Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 4.22.40 pm

80 Shia Muslims from the minority Hazari sect were killed Saturday and over 300 mutilated by IS in car bomb attacks on their peaceful demonstration in Kabul.

Be interesting to see how it occupies the news cycle in the West over the next couple of days. Or not.

Haven’t heard a word on it anywhere. You?

eu puzzle

We have a habit, Dear Reader, of predicting elections (and referendums are a bit like elections, aren’t they?) BEFORE the result is known. We do this for a number of reasons. When we get it right (which is almost always – although some would argue we didn’t pick a majority for the Tories at the last British General Election, whereas we would argue we did flag it as at least a possibility) we like to stick it up those less perceptive types who think we know nothing – childish, we agree, but very satisfying – and also it’s just plain fun to try and get it right. Everyone’s gotta have a hobby, right?

We have said, all along, ever since the referendum was announced, that Leave will not win. Our reasoning was and is very simple, and quite different to all the other reasons advanced by pundits.

It is simply this.

The “Steady As You Go” argument

 

Electorates are inherently conservative. They tend to vote for the status quo, and especially when they are uncertain of the advantage of changing things. That is why, for example, that the received (and correct) wisdom is that Governments lose elections, Oppositions don’t win them. (And that’s why the Coalition will be returned to power in Australia, incidentally, as they have not done enough cocking up, in enough people’s opinion, to actually lose the whole game.)

In the EU referendum, in our view, the Leave campaign have done an excellent job of ramping up xenophobia and leveraging generalised disgruntlement in the electorate. They have worked on crystallising the anti-politics fever that seems to be gripping most Western democracies, as people rail against the admitted inadequacies of representative democracy. We see it everywhere – the visceral hatred from some for President Obama, the embrace by Trunp by those in America who feel themselves disenfranchised by “Washington”, the rise of the far right in Denmark, Austria, France and Russia, the apparently unresolvable divide in Thailand, the growth of micro parties and third parties in Australia, (reportedly about to push towards nearly 30% of the vote at the July 2nd poll), and so it goes on.

Brexit has leveraged this angst effectively through a ruthless application of rabble-rousing.

In our view the support for Brexit – which has risen by between 5-10% over the last 12 months – is at least as representative of a general mistrust of the establishment as it is a reflection of genuine anti-EU sentiment. In this context, the EU is just the establishment writ large, and the Leave campaign knows this, and has presented it as such with commendable, if amoral, consistency.

By choosing the wayward buffoon Boris Johnson, the plainly odd Michael Gove, and the determinedly esoteric and individualistic Nigel Farage as their lead acts, Leave have presented themselves as the natural anti-establishment choice.

But despite Leave’s efforts, at least 14% of the British electorate still report themselves to the pollsters as “Don’t knows”. Abut 5 million people entitled to vote in the referendum apparently haven’t got a clue what they think, despite literally years of coverage of the matter.

One has to have sympathy with them. Both sides in the debate have fudged statistics and relied on barbed soundbites rather than any serious appeal to the intellect to sway the electorate. There has been a deal of outright lying going on.

In fact, this referendum has been an appalling example of the comprehensive trivialisation and failure of British political leadership, and almost no major player comes out of it with any kudos.

But assuming these 14% are not simply too embarrassed to embrace either of the sides, it is highly likely that the majority of them, if they vote at all, will lump (without any great enthusiasm) for Remain. “Don’t knows” nearly always overwhelmingly back the status quo. (For the same reason, the bulk of Independents in the USA will break for Clinton, not Trump. “The devil you know” is a powerful motivation.)

Yes, there is a chance they are enthusiastically pro-Remain but don’t wish it to be known because they are frankly confronted by the aggression of the Brexit camp and yes there is a chance that they are enthusiastically pro-Leave but don’t want it known as they fear being painted as irresponsible. If either of those things turn out to be true then the winning margin will be much higher for one side or the other than is currently predicted.

The current Daily Telegraph poll of polls has Remain leading Brexit by 51-49, having had Brexit ahead for at least some of last week. If those “undecideds” break very strongly one way or the other that calculation could be way wrong.

When the dishes are all washed at the end of the night, we think they will break disproportionately in favour of the status quo, and also that a good proportion of them won’t vote at all.

For that reason, we feel more comfortable with a prediction of about 55%-45% in favour of Remain, and if that turns out to be the result then everyone in the Chardonnay-sipping commentariat will throw their hands in the air and say “Well, what was all that fuss about? It was never really close, no one got that right!” Except we did. Today.

The ‘Polling Discrepancy’ argument

Our second reason for making our prediction is that telephone polls overwhelmingly favour Remain by a bigger margin than the overall polling is showing, because online polling has the two sides much closer.

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.24.00 pm

As the chart above highlights, polls where people answer questions on the phone suggest higher EU support than polls conducted on the internet. Since the start of September last year, phone polls suggest a nine per cent lead for Remain, while online polls have it at just one per cent. Why would this be? Well, that depends really on whether one is a conductor of phone polls versus online polls. A lively debate has been going on between the polling organisations.

In our view, it is because people respond differently in different social situations.

They may feel more encouraged to speak their mind to a real person, for example, or exactly the opposite, they may feel less free to state their views.

They may be more inclined to tell the truth when clicking on a survey question on a screen, or they may be more prepared to give a tick to something they actually don’t intend doing when they get into the polling booth proper. There will be a difference between phone polls where you actually speak to someone and where you use your keypad to respond to recorded questions.

Bluntly: polling is an inexact science.

What polling does do very well is track trends accurately. On that basis, there has undoubtedly been a move towards Leave in the last two-to-three weeks, but it may well be that Leave support peaked a week early, as it now seems to be weakening again. It is as if voters walked to the brink of the abyss, had a look, and stepped back. If this turns out to be the case it will be promoted as a triumph of campaigning by the Remain camp, but that would be a mistake. It’s simply the innate fear of change kicking in again. It’s one thing to tell a pollster you are voting Leave when it doesn’t matter because Leave has no hope of winning. Quite another to tell them that when it appears you may carry the day.

Two other factors, we believe, has bolstered the Remain cause.

The ‘Nigel Farage Gaffe’ argument

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.35.23 pm

The first was the badly judged UKIP poster promoted by Nigel Farage that showed a huge queue of universally black and brown immigrants waiting to enter the UK. (They were actually photographed trying to enter Slovenia, but that’s splitting hairs.)

Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationals and Green MPs immediately united to condemn the poster, accusing Mr Farage of ‘exploiting the misery of the Syrian refugee crisis in the most dishonest and immoral way’. Popular Scots Nats leader Nicola Sturgeon called it “disgusting”. Others lined up to condemn it as “reprehensible”, “vile”, and “quite revolting”. Even Farage ally Michael Gove said the poster made him “shudder” and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne also aid the poster was “disgusting” and compared it to Nazi propaganda. Social media lit up with actual examples of the poster set against eerily similar Nazi propaganda from the 1930s to make the point.

The poster will play well with the neo-racists, anti-immigrationists, Little Englanders and out and out racists that make up the majority of UKIP’s dwindling band of supporters. But that’s simply Farage shoring up support for his views amongst people who were never going to vote for Remain anyway. We strongly suspect that the majority of Brits, who are, at their core, a fair minded people, will recognise the poster for what it is – an intimation of what Britain would be like under a hard-right Government that could well follow a successful Brexit vote. We think a small but significant number of people will have moved back from Leave to Remain as a result.

The ‘This Has Got Out Of Hand’ argument

Our last reason for suspecting Remain will win with relative comfort is the near-universal shock we have observed over the death of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was callously shot down while going about her daily business, allegedly simply because she held pro-refugee and pro-EU views. This awful event has shaken the British people rigid. Attempts to wave off any connection between the shooter and far-right groups, let alone the Brexit camp, and to characterise him as merely “mentally disturbed”, have, it seems to us at least, failed. Just as the Farage poster offended the British sense of fair play, at least for some people, so the assassination of Jo Cox has driven home to many how divisive and ugly the whole EU debate has become. Families have descended into recriminations, lifetime friends have fallen out with each other, and there have been multiple examples of violent fractiousness from all over the country.

The British people have now had more than enough of this unpleasant debate, which was foisted on them by a bitterly divided Conservative Party and a weak and vacillating Prime minister, and they heartily wish to be rid of it.

Staring down the barrel at what could be years of a messy dis-integration from Europe starts to look like a very poor option to a majority.

In 24 hours, Europe will be calmer again. With Britain inside it, and by then, presumably, permanently.

You heard it here first.

Jo

 

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have often bemoaned the brutalisation of politics. The way “anti politics” has become the new norm. A politics which is little more than cynicism, mistrust, name-calling and sloganising. It is seen most clearly and more than ever in the mindless forwarding of memes that brook no discussion, because no discussion is possible.

Those with an agenda to drive will accuse this blog of descending into vitriol on occasion. We reject that accusation. Politics is a serious matter, and you cannot “do” politics without disputation. Indeed, disputation – the contest of ideas – is the very core of freedom. And if we have, and it can be demonstrated, then we will recant and apologise.

But there is a difference – a gulf – between healthy disputation and hatred. And hatred has become the new normal, and relatively recently, too.

Whether it is in America, France, Denmark, Norway, the UK or Australia. Whether it is a discussion of guns, of racism, gay rights, of female emancipation, the European Union, or, most obviously, immigration, refugees and specifically Islam. The attitude that “you are with me, 100%, or you are evil and worthy of whatever abuse I choose to throw your way” has taken deep root. With the ascension of Trumpism, most obviously, we see how the inchoate mass rage generated by mindless sloganeering translates into political power, and then political violence. Democracy is a fragile flower, and it is wilting.

This article discussing Jo Cox’s assassination – for that is what it was – says it better than we can. We strongly recommend you read it. Because hatred is never funny. Hatred is never smart. Hatred is never right. Hatred is never appropriate.

Sure, “politics is a contact sport.” It doesn’t have to be murder.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/a-day-of-infamy/

In slightly better news, #ThankYourMP is trending in the UK. Many people simply saying thank you to their MP, whether or not they vote for them. Well done, whoever thought that up.

No. Europe 2016.

 

Europe

Bundy

 

It looks like the feds are going to throw the book at the Bundy bird refuge occupiers. And the book keeps getting bigger.

The group was already facing the charge of “conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from the refuge occupation”.

A number of them were also facing charges relating to the 2014 Bundy Ranch Standoff, including “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, weapon use and possession, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction, extortion to interfere with commerce, and interstate travel in aid of extortion.”

Yesterday, new charges were added against several of the defendants. Penalties for conviction on the charges range from five years to life in prison.

  • Ammon Bundy: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Ryan Bundy: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and theft of government property”
  • Jon Ritzheimer: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and theft of government property”
  • Ryan Payne: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Brian Cavalier: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Shawna Cox: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Jason Patrick: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Dylan Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Sean Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and depredation of government property”
  • David Lee Fry: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Jeff Wayne Banta: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Sandra Lynn Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Kenneth Medenbach: “Theft of government property”
  • Wesley Kjar: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Corey Lequieu: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Jason Charles Blomgren: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Darryl William Thorn: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Geoffrey Stanek: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Travis Cox: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Eric Lee Flores: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”

It’s the charge of “carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence” that carries the life sentence. Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with seven others were charged with that offense.

Kenneth Medenbach’s theft charge stems from his taking an Agency Ford pickup. Ryan Bundy and Jon Ritzheimer stole cameras valued at more than $1,000.

I suspect they’re all starting to wish they’d simply stayed home. Our opinion? If they’d done what they’d done and been Muslims or inner city African Americans they’d all be dead as doornails now, so they should count their blessings.

If convicted – and we are all for due process, and let us state categorically they are currently innocent – then one hopes the powers-that-be will throw the proverbial book hard and accurately.

141026_sabato_goldwater_gty

 

If you want to understand the Trump phenomenon, just look back 50 years.

Barry Goldwater was an American politician and businessman who was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona (1953–65, 1969–87) and the Republican Party’s surprise nominee for President of the United States in the 1964 election.

Goldwater is the politician most often credited for sparking the resurgence of the American conservative political movement in the 1960s. He also had a substantial impact on the future libertarian movement.

Goldwater badgeGoldwater was a touchstone for the wilder vestiges of the conservative tendency in the Republicans – very much the precursor of today’s Tea Party insurgency: not so much in terms of its politics, but in terms of its rejection of “the way things are done”, and annoyance at the tacit agreement in major policy planks that had hitherto existed between both major parties.

Goldwater rejected the legacy of the New Deal and fought through the conservative coalition against the New Deal coalition.

In a heavily Democratic state, Goldwater became a successful conservative Republican and a friend of Herbert Hoover. He was outspoken against New Deal liberalism, especially its close ties to unions which he considered corrupt.  Goldwater soon became most associated with union reform and anti-communism: his work on organised labour issues led to Congress passing major anti-corruption reforms in 1957, and an all-out campaign by the AFL-CIO to defeat his 1958 re-election bid.

save americaHe voted against the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954, but in the fevered atmosphere of the times he never actually charged any individual with being a communist or Soviet agent.

Goldwater emphasised his strong opposition to the worldwide spread of communism in his 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative.

The book became an important reference text in conservative political circles.

Goldwater shared the current Trumpian disdain for central government and immigration. (Although it should be noted that Cruz and Rubio have also moved to harden their position on immigration, it is Trump who has made it a current touchstone for the current Republican Party with his populist and incendiary language, especially in the South.) His “Save America” theme had a populist edge that we see strongly reproduced in the apocalyptic pronouncements of the current front runners.

 

quote-to-disagree-one-doesn-t-have-to-be-disagreeable-barry-goldwater-11-26-18

 

But Goldwater was no mindless demagogue. He was more circumspect. In 1964, he ran a conservative campaign that emphasised states’ rights. The campaign was a magnet for conservatives since he opposed interference by the federal government in state affairs. Although he had supported all previous federal civil rights legislation and had supported the original senate version of the bill, Goldwater made the decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

His stance was based on his view that the act was an intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do or not do business with whomever they chose. In the segregated city of Phoenix in the 1950s, however, he had quietly supported civil rights for blacks, but would not let his name be used publicly.

All this appealed to white Southern Democrats, and Goldwater was the first Republican to win the electoral votes of all of the Deep South states – South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – since Reconstruction (although Dwight Eisenhower did carry Louisiana in 1956).

He successfully mobilised a large conservative constituency to win the hard-fought Republican primaries and in doing so became the first candidate of Jewish heritage to be nominated for President by a major American party.

He swept aside the Republican Party’s anointed son, wealthy philanthropist and liberal four-term Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, in the first such example in the modern era of the Republicans failing to have “one of their own” confirmed against an insurgent, although some would argue that Ronal Reagan was a similar example.

At a discouraging point in the 1964 California primary campaign against Barry Goldwater, his top political aide Stuart Spencer called on Rockefeller to “summon that fabled nexus of money, influence, and condescension known as the Eastern Establishment. “You are looking at it, buddy,’ Rockefeller told Spencer, ‘I am all that is left.” Rockefeller exaggerated, but the irretrievable collapse of his wing of the party was underway. His despair finds its echo in the current desperation of the Republican organisation and establishment at the increasing likelihood of a Trump nomination this year.

But in what may well be a precursor to Trump’s national election performance should he secure the Republican nomination in 2016, Goldwater’s vote on the Civil Rights Act proved devastating to his campaign everywhere outside the South (besides “Dixie”, Goldwater won only in Arizona, his home state), and the Democrats won states they did not expect, like Alaska, contributing to a landslide defeat for the GOP in the general election in 1964.

Trump’s offensive remarks about Latinos may now cruel him in exactly the same way – Latino voters are now a key constituency that appear currently ironed-on supporters of the Democrats, and it’s one that that the Republicans must appeal if they are to have any chance of winning nationally. With their enthusiasm for “small business” and entrepreneurism the Latino community should be fertile territory for the Republican Party. That they are clearly not is a measure of how desperately far behind the eight ball the Republicans currently are with their populist campaign.

Goldwater’s conservative campaign platform ultimately failed to gain the support of the electorate, but he didn’t just lose the election to incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, he lost it by one of the largest landslides in history, bringing down many other Republican candidates around the country as well.

The Johnson campaign and other critics successfully painted him as a reactionary, while supporters praised his crusades against the Soviet Union, labour unions, and the welfare state. This, however, mainly piled him up support with people who would support a Republican candidate no matter what, (an effect that has been seen in election losing performances by the Labor/Labour parties in both Australia and the United Kingdom in recent years) and may even have lost him crucial support with conservative working class voters who didn’t want their bargaining power reduced.

His defeat, however, and the Republicans swept away with him, allowed Johnson and the Democrats in Congress to pass the Great Society programs, and a large enough Clinton or Sanders win in November would similarly embolden the Democrats to continue with the cautious reform programmes instigated under Obama in health, possibly focussing on making further education more affordable than it is currently. Such an outcome would be seen by many who are alarmed by Trump’s rise as deliciously ironic.

On the other hand the defeat of so many older Republicans in 1964 also cleared the way for a younger generation of American conservatives to mobilise which contributed to a growth in the party’s influence.

goldwater reaganAlthough Goldwater was much less active as a national leader of conservatives after 1964 his supporters mostly rallied behind Ronald Reagan, who became governor of California in 1967 and the 40th President of the United States, in 1981.

Indeed, with Reagan’s accession to the Presidency, with an emphasis on low tax and low spending rhetoric (which was not followed through in office) one can argue that Reagan was Goldwater’s legacy to America.

Reagan also successfully brought the evangelical Christian movement into the mainstream Republican fold in a move which continues to resonate to this day, especially in the candidacy of Ted Cruz. However that move also offended more moderate Christians, some Roman Catholics, and secular independents.

(As an aside, Trump’s record would hardly endear him to today’s religious conservatives, except for his decisive rejection of Muslims – interestingly his thrice-married history has its echoes in the rejection of Nelson Rockefeller, who was damaged by his divorce and re-marriage – but then again, if he is the nominee where else can they go? To what degree the religious right falls in behind Trump or simply stay home out of a lack of enthusiasm could also be an important factor in the Republican’s overall result.)

Goldwater, for all that he was a precursor to the anti-establishment Trump, was a man of some gravitas. In particular, unlike Trump, who avoided being drafted in the Vietnam war and has been criticised for doing so, he had a proud and distinguished military career.

With the American entry into World War II, Goldwater received a reserve commission in the United States Army Air Forces. He became a pilot assigned to the Ferry Command, a newly formed unit that flew aircraft and supplies to war zones worldwide. He spent most of the war flying between the U.S. and India, via the Azores and North Africa or South America, Nigeria, and Central Africa. He also flew “the hump” over the Himalayas to deliver supplies to the Republic of China.

Following World War II, Goldwater was a leading proponent of creating the United States Air Force Academy, and later served on the Academy’s Board of Visitors. The visitor center at the USAF Academy is now named in his honour. As a colonel he also founded the Arizona Air National Guard, and in a move that goes to his more nuanced attitudes to race than some, he would de-segregate it two years before the rest of the US military. Goldwater was instrumental in pushing the Pentagon to support desegregation of the armed services.

Remaining in the Arizona Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve after the war, he eventually retired as a Command Pilot with the rank of major general. By that time, he had flown 165 different types of aircraft. Goldwater retired as an Air Force Reserve major general, and he continued piloting B-52 aircraft until late in his military career.

Meanwhile, with his successes on “Super Tuesday” behind us, The Trumpinator rolls on seemingly unstoppably. We are on record as saying we didn’t think he could secure the nomination, but like many others it appears we completely under-estimated the populist rejection of “Washington” that he represents on the right (echoed by the success of Sanders on the left), and we now we suspect we were wrong.

We still find it hard to believe, but the Republican Party now appears to be entirely in thrall to an anti-establishment far-right insurgency that is essentially, at its core, simply “anti” politics and not in the slightest interested in serious policy outcomes.

It is perfectly fair to say that any one of dozens of idiotic pronouncements Trump has made would see him disqualified from holding high office in any other democratic Western country in the world, but the right in America seem to have wilfully suspended disbelief in their visceral hatred of the “liberal”, centralising, “socialist”, “Statist” conspiracy that they see represented by the Democrats and alsi now by many in their own party. However at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we do confidently believe (and fervently hope) that this most “dumbed down” of Presidential campaigns cannot ultimately prevail.

Like Goldwater, Trump and his clumsy and oft-expressed bigotry may merely usher in another crushing Democratic victory, which would, surely, be the ultimate reward the GOP receive for abandoning good governance in their obtuse Congressional obstructionism against Obama, and in fleeing the centre ground by refusing to confront the Tea Party with better and more timely arguments and greater political courage.

Of course, Trump would never agree with us. In fact, no doubt, he would flip out one his standard insults, to cheers and applause from his acolytes.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 11.56.34 am

 

If you, like us, were starting to feel left out by not having been personally insulted by this obnoxious populist just head to The Donald Trump Insult Generator.

Hours of innocent fun for all the family.

See also “Trump. The man who got memed.”

First there was George Galloway.

Then Nigel Farage’s horrific bright green tie.

Now, the campaign to leave the EU has pulled out their most amazingly cringe inducing weapon of all – an absolutely dreadful parody of Baddiel & Skinner’s iconic soccer song, “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)”.

The ghastly music video is the brainchild of Grassroots Out campaigner and former UKIP Stockton North Parliamentary Candidate Mandy Boylett, who for some reason thought it would be a good idea.

It’s like Ukip Calypso all over again.

We’re willing to bet this video adds a few votes to the ‘Remain’ campaign. And here’s what Baddiel thinks of the Out camp reworking his song:

Badiel

No word yet on how Skinner or the Lightning Seeds plan to vote.

Aerobics teacher Boylett also says she plans to enter the song for Eurovision, which makes total sense. Baddiel said it was “a fabulous suggestion”.

Only in Britain.

For other cultural F*** Ups, just put F*** Up in the search box top left of this page. Enjoy!

eu puzzle

“What did the EU ever do for the UK?”

You hear it asked by well-meaning people all the time. And to be fair, the EU has had its share of bad publicity. We all know it’s bureaucratically top-heavy. We all know it’s clunky and sometimes passes really silly laws. But that said, how has Britain fared from it’s membership of this unique social, economic and political experiment?

We have consistently been supporters of the EU, but not for reasons to do with economic matters.

But with the referendum looming we thought it a good time to re-post this great letter by Simon Sweeney in the Guardian newspaper. Frankly, if you still think “Brexit” is a good idea after reading this, then you’re simply not interested in facts.

“What did the EU ever do for us?

Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade;

Providing structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline;

Regulating for clean beaches and rivers;

And cleaner air;

Insisting on lead free petrol;

Making restrictions on landfill dumping;

Instilling a recycling culture;

And arranging:

cheaper mobile charges;

cheaper air travel;

improved consumer protection and food labelling;

a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;

better product safety;

single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;

the break up of monopolies;

Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;

In the EU we have:

no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;

price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;

the freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;

funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad;

access to European health services;

labour protection and enhanced social welfare;

smoke-free workplaces;

equal pay legislation;

holiday entitlement;

the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime pay;

the strongest wildlife protection in the world;

improved animal welfare in food production;

EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;

EU representation in international forums;

bloc EEA negotiation at the World Trade Organisation;

We have become used to:

EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;

European-wide arrest warrants for criminals;

cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling;

better counter terrorism intelligence;

European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;

support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;

and investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.

All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed.

It furthermore has assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980.

Now the union faces major challenges brought on by neo-liberal economic globalisation, and worsened by its own systemic weaknesses although it is taking measures to overcome these. We in the UK should reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of total government expenditure of £695bn is good value. We must play a full part in enabling the union to be a force for good in a multi-polar global future.

Simon Sweeney,
Lecturer in International Political Economy,
University of York

Despite this, the anti-EU campaign will have the full force of Murdoch’s and the other 4 extremist right-wing media billionaires papers whose straightforward agenda always has been, and still is, to weaken or remove all our human rights and reduce working people to contemporary serfdom.

Over 80% of UK papers are owned by just five extremist right-wing media billionaires: Rupert Murdoch, (Sun/Times), Barclay Brothers (Telegraph), Richard Desmond (Express) and Lord Rothermere (Daily Mail).

Murdoch is Australian/American living in New York, Rothermere lives in France, the Barclay Brothers live in the tax havens of Monaco and Guernsey.

So key question – is in light of the above list of the EU’s successes – why have these billionaires and their loopy political fellow travellers for decades tried to destroy the EU’s democratic institutions? Hmmm?

Don’t be conned. Get the facts, and share them.

trump hands

In a move which once again encourages us as to his credentials, the most fearless Pope in living memory has questioned US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Christianity over his oft-repeated call to build a border wall with Mexico.

With admirable bluntness, Pope Francis said “a person who thinks only about building walls and not of building bridges, is not Christian”.

The New York businessman also supports deporting nearly 11 million un-documented immigrants.

But calling himself a “proud Christian”, Mr Trump blamed Mexico for the Pope’s remarks, calling them “disgraceful”. Mr Trump has previously alleged that Mexico sends “rapists” and criminals to the US.

Pope Francis made the comments at the end of a six-day trip to Mexico.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” he said.

He declined to say whether Americans should vote for Mr Trump, who is leading the Republican race for president.

“I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and I will give him the benefit of the doubt,” the Pope said.

Over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink religious affairs desk, we think Trump is a solidly evil individual with hateful views that are (take your pick), mindlessly triumphalist, quasi-fascist, racist, anti-female, and typically moronic in their presentation and content. We don’t actually think he’s the Anti-Christ, but then again anything’s possible. Popularity is one of the signs of the Anti-Christ, after all. And as it now looks like it wasn’t President Obama, well … (Hang on a sec while we adjust our tinfoil hat.) 

Frankly, we think Il Papa let the New Yorker off easy. We miss the good old days when Popes excommunicated leaders.

pope-francisAnyhow, addressing a rally in South Carolina, Mr Trump responded to the Pope’s comments.

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian,” Mr Trump said. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

Which is an interesting commentary on the role of a religious leader, really. What role they have other than to question everyone else’s religion and faith is hard to discern. The mobile toupe then went on to say “[The pope] said negative things about me. Because the Mexican government convinced him that Trump is not a good guy.”

Of course, in God-fearing South Carolina – the next state to vote in the primary process – to have the Pope say that he is un-Christian is potentially very damaging. On the other hand, many US protestants are also rabidly anti-Catholic, so who knows exactly how it will play in the South.

Over the course of the campaign, the billionaire property developer has been at pains to prove his religious credentials, appearing at rallies with a copy of the Bible that his mother had given him as a child. He has also said the Vatican was the so-called Islamic State group’s “ultimate trophy” and that if it attacked, “the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened”.

Two of Mr Trump’s Republican rivals, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both Catholics, wimpishly said they look to the Pope for spiritual guidance, not political direction.

Referencing Mr Trump’s much vaunted wall between America and Mexico, Mr Rubio said the US has a right and an obligation to control its borders. Mr Bush told reporters he “supports walls where it’s appropriate” and that “Christianity is between he and his creator. I don’t think we need to discuss that.”

cleansing temple giorJerry Falwell Jr, the president of the conservative Christian Liberty University and a Trump supporter, told CNN that the Pope had gone too far. “Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country,” he said. Funnily, Mr Falwell appears to have forgotten a few of Jesus’s more choice comments about the Jewish rulers the Pharisees and Saducees, not to mention dear old King Herod. And his attitude to rapacious capitalism was pretty clear, too. Of course we should never let our political bias get spoiled by a few facts even when commenting on religious matters.

The war of words between the right-winger and the Pope has been going on for a while. Earlier this month, Mr Trump called Pope Francis “a very political person” in yet another interview with Fox News, aka Trump Central.

“I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border we have with Mexico,” Mr Trump said. An alternative reading is that the Pope perfectly well understands the situation – which is, if course, essentially economic in nature – and doesn’t think Mexicans are automatically a danger to Americans who need to be forcibly kept out of the country by forceful measures.

American Roman Catholics are seen as an important voting bloc in US elections. Many traditionally support Republican candidates because of their opposition to abortion and gay marriage. This might well be why Mr Trump has responded so abrasively to the Pope’s comments, especially as he has been courting the evangelical Christian vote, often successfully, despite his fellow Republican rivals trying to argue that his religiosity is not sincere.

There is another interpretation of course. Which is that Trump is actually not any type of Christian at all, despite his public protestations, and that the truth hurts.

Meanwhile, in more religious trouble for the hotelier/developer, Ted Cruz’s campaign is now running an advertisement featuring a 1999 television interview Mr Trump gave in which he said he was “very pro-choice” when it comes to abortion.

In January, Mr Trump faced ridicule after flubbing a Bible verse when giving a speech to a Christian university in Virginia. The thrice-married businessman has also said he is a Presbyterian Christian but has had trouble recalling his favourite Bible verse when asked.

We think Mr Trump needs to stop sounding off and consider this:

Trump table

We have decided, Dear Reader, to have a regular-cum-occasional posting that collects together those snippets of news that fall into the “Wait … what?” basket. You know, those items where you simply shake your head in disbelief at how incredibly inappropriate, silly, bizarre, insulting or head-scratching the world can be.

Usually about poliphiltics. But by no means exclusively.

Today we have the retirement from the Australian Parliament of  dear old Phil Ruddock. The current “Father of the House”, which means the silly old bugger has been there longer than anyone else having racked up 42 years at the grindstone – way past any realistic use by date – Ruddock’s unemotional delivery has become so dead pan over the years it’s sometimes necessary for interviewers to stick a pin in his thumb to see if he’s still alive.

Mr Ruddock was previously attorney-general, Indigenous affairs minister and immigration minister, and when announcing his retirement nominated counter-terrorism and family law changes as his key achievements.

He has campaigned against the death penalty and chaired the human rights sub-committee of Parliament’s joint foreign affairs committee. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Mr Ruddock would now be Australia’s first Special Envoy for Human Rights, with a hardly-defined brief to trot around the world, as she puts it, to “focus on advancing Australia’s human rights priorities of good governance, freedom of expression, gender equality, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and national human rights institutions. Mr Ruddock will actively promote Australia’s candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council for the 2018–20 term. He will represent Australia at international human rights events and advocate our HRC candidacy in selected countries.”

Widespread rumours that Ruddock is actually the evil Emperor from Star Wars are very unkind and will get no credence in this column.

Widespread rumours that Ruddock is actually the evil Emperor from Star Wars are very unkind and will get no credence in this column.

Hmmm. Once renowned as a “wet” Liberal and vocal on human rights issues, Ruddock nevertheless morphed into a very different creature in Government. Astute followers of Australian politics will note that following the Coalition’s rise to government at the 1996 election, Ruddock was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. In this role, he administered the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and presided over the Howard government’s tough policies on asylum seekers. During his time in office, the previous Keating Labor Government’s practice of mandatory detention of asylum seekers was continued and extended. Under his watch, asylum seekers, including children, were locked behind razor wire in Australia’s deserts. Even a daughter, Kirsty, publicly turned against him over the mandatory detention of children, which continues to this day.

In 2001 Ruddock was also appointed to the role of Minister for Indigenous Affairs. By this time he had become a high-profile figure enjoying considerable support within the Liberal Party, while being strongly opposed by left-wing activists and some human rights advocates. His “Pacific Solution” – which prevented asylum seekers receiving legal access to Australia – was condemned by Human Rights Watch as contravening international law, as being a human rights violation: Oxfam and the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) agreed with this viewpoint. At one point he was one of the few senior ministers (besides the prime minister) to have needed personal security details. Some of his decisions were highly controversial in Australian politics, and led to Amnesty International’s public attempt to distance the organisation from him (he had once headed the Amnesty International group in Parliament) by asking him to remove his lapel badge.

In 2003, Ruddock became Attorney-General in a cabinet reshuffle. On 27 May 2004, Ruddock introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill to prevent any possible court rulings allowing same-sex marriages or civil unions. It has prevented same-sex marriage in Australia ever since.

Now, Ruddock will represent Australia’s human rights concerns overseas. We do not wish to be mean: we have no doubt he deserved some sort of sinecure for his long service. That it should be this one seems simply astonishing.

fashion_designer_1bbhvs2-1bbhvsbMeanwhile, mesmerised by imagined and real threats – often more imagined than real – the world continues on its overly terrified, for which read biased, way.

Waris Ahluwalia, who is a ubiquitous presence in the fashion world, was reportedly banned from a flight for wearing a turban.

The model and designer behind House of Waris posted a selfie to Instagram on Monday morning holding up his boarding pass with “SSSS” – which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection – circled on the ticket.

“This morning in Mexico City I was told I could not board my @aeromexico flight to NYC because of my turban,” he wrote in the caption. He also included the hashtags #FearisanOpportunitytoEducate, #humanrights, #dignity, and #lovenotfear.

Ahluwalia, who appeared in a recent Gap advertising campaign (including posters which were subject to racist graffiti), and is a regular on the New York City party circuit, initially complied with the supplemental security measures before boarding his flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport, including having an agent swab his hands and the bottoms of his feet to test for explosives.

But when asked by an airline worker to remove his black turban, an accessory in his signature style he is never seen without, he refused. “That is not something that I would do in public,” the Grand Budapest Hotel actor told the New York Daily News. “That’s akin to asking someone to take off their clothes.”

After abstaining from removing his turban without being brought to a private screening area, he supposedly was told, “You will not be flying Aero Mexico. You will need to book another flight.”

On his Instagram post, commenters aired their frustration with Ahluwalia’s mistreatment. “This is outrageous. Sikhism is not even related in any way to terrorist extremists,” Angie wrote.

“What a sad day, a beautiful faith of love and peace is treated in such a horrible way.”

Kirthan Aujlay added, “Absolutely disgusted by this. How much longer are Sikh men going to be targeted by bigots?”

Many also shared similar experiences and praised Ahluwalia for publicising the discriminatory incident.

In our view the fact that many Muslims are profile-stopped because of some Muslim extremists is bad enough, but perhaps understandable given world tensions, if regrettable. But these idiots don’t even seem to understand that a Sikh is a unique northern Indian religion that is related to Hinduism. (In previous unprovoked attacks on Sikhs in America – aimed at terrorising Muslims – people have been killed.)

Mind you, not all social media comment was supportive. On Facebook, Sukhi Sagoo offered a counter argument: “Regardless of whether you are a Sikh or you wear any kind of headdress, I think for security reasons and for the safety of fellow passengers it’s not a bad thing to cooperate with the authorities. As long as it’s done in a private room and not in a public place. If you have nothing to hide, then why not cooperate?” Mahtab Singh Shergill also said that a hijab for Muslim women is just as precious yet they, in general, cooperate with security checks (the same can be said for nuns). “You need to understand that it’s their job to make sure that the flight is secure and retaliation can cause serious doubts,” he wrote. “They don’t make every Sikh they see remove the turban; if he was asked he shouldn’t have denied.”

The actor and designer was still at the airport more than 12 hours later. Mr. Ahluwalia, who has a record of anti-racist activism, said he planned to remain there as lawyers from the Sikh Coalition and Aeroméxico discussed the matter by telephone. He said he had no immediate plans to board another flight.

Sikh men wear the turban as a symbol of commitment to equality and social justice. Gurjot Kaur, a senior staff lawyer with the Sikh Coalition, said that the episode in Mexico City highlighted similar problems that men with beards, people with religious headwear and women in Islamic head coverings often encounter at airport security, where they are often unfairly associated with terrorism.

“It does play to the larger issue of profiling,” she said.

Ms. Kaur said the coalition had asked Aeroméxico’s lawyer for a public apology for Mr. Ahluwalia and a commitment for security personnel to undergo diversity training. She said she was speaking with the airline’s lawyer, John Barr. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr. Ahluwalia said he was in Mexico to attend an art fair as a guest of L’Officiel magazine. He said he did not encounter similar scrutiny at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he boarded his Aeroméxico flight in New York last Tuesday.

Mr. Ahluwalia said it was not the first time that his turban had caused consternation. He said he had been questioned about the turban at airports in the United States and abroad but had never been denied access to a flight.

At some airports, however, he said he has had to “rub the turban,” while trying to hold a straight face, for security officials “and then put my hand in front of them, and they swab my hands.”

Anyhow, in response, Waris, who has a runway show as part of New York Fashion Week this week, sent an additional social media note to his fans. “Dear NYC fashion week. I may be a little late as @aeromexico won’t let me fly with a turban. Don’t start the show without me.”

More nonsense soon.

The current GOP race is something of an un-reality show, frankly.

The current GOP race is something of an un-reality show, frankly.

Aaaaand … we’re back.

Happy New Year everyone, and yes the holiday was lovely, thank you. Will write more on what we saw – and the conclusions we drew – soon.

Meanwhile. So. Here we go.

Deep breath.

Welcome to a year of trying to save America from itself.

Beginning with:

Trump

 

No apologies whatsoever for posting partisan stuff.

We will seek to make our political commentary and predictions unbiased, but any sane, rational person must surely campaign against the current crop of Republican candidates.

They are universally awful. Even the RNC is terrified of them.

Even worse, for the health of public discourse, it means that Hillary (and almost certainly it will be Hillary, although Bernie Sanders will have a couple of creditable early results) will have a coronation rather than get elected on her merits or otherwise, and that ain’t good for America, or anyone who respects democratic debate and the great contest of ideas.

Oh, and you heard it here first. Trump will NOT be the Republican nominee. But if by some miracle we are wrong, he simply cannot win a general election. Demographically, he has simply no chance.

Mind you, what damage he will do to both the Republicans and the broader American body politic along the way is another matter.

Of course, the only hell-toupee fake tan machine ever to run for President is generating some good jokes. Our current favourites are:

What is Donald Trump telling Barack Obama supporters? Orange Is The New Black.

What plane does Donald Trump aspire to fly on? Hair Force One!

Why are Muslims worried about Trumps immigration plans? Once you deport Juan you deport Jamal.

Trump supporters’ new campaign slogan? “We shall over-comb.”

And then one we actually wrote ourselves:

Donald Trump. Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.

We feel a t-shirt coming on.

OK.  That’s enough Trump for now – Ed.

Ted CruzThere’s been talk on the right in America in the last week on “shutting down” the Internet to combat terrorism.

Quite apart from the complete impossibility of doing that, if you want to be President of the USA and theoretical leader of the “free world”, you really should be able to reserve the appropriate URLs for your campaign well in advance.

In the third GOP presidential debate which has just finished on CNN live from Las Vegas, Ted Cruz again told viewers to check out his opinions at TedCruz.org.

Why not dot com, you may have wondered? Well, here’s what happens when you visit TedCruz.com. D’oh!

 

syria photo

 

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, deep in darkest Melbourne, people occasionally pass us vital documents they think should be broadcast to a wider audience.

This is how we stumbled across this revelatory but top secret intelligence briefing on the situation in Syria and Iraq.

With luck, this highly restricted document will clear up any confusion you have on the situation over there. We publish so that the truth may be known. Eat your heart out, Wikileaks.

So … (deep breath) …

YOUR EYES ONLY

Let’s kick off with Syria. President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy with a bad moustache who only got the job because his Dad had it before, but then he got so nasty that his people rebelled and the Rebels (who are good) started winning. (Hurrah!) This is despite the dorky Assad having a rather dishy British wife who was universally believed to be good, until she spent too much on shoes and stuff and became generally considered to be bad.

Things were sort of going OK for the good rebels but then some of them turned more than a bit nasty and are now called IS or ISIL or Islamic State or Daesh (doesn’t matter what they’re called, they are definitely bad) and some rebels continued to support democracy (who are still good) and some we are just not all that sure about (who may be bad, or good, but time will tell).

IS are so bad even Al Qaeda (really bad too) don’t like them and start fighting them.

The Americans (who are good) start bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad), which was good. But this ironically puts America on the same side as Al Qaeda in Syria, which is just plain odd.

Now. There is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they’re good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter altogether and we’ll get more confused so we’ll let it go. Meanwhile the Turks have shot down a Russian plane which they say was flying in their airspace (which is definitely bad).

Anyway, getting back to Syria and Iraq.

So President Putin (who is bad, because he invaded Crimea and thejoker Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium-poisoned sushi) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking ISIS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?

But Putin (still bad) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).

Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel with them are now sort-of good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have both ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

So a new Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are very bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good), which is bad.

Annoyingly, now the British (obviously good, except that funny and rather confused Mr Corbyn, who is probably bad in an ineffective sort of way) and the Americans (also good) and the Australians (who are generally considered good because they’re mainly about cold beer and beaches) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good/bad) so now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).

So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS, so no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them good.

America (still good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran (sort of good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and then on to Europe (which is bad) or join IS (still the only constantly bad group, and that would be really bad).

For all the Sunni Muslims in the area, an attack by Shia Muslims and Alawites (Iran and Assad) backed by Russians (infidels) will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of Daesh will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War. Hence many Muslims will now see IS as good even though they are the baddest of the bad. (Doh!)

Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their (good) Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (not to mention we didn’t do anything about a corrupt Shia government being imposed on Sunnis when we took over Iraq: hmmm, might have a point there) and hence we will be seen as more Bad. Again.

A few million refugees are now out of harm’s way (good) but nobody really wants them (bad) and now winter’s coming (bad). Lots of people think the refugees are how IS will sneak bad guys into Europe (which would be bad, but there’s no evidence of it happening, which is good, but that doesn’t stop people being frightened of them even though they have no reason to be, which is bad). Meanwhile the French have decided to bomb Iraq to pay back IS for the attacks (bad) in Paris and other countries like Lebanon and Jordan also look like getting dragged further and further into the conflict (bad).

So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) and Australia (bad, but with good beer), providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (good/bad depending on your point of view, even though they’re still really bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, good) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?

There. I hope that this clears it all up for you.

And if in doubt, fuck it, let’s all just bomb someone else. ‘Cause that will help.

Well done, Mr McClure, whoever and wherever you are. Well done, that man.

 

Well done, Mr McClure, whoever you are. Well done, that man.

A fascinating story has emerged from Syria of the way IS chose to treat a Christian priest and his community, reported by the BBC.

Father Jack Murad

Father Jack Murad spoke to BBC Arabic about his ordeal

Fr Jack told BBC Arabic what happened. He remembers how he and Botros Hanna were blindfolded and had their hands tied, before the car they were forced into sped away to an unknown destination “in the mountains around al-Qaryatain”.

After four days, the two men were blindfolded and handcuffed again, before being forced on a much longer journey.

They ended up in a cell somewhere in Raqqa, IS’s stronghold, where they were kept for 84 days.

The captives were well-fed, given medical treatment and never tortured, Fr Jack explained. But what stood out, he said, was the verbal abuse.

Fr Jack and Botros Hannah were repeatedly called “infidels” and told that they had strayed from the true religion of “Islam” – in particular, “Islamic State’s interpretation of Islam”.

Intriguingly, though, Fr Jack says his captors all seemed curious about his Christian beliefs.

“They would ask about my theology – God, the Holy Trinity, Christ, and the Crucifixion,” he said.

But he thought it pointless trying to answer.

“What’s the point of debating with someone who’s put you in prison and pointing their rifle at you?” Fr Jack asked rhetorically. “When I was forced to respond, I’d say ‘I’m not prepared to change my religion’.”

Death threats

Despite otherwise treating them well, the militants he met would scare prisoners, telling them they would be killed if they refused to convert.

‘For them, my fate for refusing to convert to Islam was death. To frighten us, they would even tell us in detail how we would die. They are truly gifted at using words and imagery to terrorise,” Fr Jack recalled.

The priest said the experience only strengthened his faith, although at the time he expected to be beheaded.

“On Day 84, the last day, an emir arrived, telling us “the Christians of al-Qaryatain have been pestering us about you and want you back, so come on, move.”

Ruins of Mar Elian Monastery (August 2015)

IS militants destroyed Fr Jack’s ancient monastery

‘We went past Palmyra and Sawwaneh, then the car disappeared into a tunnel. We were taken out of the car, and the emir took me by the hand towards a large iron door. He opened it, and I saw two guys from my parish standing there.”

They hugged and then Fr Jack looked up to find an astonishing scene.

“All the Christians of al-Qaryatain, my whole parish, my children were there. I was in shock. They were surprised and happy. They all came to embrace me.”

During his captivity, the town of al-Qaryatain had been captured by IS.

All of them were held captive another 20 days.

Finally, on the 31 August, Fr Jack was summoned before several IS clerics.

They wanted to convey what IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had decided about the fate of the Christians of al-Qaryatain.

Various options were on the table, including killing the men and enslaving the women.

Instead the IS leader chose to give the Christians the “right to live as citizens in territory held by Islamic State”, which meant returning their land, homes, and money in return for conditional IS protection.

‘Land of blasphemy’

Fr Jack told them everything he was asked about the churches and the monastery in al-Qaryatain, but omitted to mention Saint Elian’s grave, hoping he could spare it from destruction.

But it was difficult to fool the IS militants.

“They know everything, every detail.” Revealingly, the priest added “We tend to think of them as uncultured Bedouins. The opposite is true. They’re clever, educated, with university degrees, and meticulous in their planning.”

During his captivity the monastery had been confiscated by IS as a spoil of war during the battle for al-Qaryatain and was destroyed.

The IS clerics read out to him the terms of an agreement between the Christians of al-Qaryatain and Islamic State.

Map

Under the deal, they could travel anywhere inside IS territory as far away as Mosul, but not to Homs or Mahin (which are closer, but outside IS control), “because to them, this is the land of blasphemy.”

Still, Fr Jack managed to leave the IS-held territory. Botros Hanna, the volunteer, also escaped with him.

“The area is a battlefield. On the one hand, the air force is shelling. On the other, we are not safe staying in al-Qaryatain. I felt that as long as I was there, the people would stay. So I felt I had to leave to encourage others to do the same.”

But not many more followed him afterwards.

“In fact many want to stay because they have nowhere else to go. Some can’t accept the idea of being displaced and would rather die at home. Others are convinced the Islamic State, with which they have a contract, will protect them.’

Fr Jack says 160 or so Christians are left in al-Qaryatain.

“They have stayed because they want to. We ask God to protect them because our town is a dangerous battlefield. There is no shelter, nowhere is safe.”

What does this story tell us about IS? On the surface, it tells us that their reality may be more nuanced than we might assume.

Or is that simply what they want us to think?

Did their leadership – who appear to have an excellent grasp of publicity, especially via social media – think that sparing the Christians would receive approving coverage in the rest of the world? Perhaps.

And yet their motivation for such a move is unclear. The “end times” cult that is IS positively welcomes the invasion of their Caliphate as the precursor to the Second Coming of Christ and their eventual triumph over the whole world. In short, they don’t care what we think of them, and have an agenda to provoke us.

Then again, maybe IS is like all organisations, made up of different strands of opinion, and on this occasion a less belligerent faction prevailed.

It is impossible to say, as we can’t ask them. And meanwhile, the slaughterhouse grinds on, and neighbouring countries struggle to deal with millions of people fleeing all the combatants, none of whom are innocent of terrible human rights abuses.

The failure of the world to prevent this entirely predictable mess, and our apparent inability to resolve it, is sobering indeed.

Reporting of Father Jack’s story by BBC Arabic’s Assaf Abboud and Rami Ruhayem

Dramatic stills and videos have emerged of dozens of IS hostages – some covered in blood – being freed from an IS compound in a daring joint-operation raid in Iraq.

This is unashamedly good news for the hostages and their families and friends, not to say the world in general.

But what needs to be said immediately, however, is that a highly decorated US commando died rescuing people he didn’t know, from countries other than his own. He died utterly unselfishly, to prevent a great and murderous wrong.

The world is quick to criticise clumsy, inept or morally questionable US use of force, and so it should be. The lumbering giant of a nation often gets it wrong.

It should be equally fast to praise America and Americans’ preparedness to put their own lives on the line to help others, and, if necessary, to make the ultimate sacrifice.

This is the dramatic moment prisoners were freed from an Islamic State-run compound, just hours before execution. Photo: Euro News

US Special Operations Forces and Kurdish forces stormed the IS-run prison freeing some 70 captives who were apparently facing imminent mass execution.

How that could be known by the US is not clear, although aerial reconnaissance had shown what it was surmised was a newly dug mass grave at the prison, and it was believed that the hostages were to be killed on the morning after the night-time raid.

How that fact was established, however, was unclear, and we speculate that it was probably the result of “on the ground” intelligence, which in itself would have been gathered and transmitted in an incredibly courageous manner.

Of the prisoners freed, more than 20 were members of the Iraqi security forces. Five IS militants were also captured and several others killed, the Pentagon said.

Very sadly, the raid resulted in the death of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, the first American death fighting ISIL and the first to die in Iraq for some years.

 

 

His body was returned to his family on Saturday in Dover, Delaware.

Pentagon chief expects more anti-IS raids after captives freed

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said he expected more similar raids targeting the Islamic State group.

The raid marked an apparent break with the stated role of US forces, who are in Iraq to support government forces but do not directly engage in combat in line with Obama’s “no boots on the ground” policy.

But Carter said it was likely not a one-off, noting that a “significant cache” of intelligence had also been retrieved.

 

Defense Secretary Carter

Defense Secretary Carter

 

“I expect we’ll do more of this kind of thing,” Carter said. The significance of this statement cannot be over-estimated.

“One of the reasons for that is that you learn a great deal because you collect the documentation, you collect various electronic equipment and so forth. So the sum of all this will be some valuable intelligence.”

 

Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, was the first American serviceman to die in action in Iraq since 2011.

 

“This is combat, things are complicated,” Carter said in discussing the circumstances of Wheeler’s death.

This sort of operation has been extremely rare ever since the vast majority of US forces left Iraq. America is supporting the Kurds with both equipment and training as the Peshmerga have proven to be the most effective fighting force against ISIL in Iraq.

The implication that more raids like this will occur may reflect a belated realisation that ISIL will not be defeated – nor those it persecutes rescued – without the interpolation of American “boots on the ground”, and also that America’s proxies in the area are not necessarily competent in either training, personnel or materiel to effect such actions successfully on their own.

If so, it represents a significant policy change for President Obama, delivered via his Defense Secretary, as the American Government has struggled manfully to avoid further employing American troops in combat to battlegrounds having achieved a near total pull-out from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The extent to which the success of this raid will spark others, whether for hostage rescue or for so-called “decapitation” attacks against key IS personnel, is as yet unclear.

Anyhow, as we contemplate this apparent policy change, and what it might mean for American troops and troops from other Western nations, let us also pause for a moment and think about Sergeant Wheeler. For the real story of this raid is surely his story.

As has been reported, he hailed from a thinly populated, economically struggling patch of eastern Oklahoma.

Joshua L. Wheeler had a difficult childhood and few options. The Army offered an escape, but it turned into much more. He made a career in uniform, becoming a highly decorated combat veteran in the elite and secretive Delta Force.

“In that area, if you didn’t go to college, you basically had a choice of the oil fields or the military,” said his uncle, Jack Shamblin. “The Army really suited him; he always had such robust energy and he always wanted to help people, and he felt he was doing that.”

That protective instinct was evident from grade school when, as the oldest child in a dysfunctional home, he was often the one who made sure his siblings were clothed and fed. And it was on display on Thursday, when Master Sergeant Wheeler, 39, a father of four who was thinking of retiring from the Army, became the first American in four years to die in combat inIraq.

A father of four. Let us remember their sacrifice too. Let us ponder the pain in their hearts this day.

When Kurdish commandos went on a helicopter raid to rescue about 70 hostages, the plan called for the Americans who accompanied them to offer support, not join in the action, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Friday.

But then the Kurdish attack on the prison where the hostages were held stalled, and Sergeant Wheeler promptly responded.

“He ran to the sound of the guns,” Mr. Carter said. “Obviously, we’re very saddened that he lost his life,” he said, adding, “I’m immensely proud of this young man.”

A former Delta Force officer who had commanded Sergeant Wheeler in Iraq and had been briefed on the mission said that the Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, tried to blast a hole in the compound’s outer wall, but could not. So Sergeant Wheeler and another American, part of a team of 10 to 20 Delta Force operators who were present, ran up to the wall, breached it with explosives, and with typical disregard for their own safety were the first ones through the hole.

“When you blow a hole in a compound wall, all the enemy fire gets directed toward that hole, and that is where he was,” said the former officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the operation.

Sergeant Wheeler was a veteran of 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan – count them – 14 – with a chest full of medals.

His honors included four Bronze Stars with the letter V, awarded for valor in combat; and seven Bronze Stars, awarded for heroic or meritorious service in a combat zone. His body was returned to the United States on Saturday.

He died far from his roots in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, just across the state border from Fort Smith, Arkansas.

So what made Sergeant Wheeler an instinctive hero? We will never know precisely the confluence of his youth and how it affected him.

His mother, Diane, had two marriages to troubled and abusive men, both ending in divorce, said her brother. She had two sons with her first husband and three daughters with her second, and outlived both men. She died last year at age 60.

One of Sergeant Wheeler’s sisters, Rachel Quackenbush, said her parents were “mentally gone.” Family members said that they often got by on some form of government assistance. Later in life, their mother, who was part Cherokee, like many people in the region, received help from the Cherokee nation.

Joshua as a student, and as a soldier.

Joshua as a student, and as a soldier.

It was her brother who held the family together, making sure the younger children ate breakfast, got dressed and made it to school — even changing dirty diapers. On his own initiative, Mr. Shamblin said, he held a variety of jobs, including roofing and work on a blueberry farm, to bring in a few crucial extra dollars.

Sergeant Wheeler’s grandparents, now in their 80s, often took care of the children. “They were the only really stable influence,” Mr. Shamblin said.

Ms. Quackenbush, 30, recalled one of her brother’s first visits home from the military, when she was still a child. He noticed that the pantries were bare, retrieved a gun and left. “He went out and he shot a deer,” she said. “He made us deer meat and cooked us dinner.”

But at Muldrow High School, where he graduated in 1994, people saw no sign of the turmoil at home.

“He was always funny, even mischievous, but always the guy who seemed like he had your back,” said April Isa, a classmate who now teaches English at the high school. “Most of our class was cliques, but he wasn’t with just one group. He was friends with everyone.”

Ron Flanagan, the Muldrow schools superintendent, was the assistant principal at the high school when Sergeant Wheeler attended classes there. “The thing I remember most clearly is that he was extremely respectful to everybody, classmates and teachers,” he said. “He was a good kid who didn’t get in any trouble.”

Mr. Wheeler enlisted in 1995, and in 1997 he joined the Rangers, a specially trained group within the Army.

From 2004, he was assigned to Army Special Operations Command, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., which includes Delta Force, the extremely selective unit that carries out some of the military’s riskiest operations. He completed specialized training in several fields, including parachute jumping, mountaineering, leading infantry units, explosives and urban combat.

“He was very focused, knew his job in and out,” said the former officer who had commanded Sergeant Wheeler. “It is hard to describe these guys. They are taciturn, very introspective, but extremely competent. They are “Jason Bournes”, they really are.”

Joshua had three sons by his first marriage, which ended in divorce. He remarried in 2013, and he and his wife, Ashley, have an infant boy.

“He could never say much about where he went or what he did, but it was clear he loved it,” Mr. Shamblin said. “And even after all that time in combat, there was such a kindness, a sweetness about him.”

On visits home, either to Oklahoma or North Carolina, he focused on his boys and his extended family. Ms. Quackenbush said that when he would have to leave on another deployment, he would claim it was just for training, which she understood was untrue.

“He was exactly what was right about this world,” she said. “He came from nothing and he really made something out of himself.”

And then, last Thursday in the dusty dark of Iraq, Josh’s luck ran out.

We should all consider how lucky we are that men like him are still looking after the weak, the displaced, and the threatened. It is easy to be cynical, or even to resort to a sort of knee-jerk anti-Americanism, when we seek to unpick the news, or to make sense of the geo-politics. But as we today contemplate a family in mourning, even as we gaze in distress as the seeming never-ending morass that is the Middle East, let us also state this simple, shining truth.

One man died last Thursday, but 70 were saved from certain death.

Memorial+Soldier

Sleep well, Sergeant. We will not forget you.

“If Donald Trump becomes president, that will be the end of the world,” Lawrence told Entertainment Weekly during an exclusive interview promoting The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.

Lawrence, 25, apparently regards the possibility of a President Trump as well as her character Katniss Everdeen regards the ruthless President Snow in The Hunger Games, and openly wonders whether the Republican frontrunner’s campaign is indeed legitimate.

“I genuinely believe that reality television has reached the ultimate place where now even things like this might just be for entertainment,” she said. “It’s either that or it’s Hillary’s brilliant idea.”

Two of her Hunger Games costars seemingly agree.

Something of an un-reality show, frankly.

Something of an un-reality show, frankly.

“It’s a publicity stunt,” Josh Hutcherson told EW. “It can’t be real.” Liam Hemsworth, meanwhile, doubles down on Lawrence’s prediction that a Trump presidency could lead to the apocalypse.

“I’ll back you up on that,” he said.

Lawrence added that while Trump’s blunt style might appeal to some voters, his uncensored straight talk leaves her shaking her head.

“I was watching him on the campaign trail and one guy said, ‘I love Donald Trump because he’s saying everything I’m thinking and I just can’t say it because of the PC factor.’ And I’m thinking, ‘You are absolutely right. That’s who I want representing my country, somebody politically incorrect. That will just be perfect.’ ”

A few more people making the same simple point wouldn’t hurt before the world assumes that a great chunk of America has gone stark-staring moon-barking mad.

 

Pope Francis says he didn’t have the time because he already had a date eating with the homeless. In fact, he is not only going to be eating with them, but serving them. The meal will take place at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C.

Rather than try to write some great prose about this situation, we will simply quote Eric March from the website Upworthy, because he nailed it:

Unlike some of his predecessors, Francis has reminded journalists and world leaders time and time again that the church is for the poor, blasted the global financial system which causes so much poverty in the first place, and called on Catholics across the globe to take action and start lifting up the most vulnerable among them.

He’s also spoken out forcefully against economic inequality.

Including some of the worst, most exploitative labor practices in the world, which create conditions that allow hardship and desperation to thrive.

Blowing off John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi to serve the homeless is pretty much the kind of badassery we’ve come to expect from this pope when it comes to speaking up for the world’s most hard-up.

“Pope Francis is the ultimate Washington outsider. His priorities are not Washington’s priorities,” said John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

“We think we are the centre of the world. We are not the centre of Pope Francis’ world. He is frankly more comfortable in the slums of Argentina than in the corridors of power.”

Frank is also very comfortable trying to get the politicians of this world to understand that Climate change is real, and that it is caused by humanity, and that screwing the planet is not the sort of stewardship God intended us to follow.

We really like this guy. Really like him. He’s our type of Christian, and our type of leader.

We sincerely hope someone doesn’t shoot him, or that he doesn’t have a very convenient heart attack. And no, we’re not kidding.

bomba-nuclear1

In what has been hailed as the new Leader of the British Liberal Democrats “facing down” the activists in his party, the LibDems just rejected a motion calling for Trident to be scrapped.

This is what happened.

We show below the original motion in normal text with the original line numbers, and lines through the text which was deleted by conference. In italics we show the text inserted by virtue of conference voting for Amendment 1:

Motion begins:

1 Conference notes that the go-ahead for building Successor submarines
2 for the Trident system is scheduled to be decided upon in 2016.
3 Conference believes that British possession of nuclear weapons is
4 inappropriate and unhelpful to today’s needs.

5 Conference rejects the projected spending of £100billion on the system
6 over its lifetime, believing the money could be better spent.

In line with our existing policy as set out in policy paper 112, Defending the Future – UK Defence in the 21st century (2013), and our recent General Election Manifesto, conference resolves to oppose like-for-like replacement of the Trident system as proposed by the Conservative government.

Conference believes that the ‘Maingate’ decision to proceed with Trident replacement is such a fundamental question affecting the UK’s national interest that it should be subject to a binding vote in Parliament and not simply a government decision; and calls on Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians to vote against any such proposal should it come before Parliament. Conference further calls on the Federal Policy Committee to:

1. Commission a Policy Working Group to develop policy on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, if any, following a full consultation within the party.

2. Include within the remit of the working group consideration of:
a) A full assessment of potential strategic threats to the UK.
b) Prospects for the promotion of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and the UK’s potential role in these efforts.
c) The implications of a non-nuclear defence posture for the UK on conventional defence capabilities and the UK’s place in the world, including its contribution to the security of Europe through NATO.
d) The scope for and implications of a scaled-down nuclear deterrent.
e) Independent costings of options.
3. Bring a policy paper back for debate at Conference within 18 months, including if necessary options for conference to decide.

7 Conference therefore calls for the plans to renew the Trident system to
8 be scrapped, and for the earliest decommissioning of the existing Trident
9 forces.

So what (by a narrow margin) has the Lib Dem conference just actually decided?

"Helpful and Appropriate"

“Helpful and Appropriate” is rather in the eye of the beholder, one feels.

Well, if one looks at the lines deleted by the “wrecking” amendment, one can now see that Conference decided by default that Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons IS appropriate and helpful to today’s needs.

Yes, to be sure, the amendment opposes “like for like” replacement of Trident, but this was essentially just whitewash. What the amendment specifically allows for is Trident’s replacement by another nuclear weapons system.

The clear implication in the terms for the future enquiry that is now proposed (which will, of course, be utterly irrelevant to the real world as it will take place AFTER the British Government makes it’s decision, a point that can not have escaped the understanding of those drafting the amendment) is that the UK’s place in the world will be somehow diminished by it not possessing nuclear weapons, and that its contribution to the security of Europe would be similarly diminished. in other words, in the event of external aggression to the continent of Europe, the party believes it would be a sensible option to drop nuclear weapons on Europe’s borders.

Which leaves the party – now led by an evangelical Christian who says he would never launch the weapons if he had the choice – in the curious position for a supposedly radical party of supporting the idea of Britain independently attacking someone (presumably Russia) with weapons of mass destruction that would slaughter umpteen millions of innocent children, men and women civilians.

The Liberal Democrats (of which the author of this article is a member, and has been a member, with a few stutters, over 40 years) is a party that has become largely irrelevant to the mainstream political process through a disastrous collapse of its support that shows little imminent signs of turning around, and which is generally full of nice, somewhat wooly-minded middle class people who largely think they sit in the middle ground of politics, full of rational discussion and mutual respect and eschewing the nasty tribalism of the left and right.

Nevertheless, despite it’s historical weaknesses, and it’s current electoral nadir, the party has always played – and it would be good to think will continue to play – a useful national and international role as an incubator of good ideas, as provokers of attention to issues that other parties largely ignore, and of a group of people who are less hidebound by “that’s the way it’s always been done” than most. In the past, when it’s level of elected support was about where it is now, the Party nevertheless “punched above its weight” in this regard. The party also keeps alive an affection for ideals of political plurality, free speech, and individual liberty, both economic and social.

trident_2469358bBut given the chance to dramatically play that role now by arguing that Britain should lead the stalled world disarmament process, what they have just done, in reality – because of the inexorable timetable for the Trident replacement decision – is actually to fall in lock-step behind a radical right-wing Conservative Government that would never consider Britain giving up nuclear weapons in a pink fit.

As a result, they will now inevitably be outflanked on one of the most vital decisions facing the country in the coming little while by the new left-wing leadership of the Labour Party, and by the surging Scottish Nationalists, and will inevitably be seen by the public to be dithering over a crucial moral and strategic issue when the Government inevitably acts.

The membership should be under no misapprehension: the Liberal Democrats just missed a huge opportunity to provide their party with the distinctiveness that they need if they are ever to reclaim any real degree of power at local, European and Westminster levels, and an equally significant opportunity to provide moral leadership to the multilateral disarmament efforts that the world has largely abandoned in recent years, which they would have achieved by stating “we do not need these bombs, we reject their use, we cannot afford them, and we will seek other ways to relate to the world around us”.

New Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron

New Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron

Responsibility for those missed opportunities lies directly with the new Leader of the party, Tim Farron, and those with their hands on the levers of power inside the party who advised him to make this matter a “test” of his leadership, and then made that argument directly to members in a variety of ways.

In truth, Farron arguing that he wanted a “full debate” before a decision is taken is a complete furphy, a fig leaf to cover the moral cowardice of the amendment. Or, as one Lib Dem speaker in the debate, Reece Edmends put it, “If you support nuclear weapons, if you want one, two, three or four subs, have the intellectual honesty to say so.”

The speakers in favour of the amendment largely did not state their preference for keeping nuclear weapons clearly. One complete piece of intellectual dishonesty was an argument that the Ukraine had just given up nuclear weapons and been invaded (albeit in a very limited way) by Russia. So what exactly were those speakers arguing? That Ukraine should have attacked Russia with nuclear weapons? To have done so would not only have been ludicrously disproportionate, but would have invited an immediate and overwhelming response from Russia that would have obliterated Ukraine from the map. Which neatly encapsulates, of course, the complete pointlessness of spending 8% of your GDP on nuclear weapons, as Britain does. You can’t actually use them. Ever. Even in a real fighting war.

There were also dark warnings about Russian expansionism, despite the fact that as we have shown with historic detail, the Russian action in Crimea was proportionate, discrete and nuanced.

We have a lot of time for Farron, but we are disappointed and worried by his actions in this case. Shock and dismay at his position is already evident on the activist wing of the party, and he will need to somehow heal the breach he has now opened with those who were his most fervent supporters for the Leadership.

What he and others clearly thought was if the party committed itself to disarmament of Britain’s independent nuclear weaponry they would be castigated as “irresponsible” or “too left wing”. Now they will be castigated as mere ditherers. Had they allowed the original motion to stand they would have been able to make the case for the scrapping of Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile between now and when the decision will be made, putting useful light and space between them and David Cameron’s increasingly nationalistic and unpleasant Government.

Such moral determination might just have ameliorated the Government’s intentions somewhat, although the idea that it would turn around their view in toto is probably fanciful and this writer would not argue that case. In reality, what the Lib Dems think or do at the moment doesn’t currently matter much more than a reasonably small hill of beans. But any decision to replace Trident made in 2016 will still be in its early stages of implementation by the time of the next General Election in 2020. That would have given the Lib Dems, along with others, four years and innumerable opportunities to win the national debate, and possibly the next election.

But they squibbed it, and the party – chock full of new respectful members – let them.

As we said back in July, "if this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ..."

As we said back in July, “If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …”

We have long been a supporter on this blog of the urbane character (and political philosophy) of Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull.

We predicted, regularly, (some would say, ad nauseam), that Tony Abbott would not make it to the next election, and we were beating that drum longer and harder than most, and that the very talented Turnbull would replace him.

So why were we so sure?

The answer is easy. As Prime Minister, from Day 1, Abbott was hoist by his own petard.

The very same ability that made him able to connect with the people over the terminally unpopular Gillard and Rudd governments – the ability to coin simple, aggressive phrases that seemed to sum everything up – was exactly the wrong ability to bring to The Lodge.

It is easily forgotten that Abbott did not really win the last election. Labor lost it, through a hideous morassive mixture of internicene squabbling, incompetence, and failure. In reality, this was the most “drover’s dog” election since Hawke defeated Fraser.

Here are the psychological moments that killed Abbott’s leadership:

The flags

flagsSurrounding himself with the Australian flag as he constantly “stuck to message” on combatting the “death cult” of Daesh (ISIS) didn’t ring true with the Australian people, even as they simultaneously and constantly noted his “strength” on defence and security issues.

But Abbott was badly advised. The ridiculous tableaux-style presentations smacked of a gung-ho triumphalism that sat badly – deep down – with a people who have proportionately suffered more in war than most Western nations, and who understand that sending young Australians overseas to fight wars should never be a cause for celebration, even mutedly, and especially not in a manner that smacked of Americanism. He struck the wrong note, time and again, as social media went into overdrive wondering how many flags he could squeeze into every press conference. Would the photographers need to start using wide angle lenses?

In advertising we have a phrase to condemn clumsy communications. “Ooops, your strategy is showing.” While the flags were symbolic – and not in the way Abbott intended – the continual harping on about the threats to Australia eventually started to rebound on Abbott. That the PM’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and her crew couldn’t see that happening was just one of many mis-steps the Abbott team made.

Slugging pensioners to visit their Doctor

patient doctorThere is no question that Australia’s admirably robust health system is low on cash. The problem will have to be addressed.

Attempting to plug the gaps by hitting the poorest and most vulnerable customers of the system – who were over-heavily represented in the supporters of the Government – was an idiocy of breathtaking proportions.

The Paid Parental Leave Scheme nobody asked for, or wanted

baby-money1Way to go Tony.

Announce an unfunded, wildly generous and extravagant scheme without any thought to how it could be implemented or even whether your own party agrees.

Then dump it when the very people it was supposed to help make it perfectly clear they think it’s madness, and anyway what they really want is more childcare places, not money in their pockets, because no matter how much money they’ve got they can’t find a child centre with room for little Johnny and Jane.

Big thinking, for sure.

Just big dumb thinking.

It makes you sick

budget cuts health spending doctor holding piggypankDespite promising – repeatedly – before being elected that he would not cut health spending, Abbott duly introduced a vast range of cuts to the health budget.

Each one upset someone.

There’s no easy way to trim expenditure on health spending. But usually the public want to see it balanced by reinvestment in more modern facilities, in more efficient care, in better health outcomes. This was the story Abbott abysmally failed to sell.

Oi! That’s my tele you’re messin’ with, bro.

logos abc sbsAbbott swore he wouldn’t inflict cuts on the ABC and SBS, both of which are national icons and hugely appreciated.

In the event, he cut $43.5 million from them. Needless to say the networks reported the pain, again and again.

It was not a big enough cut to make any major difference to the national plenty, but plenty big enough to hurt the corporations and enrage their loyal audiences. So why do it? Only Tony can answer that for you.

Children in detention

Abbott and his advisors were right that Australians, taken as a mass, were and are deeply concerned about refugee arrivals. Australians are a long way from anywhere, feel isolated in a sea of Asian countries, and from “the Yellow peril” onwards the population has had a dichotimal view of immigration.

kidsWhen you add to that emotional confusion the horrors of the live trade in people across the storm-plagued seas around Aussie shores, “Stop the Boats” was a popular policy.

What was not popular, though, was the government’s tight-lipped refusal to comment on “operational matters”, for which the arguments were weakly made, and which simply made them look simply shifty and secretive. Why should we not know what was being done in our name?

What was not popular was the refusal to let journalists into the detention centres on tropical northern island nations from which leaked continual stories of mental illness, suicide, clashes with the locals, murder, rape, and worst of all, the distress of children left to rot behind barbed wire.

Australians are a generous and compassionate people. They might want to stop the boats, they were much less comfortable with the inevitable out-workings of that policy.

“Shirt fronting” Vladimir Putin

putinOutrage over the shooting down of MH17 by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine was real and universal.

But as further evidence that Abbott could turn any gold into dross, his blokey threat to “shirt front” Russian president Putin just made him – and the country – look ridiculous.

When what was needed was austere, cold anger and statesmanlike comments, what we got was a one-time amateur boxer sounding like he was still holding court in the Students’ Union bar.

Captain’s Picks

It is hard to overstate the utter derision of the Australian people at Abbott’s repeated preference for thought bubbles, publicly announced, over carefully-plotted policy.

pphillipWhen he revived Imperial Knighthoods people snorted in disgust. They are – and were always – a rotten echo of a colonial era that Australia has long since rejected.

At a stroke, he made himself look ridiculous – and looking ridiculous is the most damaging thing any politician can do to him or herself.

When he then proceeded to announce that his first choice for a knighthood was Prince Phillip, the die was cast. It was weeks before the hoo-ha died down, sucking vital oxygen from the Government’s agenda.

We’ve upset the old. Now let’s upset the young. Oh, and their folks.

student-loansAbbott forced students to repay their debt earlier by lowering the wage they need to earn before payments kick in and increased student debt by increasing the interest on their fees.

It wasn’t just the youngsters who were pissed off.

Up and down the country their middle class parents – most of whom remembered the days of free tertiary education they enjoyed, and which they knew full well current Government Ministers had enjoyed as well – were depressed and irritated too.

All they saw was life becoming even more un-affordable for their offspring, which would inevitably increase the burden on them too. The dramatic unaffordability of the first home market didn’t help.

The “economic crisis” disconnect

Abbott came to power talking about the “structural deficit” in the Australian budget, as an excuse for a stingingly brutal first budget which was duly heroically mishandled by both himself and Joe Hockey.

BBQWhilst things hadn’t been exactly looking financially blooming for most Australians, in reality people were feeling reasonably well off.

To get people to go along with the budget, Abbott desperately needed to convince people that a Government taking in less money than it gives out – permanently – was an unsustainable proposition.

At the time, we advised him to focus on the credit card argument – to wit, you can’t live “on tick” forever, sooner or later the credit card payment falls due. Instead, demonstrating the tone deafness which characterised his hold on the highest office in the land, Abbott comprehensively failed to explain why such a dramatically recessionary budget was necessary. That failure to engage was the moment his fate was ultimately sealed, because so much else flowed from that glaring failure.

Abbott isn’t now out of power because of Turnbull’s shenanigins or, indeed, a “febrile” media or any other excuse. He’s out of power because he just wasn’t very good at his job.

Which will be the hardest thing of all, we are sure, for this intensely driven and self-critical man to accept.

We will now make our first prediction of this new era.

The Liberal/National Coalition will win the next Federal Election. You heard it here first.


Musings by George Polley

Musings by George Polley

The Melodramatic Confessions of Carla Louise

Love, loss, friendship, fashion, teaching and pain.

Draw the Blinds

Creative Writing- Melbourne

matteringsofmind

Wondering how God could have got all this into such a short Tale

Well, This Is What I Think

The name of the blog says it all, really. My take on interesting stuff + useful re-posts :-)

wandering through her soul

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" - Anais Nin

The Blurred Line

It's the thin line between reality and fantasy. It's the thin line between sanity and madness. It's the crazy things that make us think, laugh and scream in the dark.

Jenie Yolland Glass Artist

Showcasing the designs of an Australian glass artist

A Life I Used To Live

So when the world knocks at your front door, clutch the knob and open on up, running forward into its widespread greeting arms with your hands before you, fingertips trembling though they may be. Anis Mojgani

Rosie Waterland

Rosie Waterland is a writer based in Sydney. She finds her own jokes particularly hilarious.

Miss Snarky Pants

A Humor Blog For Horrible People

Sweet Mother

Where my Old writing lives!

Manage By Walking Around

Aligning Execution With Strategy

Fibromy-Awesome

...Still Taking Roughly 25 Pills a Day. Boom I guess.

Emily L. Hauser - In My Head

Writer, social activist, a lot of Israel/Palestine, and general mental rambling

Me 2.0

If necessity is the mother of invention, then divorce is the mother of re-invention...

Speaker7

speaks to the masses of people not reading this blog

%d bloggers like this: