Archive for the ‘Political musings’ Category

What just happened? Nothing more nor less than the inevitable outworking of what started five years ago, at the Republican primaries before the last election.

American “democracy”, such as it is, allowed Trump – a convicted wrongdoer who does not believe in democracy to begin with, except insofar as it can advance him personally – to hijack the Republican primary process with pure, mindless populism fuelled by constant lies, conspiracy theories and nonsense.

He appealed to the basest instincts of those who felt disenfranchised by the political elite in Washington and elsewhere, which was epitomised in the 2016 general election by an infinitely more qualified and stronger candidate, Hillary Clinton. No lie was too great, no untruth beneath him and his enablers, many of whom sat in the House and the Senate. In due course, the electoral college, an antiquated institution long past its use by date for protecting the interests of smaller states, then delivered him an underserved and bogus victory. (As far right Republican Rand Paul said today, Republicans need to defend the electoral college because “otherwise Conservatives will never win a Presidential election again”.) There was hardly a peep of protest.

Once the fix was in and Trump had lied and cheated his way to power – with the enthusiastic social media support of America’s most pressing enemy, the Russians – he then proceeded to continue to poison the body politics with at least 20,000 proven lies to the American public over four years.

He exhibited the same ruthless obsession with bare-faced lying in the run up to the 2020 election, declaring the only way that he could lose was for the election to be fixed. Again and again he told people he was winning when clearly he was consistently ten per cent behind Biden. Again and again he told lies about the Biden family, about Biden’s mental competence, and about unproven (and subsequently dismissed by over 100 judges) corruption at State level. And again and again he was facilitated and encouraged by those who knew better.

Today, when the Congress met to confirm the electoral college votes that would throw Trump out of office – and back, incidentally, into a morass of State-level court cases, many of which could see him jailed – Trump egged on a “protest rally” of armed extremist supporters to overturn the election result on his behalf, despite the fact that the election result is in and decided, the Congress vote is simply a formality and the Congress has no power to reject the decision.

“And after this, we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump told the crowd. “And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

The president told the crowd that the election had been “rigged” by “radical democrats” and the “fake news media.” 

And then he added a further measure of defiance mixed with a call to action.

“We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said. “Our country has had enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.”

He further said: “You’re the real people. You’re the people that built this nation. You’re not the people that tore down this nation.” And he added in a bit of irony: “Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy.” This despite that as had been patiently explained to him by his hand-picked Vice president, Mike Pence, that Congress had no ability to do so.

In the end, the lunatics in the crowd assaulted the Capitol, driven mad by a genuine sense of being deprived, as he must surely have known they would all along. Because this was the ultimate triumph of a process that started a long time ago, and which far too many Republicans and media commentators winked at for far too long.

Despite two tweets calling for respect for law and order – which surely revealed either his mendacious insincerity or his utter detachment from reality – he later seemingly justified the violence, occupation and besieging of the Capitol with this social media missive: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Twitter duly labeled the tweet as follows: “This claim of election fraud is disputed, and this Tweet can’t be replied to, Retweeted, or liked due to a risk of violence.” Later it banned him from further tweets temporarily. Unheard of, and some would say, far too little too late.

Trump told the rioters that he loved them. “We love you. You’re very special.” He told them to go home. Needless to say, they utterly ignored his disingenuous and weak plea and waded into the Capital with weapons.

With poles bearing blue Trump flags, a mob that would eventually grow into the thousands bashed through Capitol doors and windows, forcing their way past police officers unprepared for the onslaught. Lawmakers were evacuated shortly before an armed standoff at the House chamber’s entrance. A woman was shot and was rushed to an ambulance, police said, and later died. Canisters of tear gas were fired across the Rotunda’s white marble floor, and on the steps outside the building, rioters flew Confederate flags.

All this morass of misunderstanding and distress, though, was utterly inevitable. This writer and many others have warned of it repeatedly. As the magma grows in a volcano so the pressure must burst through somewhere. And in that, today’s events are not, in and of themselves, so shocking. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

But let us hope ALL Americans – indeed all people in mature democracies all over the world – now seriously step back and ensure that Trumpism and all the movements that ape it is and are crushed.

With violence? No.

Populism (which is wildly different from popularity, of course) must be contested with facts. With knowledge. Everywhere. Every time. And also with courtesy for those who disagree with us.

Because be warned: this did not end tonight. And it will not end with the shocked looks and fine words seen from those in Congress, now that it has reconvened.

The fire that has been lit by Trump and his enablers will not be extinguished so easily. After four years of collective insanity 70 million Americans were still prepared to continue to support a known conman and virulent anti-democrat, aided and abetted by those who sought to ride to power on his coat tails, despite the consistent evidence of his failings presented to them in the media and by their friends and neighbours.

Why? Because the media itself had been utterly sidelined as “MSM” (mainstream media) by the Trumpists. As if mainstream media was something to be scared of, or automatically to be mistrusted. How far we have traveled.

No amount of bleating from the media that it was only presenting facts for consideration has ever made it through to the cult members, because they had long ago willingly closed their minds. They chose to believe they were being lied to.

And belief is a powerful thing. It easily and comprehensively replaces rational thought, which is tiring and tedious.

And the disbelief stretched right across the spectrum, so that even rabidly right-wing outlets like the Murdoch-controlled Fox News (itself long responsible for much of the worst Trumpist fake news and apologia over the years) has now joined the mistrusted. Fox’s unforgiveable sin? Accurately calling Arizona for Biden.

That is why this is not over.

A proportion of those 70 million will continue in their delusions, taking their “news” from stations and outlets that don’t even pretend to be purveying news, rather than opinion. And some of them – a tiny minority but big enough to wreak misery and chaos – will continue to make pipe bombs, and to assault legislatures and civic offices and personnel, and there will continue to be physical attacks on individuals and worse, right up to an including assassinations. To be sure, these things have tragically always bedevilled democracy, and American democracy especially. But the wilful dumbing down and manipulation of American politics has now made it worse than ever before. It’s not like America hasn’t had plenty of warning in the past decades. Oklahoma? Charleston church massacre? Pittsburgh synagogue shooting? El Paso? Threats against sitting Govenors?

The trend has long been perfectly clear. For example, the Anti-Defamation League reported that white supremacist propaganda and recruitment efforts on and around college campuses have been increasing sharply, with 1,187 incidents in 2018 compared to 421 in 2017, both far exceeding any previous year. Another example: a June 2020 study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported that over 25 years of domestic terrorism incidents, the majority of attacks and plots had come from far-right attackers. The trend had accelerated in recent years, with this sector responsible for about 66% of attacks and plots in 2019, and 90% of those in 2020.

The failure of the leaders in society, specifically on the right, to confront the forces of un-reason more trenchantly is ultimately to blame, just as was the under-estimation of the pain of the disenfranchised that led to first the Tea Party and then Trump in the first place.

And yes, there have been examples of violence on all sides, and that should be freely admitted.

But the violence has been unequivocally shown to overwhelmingly come from the right, and been facilitated by the weak-kneed response of the right in the media, and the body politic. It’s time they owned it.

American democracy has not failed, yet, but it is still perilously close to failure.

The survival of Congress today should not be celebrated, other than for the fact that it is the starkest of wake-up calls for a country that has long been sleepwalking towards chaos.

Close followers of the blog will know that I occasionally enter short story competitions around the globe, ‘subject matter various’. So far I have copped a few finalist guernseys but am yet to win one – but, you know Dear Reader, nothing ventured …

One Finalist award last year was in the excellent Literary Taxidermy competition, where in a wonderfully quirky set up the writers are given the first line and the last line of a famous novel and told to fill in the bit in the middle – last year was Fahrenheit 451. To read that story, buy the anthology here or in any good bookstore.

This year the story prompt was from “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, (incidentally the basis of a great new TV series loosely based on the novel), and the stories had to begin with the words “124 was spiteful.” And they had to end with the word “Beloved.”, and be no more than 2,500 words long.

Although the 36 stories that got an “Honourable Mention” did not make it into the final anthology, they all reached the penultimate round of selection, which the judges said was as a result of “impressing our many readers”. So while it’s nice to win every time, it’s also nice to get recognised in this way.

Interestingly, yhe competition was won by another Melburnian, Amanda le Bas de Plumetot, with her story “Cornucopia”. Congratulations to her!

Here’s my entry. Enjoy.

LOVE STORY

124 was spiteful.

Still spiteful, after all this time.

A well of bile and defiance which never ran dry.

He honestly didn’t know why 124 kept it up. Most of the others had been tamed by the continual threats of sudden violence and the total loss of control over their own lives. They were mainly intellectuals. University types. Some businessmen. And various people of power and authority. Even an ex Government minister who had somehow avoided being shot. But while they inevitably subsided into morose submission, 124 retained his nasty edge.

He was sly. He would communicate welcome signs of acquiescence, then suddenly snarl a carefully considered insult, always designed to cut to the quick.

Usually it was about how a man such as he obviously was – a man of erudition, education and compassion – could square away working as a warden in a place like this.

How had he salved his conscience? What did he tell his children he did during the day? How would he feel if his child or mother or friend hung from these dank walls?

Usually he just ignored the jibe, but the truth in 124’s questions hurt. Stung him. He longed to shout that he was as much a prisoner of circumstance as the prisoner himself, because it was not as if the guards had any choice in their assignment. To refuse to serve in the jail was to risk being added to the list of inmates. Not just him, but his family, too.

So he accepted his lot, and tried to do his job without unnecessary cruelty. Lord knew there were more than enough guards in there who reveled in the excesses that their petty kingdoms granted them. In reality, he and the prisoners he tended to were locked in a ghastly embrace not of their making.

Sometimes 124 would let slip information about his life before. He had been a tailor to the great and mighty, creating suits of the finest weft and weave, and crisp khaki uniforms for the Generals. His store in the old town had been well-known – to shop there was to mark oneself as a man of means, and visiting it proclaimed you as a man who did not fear to rub shoulders with regime insiders.

He adopted an air of injured obsequiousness with his clients, as if no-one could truly appreciate his endless labouring for perfection, the results of which were exquisitely fitting clothing with a finish finer than from anywhere else in the City. He would quietly bemoan his failing eyesight and tortured fingers, clucking like an old hen as he moved around the customer making a chalk mark here, inserting a pin there. He would speak sharply to an endless retinue of young male assistants, berating them if they ever moved at anything less than a brisk trot.

He served his customers honey cakes and sweet tea, as was the custom. And, if they asked for it, a single malt lowland whiskey which was secretly shipped to him inside the bolts of cloth from Scotland, served in innocent china mugs for discretion.

Come the revolution, he had been vacuumed up with anyone who had associated with the previous regime. His store was ransacked, and he was incarcerated without anything resembling a fair trial. One of his many assistants babbled that he had often been seen speaking quietly with a secret policeman or officer or politician, his confidences unheard but his manner furtive. Another mentioned the shoe box of cash secreted under the counter, carefully husbanded against a rainy day. During the Terror, that testimony was more than enough for the tribunal. In less than ten minutes it was agreed that he had been informing, likely as not, and hoarding currency to boot. Either could have seen him tied to a post in some courtyard somewhere, blinking in the dawn sun, but as it was, he was flung into jail and forgotten about.

He became “124”.

The number was written in chalk above his head, where he stood or slumped against the bluestone wall, chained by one wrist. In reality, the metal ring and chain was a needless cruelty, as no one had ever escaped from the dungeon under the citadel in the 1200 years since it had first been built by the Crusaders as a forward post. The guard had counted eleven locked doors between the prisoner and the outside world, every one of which was double manned. And no one could tunnel out from any of the cells, as the walls were fifteen feet thick and plunged deep into the ground below the levels the prisoners were held on, and below that there was solid rock.

Prisoners never left their cells, using a steel bucket for their ablutions, which they emptied into a hole in the floor that was the entrance to a hugely long pipe not wide enough for a man’s shoulders to pass through, and which the guards would hose down weekly.

One baleful lightbulb burned in the centre of the room, night and day.

He had a small metal plate, and a single spoon, which he would present to the guard daily for what passed for food in the prison.

He often mused that he would have altogether preferred to have been shot like the others, rather than endure his prisoner’s life. Get it over and done with. 124 had told him once that he would have preferred that, too. He said he would seriously consider killing himself, except as he wore no clothes he couldn’t twist them and hang himself, nor could he contemplate pushing the spoon’s handle into his eye. “Maybe you could do it for me?” he had asked the guard. “You don’t care whether we live or die, or you wouldn’t be here. Could you help me die? Just make it look like I did it, eh?”

The guard had shaken his head sadly and turned away. “See! You’re a coward!”

124’s cries rang down the corridor after him. “You are not a man. You are a coward!”

Laying in bed that night, listening to his wife and daughter sleeping, he knew it to be true. He was a coward in many ways. He had thought of trying to drive over the border, but knew that to do so without good reason would be to invite a bullet to the head from the militia. He knew some who had tried and made it, and some who had tried and disappeared. He knew he did not have the courage to take the risk.

Except, he thought to himself, in times like these, even just to survive took courage. To get up, eat some bread and fruit, go to work, endure the scenes of degradation and fear, and then return home, forcing a smile to his face as he enquired after the girl’s schoolwork, or whether his wife had seen her mother that day. To simply continue with the daily round took all his strength.

Sometimes he wanted to run into the crowded street with its sellers of trinkets and foodstuffs and threw his head back and simply scream. Suck in deep lungfuls of warm, fetid air and scream out his agony. But he knew that to do so would bring his own arrest, and see him shipped to a re-education camp, or worse.

So he endured. Day after grinding day, he endured.

Then there was a day when he walked into the cell, carefully choosing a time when no other guards would disturb them, away from mealtimes or washing the cell, placed a metal chair inside and closed the door quietly behind him. He waited for 124 to look up and engage him. And when he did, he spoke quietly.

“Why do you attack me with your insults and sneering?” the guard asked. “I have never done anything to hurt you. I did not put you here. You must know I do not want to be here. I am a road worker. I lay asphalt. They make me be here. With any other guard, if you spoke to them the way you speak to me, you would be beaten, or worse. Why do you force your anger on me?”

 124 sat a little more upright, and studied him, then answered politely.

“You are all I see on any day. After the interrogations, they chained me here, and I have seen no-one but you. I have done nothing wrong, yet they leave me here to rot. I am becoming weaker. I will die here, never having seen the sun again. An injustice has been done to me.” He gestured to the wall with his head. “They have even taken my name away. This insult must be answered, or I will go mad. So tell me: who should I be rude to, if not you?”

The guard considered carefully.

“But I am a prisoner here as much as you. Shedding your anger onto me is unjust. I treat you courteously, and do not inflict needless unkindness. Should you not treat me more kindly in return? They broke a man’s leg the other day because he swore at them. And they have not set it. I think he may die from pain and sepsis. I do not behave like this, do I?”

124 looked at him with a blank expression. After a long while, he spoke intently.

“But you are complicit in their wickedness. You are not the worst of the worse, but you are here, are you not? Yes, you treat me with common courtesy, perhaps, but how is that adequate redress for what has been done to me? You are a lackey. You are no different to the Kapos who shovelled the bodies into the crematoriums in the Nazi death camps, in return for the right to live a few weeks longer. Yes, perhaps your guilt is a little less, by degree, but no more. You are a log in the wall of the state they have erected. You are but a cog in the machine, and you allow yourself to be used by that machine. Your very submission to them is endorsement of what they do. This is why I insult you. What else can I do? It is the only way that I can resist. And if I do not resist, then I am complicit, too. Am I not?

He gestured to the man sitting on the chair.

“It is not personal. You are there.” Then he rattled his chain. “And I am here.”

124 shrugged. He left.

That night, he lay very still, pretending to sleep, and thought about what had been said to him. His eyes stared at the ceiling above him, though he saw nothing. Around four in the morning he rose and made himself a cup of tea. His wife found him sitting at the table nursing the cup hours later. She went to him in concern, for it was obvious he had been crying. But no matter how she urged him, he would not tell her what was wrong. Eventually he washed himself in their small bathroom, and left for work. Before leaving he kissed his wife and daughter and looked into their faces tenderly.

Walking to the jail, he made two small purchases. When he arrived, he engaged the front desk sergeant in conversation about the previous evening’s football game, because he knew the sergeant cared for his team more than life itself. He agreed it had been a hard fought battle, but the sergeant’s team had won through with superior fitness and effort. He moved on to his duties still able to feel the sensation of the sergeant’s firm handshake.

124 looked up as he came in. It was cold in the cell in the early morning, and he shivered. Later it would be unbearably hot. That was the way of it.

He spoke firmly.

“I have been considering what you said to me yesterday,” he announced. “And I have decided I must do more to help you. You know you will never be allowed out of here?”

124 looked up, surprised at this development. He shrugged and nodded. He knew it.

“They cannot risk you telling what you have seen here. And they have no interest in you anyway. They may kill you, as they have hung many at the main prison, in groups I am told, or you may simply be left here. Actually, they may have forgotten you.”

He paused, fingering the chalk in his pocket.

“What is your name?”

124 looked down, sadness in his eyes. His voice, when it came, was very different to his usual bitter tone. He almost whispered.

“It is Saleem Muhammed, good sir. Mr Muhammed. Named after my father: he was Saleem too. All the men in my family are called Saleem.”

He walked forward, and with his sleeve he rubbed out the “124” on the wall above the prisoner’s head. Then he carefully wrote Saleem Muhammed on the wall and stepped back.

“Like this?” he enquired, pointing to the wall. 124 turned and looked where he had written.

“Yes,” he said,” in wonderment. “Just like that.”

The guard let the piece of wood secreted in the sleeve of his shirt descend into his hand, and before 124 turned back to him he brought it down on the back of his head with all the strength he could muster. When the prisoner fell, he ignored the blood and brains spattering on his legs and kept hitting him. He kept beating his head until eventually he felt sure the thing was finished.

When he went back to the Sergeant, he explained that 124 had obviously found a piece of chalk from somewhere and engaged in forbidden behaviour by writing his name on the wall. He had then been insulting to the guard, using foul language. He had no alternative but to punish him severely, but he feared he might have killed him.

His superior inspected the scene and accepted without question that a piece of wood had been lying nearby and had conveniently come to hand.

“He deserved it,” he observed sourly, and rubbed out the name that the guard had written there just a little while before. How fleeting had been 124’s dignity, the guard thought.

“We’ll get rid of him. Go clean up. Take the rest of the day off. You did right. Didn’t think you had it in you. Well done.”

He gratefully accepted the offer.

At home, he reassured his wife and child that the blood was not his, and all was well. He offered no further explanation, and they knew he would not. But when he was clean and changed, he held his wife’s face in his hands hand and gently murmured:

 “You are my world. You and the child. My whole world. Please never forget that.”

He paused. This was unlike him, he knew.

“You are …

He struggled to say it just right.

“Beloved.”

Woman with child

Woman: “Can I have birth control?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “I couldn’t get birth control, so I got pregnant. Can I have an abortion?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “You prevented me from having an abortion so I’m carrying the fetus, but my employer won’t provide reasonable accommodations and is threatening to fire me. Would you please pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No”

Woman: “I had the baby, but now I’m out of work. Can I have WIC and food stamps until I get back on my feet?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “I found a job, but it doesn’t offer me insurance. Can I have government guaranteed insurance?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “My kid got sick and I got fired because I missed time caring for him/her. Can I get unemployment benefit?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “My new job never lets me know what shift I have to work in advance, and if I don’t go I get fired, so I’m having a hard time picking up my kid from school on time consistently. Can we fund after-school programs?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No.”

Woman: “Well, I’m prepared to work to support my family. Can you make sure that a full-time job’s minimum wage is enough to do that?”

Republican Controlled Congress: “No. But what’s the matter with you and your family, that working two jobs can’t lift you out of poverty? And what kind of a mother are you, letting someone else watch your child while you work? If your child doesn’t do well in school or gets in trouble, it’s entirely your fault. You shouldn’t have had a child if you weren’t prepared to take care of him/her. Actually you shouldn’t have had sex in the first place. You’re just a dirty little slut sucking off the teat of the State and honest taxpayers.

Have you considered prostitution?”

Donald Trump debates

US President Donald Trump attacks during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

We just watched Donald Trump throw away any lingering chance he had of winning this election.

His bullying, ranting, hectoring, dismissive, frequently untruthful, and completely over-the-top attempt at debate left most of America and all of the rest of the world agape with shock. Even his debate prep man Chris Christie called the display “too hot“. How he must have longed to say what he really thought.

This was a man clearly not in control of his own emotions, clearly not on top of his brief, and clearly departing from from any attempt to stick to the script.

The CNN post-debate poll of Debate watchers broke 60% in favour of Biden and only 28% Trump. There were many self-described Independents in the research group, and more self-described Republicans than the 28% that ending up plumping for Trump in the washup. Even though CNN favours Biden, the reportage was confirmed right across the political landscape.

A disaster for the Trump campaign. Disaster.

If that poll – or anything remotely near it – is repeated on election day then Biden will win every crucial swing state (like Florda), and have a fighting chance of taking some other ‘purple’ States that had previously looked just out of reach, like Texas.

In their droves, Independents and moderate Republicans will now vote for Biden, and some Conservatives who feel unable to do that will simply stay home.

Respected Republican insiders are already leaking they are now expecting a massive loss on Nov 3. They think it could be as bad as Goldwater’s loss to Johnson in 1964.

We have always said this debate would seal Trump’s fate, and it has. This is why he leaves press conferences In a humph, why he restricts himself to talking to ironed-on supporters, and why he hides in his bunker.

This was the moment Biden put to bed forever all claims of “Sleepy Joe“ and suffering from dementia. He was sharp, concise, and in a word, Presidential.

Better still he contained his anger. He was dignified and honest. If someone had gone after my children the way Trump went after Biden’s there would frankly have been a much more trenchant reponse. Biden must have the patience of Job.

Trump is now forever revealed not just as a loose cannon,  not as charmingly unusual or merely refreshingly plain speaking, instead he’s revealed for the world to see as a stupid, nasty, lying maniac. And I’m being polite.

One can only imagine how this unpleasant little interlude played in the hosting state of Ohio, the state, remember, where Trump wants Americans to dump products created by one of the State’s largest employers, Goodyear, which would cost 6,000 jobs at least.

And there was one specific “zinger“ moment.

When asked directly to condemn white supremacist/Nazi groups he instead urged a far-right group known for street brawling to “stand back and stand by”.

Addressing the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose members have been sentenced to prison for attacking leftwing protesters in political street fights, Trump said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

Remember, the FBI classifies the far-right Proud Boys as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism”, according to a document produced by Washington State law enforcement. Critically, the FBI and others have described Antifa as a movement and not a group or organisation. There’s a massive difference which Trump does not seem to understand.

The Proud Boys were, of course, delighted.

Make no mistake “Stand Back and Stand By” will be one of those phrases used in presidential debates that are recycled for years and years as the moment everything changed.

Today we saw Trump in his full nastiness and rampant stupidity.

Back it in. This debate was the moment Donald Trump threw away the election. And Joe Biden won it.

Some years back, we lost our Mother to Alzheimer’s.

She was a gregarious and loveable person, and we kept her at home for as long as we could, until her confusion and behaviours made it simply impossible.

In the end, in distraction, we found her a good old folk’s home, and with great difficulty, too, as the aged care sector in Australia is a nightmare to navigate successfully. And there she duly whiled away her final months – in safety, but often in tears.

The tears weren’t just “Sundowners” – a well-known mood-shift that occurs in Alzheimer’s patients, especially around late afternoon. Fading light seems to be the trigger. The symptoms can get worse as the night goes on and usually get better by morning.

It was distressing for her, for the care-worn staff, and for us, so we often used to try and time our visits for this time of day to give her a lift.

You can read more about it here: not to mention my own musings about ageing.

But her general distress was more than that.

Like a recent report in Australia revealed, she was one of 40% of old age home residents suffering habitually from depression.

The depression was caused by psychological dislocation – a loss of friends and family, a loss of whatever she could recall as “normal”, a loss of privacy, an inability to relate to the new world around her, or to make friends.

To get away from the psychobabble for a moment, in simple terms her biggest problem was that she was lonely. And in simple terms, there was very little anyone around her could do about it.

In the UK and now in Australia, TV series have revealed how teachers visiting elderly patients with a bunch of four year old pre-schoolers in tow is good for both groups. The elderly people experience physical and cognitive improvement, and improved mood, too. The kids just seem to love it. Care workers have known this for years – taking children, especially young children, into care environments is invigorating for the residents. Ditto animals, especially if they had companion pets before. They are both a dash of welcome reality, for people for whom reality has too often become dark and bleak.

As we move into a period where our aged care services worldwide are going to come under increasing pressure as the Baby Boomers start to age and die off, we wonder if we cannot find a better model for looking after our frail friends, family members and neighbours.

In less urbanised (and often poorer) environments, the aged stay in the community much longer – perhaps throughout their final days – cared for on an ad hoc basis by those in the village around them. They can wander safely, and access their neighbours, children, and animals.

They often still engage in food preparation, or piecemeal work.

For thousands of years, such elderly people have been loved and nourished in the environment they have lived in all their lives.

As a by-product of that situation, their lives are not endlessly prolonged by medical intervention which is freely available in care environments, but not necessarily to the long-term benefit of the patient. In a village in Africa, the Steppes, or Asia, an elderly person struck with an infection, or complications from a fall, may just fade away.

But in a Western care environment they are resuscitated, whisked off to hospital and then back to their care home, and regularly pumped full of prophylactic drugs.

So the question we need to face is: just because we CAN save an elderly patient, does that mean we should, if the point of saving them is simply to return them to a place that through no-one’s fault, they are uncomfortable and unhappy in?

There is another assumption that needs to be challenged, too, which is someone with a diagnosis of Alzheimers is someone who is gaga. This is simply not true. Increasingly, people live with Alzheimer’s for a very long time, buoyed up by better medication, exercise, deliberate mental engagement, engagement with other people and more. We are going to need to educate the public about the positive possibilities for people with dementia, and organise society so they are better integrated with the world around them. It is vital to their progress. And happiness. One thing that seems sure to us is that plonking them in “traditional” aged care will do little to prolong their useful life – and this is not to criticise the dedicated and skilful people that work in the sector. They do their best.

Ultimately, we need to ask “What is the most important thing for an elderly person with Alzheimer’s?” In our view, it is surely that they live out their final days with dignity and as much contentment as possible. Our current systems may provide the former – although they often do not – but very few people would argue that they do the latter.

A little contentment in our declining years shouldn’t be too hard to devise, but in our view we need to start rethinking aged care fundamentally, and now. Because right now, we are failing our older brothers and sisters, and it’s only going to get worse.

We need to think harder, and do better.

 

 

Boris Johnson

We have refrained from commenting overmuch on Boris Johnson’s accession to the role of PM in the UK in this and other fora for the same reason that one does not comment on car crashes, especially when they are completely predictable. It’s just bad form to mock the afflicted.

But be under no misapprehension, Dear Reader – for all that his acolytes pretend he is some kind of wayward genius, Boris Johnson has now shown himself up as a blustering incompetent.

The proroguing of Parliament – denied by Number 10 for a month despite the planning for it now being revealed – is and was an anti-democratic coup designed to stifle Parliamentary oversight of one of the most crucial periods in British history since the second world war, irregardless of waffle from Rees-Mogg and others.

The British people know it, which is why they have roused themselves from their somnambular walk towards a No Deal Brexit and taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands.

If Johnson wanted to unite the anti-Brexit forces he can hardly have done a better job than shutting down Parliament to stifle inconvenient debate.

Charles 1 executed

Remember: as many have noted in the Twitterverse and elsewhere, the British cut the head off the last person to do that. For all that nothing excites British passion as much as a good game of football or the perennial battle for the cricket Ashes, they are rather partial to their Parliament being allowed to do its thing.

And withdrawing the whip from some of the best Tory MPs in the House who dared to exercise critical thought in the vote yesterday in London simply reveals him as both a strategic idiot for making the threat, and an even bigger fool for following through on it. The sheer hypocrisy of the move when this sanction was never applied to row after row of Brexiteers in vote after vote in the House reveals the total vacuity of the Government’s position – a fact which will now be pointed out repeatedly by the commentariat.

What we think will happen now is that the Opposition and the Tory Rebels will resist any calls for a General Election until after they have taken No Deal off the table, which act will then leave Johnson as ham-strung in negotiations with the EU as poor old Theresa May was for three years.

And even if he could subsequently successfully call a General Election – by no means certain, as the House will have to give him a 2/3rds majority to do so – there is no guarantee he will win it, as he will be effectively saying “OK, I messed up my Brexit attempt despite telling you I’d fix it … now we’re back where we were three years ago, but please give the Conservatives another chance because I’m a better Prime Minister than Theresa May was.”

Hardly a convincing call, when he’s just shown himself to be anything but competent.

The British headlines tell an unmissable story. “Brexit bomshell: Boris loses control” (The Mirror), “Humiliation for Johnson” (Guardian), “Johnson loses control” (i), “PM loses historic vote” (The Times), “Johnson strategy in ruins” (Financial Times). Overseas comment is hardly kinder: “Boris Johnson’s populist playbook implodes” said the Washington Post.

A Labour/Lib Dem/Nationalist Coalition government is at least as likely as a Tory win, especially when you consider that Brexit is much less popular in Wales and Scotland, and that the Brexit Party waits in the wings ready to snap at the Tories’ heels, splitting the pro-Brexit vote, should October 31st be revealed as the day Britain actually did not, yet again, leave the EU.

Let’s put this in perspective. Johnson just got thrashed on the floor of the House in his SECOND DAY actually in the Parliament. No amount of hairy chest-beating in the Tory leadership election or since makes up for that simple fact. Nor that he has managed to outlaw two previous Chancellors of the Exchequer, the grandson of his political idol Nicholas Soames – a harmless old fuddy duddy at the best of times – and one of the contenders for the Tory Leadership – Rory Stewart – who proved himself very popular with the public. (And who may yet replace Johnson.)

David Cameron

Credit where credit is due. Let’s never forget who foisted this chaos on the British people, and the world, in a staggering failure of political strategy and leadership.

Perhaps the Parliament should pass a law banning Old Etonians from being PM? Remember this chaos was begun by the equally politically incompetent David Cameron.

As we have always said, if Brexit ever does succeed, it will be a wishy-washy cobbled-together Brexit which achieves none of the goals of the Leave campaign – a Brexit in name only – except to remove Britain from the discussions at the heart of Europe of which it should, of course, be a part.

Our prediction is that Boris Johnson will one day be seen as an irrelevant blip on the road to that outcome.

We think a Labour-LibDem-Nationalist majority in the House whenever the next election occurs will offer the people a second referendum based on some compromise deal of which the facts are actually known, as well as the option to stay in the EU, and that this time the “stay in the EU” option will actually be in the majority.

And then, at long last, the British Parliament can get back to actually governing.

Under those circumstances, we also think it is highly likely that the British Conservative Party will break into two parties – one pro EU and one against – and they will condemn themselves to a generation of irrelevance by keeping on talking about Europe when no one else ever wants to hear about it again.

 

#Brexit #BrexitShambles #BorisJohnson

Death penalty chamber (lethal injection)

 

News that the Federal Government in America intends resuming the use of the death penalty in federal cases with the execution of five prisoners in December has caused renewed debate on the use of the ultimate sanction.

It has to be said that the population of many countries are usually in favour of the death penalty for murder, especially when conducted against children, or as a result of terrorist activity. The imposition of the penalty has undeniable democratic validity, and especially so where the guilt of the accused seems certain or is admitted.

But it still raises very troubling questions. These are, to our eyes, the strongest reasons not to impose the death penalty.

It can be a mistake

Posthumous pardons are little recompense for someone being put to death incorrectly. And the records of those killed for doing no wrong are long and repeated. It would be incorrect to assume this is a rare occurrence, or only in cases where the verdict was circumstantial or in the balance.

 

Cameron Todd Willingham

 

Texas man Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three daughters. Following his execution, further evidence revealed that Willingham did not set the fire that caused their deaths. But it came too late to save him, even as he consistently protested his innocence.

Other cases that could have involved the death penalty demonstrate the fallibility of the system too. George Allen Jr. was exonerated on January 18, 2013, in St. Louis, Missouri, after serving over 30 years in prison for the murder of a young court reporter. Allen was convicted based in part on a false confession, police “tunnel vision” and blood type evidence that was said to include Allen, but actually eliminated him as a possible contributor. Visiting the Innocence Project website will reveal how often convictions are incorrect.

There was also the notorious case of Troy Davis, which this writer campaigned on for some years where it was perfectly clear an innocent man was to be executed, which duly occurred.

In 2014, a study estimated perhaps 4% of death row inmates in America are innocent. Many of these are people where there is no apparent or yet discovered doubt about their guilt.

In the USA, 130 people sentenced to death have been found innocent since 1973 and released from death row. The average time on death row before these exonerations was 11 years.

The continuous threat of execution makes the ordeal of those wrongly convicted particularly horrible.

Timothy Evans

In March 1950 The British Government hanged Timothy Evans, a 25-year-old man who had the vocabulary of a 14-year-old and the mental age of a ten-year-old.

Evans was arrested for the murder of his wife and daughter at their home, the top floor flat of 10 Rillington Place, London. His statements to the police were contradictory, telling them that he killed her, and also that he was innocent.

He was tried and convicted for the murder of his daughter and subsequently hanged. Three years later Evans’s landlord, John Christie, was arrested for the murder of several women, whose bodies he hid in the house. He subsequently admitted to the murder of Evans’s wife, but not the daughter.

He was hanged in July 1953 in Pentonville Prison, but the case showed Evans’s conviction and hanging had been a miscarriage of justice.

It can be arbitrary

One Supreme Court Justice in the USA even changed from a supporter of the death penalty to an abolitionist due to his experience on America’s highest court. He said: “The death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice, and mistake … Experience has taught us that the constitutional goal of eliminating arbitrariness and discrimination from the administration of death … can never be achieved without compromising an equally essential component of fundamental fairness – individualised sentencing.”  Justice Harry Blackmun, United States Supreme Court, 1994

There’s much concern in the USA, in particular, that the legal system doesn’t always provide poor accused people with good lawyers. Out of all offenders who are sentenced to death, three quarters of those who are allocated a legal aid lawyer can expect execution, a figure that drops to a quarter if the defendant could afford to pay for a lawyer.

It’s not a deterrent.

There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than a prison term. In fact, evidence reveals the opposite.

Since abolishing the death penalty in 1976, for example, Canada’s murder rate has steadily declined and as of 2016 was at its lowest since 1966.

There is still the argument that the death penalty is effective retribution, but what does that then say about us, as a society? And as experts agree, revenge is not as healthy for those to whom harm has been done as forgiveness is. It’s argued that retribution is used in a unique way in the case of the death penalty. And crimes other than murder do not receive a punishment that mimics the crime – for example rapists are not punished by sexual assault, and people guilty of assault are not ceremonially beaten up.

Research conducted for the UN has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. And such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The key to real and true deterrence is to increase the likelihood of detection, arrest and conviction.

As Amnesty International commented, “The death penalty is a harsh punishment, but it is not harsh on crime.”

Or as anti-death penalty campaigner Dr Daisy Kouzel commented, “When they used to hang pickpockets in public, more pickpocketing was going on at the site of execution than had been done by the condemned man who was being hanged to set an example. ”

It removes the possibility of rehabilitation

For some murderers, it appears there is never any hope of rehabilitation. But stories abound of people on death row in various countries for long periods of time, decades sometimes, sentenced for horrible crimes, who become “model prisoners”, and make a sustained contribution to the well-being of their fellow prisoners. In the case of one prisoner – Edmund Zagorski – executed in Tennessee in 2018 for murdering two people over a drug deal, he was even credited with having saved the life of a prison warder.

It’s inhumane

Many styles of execution are painful – there are extreme concerns over lethal injection in the United States taking up to 30 minutes to kill the convicted criminal, inflicting feelings of fear, suffocation, and “burning up from the inside”. In Japan, the accused are only informed of their execution moments before it is scheduled. As a result, each day of their life is lived as if it was their last. This is surely mental torture.

It’s applied inconsistently

Some lawyers argue that capital punishment is not really used as retribution for murder, or even consistently for a particular kind of murder. They argue that, in the USA at least, only a small minority of murderers are actually executed, and that imposition of capital punishment on a “capriciously selected random handful” of offenders does not amount to a consistent programme of retribution.

Since capital punishment is not operated retributively, it is therefore inappropriate to use retribution to justify capital punishment. This argument would have no value in a society that applied the death penalty consistently for particular types of murder, of course, but evidence also shows that similar crimes – murder, rape, drug dealing and so forth – produce very different results in court, and that the further down the social scale you are, the more likely you are to have the ultimate penalty imposed. (See ‘arbitrary’, above.)

It brutalises individuals

Statistics show that the death penalty leads to an increase in murder rate. In the USA, for example, more murders take place in states where capital punishment is allowed. In 2010, the murder rate in states where the death penalty has been abolished was 4.01 per cent per 100,000 people. In states where the death penalty is used, the figure was 5.00 per cent. These calculations are based on figures from the FBI. The gap between death penalty states and non-death penalty states rose considerably from 4 per cent difference in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2010. It is also linked to increased number of police officers murdered. The argument seems to be that “If I am going to be killed for one count of murder, why not commit more?”

It should not be applied to the mentally incapable or the insane

This is not an argument against capital punishment itself, but against the fact of its existence leading to it being applied wrongly.

Some countries, including the USA and the UK (in the past), have executed people proven to be insane or to have been so mentally incapacitated as to be, in effect, like little children.

But it’s generally accepted that people should not be punished for their actions unless they have a guilty mind – which requires them to know what they are doing and that it’s wrong. Therefore people who are insane should not be convicted, let alone executed. This doesn’t prevent insane people who have done terrible things being confined in secure mental institutions, but this is done for public safety, not to punish the insane person.

To put it more formally: it is wrong to impose capital punishment on those who have at best a marginal capacity for deliberation and for moral agency.

A more difficult moral problem may arises in the case of offenders who were apparently temporarily insane at the time of their crime and trial but who then recover.

The existence of the death penalty leads to special jury selection

Jurors in many US death penalty cases must be ‘death eligible’. This means the prospective juror must be willing to convict the accused knowing that a sentence of death is a possibility.

This results in a jury biased in favour of the death penalty, since no one who opposes the death penalty is likely to be accepted as a juror. Whether or not that makes them any better or worse at judging guilt is imponderable. But where jurors must recommend a sentence to a judge, or order it, it biases the system in favour of death penalty outcomes regardless of the culpability or profile of the offender.

It arrogates to the ‘State’ the right to do things we might not be prepared to do ourselves.

There is a moral argument against execution if an individual apparently in favour of the death penalty would not, nevertheless, be willing to perform the execution themselves. As one MP put it in Britain, “I would not pull the lever (to hang someone) myself, so I will not instruct others to do it on my behalf.”

It brutalises society, to no purpose

If the authorities will respect life, this attitude filters down to the lowest stratum of society. Far fewer murderers are perpetrated today than when executions were a dime a dozen and gibbets a common sight at crossroads, except of course in countries where the executioner is very active and blood keeps adding to blood. Why? Because humaneness and mercy produce more of the same. As criminal law humanised so there was less crime instead of more, despite the rapid increase in populations. And if state officials carry out a death sentence, they must extinguish all feelings of reverence for life; otherwise they would never be able to carry out their task.

This would seem to be echoed by the most famous executioner in modern history, Albert Pierrepoint, in Britain, who hanged up to 600 people.

In his 1974 autobiography, Pierrepoint changed his view on capital punishment, and wrote that hanging:

… is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time. If death were a deterrent, I might be expected to know. It is I who have faced them last, young lads and girls, working men, grandmothers. I have been amazed to see the courage with which they take that walk into the unknown. It did not deter them then, and it had not deterred them when they committed what they were convicted for. All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder.

It can be applied for ‘crimes’ that do not warrant it

Notoriously, up to 9,000 homosexuals were murdered in Nazi Germany for same-sex behaviour … but in Iran, and parts of Nigeria, you can still be executed for being an active homosexual, and some other majority Muslim states. In Saudi Arabia people have been executed for throwing stones at a street demonstration when they were a child, or for cross-dressing, and in the UAE for rape. In China, you can be executed for financial corruption and 53 other non lethal crimes. In a number of countries in Asia you can be executed for relatively minor drug crime.

Most people would argue the ultimate penalty should only be handed down for the ultimate crime.

The debate will, no doubt, continue, in the USA and elsewhere. What do you think, Dear Reader?

 

As I write this, just two days after the Australian election, the sense of shock in the electorate at the Liberal-National Coalition’s narrow victory over Labor is still causing most citizens to mutter, confused, “What the actual fuck?” I am not being coarse for the sake of effect. That is by far the most common comment.

It’s not just that there was a widespread sense that the Coalition, victim of recent leadership instability, was long overdue a “pull yourselves together” kicking.

It was that a Labor victory had been predicted for so long, with “two party preferred” margins of as high as 53-47 in their favour being forecast in usually reliable opinion polls as late as the morning of election day, that the eventual win by their opponents was … well, flabbergasting. Stupefying. “Shome mishtake, shurely?” (Election night in Australia is universally accompanied by parties and heavy drinking.)

In its way, this result is just as shocking (and therefore interesting) as the Brexit vote and the Presidential win of Donald Trump.

So in the end, what was it that produced a result which looks like ending up as 51-49 outcome in favour of the Coalition and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, now owners of a wafter thin majority that will theoretically allow them to continue to hold the Government benches for another three years?

There are many factors and I will try and unpick them intelligently for any election tragics out there.

Bill Shorten in Parliament

All the natural charisma of a brick.

Firstly and most obviously, the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was an unpopular figure, in part because he had a history as a dominant and powerful head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which is not an organisation which spends much of its time cultivating the affection of the middle class centre of Australia where most Australians sit, but also because in Parliament and on TV he exhibited all the natural charisma of a brick.

Ironically a decent, engaging and friendly character away from the cameras, once they turned on he became over-controlled, lecturing, somewhat superior and just plain boring.

And as he was Labor Leader for six years, that was a long time to bore people.

The recently anointed Leader of the Liberal Party, by contrast, has been a relentlessly cheerful “ordinary bloke”, with an ever-present baseball cap perched on his head, who made no pretence of any great intellectual heft, but insisted he had plenty of empathy for the “battlers” – Aussies who want a “fair go”, or as they picturesquely put it here, “a fair suck of the saveloy”.

As one Liberal insider put it: “When he got the job last year he immediately began building his persona as an ordinary, knockabout bloke who can knock back a beer and roll up his shirt sleeves to have a go. He knew the importance of filling in the picture before his opponents defined him to the public.”

By achieving this, Morrison captured the aspiration of many working people to not actually be working people, thanks very much, but rather to ascend to comfortable middle class status.

Not for nothing was Scott Morrison’s first act after his win to go to his evangelical Church on Sunday morning, and then to go to the football on Sunday night.

Whereas the Labor Party – with a complex and substantial “tax and spend” agenda that required endless explanation – appeared mired in the class-warfare battles of previous decades, stating, in effect, “We’ll tax you what we need and then spend it on you as we see fit”, to which many Australians on Saturday clearly said “Thanks a lot, I’ll just keep me money and spend it myself”.

Whether or not a new Liberal-National Coalition government will actually do anything much to help the people who switched their votes to them remains to be seen – they didn’t expect themselves to win either, so they have a very sketchy plan for government – but painting Labor as the party of higher taxation was certainly a successful part of their pitch. It will be a long cold day in hell till a political party in Australia again goes into an election promising significant tax reform or even tax increases.

This effect was multiplied by the Labor Party’s inability (wary of offending environmentally-aware/Green voters further south) to enthusiastically support the proposed Adani coal mine in regional Queensland.

The Coalition found it simplicity itself to portray Labor as wishy-washy on the mine (which they were) and by implication, therefore, as wishy-washy on jobs for regional people – estimated as maybe as many as 15,000 jobs from Adani alone. This effect was re-doubled by no apparent solution to endlessly rising power prices and problems with water supply to regional areas.

The wash up is that are now no Labour seats left in Queensland anywhere north of the Brisbane river. And the “don’t care about jobs” message hurt Labor in regional New South Wales, too, where the impact of Adani was little more than symbolic of two very different agendas for Government, but where Labor was portrayed as having forgotten their core base (and the extraction industries generally) in favour of chasing a more ideologically-driven pro-environment vote.

The scale of the rout is notable. Across Queensland Coalition candidates in fact polled 57 per cent to Labor’s 43 per cent. Unheard of margins.

Scott Morrison Victory speech

“How good is Queensland?!” If you’re a Liberal, very, very good.

“How good is Queensland?!” roared Scott Morrison when the results were known, and he was cheered to the rafters by an audience in New South Wales. It’s hard to explain to an overseas audience quite how unlikely that is. Maybe Manchester United supporters offering to go over to Anfield and cheer on Liverpool so the Kop can have a day off. Lakers fans cheering for the Celtics. That sort of thing.

By running dead on new coal mines and talking up their climate change credentials, Labor made a bold attempt to speak to inner city Sydney and seats across left-leaning Victoria in particular, which had recently delivered a massive electoral setback to the Liberals in a recent State election.

The attempt failed.

Although the Green vote around the nation stayed roughly the same at 10.5% (approximately, counting continues), blue collar voters were resolutely unimpressed.

It’s not that they don’t care about climate change, it’s just that they want to care about it without paying more tax on a second investment home, (often called a “bricks and mortar pension” in Australia), or their parents having to give up long-established tax breaks on shares in their superannuation portfolio.

Ironically in well-to-do Coalition seats in the centre of cities there were small swings to the Greens and even to high-taxing Labor – the so-called “Doctor’s wives” effect, where comfortably off people dabble in more progressive politics because whatever the outcome it won’t really affect them. But move into the outer suburban ring and the effect was reversed, leading to a clutch of vital Coalition wins in seats in marginal seats in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania where they should, by all expectations, have been swept aside.

So it is worthwhile considering why the Liberal-National scare tactics on tax were so effective.

Australians are not, in a general sense, anti-taxation in the way that some in America are. It’s not that they are selfish. Indeed, Australians donate more per head of population to charity – including to charities overseas – than any other country in the world.

It is rather that they do not trust Government to spend those taxes wisely.

The Bill Australia can't afford.

Simple idea, cleverly expressed, and devastatingly powerful.

As part of a growing trend worldwide, Australians are deeply suspicious of Government at all levels, so when the Coalition festooned all the polling stations in the country in bunting – in stark Labour red – with an unflattering photo of Bill Shorten looking, frankly, confused, with the slogan “Labor: It’s the Bill Australia can’t afford.” it was highly effective. At no stage did Labor ever manage to convey their contrasting priorities with such devastating and effective directness.

And it was this scenario – starkly similarly to Clinton’s shock loss to Trump in America – that led one member of the public writing in to a radio station on Sunday morning to dismiss the Labor effort as having been led by “Hillary Shorten”. You could hear the heads nodding in agreement around the country’s breakfast tables.

Or in the case of those who were yet to get up having drunk themselves to sleep in either distress or celebration just a few hours previously, there was a muttered “Yeah … what she said …” from under a pillow.

Perhaps the most significant thing to say about this election is that it shows, once again, that political parties in the Western world are no longer either mere vehicles for those who traditionally made up their supporter base or even perfectly aligned to those who they seek to lead, and especially on the Left.

Pennsylvania coal miners voted for Trump. On Saturday so did coal miners in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and those who want to be coal miners in Queensland. Voters in Wales and Northern England and the South West voted against their obvious self-interest for Brexit. On Saturday so did those working in the tourism industry in Queensland who said, in effect, we’d rather have a coal mine than the Barrier Reef.

This time round, Australia’s Conservative parties portrayed themselves as simple-thinking, straight-talking managers, eschewing the internecine struggles that have consumed them in recent years (the Coalition parties have been split between hard right cultural warriors and small-l liberals, much like in Britain) and opted instead for a pitch that they were just a bunch of good old blokes on the side of “ordinary” Aussies – yes, even those who work down coal mines, milk the cows, and for those – by offering vague and very unlikely promises on road building – who are stuck in commuter traffic queues for hours every day.

By contrast the Labor Party was simply too overly intellectual, too long-winded, and they constantly beetled off down obscurantist paths – all very noble in their own right, to be sure – without taking care of their knitting. As one radio commentator explained: “I went to see the mechanic who works on my car, and I asked him who he was going to vote for, and he said Liberal because he didn’t want to lose his tax break on the one investment property his family owned. When I told him there was no chance of that, because any change to the law meant that existing arrangements were grandfathered, he looked at me and said ‘What the fuck does ‘Grandfathered’ mean?’”

Quite.

You couldn’t summarise Labor’s failures to explain their goals any more simply, nor could you sound a better warning to the Left around the world as they seek to come to terms with the appeal of populist right wing heroes.

It’s hard to know exactly what will happen next. The Coalition now have a clean slate and the thrill of a totally unexpected win, and they could take the chance to shift their party back to the centre, (especially as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, leader of the hard right, lost his seat to an Independent), deliver modest but welcome tax cuts, finally make some progress on climate change – a notable failure for some years – and de-fang Labor for a generation.

Labor will retreat and lick their wounds, but they already show little sign of having learned their lesson, as their next Leader, far from a consensus politician from the centre, will very likely be a dyed-in-the-wool tub-thumping leftie. Which will do wonders for reviving the spirits of their own members, but very little for the electorate at large. Sound familiar?

In the meantime, Australians will move on to arguing about this week’s football, and saying “Thank God that’s over for another three years.” Although with a likely Government majority of just 1, they might be counting those chickens a tad early.

Because of it’s essential nature as a “free to edit” site, Wikipedia is often referred to in jokey terms as an information resource.

But many of its articles, supported by references, are hugely useful to a wide variety of people. The project has vastly contributed to the free flow of information and opinion around the world.

While you read this, Wikipedia develops at a rate of over 1.8 edits per second, performed by editors from all over the world. Currently, the English Wikipedia includes 5,854,311 articles and it averages 564 new articles per day. This amount of data can be analysed in a huge number of ways.

What is certain is that it is a highly valuable resource to make world conversations better informed.

Which is why it is so sad that for one-third of the world’s population, it just disappeared.

Screenshot of Wikipedia ad

Wikipedia is now blocked in China.

All language editions of Wikipedia have been blocked in mainland China since April, the Wikimedia foundation has confirmed.

Internet censorship researchers found that Wikipedia had joined thousands of other websites which cannot be accessed in China.

The country had previously banned the Chinese language version of the site, but the block has now been expanded. Wikimedia said it had received “no notice” of the move.

In a statement, the foundation said: “In late April, the Wikimedia Foundation determined that Wikipedia was no longer accessible in China. After closely analysing our internal traffic reports, we can confirm that Wikipedia is currently blocked across all language versions.”

The free community-edited encyclopaedia has been intermittently blocked by authorities around the world.

In 2017, the site was blocked in Turkey and it has been blocked intermittently in Venezuela this year.

Experience shows that there is one thing that authoritarian regimes detest more than anything else, and that is losing control of the flow of information to their citizens. And experience shows that nothing forces them to back-track on these incursions into people’s freedom than their embarrassment at being found out and criticised.

The answer? Make a fuss. Stand up for the freedom of our Chinese brothers and sisters. Re-blog this article, put a link to it on Facebook, and on Twitter, and on any other platform you use regularly. Just hit one of the buttons at the end of this article.

Those in power in China will notice.

And if you want to know more about how important Wikipedia now is, go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Statistics

This story gives us the first words heard from Mohamed Noor, who shot Justine Damond when she ran to his police car for help, having heard a disturbance outside her home.

https://www.theage.com.au/world/north-america/you-die-if-you-react-too-late-noor-breaks-silence-on-damond-death-20190426-p51he6.html

Whilst anger at Damond’s stupid, awful death bubbles up very easily, quiet reflection makes it hard not to feel some sympathy for Noor and his partner, too. Yes, the license to carry a weapon and use it with deadly force is a heavy responsibility, to be sure. Without pre-judging the matter al all, merely based on what we have heard so far, we suspect Noor will likely be found guilty*, if for no other reason that taking the oath to serve also implies an ability to balance responding effectively to threats with public safety in moments of crisis. Anyhow, we shall see, and he deserves his day in court. But frankly, a greater responsibility lies elsewhere.

It is with customary police training that sends officers onto the street with a hair trigger attitude, to “shoot first” in case they are ambushed, as is laid out clearly in the story.

The parts of Noor’s defence outlined in the article above is a wake up call to all to address ingrained police attitudes to the use of deadly force.

And responsibility lies with the American public, who in a masse sense simply cannot summon up the will to reduce the numbers of guns in circulation in that country, leading in turn to a never-ending cycle of violence of which Justine Damond was just one more tragic victim.

The debate in America has become toxic, as so many discussions in that country have become. (Not uniquely, of course, but especially.) Advocates of greater gun control are called soft-headed at best and cowards and traitors at worst, but gun advocates are in turn are accused of being uncaring at best and gung ho to the point of latent murderousness at worst.

Neither attitude will encourage a move to the centre, and a desire to solve the problem. And until that happens, the litany of unnecessary deaths, of policemen, by policemen, and from the public, and by the public against other members of the public, will continue.

What is needed in the debate is evidence-based facts to balance the rhetoric. Research shows that some gun control measures reduce violence, others have a less efficacious effect. Research shows that guns can effectively be used in self-defence, in certain situations, and therefore have a moral and practical value. (Assuming no other course of action was open to the person defending themself, of course.) Evidence-based debate would reduce the toxicity and allow compromise to be considered.

America has a unique relationship with guns. Of course, jingoistic appeals to the Second Amendment are just so much hogwash. The Founding Fathers wanted to make space for citizen armies to defend against foreign insurgents – entirely unnecessary when America has the most expensive armed forces in the world – and they never imagined rifles, let alone repeating rifles, let alone near-assault weapons. But Americans enjoy hunting – often for food – as a core part of their culture. And that should be respected. Farmers need guns to reduce vermin. Ditto. And the right to self-defence is ingrained in a country which was for many years a frontier state.

But all that said, no one ever envisaged a country where inner city areas – especially – are plagued by roaming gangs of youth – white, black, hispanic, asian – locked into a cycle of crime, social despair and joblessness, with a free and never-ending supply of weapons. No one ever envisaged a militarised police force that would have to corral those dispirited and violent youths like an occupying army.

Yes, intelligent moves to rid the streets of some of their guns will be a beginning. But the ultimate answer, of course, in what is supposed to be a society based on productive capitalism, is work.

Work that gives a people a stake in their world. Work that lets people develop their lives with optimism. Work that lets people have pride in themselves.

Real work, in productive and meaningful jobs, with skills training that lasts a lifetime and makes future employment easier, mopping up the energy of the workforce.

Nothing more than a new “New Deal” will solve the crisis of America’s cities, and it will take an investment of trillions of dollars. And, of course, if that investment is made into old, dying industries it will serve no purpose, because it will not generate lasting economic growth to support – and repay – the initial investment.

If Americans weary of the never-ending cycle of violence, then here is a project around which both the right and the left in America can coalesce, if, and it’s a big if, the political will – which comes, ultimately, from the electorate – can be created.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues call for a New Green Deal to combat climate change. Well, that could combat inner city wasteful lawlessness, too. It can be a focal point for industrial renewal in cities across the USA. And there are many Republicans who, believing that the best jobs plan is economic growth, could be persuaded that capitalism nevertheless needs seed corn capital to function, and that at least some of the profits of corporate tax cuts need to be ploughed back into the economy, and not just into shareholders pockets to spend on Chinese TVs and Korean cars.

They might also consider that if the new energy technologies the world is crying out for could be invented, developed and sold by American companies, then America might start to reverse its disastrous trade deficit, which this month reached it’s largest ever figure. Which would be good for America, and the world.

Such a compact requires two things above all.

Imagination – to rise above the pointless squabbling that categorises modern American politics.

And compromise – a willingness to come together for the common good, such as one sees in wartime.

Justine Damond was just one more victim of an internal war raging endlessly in America’s cities, as, in his way, was Mohamed Noor. Redressing the collapse of those cities will require an effort just as dramatic and unifying as if the country was being threatened from abroad.

And it is long overdue. The clock stands at a minute to midnight.

*Since this article was written Noor has, indeed, been found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Australian woman Justine Ruszczyk Damond. He was acquitted of second-degree murder.

There has been widespread publicity – and volumes of commentary and angst  – about whether young women (and some not so young) who left their home countries to travel to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State should be permitted to return to their original countries.

In one case in the UK, the Home Secretary has revoked Shamima Begum’s UK citizenship, a decision supported by apparently 78% of the British population, and possibly effectively rendering her stateless – which even the Home Secretary acknowledges would be illegal.

In the USA, Donald Trump has instructed that another bride, Hoda Muthana, should not be allowed to return to America.

But perhaps there is a more nuanced reaction that should be considered.

Firstly, both these women, and others, claim they were brainwashed into originally heading to IS, and then for supporting it.

In the case of Muthana, she unquestionably urged violence against her American compatriots. In the case of Begum, she reported seeing “a decapitated head in a waste bin” and not being “fazed” by the experience, and that the terrorist bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester was “retaliation” for Western bombing.

However, despite these being utterly abhorrent opinions, it may still be that there are arguments in favour of such people being allowed “home”.

The problem is by no means limited to the West.

As the BBC reported in May 2018 more than 2,000 Russian women have disappeared in Iraq and Syria. Some will be dead. Some will be held by the Governments of those countries, (some of the Russian women and others are rumoured to have been taken to prison in Baghdad, where they face execution), or by anti-IS militia such as Hashd al-Shaabi. Some will be in hiding, or in refugee camps. Is some cases, when captured with their husbands, the husbands have been executed.

So can anything be said for allowing such people to return to their countries of birth or citizenship?

Their age

Most people would concede that decision-making at the age of 15, as in the case of Begum and the two friends that went with her (both now dead) would be wildly different from even a few years later.

Or when, as in Muthana’s case, (she left when 19), she was making decisions in a cloistered and very severe background with little or no external input. For example, she says her family in Alabama were deeply conservative and placed restrictions on her movements and interactions, factors she claims contributed to her radicalisation. “You want to go out with your friends and I didn’t get any of that. I turned to my religion and went in too hard. I was self-taught and thought whatever I read, it was right. I look back now and I think I was very arrogant. Now I’m worried about my son’s future. In the end I didn’t have many friends left, because the more I talked about the oppression of Isis the more I lost friends. I was brainwashed once and my friends are still brainwashed.”

Whilst Begum says she does not regret travelling to Syria, which has been widely reported, she also says she came to believe that IS deserved to be defeated because it was corrupt and cruel. That is a much more nuanced attitude. Such an attitude expressed openly in the ‘Caliphate’ would have seen her executed.

In Muthana’s case, she speaks of having made a great mistake in travelling to join IS, of being manipulated, of being ignorant.

Do we believe them? Are they sincere? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Would it make any difference if they were?

The essential question here is should we punish people for life, effectively, because of errors made – even egregious errors – when they were children, or when they say they were misled?

The pressure on them inside IS

There is ample evidence that IS placed such “brides” under huge pressure.

They were rigidly kept under lock and key until they married a fighter, to which they would not have been introduced, simply shown a photograph.

Once released into marriage, their movement was severely restricted, and any attempt to live an independent existence could result in terrible punishment. Soon after Begum’s marriage, (just three weeks after she arrived in the area), her husband was arrested, accused of spying, and was imprisoned and tortured for six and a half months.

It is not impossible to imagine that women such as Muthana would, effectively, have continued being “brainwashed” during their time in IS territory, or become too afraid to change their minds or express any different opinions. Whilst Muthana does not deny sending inflammatory tweets when she first arrived, and after her first husband was killed, she then claims her Twitter account was run by an IS fighter. Why did she stop sending her own tweets? Should we at least ask?

Are they actually guilty of any crime?

There is an argument that the women gave succour and sustenance to a terrorist organisation through their very presence. But other than this somewhat nebulous charge, have they actually broken any laws that would justify them being permanently excluded?

in 2015 Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said the three girls would not face terror charges or be treated as criminals. And in Begum’s case specifically, Assistant Commissioner, Mark Rowley, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, said at the time there was a “difference between the person running around northern Iraq with a Kalishnikov” and three schoolgirls who had been duped into travelling to Syria. However as Ms Begum is now 19, she is legally an adult. If she was under 18, UK authorities could argue they still had a duty of care to her. That might be more complex now. Then again, Security minister Ben Wallace said last week: “As a British citizen she has a right to come home here. We are obliged to make sure our citizens have rights, no matter who they are,” he told Sky News. But he dismissed any suggestion of sending officials to meet Ms Begum, saying: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists in a failed state. Actions have consequences.”

Should they be obliged to face prosecution?

Though it might be unclear what they would be charged with, it may well be that the women concerned should be prosecuted in a court of law.

Sir Peter Fahy, a retired senior police chief who was the leader of the Prevent terrorism prevention programme at the time the girls left the UK, told BBC Radio 4 that if Begum was to now return, British authorities would first detain her and investigate whether there was enough evidence to prosecute her.

He said it was understandable why the government was “not particularly interested” in aiding her return. “If the woman was showing complete remorse, it would be completely different,” he said.

However this begs the question, should an individual’s guilt or innocence, whatever their actions, not be judged by a jury of their peers? Is there actually any more basic premise for western societies which support the jury system?

Fighters returning to their countries of origin are routinely taken to court, judged and sentenced. Why is one course of action right, and another wrong?

If it is simply because there are actually no laws under which to charge the women, that is surely not a reason to sentence them to exile in limbo in absentia.

Do we want them just running around anywhere?

Many IS brides are in camps (or areas) controlled by America and/or her allies in the region. European countries show no great enthusiasm to bring captured IS fighters home to face prosecution, nor to go to dangerous areas to interview or assess them.

But President Trump has publicly asserted that if the Europeans don’t steep up he will simply open the gates and let them go. In which case, will the women be released as well? To go … where? With what attitude or future actions?

So much is unclear.

Can they be rehabilitated?

The answer to this question is ‘probably’. De-radicalisation programs around the world actually show high levels of success.

The question is what is actually of more use to our society – de-radicalised people who were given a chance to atone for their behaviour, or permanently locking them out of sight overseas?

It is, of course, impossible to predict what future contribution they might make, but it is equally impossible to argue “None”. They might end us as useful members of society. They may even be part of an effort to help to prevent other young people becoming radicalised. In that sense, bringing them home would start to redress their foolishness.

Last but not least: what about the children?

Both these women – and many others – have very young children. No one would argue the children have done anything wrong, apart from having the misfortune to be born in a war zone.

Do the sins of their parents require them to be punished too? Surely not. And many people have said that their children should be allowed entry. But if we are to then obdurately refuse to take their mothers back, is that morally supportable? There is no evidence that the mothers are abusive towards their children – rather the opposite, in fact. So on what grounds can we or should we separate them?

At least 730 children have been born inside ISIS territory to foreign nationals, including 566 born to Western Europeans. Are they all to stay in refugee camps in Syria or surrounding countries?

Our conclusion?

It is often said that it is easy to forgive those that we agree with, or who are essentially good people. But it’s harder – and perhaps more relevant – to forgive those that we do not like.

Both of these women, and others, have expressed hateful opinions, as well as more complex ones.

But the issues they pose go to the heart of our judicial system. And they also talk to who we are as people, and how our attitudes to them define our societies, and how we wish to behave. Decisions about their future should not be made on the basis of pandering to mob disgust, even if that disgust is perfectly understandable.

Our view is that it is far too simplistic to argue, as social media has done, “Pah! They made their bed, let them lie in it.”

Why? Well, for one reason above all.

If we eschew totally the opportunity for rehabilitation – or even for measured punishment that fits the crime – then there would only be one sentence for all transgressions or crimes. And that sentence would be life in jail, or execution.

Now who does that sound like?

Our regular Reader, and Facebook friends, will know that we are somewhat exercised over the collective insanity that is Brexit. Wandering around the world wide interweb thingy, we saw this: To us, it seems remarkably apposite:

Leavers “We voted for Brexit, now you Remainers need to implement it”

Remainers “But it’s not possible!”

Leavers “The People Have Spoken. Therefore it is possible. You just have to think positively.”

Remainers “And do what exactly?”

Leavers “Come up with a Plan that will leave us all better off outside the EU than in it.”

Remainers “But that’s not possible!”

Leavers “Quit with the negative vibes. The People Have Spoken.”

Remainers “But even you don’t know how!”

Leavers “That’s your problem, we’ve done our bit and voted, we’re going to sit here and eat popcorn and watch as you do it.”

Remainers “Shouldn’t you do it? It was your idea. We were happy.”

Leavers “It’s not up to us to work out the detail, it’s up to you experts.”

Remainers “I thought you’d had enough of experts?”

Leavers “Remain experts.”

Remainers “There are no Leave experts.”

Leavers “Then you’ll have to do it then. Oh, and by the way, no dragging your feet or complaining about it, because if you do a deal we don’t want, we’ll eat you alive.”

Remainers “But you don’t know what you want!”

Leavers “We want massive economic growth, no migration, free trade with the EU and every other country, on our terms, the revival of British industry, re-open the coal mines, tea and vicars on every village green, some nice bunting, and maybe restoration of the empire.”

Remainers “You’re delusional.”

Leavers “We’re a delusional majority. DEMOCRACY! So do the thing that isn’t possible, very quickly, and give all Leavers what they want, even though they don’t know what they want, and ignore the 16 million other voters who disagree. They’re tight trouser latte-sipping hipsters who whine all the time. Who cares?”

This was created by Ishtar Ostaria and kudos to Ish.

We’d like to engage in one more bit of speculation.

The best intelligence at the moment seems to be that May will bring a deal back to the UK Parliament to pass which leaves the situation virtually as it is now, with Britain inside the EU, except Britain will lose all influence over the EU by not having any input in the EU parliament or ministerial conflabs. How that improves Britain’s standing is beyond us, even though it is what we speculated would happen years ago.

OR May will come back to the Parliament and say “This can’t be done, we need to defer Article 50, possibly for quite some time.”

This will create a political furore in Britain, even if it actually makes sense.

May might then go to the country for a renewed mandate, and with Labour languishing because of their leadership’s inability to oppose Brexit, and the Lib Dems seemingly unable to make up significant ground on them, she will probably get it. Which won’t make Brexit any easier, but which will entrench probably the most incompetent Government in recent British history in power for another five years.

British civil discourse is being rent asunder by political toxicity, and the country is led by donkeys. It’d be funny, if it wasn’t so tragic.

Regular readers will know (a) that I think Brexit is a really, really bad idea, and (b) I have blogged about why often, or waffled about it on Facebook, or whatever.

But after the shambles in the UK Parliament yesterday (Australian time) I thought this BBC graphic might be useful for anyone trying to understand what on earth happens (or can happen) now.

Brexit next steps

The UK Parliament yesterday was a seething mass of regret, ambition, determination and anger.

The problem, as one Brexiteer friend complained to me this morning is that Prime Minister Theresa May was never a Leaver, and therefore the entire negotiation has been bumbled along incompetently in order to leave the British sort of still in the EU and sort of out of it. As Aussies would say, paraphrasing a famous old advertising slogan: “It’s the Brexit you’re having when you’re not having a Brexit.”

Theresa May under pressure in the UK parliament yesterday.

There’s only one problem with this analysis, which is that the current situation could well cost Theresa May her job, and politicians don’t generally engineer a situation which seems tailor-made to see them sacked.

If May wanted a Brexit deal that left the situation essentially a status quo, one suspects she would have dressed it up better to mollify the right-wing anti-European segment of her party, rather than enrage it. (Which presumes that they were capable of being mollified, which is by no means certain.) But when the Minister in charge of the deal enunciated yesterday, as Dominic Raab did, that he’s resigning because he can’t support the deal he himself negotiated, then we are in uncharted political territory.

It is likely that the Brexiteers in May’s party (by no means a majority, but incredibly determined and vocal) were simply waiting for this moment to topple her in favour of one of their own. They won’t get one of their own, but they will succeed in making their party look ungovernable and fractured. Why they would want to do that you will have to ask them.

Nevertheless, putting a deal to Parliament which seems to please no-one apart from a small core of May loyalists seems a failure of political strategy. Doing something to unite the right wing of the Tories, the increasingly marginalised Lib Dems, the much more significant Scots Nats, large swathes of Labour (if not its increasingly unimpressive leader) and even the DUP (nominally part of the government, in effect) is quite a feat.

It may simply be that May has simply run out of time, and had to do something. She may, indeed, prefer to go down fighting on the principle that the people voted for Brexit, and she’s going to deliver the Brexit she can, or die trying. Certainly her performance in the Commons – against a barrage of criticism unlike anything seen since Chamberlain was removed in 1940 – was bullish, determined and courageous.

The problem, of course, is that in terms of what is right for Britain, this is a disaster.

If the deal cannot survive the Commons, then a “No Deal, Crash Out” outcome becomes very likely. Passionate opponents of the EU will say (are saying) “Well, so what? We survived two World Wars, we can manage a bit of trade disruption!” The problem is that this is mere wishful thinking – “magic thinking” – and terrifyingly naive.

The UK currently trades with the EU under rules set down by the EU customs union, which is an agreement that goods can be traded freely, and the single market, which sets a common regulatory structure and allows the free movement of goods, capital, people and services.

Leaving these two arrangements overnight would, first, mean the UK would trade with the EU on the basis of rules set down by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This would end the free movement of goods between the UK and the EU, and mean that tariffs, or special import taxes, would apply on some products. Secondly, customs checks would also be immediately needed between countries where they aren’t currently. Chaos.

Aviation is an example of another key area where problems will arise. At the moment the UK aircraft industry operates under EU regulation both within the EU and for flights to other countries such as the US. If the UK leaves suddenly next March, then some new regulatory arrangement would be needed. This could be worked out in advance, or could ground flights between the UK and EU countries for a period if not. On some scenarios, flights might halt for a few days before things are worked out – but much will depend on what the mood is between the two sides at the time. Any any such disruption would cause untold problems. Similarly in pharmaceuticals, the UK is part of the EU regulatory regime and questions would emerge over pharma exports from the UK,and vice versa. Stockpiling of vital drugs in both the UK and EU countries is already at the planning stage as a fallback. The UK Health Secretary reportedly told the Prime Minister and her cabinet that he ‘could not guarantee that people would not die’ if no Brexit deal was agreed. Matt Hancock is reported to have said that lives will be at risk due to a shortage of medicine in a no deal scenario during the stormy No 10 five-hour meeting on Wednesday.

Britain is also highly dependent on imported food. By value, imports make up more than 90% of the fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK and half of the meat. A “hard” Brexit is expected to suddenly and substantially increase trade costs and make food imports more expensive, something that could lead to changes in diets and dietary risk factors that influence health. In fact, Brexit could lead to up to 5,600 diet-related deaths per year by 2027, additional healthcare expenditure of £600m, and increase the GDP losses of Brexit by up to 50% according to estimates Florian Freund and Marco Springmann published in a new Oxford Martin School Working Paper.

The stupid thing about all this is that it is only Theresa May’s dogged determination (although disgracefully supported by the grinning idiot Jeremy Corbyn) that “Brexit means Brexit” and therefore there is nothing for it but to “keep on buggering on” in Churchill’s famous aphorism, that is the real problem here. She is full of Thatcher-like passion that “there is no alternative”. But there is an alternative, which is commonsense.

During the Brexit process, and increasingly as the negotiations have become mired in the very complexity that many of us predicted from day 1, the British people have gradually woken up to the fact that they don’t really like the look of what they voted for.

The original referendum was advisory only, and even if we elevate that to the level of Holy Writ as some have (with no basis in law), arguing that it places a moral obligation on the Government to deliver Brexit (this is May’s oft-stated position), this does not allow for the very obvious fact that people change their mind.

When a Government is elected, it undoubtedly has a mandate (of some strength or other, depending on the details of a result) but that Government is elected in sure and certain knowledge that it can be removed if it loses the confidence of the House, or a subsequent election. So why should the result of a referendum be somehow locked eternally in stone, when no other Governmental process is?

The Government has struggled hard to deliver Brexit. And failed. It was always a quixotic and incredibly complex goal.

The terms of the deal May has now put on the table actually leaves Britain economically worse off than staying in the EU, but with none of the advantages that Brexit was supposed to deliver. Far from “taking back control”, it actually cedes further control to the bureaucrats. Crashing out without a deal would be political and economic insanity, although it would be the preferred option for the Brexit fanatics. But in reality they have never truly been in a majority, either in the Conservative Party, or the country as a whole.

Opinion polls now suggest that there is a solid majority of the British electorate who have changed their minds on Brexit as the details have become clear. An even larger majority want the chance to vote on the terms of the deal in a so-called “People’s Vote”. May stubbornly refuses.

It is simple ornery-ness to deny them that chance, especially as it might well produce a result – staying in the EU – which would instantly resolve the current impasse. Such a result would not, of course, prevent the UK seeking to continue to renegotiate any of the terms of membership which it finds especially onerous.

Sadly, such commonsense is in short supply at the moment. Götterdämmerung works in Wagner operas. It’s no way to run a country.

So, the much-discussed mid-terms are over and done with, and the US stock market is up about 2%, as it usually is when the uncertainty of elections is over.

As we predicted a year ago, the Democrats handily won the House, (probably by more than estimated in early reports), and there was an “as you were” result in the Senate, which is likely to leave the Republicans in control. (We say “likely”, because a number of races are still toss ups, but it’s by far the most likely result.)

But what happens next is vitally important to the health of the US economy, and more broadly the world.

Nancy Pelosi, who despite some rumblings is certain to hold onto her job as head of the Democrats in the house, (if for no other reason than she is both a wily negotiator and a fundraising ballistic missile), has spoken warily of the need to work with the White House across the “aisle”.

In return, President Trump has said he wants to work with Pelosi on boosting infrastructure spending and lowering prescription drug prices, two rare policy stances of agreement.

“I think she’s a very smart woman. She has done a very good job,” Trump said at a press conference Wednesday, adding that the two didn’t discuss the prospect of impeachment in a phone call. “A lot of people thought I was beings sarcastic or joking, I wasn’t,” Trump added, in reference to a tweet saying Pelosi deserved to be speaker. “There was nothing sarcastic about it, it was really meant with good intentions.”

But – and it’s a big but – two things are likely to impede both sides’ vaunted good intentions.

Firstly, the desire to impeach Trump for something – anything, frankly – may prove irresistible to many Democrats who are still smarting from two plus years of insults from the Cheeto-in-Chief, after what they consider to have been a stolen Presidential election, and would love to hurt him back.

And Trump does not take well to assaults on his person. If war is declared, it will be fought bitterly.

Secondly, despite some areas of agreement, the Democrats are distant by a country mile from the Republicans on healthcare and will also seek to spread the benefits of a moderately booming economy to their own middle class base and away from the 1% and rustbelt industries that they fell deserted them in 2016.

So whilst the two sides may co-operate – and let us all fervently hope so – the stage is just as likely set for a “do nothing” period of government akin to when Obama lost control of the House.

If the reality of so-called gridlock sets in, then it may limit the current “relief rally”, added Nigel Green, founder and chief executive of the financial consultancy deVere Group. Of such a gridlock, he said: “This will halt deregulation legislation, which in turn will hurt sectors such as banking, energy, industrials, and smaller companies that stood to gain most from looser controls.”

Green’s concerns would be just the beginning, though. The Democrats may choose to wade in on the nasty little trade war going on with China, introducing yet more uncertainty. (Whilst the world might welcome a move to free up trade again, uncertainty on policy settings is what drives stock markets down.)

And what is absolutely certain is there is no appetite in Washington to do anything serious to tackle the ever-ballooning American government debt, from either side, but most definitely not from “tax and spend” Democrats.

Failure to do anything serious about the debt is the ticking time bomb at the heart of the American economy, containing within it a potential fall in the value of the dollar through a general loss of confidence in the essential health of the economy and its currency, and a possible subsequent stoking of inflation. That inflation then causes more uncertainty, and so on we go …

In summary, a fall in the value of the dollar:

  • Makes US exports cheaper to foreigners importing US Goods.
  • It is cheaper for non-US citizens to go on holiday to the US.
  • US consumers face higher price of imported goods.

However a devaluation is often just a temporary increase in competitiveness. Devaluation often causes inflationary pressures which reduce a temporary gain in competitiveness.

Also, as exports become more competitive (ie cheaper to foreign buyers) without firms having to make much effort to make that increase happen, then therefore there is less incentive for them to cut costs and boost productivity, and so in the long run costs will increase and therefore inflation will increase. If firms are well run and they cut costs when times are good then this may be avoided, but there appears to be little appetite for that in the USA at the moment.

If there is a devaluation in the value of the US dollar then there will be an increase in the price of goods being imported to the USA. After decades of manufacturing decline, imports are now quite a significant part of the country’s CPI, therefore increasing their prices will contribute towards cost-push inflation.

It is possible that retailers might not pass the price increases onto consumers but choose to live with lower profit margins, but if the devaluation is sustained, prices will inevitably go up.

The Financial Times have estimated that as a rough rule of thumb, a 10% devaluation may increase prices to consumers by 2-3%, affecting confidence. The components of the CPI most affected by a devaluation in the dollar are:

  1. Air travel (-1.29)
  2. Vegetables (-1.22)
  3. Gas  (-0.71)
  4. Fuel (-0.54)
  5. Books (-0.35)

Numbers 2-5 hit ordinary consumers hardest, of course. That won’t help the party in power.

And after yesterday’s results, that means both of them.

The price of a war between the House and everyone else will be international market instability. That doesn’t help anyone, inn the USA, and beyond. Let’s hope Pelosi and Trump can work that out.

 

Aussies considering a quick break in one of the many plush resorts popping up in Cambodia need to stop and consider whether they want to reward the loathsome Hun Sen regime with their much needed foreign currency. You can read about the case here:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45364695

The savage jailing for six years of elderly Aussie journalist James Ricketson is clearly a nonsensical, Kafkaesque attempt to stifle both journalistic freedom and criticism of the increasingly authoritarian Government.

Cambodia is a country which relies on Australian aid, (somewhere around $80-90 million in the most recent year), has close governmental contact with Australia, and which needs close trade ties with Australia to continue its development from the nightmare of the Pol Pot era.

It’s time the Australian Government stopped pussy-footing around human rights abuses by our near neighbours. Incoming Foreign Minister Marise Payne – no shrinking violet  – has an opportunity to stamp her authority on the position by demanding that Cambodia release Ricketson forthwith.

No ifs, no buts, no diplomatic doublespeak, no procrastination, no face-saving formulas. Now.

For heavens’ sake, Cambodian prosecutors can’t even say who Ricketson was supposed to be spying for.

If you wish to urge Marise Payne to take immediate and effective action, we suggest you email her on:

Email: Senator.Payne@aph.gov.au

Foreign Affairs: Foreign.minister@dfat.gov.au

#Asia #Asean #MarisePayne #Australia #justice

The “little corporal” Napoleon, standing at about 5 feet 7 inches, was actually taller than most of his compatriots.

According to the National Post, this misconception may have arisen because of the difference between French and British inches at the time. In French measurements, Napoleon was 5 feet 2 inches, but French inches were longer than British ones.

 

35507231_10156072539736348_4686469748467171328_n

Others believe it all started with a satirical cartoon with Napoleon being held in an British general’s hand. Or is that the King? We’re not sure.

Just another example, we feel, of “history being written by the victors”. If Napoleon had won at Waterloo we suspect Wellington would have become a silly creature of fun with boots up to his arse, and Nelson a bent and hobbled cripple.

This historical oddity, though, raises an interesting question. How many sources for history do we really need if we are to attain a “balanced” view. What weight should be placed on various sources? And what duty do we owe to the living to get it right?

One would suppose very few French people feel especially hard done by because we generally think Napoleon was a short-arse. But let us take, for example, the history of indigenous owners of land since appropriated by Empires various or immigrants: the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, for example. They see the arrival of the British as a murderous, genocidal invasion of lands they had occupied for at least 40,000 years. Our view of the North American first peoples is founded almost entirely on the myth making of 19th century broadsheet writers and comic books, the owners of which had a vested interested in selling the “white man” as a brave and honourable creature, a position gleefully adopted by Hollywood who were selling movies to those white people’s descendants, of course, and not the grandchildren of the noble (and more often ignoble) savages. Blacks in Africa were invariably shown as feckless and ignorant, despite have created civilisations that pre-dated Europe by thousands of years – ditto the Arab world which was apparently entirely composed of wild eyed zealots with flashing knives and not some of the greatest scientists in history, Aztecs and Mayans did little more with their time than cut the hearts out of slaves and toss their bodies down the sides of pyramids despite centuries of learning on astronomy and mathematics that were centuries in advance of the “West”, the Chinese were corrupt satraps despite their progress in civil administration, medicine, art and literature, and so on and so on ad infinitum.

All these civilisations were the victims of “othering”. The process by which we ridicule, marginalise and often slaughter those whom we defeat, and we simply do not concede either honourable or laudable characteristics to the defeated.

So it is perhaps instructional to consider those who are “othered” by the media, politicians, and common opinion in the West today.

The myth-making runs in overtime about, in no particular order, “lazy, venal” South Americans, “disaffected, drug-addled” American people of colour, “dangerous, inhuman, violent” Muslims, (we are sick of pointing out that if Muslims as a group were really violent the West would currently be at war with 1.2 billion of them, and probably losing, but there it is), disorganised and corrupt Italians and Greeks, drunken Irish, endlessly warring Africans, and many more.

Well. It is our birthday, today, Dear Reader. We are getting older. As someone so kindly pointed out in a message to our mobile phone earlier, “your senior years are now really upon you”. Well, yes, they are. So if you will permit me, an observation from the full height of the mountain I have so far climbed.

Whomever we are discussing, and wherever they are in the world, what has struck me most forcefully as I have gone through this life is actually how similar people are. Whoever they are. Wherever they are. No matter what their cultural background.

People everywhere simply want to live in peace. To celebrate family, and have a chance to provide for them. To speak, walk and breathe freely. To live free from fear, and with enough wealth that they don’t fear want, either.

The same things essentially frighten all of us, and the same things usually please us, inspire us, and elevate us.

We are all much more alike than we are unalike.

One of the most educational things today is to observe on social media how a “meme” of something silly, charming, and encouraging can be shared by people of all cultures, all types, all ages, and all sexes, umpteen millions of times. Very often, those memes involve conspicuous acts of kindness. Of gentleness. Every time someone clicks “Share”, they are affirming our common humanity.

If social media has a true purpose, it is perhaps to remind us that what unites us, as a species, is much more than ever divides us.

This is not to argue for a common or enforced blandness. Educator, campaigner and orator Booker T Washington once said, “In all things social we can be as separate as the finger, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress”.

That’ll do me. For my birthday present, I’d really like it if you agreed, Dear Reader. Let’s stop “othering”, and be the hand that creates mutual progress.

 

 

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Sitting in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California looking back on his wasted life is Sirhan Sirhan, the aggrieved pro-Palestinian Jordanian who fifty years ago today fatally shot Bobby Kennedy for his support for selling war planes to Israel.

But what he killed that day was not only the wildly popular primary contender for the Democratic nomination for President, but also the post-war “big government” consensus that had held sway in America since the Depression. With Kennedy effectively died the idea that Government had a legitimate role in enabling social cohesion and attacking evils such as poverty and the racial divide.

After his death, the Democrats turned to Hubert Humphrey as a consensus candidate, but the bumbling Humphrey was never going to be a match for the charismatic and experienced Richard Nixon.

That event began a thirty year or more realignment to the right in American politics, which eventually led to a wider realignment around the democratic world, which affected both future Democratic candidates (such as Carter and Clinton) as well as notable Republicans such as Ronald Reagan. By the end of the process the “post war consensus” around enabling government and Keynsian economics was largely broken, and it is not clear yet whether or not it will ever be revived.

Texan political scientist Walter Dean Burnham’s 1970 book Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics presents a theory of American political development that focuses on the role of party systems that endure for several decades, only to be disrupted by a “critical election”. Such elections not only hand presidential and congressional power to the non-incumbent political party, but they do so in a dramatic way that repudiates the worn-out ideas of the old party and initiates a new era whose leaders govern on a new set of assumptions, ideologies, and public policies. The elections of 1860 and 1932 are perhaps the clearest examples of critical elections, and scholars have disagreed about how well Burnham’s theories still explain American electoral politics. Others contend that 1968 was a realigning election for Republicans holding the presidency from 1969 to 1977 and again from 1981 to 1993.

Some political scientists, such as Mayhew, are skeptical of the realignment theory altogether, saying there are no long-term patterns: “Electoral politics,” he wrote, “is to an important degree just one thing after another … Elections and their underlying causes are not usefully sortable into generation-long spans … It is a Rip Van Winkle view of democracy that voters come awake only once in a generation … It is too slippery, too binary, too apocalyptic, and it has come to be too much of a dead end.”

That is in all probability true. “Realignment” elections are probably the result of long-term trends that then coalesce around an individual or event. In this sense, the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK is unquestionably onesuch, in that it can be seen as not so much an enthusiasm for Thatcher personally (for some time after her election in 1979 she actually languished in the polls and could arguably have been defeated in the 1983 election were it not for the Falklands War) but as an enduring and growing response to militant trade unionism that had disrupted the country during the previous Heath and Callaghan premierships.

In this sense, though, it is interesting to debate what type of America we might now see had Robert Kennedy survived and won the election. Would we have seen a rejuvenated consensus around government intervention, led by Kennedy’s personal charisma, and fervour? Or was Kennedy a “man out of time”, a liberal consensus man who belonged ten or twenty years earlier? It is an enticing discussion.

Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in response to the dissent brokered by the civil rights movement thoroughly moved large numbers of older, conservative and male whites (most directly) into the Republican camp. Whether or not Kennedy’s personal appeal and rhetorical flourish would have kept them in the Democrat fold is impossible to say. Republican leaders consciously appealed to many white Southerners’ racial grievances in order to gain their support. Whether or not Kennedy could have “sold” a different narrative is hard to say. The Southern Strategy and its effectiveness certainly annoyed black and other minority voters. In 2005, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologised to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a national civil rights organisation, for exploiting racial polarisation to win elections and ignoring the black vote. The very substantial preference for the Democrat ticket currently evidenced by the black population stems in part from this period and there can be little doubt that the election of Donald Trump reresented the most stark division between black and white voters in modern electoral history. Would Kennedy have reduced or prevented that divide? Who knows?

Certainly, many left-leaning leaders at the time felt Kennedy’s loss very keenly and for many Kennedy’s death ended the revival of American liberalism.

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 2.31.06 pm“King had prepared us for his death, and after it [MLK’s death] happened, there was no weeping, we immediately started figuring out how we were going to carry on the Poor People’s Campaign,” says former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, one of King’s closest aides.

But that maintenance of effort was scuppered by Kennedy’s death. “That was when I broke down,” says Young. “I think that the rational liberal democratic socialist view of the world, from Franklin Roosevelt all the way to Lyndon Johnson, was really cut short by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.”

Others disagree. “By the end of the 1960s, the forces that were swelling up against the Great Society, which was an extension of the New Deal of the 1930s, were going to defeat whoever the Democrats put up,” says HW Brands, historian and author. “Americans were disillusioned and angered by the violence of the 1960s, and by the failure of the Democratic governments of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to take Vietnam to a successful conclusion.”

Brands notes how also the Civil Rights movement had largely achieved its legislative aims, and so if either Martin Luther King Jr or Robert Kennedy had lived they would have had to battle the great American conundrum of economic inequality and poverty that has thwarted all others.

“That’s a much tougher nut to deal with going off the last 50 years of American politics,” Mr Brands says. “You can repeal laws against blacks, but can you mandate economic equality? Nobody’s figured out how to do it … for a society that is organised economically along capitalist lines.” It’s a fair point.

 

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Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 1.44.58 pm.pngWhat is certain is that the election of Nixon and the general drift to the right that continues to this day resulted in economic policies – an understanding of the economic framework – that are wildly different to what went before … right up to until, perhaps, the election of an innately interventionist Trump administration, with its talk of directly investing in rustbelt industries, trade wars, and all the rest of it – which election can at least in part be squarely laid at the door of voter dis-satisfaction with the actual out-workings of the very “trickle down” economics that the Republicans for a generation have been enthusiastically promoting.

Yet as the result of the Trump revolution, American economic policy is now a curious (and not necessarily sustainable, or necessarily successful) mixture of lowering taxes and increasing spending, of triumphalist nationalism and “America First”, and an apparent rejection of free tradeism. Aided, no doubt, by Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity in some sections of the population, Trump’s election was above all a reaction to the fact that the new consensus, established after Kennedy’s death and pursued by both Democrats and Republicans, hasn’t really “worked”, either.

So it is at least worth speculating exactly what Sirhan Sirhan destroyed that day, 50 years ago. Jeremi Suri, a history professor and author, has commented: “Kennedy … was the last politician who came from a background of Franklin Roosevelt-influenced social welfare policies who could connect with rural voters,” Mr Suri says. “What ended in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a set of policies of expanding rights, expanding government services and assistance for those in need, and the backlash against that was facilitated by the absence of effective figures like Robert Kennedy.”

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So was Kennedy-ism the last gasp of the liberal consensus, or will we see that consensus revived, at least in part, by a new crop of populist centre-left politicians, in America and around the world, of whom Trump is merely, perhaps, a somewhat confused example?

How do we judge, for example, the huge popularity of a character like Bernie Sanders, a self proclaimed “democratic socialist”, whose economic prescription for America could have been written by any “big Government” thinker from 1926-1966 without anyone finding it in the least unusual or even worthy of much comment?

Was Kennedy’s death merely a pause in left-liberal consensus building, or the end of it?

Time, as always, will tell.

(Some of the quotations in this article previously appeared in a BBC article.)

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Protesters hold protest signs denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin near the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York in 2015. (Reuters)

The really interesting question in the recent poisoning case in the UK is not if the Russian Government is implicated – it looks highly likely (see below) – but why they would perform such an act now.

When trying to understand the context, two factors are key in our view.

Firstly, Russia is in an expansionist phase, constantly testing the resolve of the West to resist it.

Recent examples are many and varied. Russia is firmly in the camp of rogue state in terms of its murderous support of the Assad regime in Syria, as it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East. It continues to agitate against the Ukraine, maintains a threatening posture against the newly independent Baltic states, and threatens the USA with a “new generation” of nuclear missiles.

Secondly, Putin is up for re-election. He is a populist “strongman”, and that’s why his rule is virtually unchallenged, although factions within the ruling elite in Russia do exist, and jockeying for power in the event of any departure by Putin is constant. In this, Russia has hardly evolved from the days of communist control, or frankly, the Tsars.

Viewed in this light, the murder of a minor spy who has been quietly living in the West for some time – which would be re-reported in Russia, of course – serves two purposes.

It tests the West’s resolve to resist brazen Russian aggression without risking an armed conflict.

Second, it makes Putin look tough. Again.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson thus faces a serious test. If the attempted murder (or it may turn out to be a triple murder, depending on the health of those most affected) turns out to be very obviously to be laid at the feet of the Russian State, what is an appropriate response?

Will the British worry overmuch about the unpleasant despatch of a spy – deaths in that arena happen constantly, of course – and the unfortunate collateral damage of a Wiltshire policeman? Or will they make a lot of huff and puff and do nothing much?

Our money is on nothing much. Perhaps a few diplomats expelled and a strongly worded note.

The British economy – especially the City of London – increasingly depends on the growing petro-dollar and gas-dollar influx of funds “washed” through banks and finance houses in London. And funds from less obvious sources inside the Russian kleptocracy. Putin knows Britain wouldn’t want anything to upset that, especially when complications from Brexit means those funds could easily get switched to other markets. So this event tests how brazen Russian behaviour can be before any real damage is done to the relationship.

Ordinarily, of course, the Brits would turn to their American colleagues for advice on how to handle this latest “Beast from the East” event. (The “Beast from the East” was the nickname given to the recent blast of cold air from Russia that dumped snow everywhere.) But given the inordinately close relationship between Putin and the Trump administration, we feel it is unlikely that Britain will turn there for help and advice. And relations between Britain and the EU aren’t exactly rosy just now either.

Putin is, unlike his American counterpart, a highly calculating man. We believe he may be testing the UK right now simply because it is increasingly isolated and left to its own resources. Simply to see what happens.

How Johnson responds will be fascinating to watch.

THE BBC’s latest reporting follows:

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon and remain critically ill.

A police officer who was the first to attend the scene is now in a serious condition in hospital, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said.

Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that stop the nervous system working and shut down bodily functions.

They normally enter the body through the mouth or nose, but can also be absorbed through the eyes or skin.

Mr Rowley, head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said government scientists had identified the agent used, but would not make that information public at this stage.

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder, by administration of a nerve agent,” he said.

“Having established that a nerve agent is the cause of the symptoms… I can also confirm that we believe that the two people who became unwell were targeted specifically.”

He said there was no evidence of a widespread health risk to the public.

Two other police officers who attended the scene were treated in hospital for minor symptoms, before they were given the all clear. It is understood their symptoms included itchy eyes and wheezing.

Analysis

By Richard Galpin, BBC News correspondent – formerly based in Moscow

The announcement by the police that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are the victims of an attack in which a nerve agent was used makes the parallel with the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 even stronger.

Like the radioactive polonium used to kill Litvinenko, a nerve agent is not normally something criminal gangs or terrorist groups can make.

Instead, it is usually manufactured by specialist laboratories under the control of governments – and that inevitably means suspicion will now be very much focused on Russia.

Not only does it have a track record of using poisons to assassinate its enemies, there is also a motive in the case of Sergei Skripal.

As a military intelligence officer in Russia, he betrayed his country by providing information to MI6, reportedly revealing the identities of Russian agents in Europe. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has in the past indicated that traitors deserve to die.

Although the question remains, why would Mr Skripal be attacked now when he has been living in Britain for eight years and came here originally as part of a spy swap?

Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre.

Police want to speak to anyone who was in the city centre on Sunday afternoon.

They are particularly keen to hear from people who ate at Zizzi or drank in The Bishop’s Mill pub between 13:00 and 16:00 GMT.

Both of those locations remain closed to the public.

There is also a cordon in place outside Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home. A yellow forensic tent has been erected and police have been seen carrying equipment into the building.

Mr Rowley said hundreds of detectives, forensic specialists, analysts and intelligence officers were working round the clock on the case.

The investigation in Salisbury may take several more days, he added.

Prof Malcolm Sperrin, fellow of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, said: “Symptoms of exposure to nerve agents may include respiratory arrest, heart failure, twitching or spasms – anything where the nerve control is degraded.

“Nerve agents can cause death, but not necessarily at low-level exposure or with a minor dose.”

Alastair Hay, emeritus professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds, added: “These are very difficult and dangerous chemicals to make.”

Sergei Skripal and his daughter YuliaImage copyright EPA/ YULIA SKRIPAL/FACEBOOK
Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, collapsed on a bench in Salisbury city centre

A public inquiry concluded the killing of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 was probably carried out with the approval of President Putin.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs the UK would respond “robustly” to any evidence of Russian “state responsibility” in the Skripal case.

Russia has insisted it has “no information” about what could have led to the incident, but is open to co-operating with British police if requested.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said foreign media had used the incident as part of an anti-Russian campaign.

“It’s a traditional campaign. The tradition is to make things up. We can only see it as a provocation,” she said.

Who is Sergei Skripal?

Undated image taken from the internet of Sergei Skripal in uniform.
Col Skripal, 66, had been living in Salisbury after being released by Russia in 2010

Colonel Skripal, a retired Russian military intelligence officer, was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006.

He was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.

In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI.

After a Cold War-style spy swap at Austria’s Vienna airport, Col Skripal moved to Salisbury, where he kept a low profile for eight years.

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I’m waiting for my Son to die. At least in Heaven there’s food.

 

Compassion fatigue?

Boredom?

Distracted by the Winter Olympics closing ceremony? Massacres in American schools? Trump’s latest tweet? Football?

What will it take to make you sit up and take notice?

Perhaps this. Warning: distressing.

http://www.bbc.com/news/video_and_audio/must_see/43163173/syria-war-children-struggle-to-survive-in-eastern-ghouta

#assad #syria #russia #civilians #children

If you want to share this story, which is something you could to do immediately to raise awareness of this utter disgrace, please cut and paste the link at the end of this sentence, and post it to your Facebook page or wherever: wp.me/p1LY0z-3ya

NEWS UPDATE

There appears to be some success in the outpouring of anger over Russia and Assad’s behaviour. Please KEEP sharing this story as often and as creatively as you can to ensure that pressure is kept up.?

See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43200956

 

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Watching video footage of a Florida student recording the noise of a gunman firing an “AR-15 style rifle” inside their school – killing at least 17 people, and possibly more when the injured either recover or tragically do not – was not good for one’s peace of mind.

The horrific and terrifying noise that such a rifle makes just a few feet from you will live in the mind of viewers forever. What the long-term effect will be on those who were actually there will be, God only knows. The by-now all too familiar photographs of traumatised children and parents are almost too awful to contemplate.

Indeed, one of the greatest dangers of the current situation in America is that people will turn away, feeling helpless, or simply ignore events through compassion fatigue.

This was the 18th school shooting in the USA this year. Which, it should be pointed out, is not even into its third month.

Worse, the alleged perpetrator was known to the school, had been disciplined while there, and previously banned from the campus with a backpack on.

The time for America to ignore its hugely powerful gun lobby and take action to prevent more occurrences of these acts is now so long overdue that it is not even worth fulminating in shock any more.

America must do take following steps now, or accept that disenfranchised marginalised youths – nearly always male, and clearly disturbed – will continue to act like this with relative impunity.

No, this problem will not be fixed overnight – the solution will be long, tortuous and depressingly tough and complex – but every day that is wasted simply invites another such event. America has to start this journey sometime. If not now, when?

  • “Assault style/AR-15” rifles must be banned throughout the country. For everyone. They are unnecessary for vermin control on farms, they are unnecessary for hunting, they are unnecessary for personal protection, and in the wrong hands they are irreparably and uniquely harmful. That’s it, no discussion, the time has come. Someone needs to show some leadership and get this change implemented.
  • No gun of any kind should be sold, by anyone, to anyone, without thorough psychological and background checks. America needs, as far as it can, to keep guns out of the hands of people who are likely to turn them on themselves or others.
  • The USA needs a gun amnesty to encourage legacy guns out of the community so they can be destroyed. This will reduce the number of guns stolen (currently 200,000 a year from legal gun owners) that end up int he criminal community.
  • People keeping unsecured weapons in their home should be subject to tough new nationally-agreed sanctions including, but not limited to, the permanent removal of their weapons and a ban on them replacing them

None of these aims should be rejected by reasonable advocates of gun ownership. Most people outside of America consider, as we have said many times before, that the right to bear arms is as inherently unwise as the right to arm bears. But it has to be accepted that the American public has a unique view of the matter. But that view can still be respected while making America’s children – indeed, all their population – much safer.

Some will say, again, that the problem is schools that are gun free zones, that all that is needed is more and better armed security. This is, of course, a simple nonsense. No school facility can ever be adequately secured against a madman with a semi-automatic rifle, and that’s the only point that matters. Unless you want to turn schools into the equivalent of armed prison camps, which is not only impractical, but is also not healthy for the children inside them. Why would America want to do that, when Americans can choose instead to rid society of semi-automatic weapons if they so wish?

Some will say, again, that guns are not the only deadly weapon available to assailants. And they’d be right. But it is much more difficult to kill 17 people with a knife, or a baseball bat. And that’s the point. And it is unarguable. It is also unarguable that the vast majority of attacks are carried out with guns, and the most deadly have always been with AR-15 style weapons, simply because of the ease with which multiple shots can be got off.

Some will say again that getting rid of such weapons is too hard, that illegal arms will continue to circulate amongst the criminal classes, and the argument needs to be confronted honestly. Yes, it will be hard to eliminate such weapons from the streets of America, and it will take time. As each such weapon is discovered, it must be destroyed. The population of such weapons will fall only slowly. (Although a gun amnesty will speed the process.) But people committing massacres are not career or professional criminals. They are not even gang members. They are loners, and normally not criminal in any other identifiable sense. In other words, the argument is a simple furphy.

The argument in favour of starting the process of reducing the population of such guns vastly outweighs any difficulties.

Because the question always comes back to “if not now, when?”

parkland-florida-school-shooting-05-ap-jc-180214_4x3_992

Without political leadership – without bi-partisan political leadership – America is simply doomed to seeing these scenes over and over. What is clear is that the current situation is unacceptable in a modern, free country. If anyone doubts that it is, they should visit 17 households in Broward County tonight.

Already there is evidence that tourist numbers to the USA are being negatively affected by the widespread perception of the country as riddled with gun violence.

And the psychological impact on America’s own population can hardly be imagined.

Let’s work together on what CAN be done, rather than waste any more time arguing about whether anything should be done. And before any smart-alec remarks that this is nothing to do with a writer in Australia, we would simply make three points.

  • Sometimes, a little distance is required to give perspective.
  • We have successfully tackled this problem in Australia and largely eradicated these weapons from our society.
  • We have friends in America. Many of them. And some of those friends have children.

Only when we have sought to address the core problem is it appropriate to say “Prayers and sympathy” to the victims. Because to express such sentiments, but to refuse to even begin to seriously tackle how to prevent events like today’s terrible massacre, is utter hypocrisy. Damnable hypocrisy. And it should be called out as such.

Something must be done. Starting today. That’s the bottom line.