Posts Tagged ‘American politics’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkeys voting for Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The effect is strong in these people.

Article ends …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Neither should you. Share it far and wide.

 

regardless

 

Don’t blame us. It’s Friday here. And we never claimed to be unbiased.

We do love a good F*** Up, as you know, Dear Reader. Mostly (as it’s the business we are in) we have concerned ourselves with glaring errors in commercial advertising, packaging, signs and so on. But with #election2016 in full swing, it’s the pollies in America that are now making some classic mistakes. Such fun.

Case History #1

 

Jeb-Bush

 

It’s really very important, peeps, that you keep your website URL registrations up to date. Not like dear old Jeb Bush, who in keeping with his bumbling campaign for President forgot to keep the registration current of jebbush.com. So Donald Trump grabbed the registration and simply re-directed it his website. D’oh!

Smart move by Trump, as there is an increasing trend for people not to link to websites from online advertising, or even to Google the correct link, but simply to type in what they assume to be the right URL. In America people normally assume that’s the name plus “dot com”, in Australia name plus “dot com dot au”, in the UK name plus “Dot co dot uk” and so on.

People in each domain “learn” their local suffix and assume that’s what the URL will be. Well done Trump and his staff (the only time we expect you’ll ever hear us say that) and big black mark for Bush. Not the last time we’ll say that. (Telling his audience to “clap now” the other day wasn’t all that smart, either.)

Case History #2

 

MARCO-RUBIO-VANCOUVER-facebook

 

Hilarious mistake by Marco Rubio’s campaign.

“It’s unmistakably Vancouver,” the Sun wrote.

The tugboat also features a Canadian flag, according to BuzzFeed News, who first flagged the footage on Monday.

The size and length of the ad buy was not immediately clear. But Vancouver-based videographer Guy Chavasse told CBC News on Monday that he shot the scene last August.

“It’s pretty funny, isn’t it?” he told the CBC. “It’s a good-looking video, no doubt, but it’s pretty recognisable as Vancouver.”

Chavasse estimated the campaign paid $80 for his footage. He also said he’s not a “Republican fan” or Rubio supporter.

Well, if it isn’t morning again in America, at least it’s morning again in Canada, eh?

So dumb it fair takes yer breath away.

For more F*** Ups, from all spheres of public communication, just go to the search box top left of this page and type in F*** Up. Then sit back and enjoy. Innocent fun for all the family. Well, not so innocent really.

PS We have promised various correspondents that we will faithfully report any F*** Ups from the Democratic side of politics, fearlessly reporting Hillary or Bernie burying their heads in a passing bucket of ordureful incompetence. But of course we know that won’t happen, because Democrats are incredibly clever and skillful and unicorns are real and so is magic fairy dust.

 

OK, well, Ted Cruz just beat Donald Trump, especially supported by country voters and died-in-the-wool conservatives, as we proposed was a possibility.

If there is one area where we could consider our prediction lacking it is that Trump’s result was really rather poor by expected standards, and given his demeanour afterwards, lower than he and his team expected. Whilst Cruz was always a possibility to win, Trump looked the more likely until perhaps a few hours ago. Clearly there’s been a late swing against Trump, possibly because Cruz’s “ground game” was better. Cruz actually criticised Trump’s “fly in fly out” campaigning recently, and it looks as though those comments have been justified.

It may also well be the case that skipping the last GOP debate has counted very badly against Trump, with his decision seen as petulant and whiny.

Moving along … third place getter Marco Rubio IS the story of the night as we predicted. The charismatic young man can genuinely claim to be the real winner on the night having been a long way behind the front runners until recently. Clearly the “oxygen” of publicity has done him no harm at all and his vote is right about the upper limit of where we suggested it would be. The charismatic, good looking Floridian is determined and will appeal to Latino voters (as will Cruz, but less obviously) which marks him out as attractive to the GOP establishment, who know they cannot win a general election without Latinos. We have been predicting Rubio to take the nomination for some time now, and nothing that has happened today persuades us otherwise.

Hillary-AngryThe Democrat race is incredibly tight between Clinton and Sanders. Possibly within 1%. We did predict Clinton shading it, although in all honesty before publishing we deleted the word “just” before “shading it” as we thought the Clinton’s ground game would see her home, as well as Democrat supporters being concerned that Sanders cannot win a general election.

In one incredible event Clinton and Sanders tied 61 votes each in one precinct – the result, going to Clinton, was settled by a coin toss. How interesting THAT might be in an incredibly close race. Watch the video of that most unusual – and completely legal – event here: https://twitter.com/FernandoPeinado/status/694345745420320768?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

As we write – right now – apparently both Clinton and Sanders are about to declare victory, which would be closer than even we imagined. Our money’s still on Clinton.

Whomever finally stumbles over the line, such a tight result cannot be considered good news for Hillary Clinton, and New Hampshire looks an awkward test for her with Sanders polling well there. The Democrat race may trundle on for some time yet – but we still believe Hillary has a lock on the nomination because of her support from the party establishment, super delegates already committed and so on.

Mind you, if a week is a long time in politics, then a few months is an eternity.

cruz2Ted Cruz, who was not favoured to win Iowa just a few months ago, is delivering his victory speech.

“God bless the great state of Iowa,” he said. “Tonight is a victory for the grassroots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and across this great nation.”

Amid cheers of “Ted! Ted Ted!” he said his win was a victory for “millions of Americans” who have “shouldered the burden” of seven years of Barack Obama’s policies.

In a comment which will cause raised eyebrows amongst just about anyone but the religious right, he commented: “Our rights come from our creator, not any political party”, he said, citing Bible passages.

Given the determination of America’s founding fathers to create a SECULAR state, those words seem odd, even comical. but there’s no doubt they play well with evangelicals.

Whether they play as well with independents and those Cruz needs to lock in both the nomination and election is a different matter entirely.

This might be the most interesting thing we have heard about Rubio since the results have come out, from David Wasserman at 538.com:

DAVID_WASSERMAN
Remarkably, it looks like Rubio may end up winning five of Iowa’s 10 largest counties, and ZERO of Iowa’s other 89 counties. Yet this urban coalition may be his blueprint for victory nationally.
An interesting point, well spotted and well made.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump: Master of the demolition derby

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

 

Senator John McCain

Trump questioned Senator McCain’s war record

 

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

 

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker

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

 

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

Messenger or message?

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

 

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

Mitt Romney notably failed to secure the Latino vote

 

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

Early impressions key

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

 

Nelson Rockefeller

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

 

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

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

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

torture-on-trial-waterboardA storm of controversy is raging in the USA over the Senate report on how the CIA treated suspected terrorists, post 9-11. Only the executive summary is to be released.

In our opinion, it is entirely correct and proper that the American government release this information. For the following reasons, in summary:

  • It only confirms what is widely known anyway.
  • It sets America apart from those with whom it contests the global stage, by holding itself to a higher standard of ethical behaviour and public disclosure.
  • Anything that goes to ridding the world of torture by Governments is to be applauded. It has no place in a civilised society, no matter what challenges are faced, and in any event the intelligence it yields has been shown again and again to be unreliable. Or to put it another way, if someone is pulling your fingernails out one by one, you’ll tell them anything they want to hear to make them stop.
  • Convictions based on evidence produced by torture must be considered highly unreliable, and therefore it works against justice being done and ties the justice system up in ethical and practical quandaries.
  • Anyone planning to attack the US and its allies is intending to do so anyway, and telling the truth will do nothing to make them more aggressive. They don’t need encouragement.

In reality, issues like this are all about who we want to be. Ultimately, we cannot control everybody else’s behaviour, we can only control our own.

 

This was how they used to treat prisoners in Dachau. Is this how we want our governments to behave>

This was how they used to treat prisoners in Dachau. Is this how we want our governments to behave>

 

I well remember my mother, who was a deeply conservative person and passionate supporter of Margaret Thatcher, surprising me one day by speaking out at the dinner table against detention without trial and torture in Northern Ireland, the province which during my early years was riven with sectarian strife, terrorism, and a trenchant government response. She said:

“You can’t make a country safe by being worse than the other people. The rule of law us what sets us apart from the animals in the jungle. Everyone has a right to a fair trial. Our behaviour needs to stand up as an example against those who abandon the rule of law.”

Naive? Possibly. Magnificent? Definitely.

Tell us what you think in the poll at the end of the story below.

You can read the background to the story in the Bloomberg report as follows:

Current and past U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, have mounted a campaign to try to block the release tomorrow of a Senate report detailing harsh interrogation tactics previously used by the CIA on suspected terrorists.

The opposition comes as Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee plan to release an executive summary of the 6,200-page report, which found the CIA used extreme interrogation methods at secret prisons more often than legally authorized and failed to disclose all the activities to lawmakers and other officials.

Despite warnings of retaliation abroad against Americans from those opposed to making the report public, the Obama administration supports its release, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said today.

“The president believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired,” he said. Earnest said the administration has taken steps to improve security at U.S. facilities around the world.

Releasing the findings will give terrorists fresh ammunition to escalate their violence and put the lives of additional U.S. officials and allies at risk, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence panel.

‘For What?’

“All they’ve got to do is find something they think indicates something and they’ll use it for their propaganda machine,” Rogers said today at a meeting of Bloomberg Government reporters and editors. “Why are we going to risk the lives of some diplomat, for what? We’re going to risk the lives of some intelligence official who had nothing to do with this, for what?”

Secretary of State John Kerry supports releasing the findings, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today. Kerry discussed the policy implications of the release in a phone call with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence panel, and said it was up to her to decide when to do so, Psaki said.

Duke University law professor Charles Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general, disagreed, calling Islamic State by an earlier acronym.

American Risks

“Although there may be some demonstrations and even some violence, I don’t think that it will particularly directly endanger Americans or American allies because those who represent a danger are already doing everything they can to inflict harm,” Dunlap said in a statement. “After all, ISIS is beheading innocent Americans and others – they hardly need more motivation for barbarism.”

Dunlap and several U.S. military and intelligence officials and diplomats said the real risk is, as Dunlap put it, “really to the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to get the cooperation it needs from other countries, not to mention the debilitating effect on morale of CIA and other intelligence professionals.”

U.S. officials are bracing for international blowback that could fuel riots and retaliation in countries hostile to the U.S. The Defense Department warned U.S. commands overseas on Dec. 5 to take appropriate force protection measures in anticipation of the findings release, and the State Department has directed overseas diplomatic posts to review their security.

Six Years

The final report, which cost $40 million and six years to complete, is the most comprehensive assessment of the CIA’s so-called “black site” detention facilities and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Barack Obama, who said the program amounted to torture, ordered that the practices never be used again when he took office in 2009.

Subjecting detainees to waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other harsh tactics such as sleep deprivation and stress positions produced little timely, accurate or valuable intelligence in the U.S. war on terrorism, according to U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous because the findings haven’t been released.

Some Democrats and human rights activists have hailed the report for finally exposing flaws and possible crimes in the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, which largely operated from 2002 to 2005.

‘Off Base’

The report appears to be “way off-base,” Bush said in an interview yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” telecast.

“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” Bush said. “These are patriots. And whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.” Others who are part of the campaign include Bush’s former CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden.

Congressional and administration officials said that current CIA Director John Brennan and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough have battled the Senate committee for months in an effort to redact as much of the report as possible.

Opponents of releasing the report also have created a website, CIASavedLives.com, where they plan to publish declassified documents, opinion pieces and media reports to rebut the Senate Democrats’ report. The site is being curated by William Harlow, Tenet’s former spokesman at the CIA.

Republicans and former Bush administration officials who ran the program condemned the report as a biased attempt to rewrite history. They say the interrogations produced significant intelligence that helped capture terrorists and protect the country.

‘Crucial Information’

“Information from the detainees was absolutely crucial to us understanding al-Qaeda and helping disturb, disrupt, dismantle and, in many cases, destroy al-Qaeda networks,” said Charles Allen, who managed the intelligence community’s collection programs from 1998 to 2005.

“It’s hard for people in 2014 to understand how the world fell in on top of the Central Intelligence Agency” after the 2001 attacks, Allen, now a principal with the global risk management advisory firm The Chertoff Group, said in an interview. “There was no wide-scale abuse of any of the interrogation authorities, and CIA officers simply do not lie to the Congress.”

The CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 183 times in March 2003, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum released in April 2009. The agency used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, who is an alleged al-Qaeda operative.

Hard Choices

Allen, the former CIA official, said “very hard” choices had to be made and the interrogation methods were necessary. He recalled a meeting in the spring of 2002 where then Tenet asked a group of inter-agency officials to raise their hands if they disagreed with the methods used.

A representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the only one to object and walked out of the room, Allen said. That was acceptable to Tenet and the small group because they knew the FBI operated under different authorities, Allen said.

Another FBI agent, Ali Soufan, has argued in recent years that enhanced techniques are both unnecessary and ineffective. Soufan was the first to interrogate Abu Zubaydah.

“There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics,” Soufan wrote in a 2009 column for the New York Times.

‘Gentler Approach’

Allen disagreed. “Would we have gotten all the information through a more patient, more gentler approach over a period of months?” he asked. “You don’t know, and certainly the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence doesn’t know because it’s all hypothetical.”

Some high-ranking military and intelligence veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan disagree, saying their experience is that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity and other “enhanced” techniques produce inaccurate, tainted and sometimes false information.

Other critics of the report, inside and outside the U.S. intelligence community, also say it failed to examine how officials in Bush’s White House and Pentagon kept demanding that the CIA extract more information from its captives, and Justice Department officials allowed them to do so by using techniques such as waterboarding that are widely considered torture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Republicans are doing well is perhaps more interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Republicans shouldn’t celebrate too hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics as a whole is the loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reporting from AAP and others)

Michael Moore

Rowdy, unashamed, unabashed, curmudgeonly, grumpy, trouble-making, not to mention resolutely overweight and ugly. My type of guy in other words.

 

It has long been my opinion, born of both commonsense and practical experience, that elections are actually won away from the flashing lights and razzamattaz of national media coverage and TV ads by legions of worker bees toiling away patiently on doorsteps, on the telephone, in cars giving lifts to voters, and with their neighbours and friends.

I arrive at this opinion from many years slogging round the streets for the Liberal Party in the UK – then a tiny outpost of insanity or sanity depending on your point of view – where we had no money but endless enthusiasm, no press support but brilliant organisation, and a ruthless obsession with getting our vote out.

Simon Hughes

My good friend Simon Hughes, first elected to Parliament in the Bermondsey by-election of 24 February 1983. Hughes won the seat with 57.7% of the vote.

That obsession was, more than anything else, the genesis of so many of those “unexpected” Liberal or Liberal-SDP victories in by-elections that no one saw coming – except, of course, those of us in the eye of the hurricane, who knew full well that our “ground game”  was infinitely superior and we were going to win. Seasoned campaigners like Trevor “Jones the Vote” from Liverpool and Peter Chegwyn – from seemingly everywhere – and many other unsung luminaries – rigidly marshalled their ranks of duffle-coated apparatchiks to deliver “shock” victory after shock victory, built on the back of superbly targeted local issues. In seats as diverse as Sutton and Cheam, Liverpool Edge Hill, Ripon, Isle of Ely, Croydon NE, Glasgow Hillhead, Bermondsey and Crosby these victories galvanised public opinion and kept a small party alive.

Years later in Australia, dismayed by the antiquated centralised campaigning I saw around me, I wrote a pamphlet on “Community Politics”  which in one form or another was enthusiastically taken up by the then Australian Democrats, and then later to a lesser extent by the Labor Party and the Greens, and even a few forward-thinking Conservative politicians as well.

Anyhow, opening my in-box this morning, I found an email from documentary film-maker Michael Moore.

He points unerringly to the manner in which President Obama will definitely gain re-election. As that, I firmly believe, will be good for America and for the world, I commend his remarks too you.

Now is the time for action, not words.

“I have a personal favor I’d like to ask each of you. We all know the election next Tuesday is going to be very close. But I’ve got an idea that could help put President Obama over the top.
I want you – yes, YOU, the person reading this right now – to get ONE of your fellow Americans who would not otherwise vote to show up at the polls and support Obama.
Here’s the math: there are upwards of five million of you seeing this, via email, on my website, on the Huffington Post and all over the internet. There are 1.2 million following me on Twitter. I’ve got almost 700,000 Facebook friends.
I want just one million of you to convince just ONE person each – one person who’s planning NOT to vote – to go to the polls and vote for Barack Obama. That’s it. And those million extra votes could make all the difference in what will be a very tight election – and it will save us from a tragic return to the Bush years.
Do you realize that there are 90 million people who are planning to NOT vote next Tuesday? That’s according to a poll conducted by USA Today. 90,000,000!! It’s a shocking number, isn’t it? In the old days we’d just label these people as apathetic or stupid. Not anymore. They don’t need our admonition – they need our empathy.
The non-voter today knows exactly what’s going on, and he or she wants no part of it. They are discouraged, disillusioned, and have almost lost hope that things will change. Many are jobless or working for peanuts. They’re angry, and we should tell them they have every right to be.
But here’s something else about them: despite everything, they haven’t utterly given up on politics. When USA Today asked the non-voters who they’d choose if they HAD to vote for someone in this election, 18% said they would vote for Romney – and 43% said they’d vote for Obama! That means there are nearly 40 million people who prefer Obama – AND THEY ARE NOT GOING TO VOTE.
The other question they were asked was, what would it take to get you to vote? 85% of the pro-Obama non-voters said they would go vote IF they thought the election was going to be really close and that their vote would actually make the difference.
This is, for all its frustrating logic, incredibly good news. So our job for the next six days is clear: We – you and me – have to bring a little over 1% of the 90 million non-voters to the polls. If we do we’ll send Romney packing back to New Hampshire/Massachusetts/California or wherever he’s going to build car elevators next.
The time to convince undecideds to vote for Obama is over. All it’s about now is whose supporters simply show up. The side that does the best job of literally dragging people out of their homes between 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM on Tuesday, November 6th is the side that wins.
Each of us knows Obama-supporting non-voters. They’re your cousin, your coworker, your friend from the choir at church. Identify just one of them (best of all if they’re in a swing state) and pledge to get them to the polls. You can try to convince them with all the good arguments as to why they should vote for the O (click here), but I think the best way to do this is to ask them personally, just this once, to do this for you. Not for the country. For you.
Then, once they’ve committed to vote, make a commitment to them: that you are not going to be silent after Tuesday, that you are going to keep fighting like hell (including, when need be, fighting Obama) every single day after the election for them, for you and for all of us.
So, that is your mission – YOURS, the person reading this right this second. Bring just one non-voter to the polls. Easy! Do it and be known as part of the group that defeated Mitt “Bush #3” Romney and gave Barack Obama another term – and another chance to do what we sent him there to do. “

Er … Wot he said.

Does this man now “own” the Republican Party?

Did billionaire David Koch bribe the Romney campaign to put Paul Ryan on the ticket?

If this allegation is true – and if it is, it is presumably illegal – will anyone do anything?

If this is illegal – and the story has been very widely covered – will it be investigated?

Will charges be laid?

And ultimately, what does this do for Romney and the Republican Party’s credibility?

Watch the story here. It is a story ALL Americans, indeed all who believe in freedom and democracy, wherever they may live, should watch and make up their own minds.

If you can’t see the video, here’s the story in essence.

On Friday night’s edition of “The Young Turks,” host Cenk Uygur highlighted a report by controversial Republican political operative Roger Stone. The report alleges that vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) arrived at his place on the ticket through the machinations of David Koch, half of the powerful billionaire Koch brothers.

Stone claims to have heard from sources inside the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney that the governor was approached at a fundraiser in the Hamptons (the notorious “We are V.I.P.!” bash) by David Koch and his wife.

Koch, who has worked cheek by jowl with the Wisconsin Republican cabal that launched the career of Gov. Scott Walker and famously stalled out that state’s government for months in 2011, reportedly offered Romney an additional $100 million in campaign donations to C-4 and super PAC organizations dedicated to Romney’s election on the condition that Romney take Ryan as his running mate.

“In other words,” said Uygur, “a flat-out bribe. Now, I give you a $100 million for your campaign, and you give me the VP selection that I want. Now this is not a Democrat or a reporter reporting this, it’s a Republican, and that’s fascinating. If it’s true, by the way, 100 percent illegal.”

Uygur specifically points to one key piece of Ryan’s platform as a possible motivation for the billionaire conservative’s investment in his own vice president. Ryan wants to lower the capital gains tax — already low at 15 percent — to zero, which would bring David Koch personally an estimated $187.5 million per year. ($750 million over a four year term.)

“That’s why they bribe the politicians,” Uygur said. “What’s outrageous is that we allow them to do it.”

I am often criticised (in 99% of cases by ironed-on conservatives or Republicans) for being too critical about the quality of American politics, (which I freely admit fascinates me), and the performance of the right in particular. So I was pleased to see today’s report that the most popular politician (by opinion poll) in Australia appears to completely agree with my point of view.

Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming 'profoundly dysfuntional'.

As reported in The Age, re-reporting an interview with The Monthly, published today, Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming ‘profoundly dysfunctional’. 

He has sharply criticised the corrupting power of money in the US and described America as looking ”like a country that is barely governed”.

The former Liberal leader and member of  Tony Abbott’s shadow cabinet (note, “Liberal” in Australian political terms means the main Conservative party, and current Official Opposition, and not the “progressive” position it means in America, nor the centrist position it means in the UK), says American politics is becoming ”profoundly dysfunctional”.

He attacks the Republican idea that the budgetary situation can be improved by cutting the taxes of the wealthy as ”just bizarre”, and describes the right-wing Tea Party as extreme, reactionary and radical.

Author of the interview article Robert Manne writes: ”He thinks that American voluntary voting encourages Republican extremism and the search for ‘hot-button issues’, like abortion or guns or gay marriage or Obama as a secret Muslim.

”He is concerned about the fragmentation of opinion and collapse of the rational centre. He is profoundly concerned about the ‘self-evident’ corrupting influence of ‘the power of money’.”

Mr Turnbull is also very critical of the Iraq war – in which Australia was an enthusiastic US ally under the previous conservative Howard government.

”The argument for saying it was a mistake and misconceived is a very powerful one … There are plenty of people on both sides of politics in the US who take that view.’

I am delighted to hear a conservative politician break ranks on this, which is surely now one of the most accepted facts in international conflict studies. The Iraq war was launched on lies, conducted without adequate legal authority, with no exit strategy, managed appallingly badly by Rumsfeld and others, and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Hardly a family in Iraq has been untouched.

Mr Turnbull, who agreed to the interview on condition he would not be asked about his leader Mr Abbott, says climate change denialism is ”contrary to the views of, I think, just about everybody in the Coalition party room”. Manne however notes Mr Abbott once described as ”absolute crap” the view that climate scientists had a consensus position.

The interesting thing for me is how much more mainstream Turnbull is than the current leadership of his party. I have little doubt that were they to dump Abbott for him, (Abbott having only defeated him by one vote in the party room, remember, after a well-organised right-wing coup), that they would be elected in the largest landslide in Australian political history, regardless of how well the Government does in the next 18 months.

Almost unthinkably by current received wisdom, as things stand, I firmly believe Abbott is on track to lose the un-loseable election.

We will see.