clean coal” technology (assuming it can be successfully developed, at a reasonable price, which is still highly uncertain) and even with the most careful rules over fracking, you can’t protect the water and air of the United States no matter how hard you try. And your statement completely ignores the effect on the climate of burning more and more fossil fuels.

Even if you don’t think climate change is man made, or entirely man made, or whatever your position is this week, surely you must appreciate that expanding fossil fuel production is taking a vastly greater risk with the environment that we don’t need to take? Renewable energy sources are now more than capable of taking up the slack, as Europe is demonstrating successfully in an incredibly short timescale.

If climate change disrupts American agriculture, the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence.

If climate change means Americans cannot live in safety in the forests, deserts, or coastal plains that they live in now, then the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence. In lives, and in dollars.

If climate change alters the make-up of the oceans so that fish stocks migrate away from your shores, or disappear altogether, then the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence.

If climate change increases the severity of weather events – hot and cold – across your nation, then the cost will be way higher than the cost of phasing out fossil fuel dependence.

See, Mr President, this is our real problem. It seems to us that you must know all these things. You are clearly an intelligent and ambitious man. You surround yourself with bright people.

Yet despite the fact that you must know better, you are simply not levelling with the American people, or the world, about the depth and the scale of the problems in trade, manufacturing, energy, and defence.

We could keep writing on and on about other areas of your program, but that doesn’t seem fair.

Lord knows, there’s more than enough here to be going on with.

So, Sir, we respectfully invite you to address the questions we have for you. We’re genuinely interested to know what you think.

Or if it’s all just politics – if it’s all just a con, playing to the gallery, shoring up a base of domestic support, then why not admit it? As you have said, it doesn’t seem to matter what you say and do, they’re gonna love you anyway. But the rest of us would really like to know what you’re on about, because from over here, it simply doesn’t make any sense.

At all. Not even a bit.

Yours sincerely

The World

Read the facts, and make your own mind up.

Read the facts, and make your own mind up.

Wikipedia has a thorough and excellently sourced article on Chelsea, formerly Bradley, Manning, and his life, actions, trial and imprisonment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning

It should be required reading before anyone – anyone – comments on her case, or on Obama’s commutation of her sentence.

Manning’s story is a modern heroic tragedy. More than anything, it is an exemplary lesson about the difficulties faced by gay and transgender people in a strongly machismo-rich environment like the United States armed services. Given her challenges, and the way she was treated in the Army, Manning was essentially a mentally fragile train wreck waiting to happen, who should never have held such a sensitive position. The US Army must at the very least being considered morally culpable for her transgressions, especially as Manning herself made them aware of the difficulties she was experiencing on multiple occasions.

There is no question that Manning is highly intelligent, strongly motivated, and ethically-driven. She may also suffer from a variety of mental challenges, such as Asperger’s. Whilst this would normally elicit sympathy for her, because of her role in Wikileaks it is ignored. It certainly wasn’t taken into account in the brutal 35 year sentence she received, of which she has served 6, often in appalling circumstances that were officially judged to amount to torture.

Ironically, the West awards and applauds a movie like The Danish Girl, addressing exactly the same topic, and yet Manning receives little or no care, no understanding, and plenty of abuse.

Let us be absolutely clear: whether born of personal distress or a sense of rage at the injustices she discovered – and it was in all likelihood a mixture of the two – what Manning did when she realised what was being perpetrated by American forces and diplomats was morally entirely supportable, and resulted in a wide-ranging re-assessment of international relations and the conduct of war both specifically and in general.

Those who believe she should not have been a “whistle-blower” need to ask themselves, “What is it that was in the Wikileaks Iraq files that you consider that you personally – because that is where we must reduce this matter to, in making a moral judgement – that you personally are either too stupid or too dangerous to be trusted with?”

The answer of course is “Nothing”.

Manning shone a torch on the machinations of armies and their political leaders, and the world is much better for it. She exposed murder, committed in our name. She exposed double dealing and bare-faced lying. She exposed corruption. She was the agent for the oxygen of publicity on a variety of topics that we needed to know, and we should thank her for it.

Did anyone suffer harm as a result of her disclosures? No. Multiple intelligence sources have confirmed that no one was hurt as a result, because of her own redacting of the files to remove personally identifying information, and subsequent redactions by media organisations.

Was she embarrassing to those in power? Yes – hugely. Did she do anything wrong? Strictly legally, yes, but then so do many whistle blowers. Is she a hero? Yes, she is.

We owe her a great deal, and that should include, we would argue, making every effort to help her get on with rebuilding her life.

It’ll all make a great movie, too. And when Oliver Stone (or someone similar) makes that movie, we are certain that history will come down very sympathetically on her side. For today, we just rejoice that she will soon be free.

kennedyIn recent times, we have seen an upsurge in a rejection of the status quo and the success of populism, overwhelming the accepted norms of political discourse. The litany of events is very obvious … Erdowan in Turkey becoming progressively more authoritarian, the election of Syriza in Greece to oppose the EU-imposed austerity, the British public voting (albeit narrowly) for “Brexit”, the near-defeat of the Liberal-National coalition Government in Australia, the ascent of a virtual fascist to the Presidential run off in Austria, the likely ascent of the far-right National Front in France to a run-off in the coming French elections and the inability of a left-centre candidate to even make the frame, the rejection of Prime Minister Renzi’s attempt to rationalise decision-making in Italy leading to his resignation, the likely future success of the ultra-right in Holland, and above all, the election of businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the Western world, President of the United States.

In reality, this trend can be traced back even further, to the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union (although this was also a more complex situation than mere discontent with the failures of the incumbent power structures). It could also be argued that the ultimate example is the steady move towards a command-capitalist model in China, with attendant liberalisation – creeping, at times reversed, but inexorable in its trend – of the media, of criticism of Party officials, and of the material expectations of a growing middle class. Indeed, in unleashing the forces of capitalism on Chinese society, Deng Xiao Ping can be said to have headed off a more dramatic and cataclysmic change in China.

When people are asked why they are participating in these quiet (or not so quiet) electoral revolutions they invariably answer with comments like “I am just sick of all of them”, “I am tired of the status quo, we need someone to shake things up”, “Politicians have failed us”, “We need someone to fix things up.”

The danger, of course, is that the people wreak major changes based on their discontent, without necessarily taking the time to consider whether those changes are what they really want. Fed a diet of rubbish and lies by both the media and their political leaders they simply cannot work out what is true or not, and therefore fall back on their gut instinct. And their gut instinct is that they are being badly led – which they are.

This is emphatically not to say the people are stupid – not at all. It is simply to note that in their desire to punish the under-performing elite they place rational decision-making of what might come next as secondary to their desire to give the establishment a damn good kicking. They argue, if questioned on precisely this point, that “it couldn’t be any worse”.

Winston ChurchillThe fact that it could, definitively, be much worse, is ignored because of the same anger that created the switch to populist idols in the first place.

Churchill’s warning that “democracy is the worst form of Government, it’s just better than all the others” is forgotten as the public elevate people who do not essentially subscribe to democratic ideals to run their democracies, with as yet untested outcomes.

In Russia, for example, the putative glasnost and perestroika of the Gorbacev era has now been thoroughly replaced by the quasi-fascist rule of Putin and his cronies, with uncertain outcomes that could be argued to threaten peace in Europe, at least. The Brexit vote at a minimum calls into question the “Union” part of the European Union, which is now on the nose throughout most of the EU, and the great dream of a peaceful, co-operative Europe that transcends mere trade freedom seems to lie in tatters. We might also note Churchill’s prescient remark that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” People used to understand the limits of Government to “fix things”. No longer, it appears.

How did it come to this?

It is important to see this collapse of the ruling consensus as more than any desire to attend to this particular problem, or that, because the matters creating the angst vary from theatre to theatre.

Unquestionably, above all, the refugee flood around the world (and not just from the Middle East, at all) has created great tensions – great fear of “the others” – because it has happened at a time when the world seems to be collapsing into an ongoing conflict between the West and extremist Arabist/Muslim sects. But when massive population shifts occurred immediately after the Second World War there was considerably less social angst about an inflow of refugees, although by no means was there none, as any of the Italians, Greeks, Albanians and others who were shipped en masse to Australia (and America, and Canada) can attest. But it produced no mass revolution against the status quo. As recently as the late 1970s, huge inflows of refugees from the communist takeover of Vietnam produced barely a ripple of protest. So something different is happening here.

Unquestionably, economic uncertainty is playing its part.
The lost of traditional jobs has devastated some areas,
and not been replaced withtightrope anything else. That politicians seem unable or unwilling to recognise and successfully the problem is a staggering failure. During the 1930s, a huge “whole of Government” effort in some countries prevented the compact between the governing and the governed from breaking down altogether. The “New Deal” in America being the best and most successful example. But the mass unemployment caused by the breakdown of capital in that decade led inexorably to World War 2 and all that meant. That Western politicians can look at societies with 50% youth unemployment, can gaze on as we witness the wholesale collapse of traditional industries, can make mealy-mouthed contributions when someone brings up the obviously inadequate funds to support the aged and the ill, and yet imagine that such a cataclysm could not occur again? This is the ultimate desertion of responsibility.

It seems to us that the world is experiencing a “perfect storm” of fear – endlessly beaten up by politicians and the media – at precisely the same time as politicians are struggling, and usually failing, to come to terms with the stresses and strains created in economies by “instant” international banking (which can change the dominant rules of a market in seconds), globalisation (which has led to the wholesale demise of “old” industries in the established economies), a series of scandals that imply that our political leaders are little more than a series of ever-hungry pigs with their snouts so deep in the trough that their eyes can’t see anything over the top, and, and this is critical, a failure of leadership.

On the one hand we have the populists, with their broad brush stroke slogans, their breathlessly simple solutions, and their fellow travellers that constantly beat the drum praising the perspicacity of their chosen flag bearer. Only he (or she, in the case of Marie le Pen) have the strength and vision to ram through “the change we need”. And like parched wanderers in the desert, the people turn inevitably to the promise of relief. Tongues hanging out for any water, no matter how brackish.

But this is just a mirage of “we can fix it”. It’s a big lie. A big con. So big, indeed, that people swallow it, because surely no-one could be so ruthless, so uncaring of the effect they are having, so roguish in their pursuit of power, as to promise relief with no real idea of how to deliver it. But they can. As Stalin so chillingly said, “one man’s death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. The same hideous calculation is made by the populists when they promise change they cannot deliver, and solutions that are paper thin in their analysis.

But what has the response of the liberal democracies, the “ruling elite”, been to this challenge? It has been to bury themselves in perpetual over-intellectual obfuscation, to sneer at the populists as if they do not represent a threat, to blithely fiddle as their Rome burns. It has been to bleat “but we are doing our best”, when Blind Freddie can see that their best is woefully lacking. It is to lock themselves in their ivory towers – towers made of parliamentary walls, and TV studios, and offices – and to make little or no real attempt to explain to the people why they are doing what they are doing, and that is assuming they are doing anything much, at all.

How has this situation been allowed to persist?

The reasons are many and various, but in our view they come down to this:

THE FIVE GREAT FAILURES

The failure of vision

Politicians are no longer driven by a desire to create better societies – to serve their people – but by careerism. There is no doubt that no one succeeds in climbing the slippery pole without a strong streak of self-regard, but until the relatively recent past politics was still full of people whose primary, over-riding motivation was the betterment of their electorate, and more widely, humankind. There were more “enthusiastic amateurs”, drawn from all walks of life, chock full of useful experiences. To be sure, they never turned their noses up at the perks of office, nor the thrill of handling the levers of power. But at the core was a desire to conserve what was good, and to develop what was promising, and – based on evidence – to eschew what was failing. It is highly questionable whether that still applies to most politicians today – certainly those of reach the top of the heap – and the people smell the rot with absolute accuracy.

The failure of honesty

It is now a dispiritingly long time since any politician, anywhere in the West, dared to say “Actually, we’re not really sure what to do”. And yet, in huge swathes of decision making, it is perfectly clear that our leaders do not know what to do. The pace of change, and the relentless news cycle, is leading them to pretend they know what they’re doing when they really don’t. In vast areas of public policy – balancing the structural changes in economies, achieving unanimity on climate change, reducing the proxy conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, preventing a new Cold – or Hot – war, it is plain they are thrashing about, confused and dispirited. And yet, turn a camera and a microphone on and they act like Mastermind contestants with all the answers.

This has two linked effects. Firstly, it destroys trust, when it becomes clear that the assurances and calming words are so much hogwash. Second, it removes responsibility from the public to be part of the solution to intractable problems, leaving them reliant on blowing up the entire system when they are – inevitably – disappointed, as they had no part in devising the solution, and no ownership of the outcome.

The failure of communication

Politicians seem to no longer be able to phrase their goals in simple language, without succumbing to the temptation to reduce everything to focus group-led slogans.

It would be hard to think of a single major Western politician – with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, although her days may well be numbered – who still has the required “common touch”, although Justin Trudeau in Canada is undoubtedly a standout exception – and he, it should be noted, is of the left, and is an intellectual, thus giving the lie to the assertion that all this change is merely a revolt against “left intellectualism”.

A politician like Churchill, for example, could be autocratic, even waywardly so, but he never forgot the absolute need to take the people with him. Perhaps in war-time this need is more obvious. But in the recent past – much as we disagreed with some of her policies – a politician who widely admired Churchill – Margaret Thatcher – also had the ability to communicate broad themes in a popular way, while making changes that many argue were long overdue in Britain despite being sometimes achingly difficult.

Where are the democratic politicians who offer us soaring rhetoric, yet rooted in common sense, to enliven and inform civic debate? Certainly Obama offered the soaring rhetoric, but outside of campaign mode he so often failed to return to those heights, and was too often hidebound by a toxic combination of an obstructive Congress, a swingeing economic crisis, and his own innate conservatism.

The cupboard is depressingly bare.

The failure of thought

The West, in particular, but by no means exclusively, is failing itself. The essence of democracy is free, vibrant and deep debate, the development of philosophy, the parsing of solutions. One of the inevitable results of the dumbing down of Universities – through the diversion of their funds increasingly to commercial “applied science” rather than humanities such as literature, politics, and philosophy – even theology – has starved our system of thinkers. The problems we face are massively complicated, yet those who used to work diligently behind the scenes in thousands of “thinking hives” are increasingly no longer there, and no longer contributing. Political parties are increasingly less full of thinkers and increasingly full of yar boo sucks partisans. Where political thought across the political divide was once welcome and respected, now it is virtually unheard of. While politicians of different ilk may well be friendly “behind the scenes”, for them to acknowledge the thoughts of an opponent as having value, of being worthy of consideration, is apparently political death. Little wonder the public don’t trust them, faced with such ludicrous and childishness obstinacy.

The failure of media

Our media organisations have become helplessly addicted to the brief, and the sensational.

Whilst this was always true of the tabloid media, it is now true of all media.

The people they employ are largely intellectual pygmies, and in television in particular they are in the job because they look good and can follow a producer’s brief.

Across all types of media, they don’t scare the horses, because they rarely ask any hard questions. Hard questions require that the journalist has knowledge and the politician can address that knowledge intelligently, taking whatever time is required. Neither is true, and anyway there is no time.

There are exceptions, to be sure, but they are very few and far between, and becoming more so. The success of the series “Newsroom” showed the public’s deep desire for a form of journalism that is principled, erudite and independent. But of how many journalists today can those three qualities be said? And increasingly, anyway, mainstream media is being over-taken by social media, where the provenance of any story is impossible to divine, and where the impact is so transient that clear nonsense is forgotten almost as soon as it has trended, but not before it has added to the dominant zeitgeist, whatever that may be. If we are in the era of “post truth politics” – a terrifying concept in itself for admirers of democracy – then the most brutal criticism of all must be levied at the media – all of the media – that simultaneously tolerates and encourages the situation.

So what’s to be done?

It may indeed be way too late to close the stable door after watching an entire herd of horses bolting in all directions. Or to mix our metaphors, we may all be just a bunch of well-boiled frogs who should have acted to redress the decline a long time ago.

Yes, we will be accused of being pessimistic because it appears “our side” of politics is currently losing, and we will also be accused of succumbing to conspiracy theories.

In fact, we confidently expect we will be today’s Cassandra, doomed to wail on the battlements while all around mock us.

But in our view, the first step in redressing this danger – the danger of the collapse of modern liberal democracy – is to acknowledge the problem and seek to persuade others to address it. Others, we note, regardless of their native political bent. This is a task for all of us, whatever our political persuasion.

As we do not have the influence to turn the ship around on our own, we simply point to the mounting evidence, and suggest the general shape of a solution.

It will take a mighty effort to reverse the trends outlined here. But as Horace said 2000 years ago, “A journey, once begin, is half over.” To begin this journey, we have to agree that there is a problem, yes?

15241400_10154227620278869_1594286058828515718_nUnder the pressure from the relentless pro-Brexit propagandists (which we view with some concern given the American Presidential election experience where literally hundreds of pro-Trump websites were set up by the Russians, and when countless anti-Clinton memes were generated from “invisible” overseas sites that might very well be funded by Putin as well, or by his big money backers in the extreme right in America, both of whom would love to weaken the EC) we have been giving some thought to the concept of a mandate in politics.

And it is simply this.

If a mandate is gained through what can clearly be shown to be a deliberate and oft-repeated lie – in other words, a deliberate con – is it actually a mandate at all? In a world where we blindly talk about “post truth” politics, is the concept of a mandate obsolete as well?

In deciding such a question, it is surely instructive to look at some of the other “estates” of the modern democratic society, and see how they deal with lying.

In the courts, for example, being caught lying brings with it swingeing penalties, even jail time.

In the media, uncovered lying can result in civil damages, or worse.

Yet suddenly we seem not only prepared to countenance a world where politicians are held to (much lower) standards, but where when their calumnies are discovered, no one seems to really care.

“Ah well, all politicians lie!” is the stock response, as in “You can’t trust any of them, so give it up.” As if this is somehow an adequate substitute for holding them to account and demanding they treat us with the minimal respect due to anyone whose support they are demanding, that is, to tell us the truth.

We are not naive. We know that all politicians have lied from time to time. But that is a world of difference from a situation where any attempt top tell the truth is overwhelmed by deliberate falsehoods, often promulgated through social media, which become part of the zeitgeist before any official denial or rebuttal can be issued.

brexit-busThe most egregious example of this in the UK during the Brexit campaign was the so-called Brexit bus, promising to return to the UK the funds that it devotes to the EU budget.

Only two things were wrong with this very prominent promise, which was repeated in tens of thousands (at least) of targeted leaflets issued in official-looking jargonese immediately prior to the Leave-Remain poll.

One, it was a barefaced lie. It virtually doubled the amount the UK donates to the European project.

Two, it was a barefaced lie. As conceded by arch-Brexit campaigner the very day after the Brexit vote, such a compact (to devote the money to the NHS instead) was unworkable, a fact confirmed by others like fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson, and later the incoming Prime Minister, Mrs May.

If there is one sentence that explains the referendum result, though, it’s this one from the website of the Advertising Standards Agency. “For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum.” In other words, political advertising is exempt from the regulation that would otherwise bar false claims and outrageous promises. You can’t claim that a herbal diet drink will make customers thinner, but you can claim that £350m a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union.

The money was “an extrapolation . . . never total”, said Iain Duncan Smith on the BBC. It was merely part of a “series of possibilities of what you could do”.

Does that picture look like “a series of possibilities” or a simple, cast-iron commitment, to you?

brexitMore (slightly more nuanced) rubbish has been pouring out of the Brexit camp which has been trying to tell people that they can keep access to a single market without agreeing to the EU’s freedom of movement. That there is not the slightest possibility of such a deal being agreed to by Junkers, Merkel, Hollande and all the rest is clear and has been stated repeatedly by the Europeans – the impossibility of such an outcome is perfetly obvious to Blind Freddie. Yet the Brexiteers continue to repeat it, albeit increasingly desperately.

And what about the Turkey lie? The fact that staying in the EU means Britain will be flooded with Turkish migrants when that country accedes to the EU. Apart from the again certain fact that accession to the EU by Turkey looks increasingly like a pipe dream, and a decade or more off at the very earliest, on leaving the EU, we, of course, have no vote as to whether Turkey becomes part of it.

The very next day after the Brexit vote, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan told Newsnight that “taking back control” of immigration didn’t necessarily mean cutting it. That would come as something of a shock to millions who voted for Brexit egged on by spurious talk of “taking back control” of Britain’s borders, clear code for “cut immigration”. He also advocated joining the single market: meaning that if Turkey does join the EU, Britain will be obliged to accept freedom of movement for its citizens anyway.

When Britain leaves the EU, it will also lose automatic access to the scheme by which failed asylum-seekers are returned to the country in which they first claimed sanctuary.

All this monument of untruths is not lying on the scale of a few convenient fibs or quibbles over minor details, of being “economical with the truth”. There is a reason that calling someone a “liar” in the House of Commons is forbidden. It is that Members of the House are considered to have reached the pinnacle of social advancement, to be honourable people, dedicated to “doing the right thing”, on a par with judges, bishops, captains of industry, and others. To accept a British Parliament that is “post truth” is to throw away any semblance of what Britain and its parliament represent.

Brexiteers argue that the incredibly narrow advisory referendum win for Leave mandates the British Parliament to support “the will of the people”, and implement withdrawal from the EU post-haste. But leaving aside that this assertion is based on the highly morally dubious conduct of the Leave campaign – reason enough on its own to ignore it in our opinion – this argument fails to understand the British constitution in any way or shape at all. It is another entirely despicable lie that is intended to stick through being continually repeated.

Firstly, let us be crystal clear, the referendum was never, and never could be, legally binding on Parliament. In the British constitution, Parliament is sovereign. It is entirely up to a vote in Parliament as to whether any negotiation on Brexit should be agreed to. There is no way round this very obvious fact, recently confirmed by the High Court in a damningly unanimous decision.

“Ah!” cry the Brexiteers, “but Parliament is morally obliged to follow the will of the people! You are anti-democratic!”

Not so. If we are to debate on the basis of morality, let us consider (a) the vote was never legally binding – this is not an opinion, it is undisputed fact and presenting it as otherwise is another lie (b) the victory was secured by lying on a scale never seen before, (c) the outcome was very close, and in a previous speech Nigel Farage has argued that a 52-48 vote in favour of staying in the EU should trigger a second referendum – but not, perhaps, when the vote goes his way? –  (d) in other democratic exercises such as elections there will be OTHER elections coming along down the line when a decision can be reversed, if desired – but that opportunity does not exist in this situation, hence the vital need for both Houses of Parliament to consider their next step with great care. As what looks like a “once and for all decision”, Parliament is morally obliged to consider the timing and terms of any Brexit extremely carefully. Quite apart from the also oft-measured and very obvious – if inconvenient – fact that the mood in Britain has now swung badly against the Leave camp.

Let us now, though, consider the single biggest argument in favour of Parliament retaining a perfect right to vote against the terms of Brexit, or of Brexit itself, if it so wishes.

One might have to be a member of the derided “intellectual liberal elite” to understand this incredibly simple point, but Parliament is sovereign, and in Britain at least, the Westminster system is that of a Representative democracy, not a Delegated one.

The difference being that our system allows – nay, demands – that our MPs vote according to their best deliberations, and not merely at the whim of how they perceive the electorate’s bidding, however that bidding is delivered to them.

For centuries, our MPs have been held to a higher standard.

As Edmund Burke put it back on the 1700s, in the “trustee model” of democracy, Burke argued that his behaviour in Parliament should be informed by his knowledge and experience, allowing him to serve the public interest above all. Of an MP he said that in giving “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living … Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion“.

Essentially, in the British model of democracy, a trustee considers an issue and, after hearing all sides of the debate, exercises their own judgment in making decisions about what should be done. He added, “You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament“. (Burke, 1774). Burke made these statements immediately after being elected in Bristol, and after his colleague had spoken in favour of coercive instructions being given to representatives.

J.S. Mill also championed this model. He stated that while all individuals have a right to be represented, not all political opinions are of equal value.

This is why, for example, Britain has no death penalty, despite it frequently receiving 80% or more support amongst the population.  It is why homosexuality was de-criminalised long before the public would have voted for it, ditto the legalisation of abortion. In short, MPs think they know better. And sometimes, frankly, they do. Pointing this out enrages members of the public who cynically choose to denigrate all politicians. Nevertheless, it is true. This principle lies at the very heart of British democracy. If we discard it, we discard the entire box and dice.

It’s this simple: despite what rabble rousers and Brexit-bots sound off endlessly about, the referendum result does not have equal value to the will of Parliament. That is why MPs, of any party, are not obliged to slavishly follow the referendum result, and are, in fact, quite to contrary, obliged to consider the matter on its merit.

Opposing a blind Brexit with closer consideration is not, in any sense, anti-democratic. In fact, it is the epitome of British democracy.

sarah-olney-for-rp-600-300x157

In what will be rightly reported as a massive rejection of Brexit by the voters, we predict that Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney will deliver the Lib Dems’ first by-election win in 10 years, beating a famously anti-European candidate, and not in recount territory either.

This will quite rightly be seen as the latest green shoots in a Lib Dem revival, a disastrous result for Labour (who should never have run a candidate here but did so out of sheer mulish stubbornness), a disastrous result for UKIP who very volubly backed the dilletante right winger Zac Goldsmith, and will support many Parliamentarians’ calls for a second referendum to be held on the terms of any “Brexit” before it is approved.

48We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the pound firm overnight. And we look forward breathlessly to all the excuses from Farage, Johnson, May, Rees-Mogg and the rest of the Brexit rabble, who, of course, will blithly deny it has anything to do with Brexit at all.

We estimate a Lib Dem majority of between two and four thousand, a massive swing in itself.

If Brexit never happens, its demise will be tracked back to this day.

 

RESULT:

Sarah Olney (LD) 20,510 (49.68%, +30.41%)

Zac Goldsmith (Independent former Tory) 18,638 (45.15%)

Christian Wolmar (Lab) 1,515 (3.67%, -8.68%)

Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 184 (0.45%)

Fiona Syms (Ind) 173 (0.42%)

Dominic Stockford (CPA) 164 (0.40%)

Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir (Love) 67 (0.16%)

David Powell (ND) 32 (0.08%)

LD maj 1,872 (4.53%)

Electorate 77,243; Turnout 41,283 (53.45%, -23.01%)

Well we got one right, fractionally under-estimating the Lib Dem majority with overturned a previous Conservative Party 20,000 majority for Goldsmith, breaking our string of ducks recently.

Sarah Olney’s victory speech was gracious and historic. After the shock Conservative victory in 2015 and collapse of the Lib Dems, the lie-riddled farce of the Brexit advisory referendum, the weak-kneed response by the Conservative Party, and the ludicrous election of Donald Trump, it makes cheering reading. And as for all those who have gleefully predicted the demise of the “liberal elite”, this is what a fightback looks like … We know you’ll just rush to your keyboards to agree.

Here is an extract.

A year and a half ago I was not involved in politics, I was not a member of a political party, I had never been involved in a political campaign, I had never thought about being a politician. But I knew I was a liberal. I believed in openness, tolerance, compassion, working with our neigbours around the world.

When I saw what happened at the general election last year I felt I had ot get involved.

I think a lot of people in this community had the same feeling after the referendum. Richmond Park is full of people like me who felt something was going wrong, that the politics of anger and division were on the rise, that the liberal tolerant values we took for granted were under threat. We perceived the Ukip vision of Britain in the ascendancy, intolerant, backward-looking, divisive, just as we see it in America and across Europe.

Well, today we have said no. We will defend the Britain we love. We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain we believe in. The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit, we do not want to be pulled out of the single market and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.

 

“Yes, We Can!”

barack-obama-yes-we-canIt seems like just yesterday that Obama came to the fore of world politics with this optimistic and energising slogan, shouted back at him excitedly by hugely enthusiastic crowds.

Eight years later, despite Obama winning a second election and ending his Presidency with quite high approval ratings, (reflecting a generalised opinion that he’s a likeable guy), that promise frankly seemed to many people more like “No, We Couldn’t.”

Whilst there were some successes in Obama’s presidency, too many people felt left behind. From Florida to Michigan via Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, people came out in their droves in yesterday’s election to register their discontent.

Trump’s victory is going to be spun – everywhere, endlessly – as a great uprising against the elites, a sort of Western “Arab Spring”, and a repudiation of Obama (and by implication, Clinton), a generalised push back against left-of-centre liberal intellectualism, against feminism, against so many isms that people will be frothing at the mouth to get them out. And Brexit, we will be told constantly, was a similar rejection of the ruling European elite, and Trump, as he famously predicted the night before the election, was just Brexit plus plus – surely the only time a political event in another country has been quoted the night before an American election.

The problem is that this analysis of what’s going on in world elections at the moment is actually wrong. Too shallow. Too simplistic.

Not because people aren’t reacting against elites. They are. Blind Freddie can see that. But that’s really not the point. The real issue here is that people are scared, frightened, confused and casting about for someone to blame for what ails them, and the elites are merely the most obvious and useful target. After all, they’re in charge, so it must all be their fault, right?

“What must be their fault?” “This shit we’re in.” “So what do we do?” “Chuck the elites out.” “Yay! Pass the pitchforks.”

"Who's to blame?" "Dunno, but he'll do."

“Who’s to blame?” “Dunno, but he’ll do.”

The problem is that that analysis is skin deep, and chucking out the elites, if that’s going to be the solution, is only step one of a change, anyway. After all, if you’re going to chuck out the elites, you have to replace them with new administrators. Who are they going to be?

So before we assume we know what’s going on, let’s roll back a bit. WHY are people so scared and angry?

The answer is actually very simple. Breathtakingly simple.

The world has been going through a massive structural change – a fundamental change to free-er trade, and integrated global markets, fuelled by the freest and fastest movement of capital in human history. Massive movements of money wreak chaos in the world’s economic systems. Businesses get blown up overnight. Currencies wobble and slide alarmingly, with the knock on effect on future orders, travel, banking and a dozen other areas.

At the same time, new manufacturing bases like China, India, and elsewhere have sprung up to feed products and services into older, more established economies.

All this has cut the guts out of many key industries in America in particular, and because they have a Government which is periodically ideologically opposed to interfering in the economy, the people affected by the changes are often left to fend pretty much for themselves.

(Layered on top of this is a generalised concern about terrorism and conflict which keeps people permanently unsettled. The obvious fact that hardly anybody, in statistical terms, ever gets hurt by terrorism, is no compensation for those watching lurid pictures of those unfortunates that do, and especially when irresponsible politicians take every opportunity to talk up the threat instead of cutting it down to size.)

But back to economics. Because “it’s the economy, stupid”, right?

The only solution is for economies to be quicker, more flexible, and more innovative. The world might not want your eight cylinder Detroit-built gas guzzler any more, but it seems to want a super-fast electric Tesla, not just because it’s cheap to run, and environmentally friendly, but because it’s a bloody good car, chock full of driver goodness.

But for every Tesla there are dozens of clunky, slow-moving businesses, frantically trying to build firewalls around their markets, and failing.

Many of the people running these companies are more focused on merging with another company and making a quick buck out of stock options, and while they talk a good story about the need to expand and innovate it’s not really their focus. Otherwise they would, yeah? So sooner or later, the hungry and the fast eat the slow and the complacent, as they always do, and the hungry and the fast are increasingly somewhere else, not in our old, established economies. They are in places with fewer restraints on business – especially on labour issues and environmental protection – and they are frequently quasi-command economies where decisions are taken very fast, and without opposition. It’s a potent mixture.

The real problem has been that the political elites are locked into a zero sum game.

They can’t get elected, or re-elected, without saying they know how to fix things. But in reality, they don’t really know how to fix things.

The changes that are going on are so fundamental that they aren’t actually amenable to “being fixed”. Certainly not quickly, and certainly not just by saying it. Many of the changes taking place now are “forever” changes – the clock simply can’t get turned back. People are going to have to adjust, and no amount  of overblown rhetoric from the elite is going to smooth over or resolve the problems.

So if a business in America, for example, (or any old economy market), wants to continue to compete in low-tech commodity marketplaces that they once previously dominated, what are they going to do? Slash the wages of their workers to those of workers in China? India? Mexico? Vietnam? Indonesia? And increasingly – Africa, too? Install better (and more expensive) automation? And anyway, where’s the money going to come from?

What happens to the worker voters then? Longer hours for smaller pay – or being replaced by some whizz-bang new production line – isn’t going to go down well with a workforce that has been cosseted for generations by the terms won by pro-active and powerful unions.

So here is our fear.

The real terror we have is that Brexit will have little or no effect on whether or not Britain can compete on the world stage in the way that it used to when the country had preferential access to cheap colonial resources, and technological leadership in areas like car manufacture, aircraft design, heavy engineering, added value food manufacture, and much more. Brexit may, indeed, happen – or some version of it – but when it fails to produce some magical re-ordering of the state of Britain’s economy, and vast swathes of the country continue to be over-crowded and under-employed, where will electors turn next?

And what about America?

greatagainWhat if “Make America Great Again” turns out to be just so much more polly-waffle. Because America actually can’t be made great again, because it’s hopelessly under-capitalised (seen the deficit recently?) with a shrinking tax take, too turgid, not innovative enough, and rapidly being muscled out by new, cheaper more agile competitors.

And America’s too political. Just too damn political. So when someone calls for huge investment in “green energy” for example, sensible, laudable forward-thinking initiatives are killed by a bunch of old-economy oil barons protecting their turf, aided and abetted by politicians who are either in their pocket, or who would rather deliver a smart soundbite about how alternative energy sources will never match up to our needs, and anyway, “who believes all that global warming stuff anyhow?” rather than take on the task of educating the public as to why such investment isn’t just a good idea, it’s mandatory.

The very obvious point is that moving to alternative energy sources will simply make the planet cleaner, anyhow, and wouldn’t that be nice, even if global warming isn’t happening and 99% of the scientists in the world are wrong? And anyway, old-style energy sources are running out whether or not the planet is warming. One day we will run out of gas, oil, coal, and uranium, or it will simply be too expensive to extract what’s left. What then?

Doesn’t it seem to make sense to have a fall back solution?

Of course it makes sense, but we are idolising politicians who could care less if it makes sense. Look at Trump’s insistence that he will wind back support for solar energy and expand the coal industry. It plays well amongst unemployed coal miners, it played well in key swing states like Pennsylvania, and the owners of coal companies will be delighted. Not so much the future-focused industries. Among solar-power installers, SolarCity Corp. which Tesla Motors Corp. is currently trying to acquire, closed down 4% on Wednesday. Rival Vivint Solar Inc. was among the biggest decliners, ending the day off 6.3%, while SunRun Inc. tumbled 4%. Solar-panel makers and solar-power developers fared no better. SunPower skidded 14% and First Solar Inc. lost 4.2%. The American depositary receipts of China-based solar-panel manufacturer JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. fell 8.4%; Trina Solar Ltd. ADRs closed 2.3% down for the day. The Guggenhim Solar ETF  was off 5.6%.

This is just one industry sector out of dozens we could consider. We’re going to make America great again by massacring an industry of the future and pumping up a tired old industry of increasing irrelevance. Irrelevance, we say? Yup. Coal prices have fallen more than 50% since 2011 as it has faced stiff competition from plentiful natural gas which is easier to extract and transport, cleaner to use, and cheaper. That isn’t going to change.

We’re going to rob Peter to pay Paul – lose jobs and wealth in the solar industry to prop up jobs and profits in the coal sector. And in doing so, we will send the American ability to compete (against the Europeans, especially) backwards, again. And for what? So we can make it look like we are keeping in line with our hugely overblown promise. “Back to basics! None of this wanky new stuff! Let’s get those mines open again!” We’re in the process of doing exactly the same in Australia.

Politics, pure and simple.

But the stakes here are simply enormous. The howling, inchoate anger of the masses that saw Trump elected will absolutely not tolerate another failure. Trump has massively raised expectations of his (and by implication, the Republicans’) ability to fix things with a massive tranche of people who have lost all hope and trust in “the system’s” ability (or desire) to help them.

He’s their last throw of the dice.

He has blindly and repeatedly promised jobs, jobs, jobs with no plan as to how to create them, other than slashing taxes for business and for the well off, and vaguely “getting government off people’s backs”. Which is all well and good, except the evidence is that cutting taxes very often does not create jobs, because the “trickle down” effect of lower taxes for the rich is illusory, and there is no evidence that cutting corporate tax results in higher levels of investment in business, either.

And “getting government off people’s backs” is simply code for slashing the social credit: cutting money for hospitals, education, welfare, veterans, transport and more. Which are precisely the things that the disenfranchised people that vote for him need to survive. So in four Trump/Republican supporting areas in America last night electors voted to increase the basic wage – because they can’t live on what they’re getting now – an act which will now be opposed by the very people they voted for.

Sometimes, looking around can be instructive. This interesting little article about how constantly pumping up the electorate’s expectations has essentially wrecked the Icelandic economy and destroyed the trust of the voters is well worth reading.

Is there an alternative? Yes there is. We need politicians (and opinion leaders) who can explain the realities of the world in simple enough terms for people to understand. It is not a coincidence that Trump’s largest area of support drew from the under-educated. The same was true of Brexit. If the Legia Nord persuade Italy to leave the EU, or the National Front take power in France, the same will be true again.

That’s not a value judgement, it’s an indisputible fact that needs to be understood. If you haven’t finished high school, let alone done further education, you simply aren’t going to have the head skills to understand complex arguments. So what do we do in response? Do we work out how to make those arguments genuinely accessible? Do we re-examine our communications techniques to explain what’s going on to the widest possible number of people, to prevent an expectations bubble blowing up? No, we don’t – because we don’t think we can get elected that way. So we reduce our political messages to the mindlessly boiled down and un-achievably aspirational. We’re going to Make America Great Again. How? Sorry, I need to move on and talk about emails.

Trump has ratcheted the expectations for his incoming Presidency to impossibly high levels. If he crashes and burns, we genuinely fear for the very fabric of society. And we fear that effect appearing all over the world.

churchillOne of the most famous political speeches of all time was made by Winston Churchill when he took over Government in the most parlous situation in May, 1940. With Britain’s very existence at stake, he said:

“I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

The national unity that was engendered, and the national effort it produced, has never been exceeded before that time, or after. Indeed, many consider Britain’s War Cabinet from 1940-45 to be the most effective UK Government of any era.

Blood? Toil? Tears? Sweat? An Ordeal? Struggle? Suffering?

Didn’t hear a lot about that sort of stuff in recent years, did you? And yet now is exactly when the angry, bitter, betrayed working and middle classes desperately need our political leaders and our media to tell them the truth.

They won’t, so we will.

A lot of the next ten or twenty years are going to be shit, quite frankly, and there’s no real sign that we know what to do about it.

Our kids will probably be less well off than we are, at least some of them will, and some of us will be, too. Our kids are going to have a whole heap of challenges we can only guess at now.

Our world is changing faster than we can manage, the stars are realigning, and the very first thing we need to do is face up to it, because unless we do, there is not just a vanishingly small chance we’ll work it out, there is no chance whatsoever.

We need a massive effort, akin to being in a war against a tyrant. And we are going to make mistakes, there are going to be mis-steps, and if we try to slay our opponents or burn the house down every time there is, we’re never going to get anywhere.

The days of plentiful cheap resources and endlessly expanding markets are gone. Forever. And we can’t rely on population growth to take up the slack, because it creates as many problems as it solves.

How we handle the coming change, with its inherent difficulties, will be the measure of our shared humanity. Let’s start by facing up to the challenge, and taking the people with us.

 

 

trade

 

As everyone by now knows, this is an incredibly tight election, and it is looking increasingly likely that Donald Trump will pull off an historic victory.

The race is very close in Michigan, a state where polling indicated a win to Clinton by 4-10%, and getting better for her, not worse. And Wisconsin is looking dodgy for Clinton. She really cannot afford to lose either of them, and definitely not both of them.

One motivating factor in these states is the decline of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the automobile sector, and particularly in Michigan. Although Clinton was favoured to win Michigan by FiveThirtyEight’s forecast and many others, Trump has touted a message that could appeal to many voters there: International trade has harmed the county.

Sure enough, exit polls indicate that 50 percent of Michiganders agreed that trade with other countries would “take jobs away” from the U.S. Only 31 percent thought trade “creates more jobs.” And among Trump supporters, a whopping 65 percent had a negative view on trade.

Think about that. The party of business, bouyed up by those who don’t believe in business.

How does trade “take jobs away”? It “takes jobs away” in a country where ignorance is frighteningly rife, where self-confidence has plummeted to hitherto never seen before levels, a country that has been constantly sold an untruth, which is that America leads the world economically, when it has been clear for some time now that this is no longer true. A country where a majority of people now say they think things will be worse for their kids than them, and they are probably right. But they have the wrong target in their sights.

Trade doesn’t take jobs away. Trade is the only thing that creates jobs. America used to know that. It’s forgotten. Ignorance has triumphed, egged on by those who should know better – assuming they care – egged on by the very people who use the global economy to feather their own nests.

In other words, this is not a win against the elite. This is a win for one portion of the elite running a better lie.

The rest of the world has a great deal to fear from a blindly protectionist American administration. There may be celebration in Trump Tower tonight, although that is yet to be completely confirmed. There will be no celebrating in world markets.

 

 

American election update

Posted: November 9, 2016 in Political musings
Tags:

At lunchtime in Australia, the presidential race in Florida is incredibly close, and good for Trump, but remarkably Clinton is doing well in North Carolina and Ohio. Clinton is down by 0.5%-1% in Florida with 90% counted, but it is unclear whether the remaining votes are from Democratic or Republican-leaning areas. Broward County has hardly reported at all, and that should be good for Clinton.

The Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, so a Clinton Presidency could be gridlocked from Day 1.

One major casualty of tonight could be house speaker Paul Ryan, who will now have to deal with a lot more very right wing Tea Party types, and with a smaller majority, in all likelihood.

More news as it comes to hand.

youcan

 

We haven’t been doing very well with our predicting, recently. There: that’s a sentence you don’t normally expect in the world of political punditry.

But the fact is we got the Brexit vote totally wrong – we were hardly Robinson Crusoe in that regard, but that doesn’t matter – and we also failed to predict a Conservative overall majority in the UK, but again, almost no-one got that right either and it was a very close run thing … from a psephological point of view the change in the Lib Dem seats in the West can literally be assumed to have taken place in the last 48 hours, so we weren’t the only people surprised.

But for a year now, we have been confidently predicting a Clinton victory in the 2016 Presidential election. Our analysis has ranged from “massive Clinton victory” to “comfortable Clinton victory” and at no stage have we EVER speculated that Trump could win.

And today, despite all the recent froth and bubble in the media, we repeat our prediction. Clinton’s got this. With a margin somewhere between “just” and “just about comfortable”. Which considering she has been subject to the longest period of personal vilification ever seen in modern political history, much of which has been entirely politically motivated and rank untruths, is really quite a remarkable thing. She has been pilloried, lied about, accused of ludicrous things, with a level of pure vitriolic hatred that can only be described as anti-democratic and neo-fascist in its expression. And she’s a woman. And anyone who thinks that there isn’t evidence of blatant sexism in some people’s denial of her right to be President is simply naive, just as many of the attacks on her health and stamina – which seem to be just fine when you consider her punishing schedule – are codes for “weak, poor little woman thing”.

Let’s be clear: we have previously pointed out at length that “No”, Clinton is not a perfect person. Who is, after all? Let alone in the field of politics. She is, however, a shining knight clothed in holy armour wielding a blazing sword of righteousness compared to Trump. That a large percentage of intending American voters can’t see that is truly distressing and disturbing to the rest of us.

We can’t bring myself to be angry with every Trump voter. After all, they’re perfectly entitled to disagree with us, and we know some of them personally, and they are patently obviously decent folk. Social media has dominated where they are getting their information from, and this is what’s dominating their social media , a highly sophisticated misinformation campaign mounted deliberately, and with malice aforethought.

So what we have been witnessing is a perversion of democracy. Let us hope that enough Americans agree so that after Tuesday we see some real and meaningful reform to both media coverage and the tone of campaigning. This morning on radio in Melbourne one of the more senior (and least alarmist) hosts remarked “America is broken. It’s like Humpty Dumpty, and I cant see how it’s ever going to be put back together again.” Which is a miserable thought for all who treasure much of what is good – even great – about America.

Anyway, back to the impending result. A lot of people have been opining that some Trump voters are hiding their intentions from pollsters because they’re embarrassed to admit they support him, and arguing that the phenomenon is “like Brexit”, which is all very well except right up to the Brexit vote it was always going to be close (Brexiteer Nigel Farage famously remarked that a 52-48 vote in favour of Remain should be ignored, then promptly changed his tune when his side won by that very margin), and speaking out against the EU was never something that the vast majority of Britons had any problem with.

It should also be noted that for someone to be so embarrassed to be supporting Trump that they would have to lie to pollsters yet still be intending to vote for him would require some very complex mental circumlocutions. And given the hurricane of criticism she has received, we think it just as likely that some Clinton supporters might not wish to express their support for her, so any “ashamed of Trump” effect would in all probably be evened out by an “ashamed of Clinton” effect. Indeed, if anything, the “enthusiasm” levels that are measured are lower for Clinton than Trump, so that effect would be greater.

So we simply do not believe, as the Trump side has been furiously talking up, that there is some vast unspoken well of support for the Republicans.

Essentially, we think the opinion polls have it about right, which is somewhere in the region of a 2-3% lead in the popular vote for Clinton, which is now climbing again, but a stronger lead for her in some key battleground seats. We think Trump may actually do better in some of the solid “red” seats than is currently expected, except it won’t matter because he’ll be piling up votes where he doesn’t need them.

There has been much talk about which the key swing states are. We all know about Florida, where we suspect Trump may just pull it off, following an erosion in support for Libertarian Gary Johnson which has caused a drift back to him, as people focus on the main game. But Florida really is too complex to call with any degree of certainty. Two other factors are complicating matters. Firstly there is some strong evidence that a significant percentage of early Republican voters have backed Clinton, which in a state with a very significant early voting percentage, and where the Democrats ground game is markedly better, may just tip the state back to her. It was won by Obama, remember. Secondly, Latinos in the state are voting in increased numbers, and as we have opined previously, Trump has very good reason to fear an uptick in the Latino vote. Because of our political preferences we are hopeful of a Clinton victory, but the psephologist in us urges caution. And in any very close election, we are minded to remember Bush v Gore, which we remain convinced was nothing more nor less than a judicial coup. Now, though, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 between Liberals and Conservatives, so any similar farrago this time may be avoidable … Hillary Clinton is ahead 48 – 42 percent among Florida voters who already have cast ballots.

Let us hope this election doesn’t come down to lawyers at dawn. One calculation has a 17% chance that Florida will be the “tipping point” state, yet again.

FLORIDA VERDICT Too close to call/Very close Clinton victory

Moving up the country, the next vital state is North Carolina. There were some early indications that Clinton might be in trouble in a state with a large black vote where there was less enthusiasm in black voters than in the Obama elections, in a state won by the Republicans last time, and in areas where Republican voter suppression has been seen at its most naked. The voter suppression laws have been largely declared invalid, but possibly too late to rescue the situation. Then again, President Obama, who is still a talisman for the African-American vote, has been strategically deployed to “get the black vote out”. If he succeeds, what might have been the narrowest win for Trump may turn into a narrow win for Clinton. There’s no question that the race is tight, but we perceive Clinton inching ahead in the last couple of days. In particular, a normally very reliable poll now has her up by three having previously had Trump ahead by four just a couple of weeks ago. In a reliable poll using the same methodology, that’s a significant movement, and in the last week Clinton has seemingly risen slightly further. The only impossible to discern factor is how far Libertarian candidate Johnson will fall. Five Thirty Eight actually says Trump is more likely to win, but we think there may be enough African-American enthusiasm to carry the day for the Democrats.

NORTH CAROLINA Too close to call/Very close Clinton victory

The next crucial contest is Ohio. We think that this can now be safely called in the Trump camp. He has been improving there steadily, and there is, clearly, a generalised move to the Republicans in the central states. Some of the key factors here are that Clinton is doing significantly less well with female voters here than generally, and Trump has garnered an historically high number of male voters.There is also a strong sense amongst the working class and non-college educated vote that they are being ignored by the elite, especially as regards trade deals and employment initiatives. The notably right wing Governor, Kasich, has ironically and pointedly refused to back Trump, but his general stance seems to have solidified Republican support.

OHIO Trump

Moving to the right, but only geographically, Pennsylvania seems equally locked in the Clinton column. The state seems to be delivering a solid lead of 4-6% for Clinton in survey after survey no matter how you dice and dust the results. That’s now too big for Trump to overhaul except in some mythical scenario where his vote is being under-estimated by 10-20%, which isn’t going to happen. A potential transit strike in Philly won’t help poorer voters of either party to get around on polling day. It remains to be seen whether the City’s attempt to injunct the strike is successful.

PENNSYVANIA Clinton

It is worth pointing out that no one has been elected president since 1960 without carrying two of the three key swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This year, North Carolina has been added to that mix. We see the four states leaning to Clinton overall – just. Are we confident in that prediction? Not especially. In Florida and NC we could be dead wrong, as the current polls are well within margins of error. Interestingly, though, that can cut both ways. Take 3-4% off Clinton and Trump does very well indeed. Add 3-4% to Clinton and it becomes a Clinton landslide.

Can we get a better idea by looking at other close states? Maybe. But first a word overall. Nate Silver’s normally highly reliable 538 site has a movement back to Clinton from Trump in terms of their chances of winning of what may be a hugely significant 0.8% from the fourth to the fifth of November. This presumably reflects both the FBI’s confirmation that Clinton is to be charged with nothing regarding the endless email scandal, and the following:

The small state of Nevada should deliver it’s 6 votes to the Republicans without any difficulty. Except … the Democrats ground game here has been especially aggressive, particularly via organised labor and targeting the Latino community. If Trump loses Nevada – and he could – he’s in trouble.

Whilst New Hampshire has come back towards Trump in the very recent past, Clinton is still solidly ahead in the vast majority of polls, although there have been a couple that have it line ball or leaning Trump, but these come from polls that seem less reliable than some others, and one which is positively partisan. The role of the Libertarian candidate here will be crucial in a state where “alternative” candidates often do well. How well his vote holds up will probably decide the state, and at the moment he seems to be hanging onto enough votes to cruel things for Trump. It’s only 4 electoral college votes, but they’re four votes who if they went to Trump it would suggest a real Republican surge.

In Michigan, with its important 16 electoral votes, Clinton is holding onto about a 4% lead, with Gary Johnson’s vote holding much steadier than in some other places. Whilst the race unquestionably tightened in the last half of October the situation now seems more stable for Clinton, and possibly moving back to her slightly. The opposite is true in Iowa, where Trump is strengthening his position, as with many mid-West states.

Virginia was close for Obama but it is becoming increasingly suburban and – as it does – liberal. If Clinton were to lose it – we don’t think she will – she can kiss her hopes goodbye.

So: our prediction?

We predict that without Pennsylvania, Trump cannot win, even if he carries Ohio and Florida – unless he is able to also capture Michigan and Wisconsin. But both states have voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections and Clinton is ahead in both.

One of the interesting factors will be how early Florida declares – or is declared – by the media. Beyond the very fact of the significance of its votes going to Trump, because of the time difference a very early declaration for Trump could cause a cascade effect through the centre and west.

A Trump win in Pennsylvania would be very difficult for Clinton to make up. The loss of Pennsylvania together with Florida would be a real blow to her chances.

We see Clinton with anything from the barest 270 electoral college votes up to about 290-300. Trump probably about 230-256, maybe a few less.

Which means Trump will do better than anyone ever imagined possible until recently. But no: he isn’t going to win.

Betting odds are currently 4-1 or so ON Clinton and 4-1 or 5-1 AGAINST Trump. That looks about right.

Well, for today, at least. We’ll see more polls and analysis tomorrow, but till then, well, that’s what we think.

UPDATE as at 14.25 AEST

Polls have firmed for Clinton overnight with it now looking likely she will take Florida, unlikely she will take North Carolina but not impossible, not going to take Ohio, will take Pennsylvania, and will take Michigan and Nevada.

Somewhere, a fat lady is singing. Clinton wins.

 

 

united-states-capitol-night-view

 

After an increasingly likely trouncing by Hillary Clinton, which might extend a long way down the ballot paper and might even – in the fevered dreams of a few ironed-on Democrats anyway – result in Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, although we think that unlikely – the “Grand Old Party” is going to have to do some very serious thinking about it’s future direction.

It is not at all improbable that the party will actually splinter beyond repair, and the right in American politics will find itself much like the Centre and Left in Britain, where the Conservative Party currently looks unassailable by an Opposition split between a Labour Party which is completely riven with internal discord much as the Republicans are now, with about another 20% or so of the vote shared out between the vaguely centrist Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and the Nationalists in Wales and Scotland.

With a “first past the post” electoral system for its main elections, just like in America, any major splits on one side of the traditional two-sided model of adversary politics can very quickly result in a long-lasting hegemony for the more stable side.

Which is why we are interested in Evan McMullin, the ex-CIA operative taking Trump votes in Utah. An independent conservative who calls himself “the opposite of Trump”, he is giving the Republican presidential candidate a run for his money in Utah, a state that has reliably voted ‘red’ for more than 50 years.

Evan McMullin was once the chief policy director of the House Republican Conference, but he decided to leave the party after he realised the GOP’s problems “are too deep” to resolve in this generation’s lifetime, he told NBC News. His platform now is based on differentiating himself from the main party candidates, who he argues are more similar than they are different from each other. A similar siren call in Australia – which has proportional voting in its Upper House (Senate) has seen a clutch of smaller parties and independents seize the balance of power from the two major parties, with as yet uncertain results.

The issue is at stake, of course, is have the divisions in the Republican party simply become too overt and too fundamental for it to recover?

Image: Evan McMullinMcMullin, (left), a Brigham Young University graduate, former CIA officer, investment banker and congressional aide, certainly thinks so. And it seems a large number of his local electorate agree with him.

“The short-hand is I believe both Trump and Clinton are from the left side of the political spectrum in most ways,” he said. “Both want to grow the size of the government. I’m the only conservative in this race. I favour a limited government.”

His alternative governing views, and his Mormon faith, have attracted so much support among Utah voters that in a survey conducted earlier this week by Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics, McMullin was in a statistical tie with Trump and Clinton.

The survey, conducted after lewd comments made by Trump in 2005 surfaced, showed Clinton and Trump tied at 26 percent, McMullin with 22 percent, and Libertarian Gary Johnson holding steady at 14 percent, according to Utah’s Deseret News.

The support, McMullin said, is as much about his policies compared to Clintons’ and Trump’s as it is about his character. “I think the American people know that both of these options are awful, and they’re looking for something better. That [Trump] tape really crystallised that sentiment for a lot of people. I consider myself the opposite of Trump in a lot of ways, both in terms of a lot of policies, and in terms of temperament and judgment,” he said.

McMullin, along with his running mate Mindy Finn, doesn’t have much of a shot at actually getting elected President — he’s only on the ballot in 11 states and a write-in option in 23 others — but political experts say his rise in Utah is notable.

“This is completely different than anything we’ve ever seen,” Christopher Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, told NBC News. “I think there is just widespread frustration with Donald Trump and really with both of the candidates from the two major parties, so Utahns, including many who have typically voted Republican, are casting about for some other alternative.” McMullin, Karpowitz added, fits a “particular set of needs in this state: people who don’t feel like they can in good conscience vote for Trump, but they’re not ready to vote for Hillary Clinton, either.”

But political watchers aren’t ready to predict a win for McMullin in Utah, which hasn’t strayed from its Republican roots since 1964 — even with big-name Republicans such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Gov. Gary Herbert withdrawing their support for Trump in recent days.

“I still think it’s unlikely that he takes the state of Utah,” Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. But for Clinton and Trump, he said, “I think it’s going to be closer than anyone could have expected.” And losing the state’s six Electoral Votes could seriously complicate Trump’s ability to win the 270 needed to win the White House.

Whether he wins or not, McMullin says he fears for the future of the GOP.

“I seriously doubt the Republican party is viable as a political vehicle going forward. I think it will shrink in size, I think it might become a white nationalist party if Donald Trump supporters remain active after the election,” he said. “It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”

The interesting thing for anyone who can manage to look at the matter dispassionately is that both major parties in the USA are, of course, coalitions of the willing, but at the moment the Democrats are doing a much better job of yoking together their party, which ranges widely across traditional white collar voters who prefer an interventionists government but who hold conservative social views, socialists, urban radicals, environmentalists, social liberals, right over to really quite conservative characters like Clinton herself. The burying of the hatchet between Clinton and the populist “socialist” Bernie Sanders has been accomplished with panache despite dire predictions of widespread abstentions by his supporters.

The distinct strands in the Republicans include traditional centrists who could easily find common cause with the right of the Democrats, the religious right whose concerns are largely social, hard-right small-government “trickle down” Friendmanites, libertarians who combine far right economics with far left social values, Tea Party populists who detest Washington and want a grab bag of policies that mainly coalesce around “Leave me alone” and “Cut my taxes”, and near-fanatical States’-righters who want to re-write the constitutional settlement altogether.

rats-ship-aThe difference is that following years of internal strife between the centrist party leadership and the bands of loud and (for some) exceptionally (at least superficially) attractive Tea Party followers, the Republican Party had almost given up any pretence of being one party. And the selection of Trump – an act of political suicide in our view, an opinion we have maintained all along since his unlikely candidacy was touted – has now simply made the split more obvious than ever, as legions of rats leave the sinking ship in droves.

The dire problem for the Republicans is that, as we said, the American electoral system does not reward anything other than the creation of two coherent power blocks. Whereas in Europe you can afford to have a multiplicity of right wing parties trading preferences in a PR system, and then devising a working coalition in Government, the American system simply doesn’t offer that option. And as the system is essentially Presidential, anyway, that election invariably comes down to a choice between two candidates, as this year.

In the days when the contest of ideas in America was basically between two centrist parties, albeit with differing traditions, things were much simpler. But perhaps because of the much greater influence of a massively increased media market constantly deluging us with more and more “opinion”, or perhaps just from a generalised exhaustion amongst the electorate, who feel that both sides have taken them for a rise and the system – as far as them benefitting from it, at least – is broken, those days are over.

We are in uncharted territory. And right now, the Good Ship Republican is the one heading towards the rocks fastest.

And a system permanently leant towards one side of the political compass is not good for democracy, or any country. Those on the right in America need to some some hard thinking.

bill-hillary

We do. It’s just those who love to Lord it over us like to claim we never do.

There is little doubt that Donald Trump cheerfully boasting about having assaulted women – which when questioned about in the second debate he then denied – was a new low for American politics.

But let us consider the Clintons. Pace disputing the fine details claimed by the women produced by Trump to damage the Clintons, in the broad brushstroke view of history no one could pretend that Bill Clinton was (and for all we know, still is) anything other than what Australians call “a pants man”. Sexually highly active outside of his marriage, which fact he repeatedly denied until he could no longer get away with it.

Whether he is a rapist is more difficult to prove, simply because nothing has ever been proved, and anythign we might say or think, or indeed what anyone might say or think other than a jury hearing evidence, would be pure speculation.

Equally, despite claims to the contrary, no-one has ever proven Hillary’s role in “persecuting” the women seeking retribution for Bill wronging them. Indeed, in the Juanita Broaddrick case the investigators going after Clinton to impeach him specifically found that there had not been pressure on her to retract. Yet she says there has been, over the years.

The truth in the high-profile cases that Trump re-introduced into the debate is even harder to discern, given that some of those now accusing Bill Clinton are clearly partisan, and right wing.

Then again, had they been assaulted or raped, well, they would be very vocal in their opposition to him, and by implication his wife, wouldn’t they? We also know that victims of assault frequently offer confused or contradictory stories of their experiences, reflecting the intense psychological pressure they are under. Any understanding of their testimony needs to take that into account.

What can be said for certain about Bill Clinton is that he used the highest office in the land to seduce an impressionable young woman when the very slightest regard for moral norms should have told him not to. And even having done so, he should have re-considered.

He then denied it until he had no choice but to admit his wrongdoing, using weasel words like “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”. From where we come from, clearly what Lewinsky and Clinton did was “sex”. His attempt to deny her in this wise was reprehensible.

Whatever else Bill Clinton is, he is no gentleman.

Some of the criticisms made of Mrs Clinton are patently ridiculous.

In the very sad case of the rape of the 12 year old girl, Kathy Shelton, Clinton has been repeatedly criticised for “putting her through hell” and “laughing about the case afterwards”. In fact, as can be read here, the truth is very different. After trying to avoid taking the case, Clinton did her job as a court-appointed defender for a thoroughly unpleasant offender, and her laughter was regarding the unreliability of polygraph testing.

People conveniently forget that in the adversarial court system employed in the States Clinton had a legal responsibility to mount the strongest possible defence for her client, or face sanctions herself. That the defending counsel in rape cases often have to blacken – or at least question – the character of rape and assault victims is a crying shame in many jurisdictions in the world. Nevertheless, Clinton was only doing her job.

A fact the victim acknowledged publicly: Shelton told a Newsday reporter in 2007 that she bore no ill will toward Clinton. “I have to understand that she was representing Taylor,” she said. “I’m sure Hillary was just doing her job.” Later, she changed her mind, having heard the tape of Clinton discussing the case.

Meanwhile, sexual scandals in America (and elsewhere) are a fact of life, crossing all political boundaries. Former Vice president Al Gore is now accused of demanding sexual favours from massage therapists – so-called “happy endings”. This interesting Wikipedia article shows just how common sex scandals – straight and gay – in the Federal political sphere in America are. And it’s not like the rest of the world is any different.

The list is long and miserable. So what is really going on here?

Let us try and take the politics out of this, for a moment.

There is little doubt, as has often been claimed, that power is an aphrodisiac. People in powerful positions – in business and in politics especially – are undoubtedly sexual targets for many people, just as a seemingly inevitable expression of their powerful character and position may be their own sexual wanton-ness.

The number of stories one hears whispered sotto voce from “the corridors of power” of the enthusiastic sexual excess or adultery of men and women of all kinds far outweigh whatever stories actually become public. In many cases, journalists actively connive in keeping the tales private, because they consider them to be nobody’s business but the participants, except when the behaviour has other implications. (Like the Profumo affair, for example.) And in many cases, journalists keep the stories “spiked” because they are participants.

The cliche of the “boss” sleeping with their personal assistant is a cliche simply because it happens so often. And an air of sexual innuendo and availability permeates political parties, in particular, and has been the cause of many women bemoaning the fact that their advancement seems to rely on being willing sexual partners to men whose advances they have no interest in receiving.

Mix both situations with alcohol – or being in a location away from home – and the effect is magnified.

Or to put it another way, it seems hardly surprising that sexual scandal seems the norm, rather than the exception, especially in an era when the ties of marriage seem somewhat looser than in the past.

But if sexual hi-jinks are the “new normal”, then what are the rules governing that brave new world?

It is surely clear that the first and primary focus of everyone must be on confirmed assent. And because many women, in particular, feel pressured into sexual behaviour that they are not entirely comfortable with – or at all comfortable with – then the nature of that consent needs to be explicit and unambiguous.

At its most simple, men simply have to ask, out loud, “Is it OK with you if I/we do this?”, and also to be aware that apparent consent (such as a bashful or embarrassed “Yes”) may in fact be a sign of really being a “No”, as may be physical body-language indicators such as looking down or away, physical rigidity, and so on.

Even more complex is that sexual activity is a continuum, not a moment in time, and what might have been acceptable at one point in the exchange becomes unacceptable further on because one of the partners changes their mind.

It sounds like a minefield, and it is, but after all – if both parties to a sexual tryst are jointly and equally excited about the prospect, it’s pretty damned obvious, isn’t it? So at any given moment, if a man senses no matter how fleetingly that the woman may be unhappy with the situation, and we are talking primarily about male-female sex here, they are surely duty bound to articulate the question above, and listen hard to the answer, on all levels, even if it’s been asked previously. Similarly, one episode of sexual consent does not necessarily predicate a future one.

So far so good. None of which, though, would have applied in the case of Monica Lewinksy and Bill Clinton, where Lewinsky was clearly infatuated with the older man.

Lewinsky candidly said:

“I fell in love with my boss in a 22-year-old sort of a way,” she told a summit organised by the business magazine Forbes. “But my boss was the President of the United States. In 1995 we started an affair that lasted, on and off, for two years. And at that time, it was my everything. That, I guess you could say, was the golden bubble part for me; the nice part. The nasty part was that it became public.”

Should Bill Clinton have resisted the charms of Ms Lewinsky, as they were a betrayal of his marriage, his office, and also taking advantage of her naivitee? Undoubtedly. On the other hand, they were both consenting adults, and until the matter became public, contentedly so.

But Lewinsky also went on to say, in May this year, responding to a partial transcript of a late-1990s phone conversation in which Mrs Clinton called her a “narcissistic loony toon”, “Hillary Clinton wanted it on record that she was lashing out at her husband’s mistress. She may have faulted her husband for being inappropriate, but I find her impulse to blame the Woman – not only me, but herself – troubling.”

We agree. Clinton could choose to excuse or defend or overlook her husband’s infidelities – many marriages survive infidelity for all sorts of reasons, indeed, some become stronger – but without demeaning the character of his lover.

Anyhow: taken all in all, it is a sorry history. No side comes out of it with any honour.

Perhaps all we can hope for is that current and future generations will eschew power-oriented sexual behaviour entirely, and become much more adept at handling sexual matters in a more equal and sensible manner. Starting right now, we hope.

And as for the Clintons? No, they’re not perfect. In our experience all our idols have feet of clay, and how much clay goes to make up their lower limbs determines whether or not we feel we can support them despite their flaws.

They may well fail some or all of the “character” test, but in all probability so do many around them, including their opponents. Politics is a murky and unpleasant business some of the time, and certainly it is currently. Uneasy voters are left trying to parse which candidate’s program they feel more comfortable with, while holding their nose and voting for one or the other. We could devoutly wish that future choices will be more edifying.

And as for sexual assault and rape? If proved, the perpetrator should be punished, whoever they are.

But the key word in that sentence is “proved”. “There’s no smoke without fire” might well be true, and we will all make judgements based on what we think we know in any given situation, but it’s not a basis on which we can or should conduct public life.

The public life of anyone. Even the Clintons.

Still from the film Panfilov's 28 Men (courtesy of: Panfilov's 28 Men / Andrey Shalopa, Kim Druzhinin / Lybian Palette Studios Gaijin Entertainment)

A clip from the war film – Kazakhs, Russians and others are shown as Soviet comrades in arms. Only problem, the event depicted never happened.

A new film showing Red Army soldiers outnumbered by invading Germans but battling on heroically has become part of the Kremlin’s campaign to restore Russian pride.

State television showed Russian President Vladimir Putin watching the film last week, alongside Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in the Central Asian leader’s capital Astana.

The clear message was that Russia and Kazakhstan are maintaining Soviet-era bonds of friendship, despite tensions in other parts of the former USSR. But the film itself – Panfilov’s 28 Men – is based on a communist myth.

Presidents Vladimir Putin (left) and Nursultan Nazarbayev watch Panfilov's 28 Men

The film depicts an heroic act of self-sacrifice outside Leningrad – now St Petersburg – in November 1941.

According to the Soviet mythology, 28 guardsmen from the Red Army’s 316th Rifle Division, mainly recruits from the Kazakh and Kyrgyz Soviet republics, stood unflinching against the advancing might of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. The men, led by Maj Gen Ivan Panfilov, were all killed, but destroyed 18 German tanks before they fell. The 28 were immortalised – posthumously decorated as Heroes of the Soviet Union – and Soviet children learnt about their last stand in school.

Yet historians say the story is not true.

An official Soviet investigation into the event, compiled in 1948, concluded that the story was the “invention” of a journalist from the Red Army’s newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. The reporter’s account was at best exaggerated, and several of the men survived. The results of the probe were kept secret.

But the themes of the story chime with the Kremlin’s worldview, and the state partly sponsored the new film.

The Kremlin customarily promotes the idea of World War Two as a heroic victory that united the Soviet state against fascism – and still unites Russia today against a similar threat they say has resurfaced in Ukraine, which is, of course, nonsense.

The USSR suffered the heaviest losses in the war – more than 20 million civilians and military – though scholars dispute the exact toll.

 

WW2 veterans at the memorial to Panfilov's men in Dubosekovo, near Moscow

WW2 veterans at the memorial to Panfilov’s men in Dubosekovo, near Moscow

The film shows Kazakhs, Russians and other Russian speakers standing shoulder-to-shoulder to defend the Motherland. It echoes a Russian foreign policy concept: a Moscow-centred “Russian World” united by a common language.

But when, in June last year, Russian State Archive director Sergei Mironenko, citing historical documents, said the story was in fact a myth, he earned a sharp rebuke from Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

Mr Mironenko was removed as head of the archive in March this year.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks at a special banquet reception for WW2 veterans to mark Victory Day in the Kremlin in Moscow, 9 May 2013

On Victory Day – 9 May – President Putin warned against “falsification of history”.

In February 2013, President Putin ordered a single history syllabus for schools, offering a standardised narrative. A new state “History” TV channel was launched that year too. Supporters of Mr Putin’s bid for a “canonical” history say it is needed in order to keep such a large state together. Yet critics see it as an attempt to impose one official version of the past.

Mr Putin and other officials have repeatedly talked about the need to counter the “falsification of history” or “rewriting history”. They oppose interpretations of World War Two or other episodes of Soviet history that deviate from officially approved narratives.

Mr Putin’s father was seriously wounded as a soldier on the Leningrad front.

People carry portraits of WW2 soldiers in the Immortal Regiment march in St Petersburg

The annual Immortal Regiment march honours World War Two sacrifices in St Petersburg

Mr Medinsky, the culture minister, defended Panfilov’s 28 Men, saying “Even if this story was invented from start to finish, if there had been no Panfilov, if there had been nothing, this is a sacred legend that shouldn’t be interfered with. People that do that are filthy scum.”

It is not the first time Russian officials have suggested that certain chapters of Russian history are sacred. But the concept of portraying something as history that is officially acknowledged as un-factual is very “1984”, and part of a trend worldwide which is rather worrisome. If we can’t possibly know what is true and what isn’t – if we are forbidden to say what is untrue – then how can people form a rational view of history?

In January 2014, independent liberal broadcaster Dozhd TV also came under attack. It was accused of smearing the memory of WW2 veterans by asking whether residents of wartime Leningrad could have been saved by surrendering the city to Nazi forces.

Screengrab from Russian Kommersant website

“Citing Nuremberg” – a court ruled that blogger Vladimir Luzgin was guilty of denying facts established by the Nuremberg Trials

The public discussion of WW2 history has also been curbed by a controversial 2014 law against the rehabilitation of Nazism.

Under this law, Vladimir Luzgin, a blogger from Perm region in the Urals, was fined 200,000 roubles ($3,200; £2,500) for reposting an article about the war on the Russian social network VK (VKontakte), the daily Kommersant reported in July.

The court ruled that Luzgin posted an article with knowingly false information about a joint invasion of Poland by German and Soviet forces on 1 September 1939.

According to the prosecutors, Luzgin realised that the text might instil in many people “a firm conviction about negative actions of the USSR” in the war.

The court said Luzgin had falsified history by stating “that the communists and Germany jointly attacked Poland, unleashing World War Two, or in other words, that Communism and Nazism co-operated honestly”.

In September, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the punishment of Luzgin was justified.

Nazi Germany and the USSR signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939 – the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In a secret protocol, they agreed to carve up Poland between them.

Nazi troops invaded Poland on 1 September and Soviet troops, from the east, on 17 September. The Russians claim it was to defend themselves against potential Nazi aggression, but most independent historians consider it nothing more nor less than a naked and opportunist land grab by Russia, and the repression of the population in the seized areas left a scar which persists to this day.

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (L) with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler

A photo (undated) shows Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (L) with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler

Promoted by the state and personally previewed by Mr Putin, Panfilov’s 28 Men may well prove a box office hit when it comes out in November.

Myth making in pursuit of political goals is hardly new in cinema, of course. The Nazis employed the tactic mercilessly, as did Britain, and to a lesser extent, America, who persisted with the practice right up to the Vietnam war. And no one could argue that the golden era of Hollywood “Westerns” portrayed anything like a reasonable view of the native peoples of America and the wars with them. But two wrongs – or multiple wrongs – don’t make a right.

Many Russians may not know how the state embroidered the tale of Panfilov’s men – but then many may not care either. That is what should concern us.

(BBC and Wellthisiswhatithink)

pinProvided even a reasonable percentage of her supporters turn out, as opposed to spending the day in a bar drowning their sorrows at what has become of America, then Hillary Clinton has already won the Presidential election.

Barring an opinion earthquake, of course. Of which, yes, there is always a tiny possibility – especially in this most unusual year – but we surely now know everything there is to know about Mrs Clinton after her much-touted thirty years in public life. The chances of anything truly dramatic coming out now is vanishingly low, especially after the Wikileaks big expose, which kept some right-wing Americans up all night with excitement waiting for the goss, turned out to be a complete fizzer.

How can we be so sure? Simple. The size of the mountain Trump has to climb.

This is famed statistician Nate Silver’s latest forecast of the likely result.

Likely election result

This takes into account a wide range of opinion polls, some traditionally favouring one side, some the other, but only some of which factor in opinions SINCE the Trump “groping” scandal broke. The CNN poll on “who won the debate” isn’t factored in, but that strongly favoured Clinton too, even though it generally overstates Clinton support slightly, a factor that CNN acknowledge.

In other words, if Trump’s scandalous remarks are not fully factored in yet, and the debate isn’t either, then this is a dire result for Trump. His position, already looking rocky, has declined further. And still has some downside to go.

This is how Trump has been faring recently:

Clinton creeps towards 50% in the popular vote.

Clinton creeps towards 50% in the popular vote.

 

The College starts to favour Clinton markedly.

The College starts to favour Clinton markedly.

 

Chance of winning

The “chance of winning” calculation looks insurmountable for Trump.

 

The “path to a win” problem

Most pointedly, when we look at the Electoral College likely result, Trump’s path to the White House now looks impossible, because the polls are predicting critical wins for the Democrats in Florida (up by more than three points) and Pennsylvania (up by nearly seven points), in North Carolina and Virginia by comfortable margins, and, indeed, in every other battleground state except Nevada and Arizona, and in Nevada Trump’s lead is just 4%, and in Arizona it’s “even stevens”, but then again we also know that the main newspaper in that state is now campaigning for Clinton.

Trump simply doesn’t have a route to win, on these figures. As things stand, Clinton will win 310-340 electoral college votes: more than enough for a very comfortable victory. Trump may well pile up votes in very conservative locations, but that doesn’t help him, no matter how much “singing to the choir” he does.

But the real killer for Trump is that things are going to get worse from here, not better. Blind Freddie can see that there will be some fallout from the recent furore that will be reflected in polls that will get reported by about Wednesday or Thursday, American time. How big a hit Trump will take is as yet unknown, but a hit there will be.

And as Silver argues:

Trump couldn’t really afford any negative shock to his numbers, given that he entered Friday in a bad position to begin with. Let’s say that the tape only hurts him by one percentage point, for instance, bringing him to a 6-point deficit from a 5-point deficit a week ago. Even that would be a pretty big deal. Before, Trump had to make up five points in five weeks — or one point per week. Now, he has to make up six points in four weeks instead (1.5 points per week).

In other words, Trump’s mountain is growing, not getting smaller. A gain of 1.5 points a week will require a massive sea change in opinion and there is no evidence whatsoever that is happening.

In addition, we see three more anti-Trump factors that will be starting to bite against him, given that is always a delay between things coming up and them affecting the opinion polls.

Trump’s “non payment of Federal tax for 20 years”

The expose over Trump’s tax situation is, we believe, much more telling than some people have realised. It’s simply too smug for Trump to dismiss it as “smart business” to use write offs to reduce tax seemingly forever. The idea that a billionaire doesn’t need to pay ANY tax, year after year, is a lousy atmospheric for the Republicans, especially for a party often condemned as being only interested in the big end of town. Trump’s natural support base is angry. Angry in an inchoate, unspecific way.

And they all pay their taxes, on much lower incomes. Sure, a few will say “good on him”, and a few will argue “he did nothing illegal”, but that is emphatically not the point. Most will say, “Well, f***.”

Trump’s stunt on Sunday with “the Bill Clinton women”.

No one would argue that Bill Clinton is anything other than a womaniser: it’s a near-fatal character flaw when his record is judged. But there’s a reason that Republican strategists have historically NOT gone after him as a means to get at Hillary. It’s because every time it’s brought up, it produces more sympathy for Hillary than everything else, especially amongst women voters. In desperation, Trump broke that rule. It won’t help him, and could hurt him.

Also, every time Trump brings up Clinton it reminds people of his own transgressions. His first wife accused him of rape – an allegation withdrawn after a confidential settlement. A “live” rape case with a thirteen year old plaintiff is in the courts now. Trump denies both, but, you know, so did Clinton …

The Republican backlash.

Sure, the Republican Party is split right down the middle. Sure, Tea Party types will accuse all those Republicans now abandoning Trump as being the best possible reason to back him and his intra-party revolution. But not all Republican voters are Teapublicans, and they and “independent” voters leaning towards Trump will be dismayed at his own colleagues’ thumping rejection of him. Some of those voters will plump instead for the Libertarian, Johnson, some will simply stay home rather than vote for the hated Clinton. Neither of those possibilities help Trump. By contrast, the centre and left have coalesced effectively around Clinton, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein is fading.

Now opinion polls have been wrong in the past. (Most notably with “Brexit”, which we and everyone else called wrong.) But not this wrong.

Which is why we say, as we have all along, it’s all over. Somewhere, a fat lady is singing her lungs out.

Probably one that Trump insulted.

Trump v Clinton second Presidential debate

We were very taken with this quick comment by the Wall Street Journal on the Presidential debate just gone: “marking as it did the nadir of the bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government.”

Bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government. Yes, indeed. Well said, that man.

American democracy has been in trouble for quite some time. Let’s just look from, say, the turn of the 1960s onwards.

The death of two Kennedys, and Martin Luther King, three tragic events driven by visceral hatred. The mental exhaustion of LBJ. The ascension of the criminal (and traitorous) Nixon. The standstill of Gerald Ford and the essentially neutered failure of Jimmy Carter – the latter a man who was too good to be in that role. The Reagan era, so terminally tainted by Iran-Contra and adventurism in Central America that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. George H Bush who famously promised “No New Taxes” (and promptly despatched his friend and rival Bob Dole) only to turn round and increase taxes and produce a notably weak economic performance. (His evisceration of Dukakis was also the beginning of modern “hate” politics.) Then we had the economic and policy-wonk success of Bill Clinton hopelessly over-shadowed by his mangling of the truth and his appalling personal behaviour. Of George W Bush and his off-sider Dick Cheney only one thing needs to be said: 500,000 Iraqi dead, over oil, and the comprehensive attempt to confuse people into believing it was about something else. Oh, and, “The great Recession”, or “GFC”, depending on where you live in the world. And then, of course, Barrack Obama, who after raising the watchword “Hope” has delivered a stuttering economic revival but only at the expense of a massive increase in Federal debt, and who has presided uneasily over a fractious Congress and a series of foreign policy mis-steps.

It is a pretty sorry performance, overall, to be sure.

But even after that list is chewed over and considered and debated, this debate was, very possibly, the most unedifying spectacle in modern American political history.

trump-v-clinton

There was no nobility. There was no soaring vision. There was no wit. Precious little wisdom. No humility. There was just the contrasting styles of two deeply unpopular candidates knowing that they are buried up to their knees in mud in their trenches and there is no longer an opportunity for either of them to climb out.

There was no courtesy. No mutual respect. There was bullying. There was disturbing body language, especially from Trump, who prowled around behind Clinton in an aggressive and frankly disturbing manner. The bulk of the debate was taken up with discussions that should properly take place in front of a psychological counsellor, not a worldwide TV audience.

It was, frankly, embarrassing. It was ugly to watch. It was cringe-worthy.

In our view, Trump avoided a complete implosion, battered a too-meek Clinton in a way that will play well with his core supporters, but probably no one else. If he made one glaring mis-step it was in publicly disagreeing with his Vice-Presidential running mate on Syria, who he said he had not discussed the conflict with. That admission is truly bizarre, given how significant that conflict currently is.

Clinton appeared poised, and steely calm, and confident. But history may judge she could and should have gone for the jugular more effectively. Certainly Trump’s jibe that “she’d be in jail” under his Presidency hit home, and she was less than convincing on the ever-running emails saga.

As a friend opined to us, in all probability, not one Democrat-leaning voter would have moved towards Trump, not one Republican-leaning voter would have moved to Clinton, and anyone genuinely undecided probably became yet more depressed an unenthusiastic.

According to CNN’s poll of debate watchers (a poll they say tends to skew towards the Democrats because their supporters are more likely to watch), Clinton did well – but almost a quarter of the audience were expecting her to do better.

Who was the winner?
Clinton 57%, Trump 34%

How did Donald Trump perform?
Better than expected 63%, worse 21%

How did Hillary Clinton perform?
Better than expected 39%, worse 26%

(If that’s the case, by about Wednesday or Thursday Clinton will have a lock on the race with about a 6-7% lead, possibly as high as 10%, higher in the battleground states, lower in the centre and the South.)

But taking everything into account, “depressing is right”. This is, unquestionably, the most significant Presidential election in a generation. A titanic struggle of ideas should be going on. Yet this election may yet turn out to have one of the worst turnouts, too. As for America’s image overseas, it is being trashed. The “Great Democratic Experiment” is doing a very poor job of recommending itself to the world, just at the moment. How, for example, can liberal democracy recommend itself to, for example, parts of South America, large swathes of Africa, the Middle East – most pressingly – and large parts of Asia including obviously China – when this is how low it can sink.

America can – MUST – do better.

America, you’re not just letting yourselves down. You’re letting us down, too.

A few oddities – Trump was still sniffing audibly and often, two weeks later. Most curious.

Trump claimed the moderators were biased against him. But by our estimation by halfway through the debate he had hogged at least 2/3rds of the available time, and we will see what the final figure looks like when someone works it out.

You may also like to read Dan Rather’s analysis of the debate on Facebook. He pretty much agrees with us.

Anyhow, the full WSJ article is below: we agree with it, and politely recommend it to you.

A Memorable, Riveting, Nasty Debate – but Will It Change the Direction of the Race?

This was one of the most memorable debates in history. It was perhaps the debate that American politics has been cultivating for a quarter of a century, marking as it did the nadir of the bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government.

It featured two of the most disliked candidates in modern history taking lumps out of each other – with accusations of sexual assault and defending rape and repeated allegations of deceit and mendacity.

And yet, will it change the contours of the race after an astonishing few days?

The initial exchange of fire in the wake of the release of Mr. Trump’s crudely offensive remarks captured on videotape on Friday, followed by a moment in which Mr. Trump apparently threatened to try to put Mrs. Clinton in jail if he is elected (a threat that, as some have commented, looks like something close to an unprecedented authoritarian turn in American politics) were as electrifying as anything in a presidential debate.

Once that dust had settled, though, Mr. Trump succeeded, much better than he did in the first debate, in hitting Mrs Clinton on key policy issues of health care, immigration and foreign policy. He was sharper on his feet and had some of the most memorable lines of the night. His lampooning of her calling Abraham Lincoln in defence of her Wall Street speeches won spontaneous applause and laughter from many sides of the hall.

The two somehow managed to end with a kind word (just one really) for each other and the handshake that they had denied each other at the start.

But this was raw and angry politics as blood sport and served perhaps only to underscore even more how unappetising political debate has become.

trump san joseAre you in the group that says, of Donald Trump, “How can people even consider voting for that dreadful man?”

Well, we found the following article on Addicting Info, and we reproduce it in full. It should be read very carefully by anyone with the wit and critical faculty to understand the point it is making. It should specifically be sent to or read to any apparently sane person who is considering voting for him.

In our view, a tiny minority of Trump supporters are deliberately – consciously, ruthlessly – supporting his rabble-rousing rubbish because they genuinely believe in the inevitable result of what he stands for. In pursuit of their goals, they believe it’s OK to lie about virtually everything that matters and to terrify part of the population with nonsense. They believe it’s OK to be nakedly racist. They believe it’s OK to mangle the language until what comes out of your mouth means nothing. They believe it’s OK to wonder aloud why it’s not OK to use nuclear weapons. They believe it’s OK to be repeatedly loathsome about women. They believe climate change is a Chinese hoax. And that it’s OK to claim to be a successful businessman when you lose nearly a billion dollars in just one year. And that it’s just good business smarts not to pay any tax.

Why do they believe all this is acceptable? They believe this is acceptable because they are fanatically convinced that the entire panoply of government in the United States should be dismantled to pay for a new low-tax, low-government model that would transform America into an unrecognisable shadow of its former self.

And so they bite their tongue, swallow their distaste at their manic buffoon of a candidate, and pretend that Trump is a serious candidate who just exhibits a sort of folksy aw shucks anti-politics hucksterism which is essentially harmless. They know they’re lying, but they think they can control him if he gets to the White House, so they don’t care.

trump__clintonAnd before anyone says “But Hillary is a flawed candidate, too!” Yes. Yes, she is. We are not especially enthusiastic about her, and haven’t been since she showed herself to be tone deaf over healthcare reform in her husband’s first Presidency.

She’s very conservative. She’s an American interventionist. She has a moderate, at best, record in public service. (In terms of results. Her effort cannot be faulted.) And she has undoubtedly made some egregious mis-steps. Unlike Trump, though, she doesn’t bluster her way through them. She admits them, as she has with the “private email server” nonsense.

But there really is no comparison between her and Trump. Clinton is flawed, and a machine politician, but most of the accusations levelled against her are just that – accusations. Despite years of trying, for example, no one has managed to actually produce any evidence, whatsoever, of any wrongdoing or criminal lack of care over the murderous attack on Americans in Benghazi.

But Trump, conversely, is actively seeking to undermine the democratic process by trivialising the whole concept of policy, cheerfully promoting various ideas that are nakedly neo-Nazi in their formulation, and which represents the very worst in bigotry and terrifying irresponsibility that we have ever seen in a “mainstream” political context in America.

So apart from the cold-hearted realpolitik intellectuals and apparatchiks who support him, why does everyone else?

Unpleasant though it is to assert such a thing, it may well be that they are simply that they are too stupid to understand what’s going on.

We were roundly criticised recently by a good friend of a different political persuasion for “daring” to call the mass of Trump supporters “morons”. That criticism is a badge we wear with pride. The stakes are just too high to be mealy-mouthed on the issue.

In our considered view, unless they are disingenuously using him as a stalking horse for a thoroughly hateful agenda, no one with an ounce of discretion or clarity of thought could support this dangerous fool.

Yet they are. And now, we might have a perfectly clear explanation of why.

angry-trump-supportersJust as millions of people who voted for Brexit suddenly realised after the referendum that it wasn’t all a game, it wasn’t all about delivering a kick to the Establishment, and now they would have to leave the EU – and many promptly changed their minds, except there was and is no “get out” clause from the result of vote – so millions will vote for Trump and if, by some congruence of political streams they actually managed to get him elected (which is still very unlikely), they will rapidly realise they were conned, as their benefits are slashed, their schools and roads go un-repaired, the world shuns America, the race relations situation spirals downwards (possibly beyond control), and the country is continually riven by myriad divisions. And the response to the mounting chaos will, of course, be ever more authoritarian government.

And in the blink of an eye, America democracy may well be gone, replaced by something with the trappings of democracy, but without the control of the people. Because when facts don’t matter, anything can be said to be true and right. Exactly what so many of Trump’s supporters say they are railing against.

Turkeys voting for Christmas.

This article explains why. Trump-Bots are not amenable to rational dispute, because they have convinced themselves they know better. Based on … nothing at all.

What to do about this distressing state of affairs? Distasteful as some may find the proposal, the solution lies in convincing everyone with a modicum of intelligence to vote for Clinton. Because – much as the Libertarian candidate or the Green candidate may have their appeal – she is now the only person who can stop this. People with the wit and wisdom to perceive the danger simply have to hold their nose and support Clinton, even whilst they perceive her weaknesses, and hope like hell she turns out to be a decent President.

The alternative is not unthinkable. It is all too thinkable. And here is why:

”Are Trump Supporters Too Dumb To Know They’re Dumb? Science Says “Probably”

How the hell can anybody call themselves intelligent when they’re supporting Donald Trump? It’s a question that baffles people who are able to think critically, able to read and comprehend both history and current events, and able to see through Trump’s thin façade of know-it-all-ism and deep into what he is – an ignorant, narcissistic, and dangerous conman.

Says a supporter of a man who has filed for bankruptcy four times since 1991.

Says a supporter of a man who has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection four times since 1991. When questioned on it by Republican opposition during the primaries, Trump replied “”Hundreds of companies” have filed for bankruptcy, “I used the law four times and made a tremendous thing. I’m in business. I did a very good job.”

Trump supporters not only don’t see this, they’re happy that there’s someone running for president that thinks exactly like them. Take Melanie Austin, of Brownsville, Pennsylvania. She thought her beliefs about Obama being a gay Muslim from Kenya and Michelle being transgender were just fringe beliefs – right up until she started hearing similar stuff from Trump and other right-wing extremists.

Now she knows she’s right about all of this. You can’t tell her that she’s ignorant and dumb if she can’t figure this out for herself. You can’t tell her she’s delusional. You can sit there with her, and countless others like her, and present facts, figures, charts, studies, and more, all from the most reputable sources there are, and prove that her lord and saviour is wrong, and you’ll still get shot down.

There’s more to this than the problem of confirmation bias. Austin gets much of her information from fringe right-wing blogs and conspiracy sites, but that’s not all of it. Many of Trump’s supporters are seriously too dumb to know they’re dumb. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s an unshakeable illusion that you’re much smarter, and more skilled and/or knowledgeable, than you really are.

People like Austin labor under the illusion that their knowledge about things is at least as good as, if not better than, the actual facts. For these people, though, their knowledge isn’t just superior – it’s superior even to those who have intimate and detailed knowledge of the subject at hand. Trump himself has exemplified this countless times, such as when he claimed he knows more about ISISthan even our military generals do.

His fans simply take his word for it, and believe that because he knows, they know. They are literally incapable of seeing that they don’t know.

To be sure, the Dunning-Kruger effect is present everyone all across the political spectrum, and indeed, in every walk of life. We all overestimate our abilities and knowledge somewhere.However, the effect is especially pronounced in people with limited intellectual and social skills:

“People who are unskilled in [intellectual and social domains] suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realise it.”

bertrand-russell-dunning-kruger-effectSo basically, yes, it’s possible to be too dumb to realise you’re dumb.

In four separate studies, people who scored in the bottom quarter on tests involving everything from humour to logic, and even to grammar, grossly overestimated where they thought they would score. They averaged scores in the 12th percentile, while their average estimate of their own scores was the 62nd percentile.

The researchers attribute that huge discrepancy to a literal inability to distinguish accuracy from error. Or, to put it another way, those who are the most lacking in skills and knowledge are the least able to see it.

Take the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks in 1995 and was caught rather easily. He thought he would get away with it because he rubbed his face with lemon juice, which is used in invisible ink. To test the theory that lemon juice would turn him invisible, he rubbed it on his face, took a Polaroid, and his face wasn’t in the picture! So he thought he was safe from security cameras because he could make his face invisible.

He was shocked when police caught him because of that, saying, “But I wore the juice.” He literally couldn’t see the ridiculousness of that line of thought.

That seems like an extreme example, but if you look at the logic of Donald Trump and his supporters, that kind of incompetence is coming out in force. Look at his debate performance. He was woefully unprepared, while Hillary was eminently prepared, and he grew more frustrated, and ultimately furious and out-of-control, while she wiped the floor with him for most of the 95 minutes.

Yet later, with breathtaking chutzpah, he claimed he won, and so did his supporters. The hashtag #TrumpWon trended on Twitter, with many of his supporters and surrogates saying he had a very good performance, and put Hillary to shame. Anyone with more than two working brain cells could see otherwise, but all of these people couldn’t see their deity’s abject failure for what it was. And when the scientific polls came in after the debate, Hillary was shown to be the strong victor.

David Dunning, one of the first to catalog the Dunning-Kruger effect (hence its name), has studied human behaviour—including voter behaviour—for decades. He penned an op-ed in Politico that explains why this effect is so pronounced in Trump’s supporters:

“It suggests that some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognise those gaffes as mis-steps.

Again, the key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed — their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.”

Trump is completely inept, and his supporters are way too poorly-informed to know that he’s inept, and too dumb themselves to know how dumb they are. That’s why Trump’s supporters are so sure they’re smart and their candidate is smart that they won’t listen to reason.

The effect is strong in these people.

Article ends …

We hasten to add, we don’t think less of those Trump supporters suffering from this affliction or look down our superior noses at them. No attempt has been made to address their lack of educated decision making by their own side of politics, or anyone. They have been wilfully led into believing things that are clearly not sustained by the facts. As a result, America has a huge (and very angry) mis-educated under-class that faithfully believes the nonsense that is shoved down its throat by both its opinion leaders and the media. Millions of Americans never leave their country, never access any media from overseas, and never hear any contrary arguments to address their prejudices. Facts become irrelevant. Only tribalism matters.

This is not a new phenomenon. Almost within living memory of the participants – certainly within living memory of their families – a terrible, bloody civil war was fought to defend racism and slavery, sold to millions in the Confederate States as a defence against a tyrannical central (and northern) Government and in favour of States’ rights. It wasn’t. It was a war to defend slavery and the economic advantage it conferred on slave owners.

When the world was plunged into a death struggle against fascism in 1939, millions of Americans blindly thought that their country should have nothing to do with it. The isolationism that represented extended the war by at least two years and led to millions of unnecessary deaths.

Decisions have consequences. And the world’s greatest democracy can do better. But it’s a long-term rectification project.

And in the meantime, Trump must be stopped. Must. Be. Stopped.

You can find another excellent article on this very frightening phenomenon here.


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