Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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

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

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

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

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

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reporting from AAP and others)

Can you say "Delusional"?

Can you say “Delusional”?

Yes, we know we sound like a cracked record. We keep blathering on about the fact that the GOP is living in cloud cuckoo land.

But as far as we are concerned, the collapse of one half of America’s political system into internal civil war, the result of which is holding the whole of Congress and government to ransom, not to mention costing a small fortune and throwing innumerable people out of work, is genuinely worrying.

Here’s another example. Two of the most senior Republicans talking utter, patent nonsense to each other, caught on a so-called “Hot mic”. Rachel Maddow’s comments on the incident are a short, telling, and utterly required read.

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/10/03/20805052-paul-caught-on-hot-mic-were-gonna-win-this-i-think?lite

You can either watch this very revealing video over at Rachel Maddow’s site, or here.

And before someone says, “What’s it got to do with Australia?” the simple answer is “If the Americans don’t get back to governing themselves, and especially if they don’t agree a new debt ceiling and damned fast, they may default on their borrowing and usher in a Global Financial Crisis that would make the last one look like a bloody tea party.” Pun intended.

The only good that will come of all this nonsense is that as the weeks and months pass, it will become increasingly clear to Americans both that Obamacare is actually a great reform – flawed, but a huge step forward – and at the same time that the Republicans are really going slightly barmy, refusing to accept a bill that was been freely passed three years ago, the implementation of which an election was (emphatically) won on, and which the Supreme Court (packed with Conservatives, by the way) has said is legal.

These factors combined may clean the worst of the right wing loonies out of the GOP, starting with the mid-terms in 2014.

Let’s just hope we still have a world economy by then.

micheleAs noted by Talking Points Memo, last weekend Michelle Bachmann unwittingly revealed exactly what’s wrong with the GOP’s approach to negotiation with the President and the Democrats, how ruthless the Republicans really are, and how they are prepared to put their personal political agenda ahead of the country’s needs – even to the point of shutting down Government, at huge cost – personal and financial – to many of the American people.

Here’s what the genuinely awful Bachmann said to the Washington Examiner, explaining why she and other far-right Conservatives do not fear a Government shutdown. The bottom line is: They think this is their chance to stop “Obamacare”.

“There is a very large group of us who believe that this is it, this isn’t just another year, this isn’t just another CR fight,” Bachmann told the Examiner’s Byron York. “This is historic, and it’s a historic shift that’s about to happen, and if we’re going to fight, we need to fight now.”

“This isn’t just another bill,” Bachmann said. “This isn’t load limits on turnip trucks that we’re talking about. This is consequential. And I think the reason why you’ve come to this flash point is that this is an extremely consequential bill that will impact every American, and that’s why you have such passionate opinions. And we’re not giving up and we’re not caving in that easily.”

Bachmann also – in her terms – dismissed concerns about congressional brinksmanship, which some contend has a negative effect on the U.S. economy.

“I don’t get upset about brinksmanship,” she said. “That’s what negotiation is. I was a federal tax lawyer. That’s all I did – negotiation. And in negotiation, you usually don’t get anywhere until the final five minutes, and then everybody realises OK, we’re going to have to break and actually make this thing happen. That’s how negotiation works.”

Well, Wellthisiswhatithink has a message for Bachmann. That is not what negotiation is about, nor how it works well.

That’s called “oppositional disorder”. And if that’s what you learned as a lawyer, well, it’s just one more testament to the sick state of the American legal system. Of course, you did work for the IRS, so renowned for understanding the other side’s point of view in any dispute.

Anyhow: you are opining that you refuse to concede anything until the very last moment. Yet even then, there is no overt commitment that your side will be making concessions, too. That’s why this style of negotiation is called “Win-Lose” – for this negotiation to work, you are essentially saying, then “you”, my opponent, have to give in, and I have to win. That’s only one type of negotiation, Congresswoman, and it’s a pretty poor one.

That level of aggression in negotiations characterises people who do not really care about compromise, who don’t much care about the consequences of their own actions, and are prepared to push the point so far that they may end up walking away rather than concede anything.

It’s macho negotiating – old fashioned, full of bull**** posturing and usually limited to what Americans charmingly (and accurately) describe as “dick swinging exercises”.

How sad it is that a certain type of woman in politics seems particularly enthusiastic to engage in such nonsense … they seem determined to outdo the men in their obduracy. Bachmann, Palin, Thatcher, Gandhi, Bandaranaike. The list is unedifying, and it usually ends in tears. As opposed, say, to the example set by women like Golda Meir or Aung San Suu Kyi, who both combined genuine toughness of resolve and political skill without any apparent need to ape the worst excesses of testosterone fuelled nonsense from their male colleagues.

(Indeed, and notably, when millions of Arabs departed the newly formed State of Israel in 1948, Meir memorably called the exodus “a disaster”. What a difference to the current Israeli leadership.)

Anyway, a Win-Lose strategy, also known as distributive bargaining, is based on an attempt to divide up an amount of resources, resulting in a win-lose situation. When choosing this strategy, one always takes on an adversarial or competitive view. The focus is on achieving immediate goals, with little or no regard for building future relationships. Little time or energy is needed in resolving conflicts using a win-lose strategy, because few if any creative solutions are considered.

Bachmann and her Tea Party colleagues are crossing their fingers and hoping they don't wear the blame if Government gets shut down. In our estimation, they're wrong.

Bachmann and her Tea Party colleagues are crossing their fingers and hoping they don’t wear the blame if Government gets shut down. In our estimation, they’re very wrong.

Generally, one or two fixed solutions are presented and a decision or choice is expected almost immediately.

Some negotiators that employ the win-lose strategy engage in manipulative tactics to trick or force the other party into a decision. In this regard, Rachel Maddow’s argument that the Republicans have been set on this course for more than five months is instructive.

This strategy is only ever of any use in situations where achieving short-term goals is more important than maintaining or building a long-term relationship. Think about it this way. If one member of a couple was using this strategy to decide what to watch on TV, one of them would more than likely say something like, “This is the movie I want to see. Take it or leave it.” There would be no real discussion about the wants and interests of both parties. The resolution would be reached either by diktat or after some fierce arguing. Good luck resolving the next discussion happily.

A Win-Win strategy on the other hand – this strategy is also known as integrative bargaining by the way – focuses on both parties achieving their primary objectives without either feeling they lost. Prior to going into a negotiation you must choose if this is the strategy you want to take on. The goal is to collaborate and generate one or more creative solutions that are acceptable to both parties. This strategy takes more time and effort to prepare for, but allows you to continue on a long-term relationship with the other party long after the negotiation is over.

The problem for America, and for the Republicans, is that because the Republican base has move markedly towards the extreme right, they cannot start to construct such a strategy with POTUS, the Executive, and the Democrats because they essentially refuse to countenance the basic tenet of the Affordable Care act, which is that all Americans should have, as a basic legal right, access to affordable healthcare.

A more logical (and centrist) position for the Republicans to hold (unless they think shutting down Government is going to do them good in the 2014 elections, in which case, good luck to them and goodbye) would be something along the lines of:

“Well, Mr President, it’s been a long road, and we wouldn’t have done this ourselves, but we respect the fact that you won the election fair and square, and in the richest country in the world we agree it’s time we did something to bring everyone into the healthcare fold. But we think “Obamacare” as it’s currently constituted is overly complicated, it has made some people who can’t afford it losers not winners, and small business has genuine concerns about the effect on employment. We know you’re determined to go ahead with the change, so we’ll fund it so long as you give more businesses than you have at the moment a year’s delay, and you also give us a real chance to make valuable amendments in the next six months. It’s going to be nitty-gritty line by line stuff, but we promise we won’t try and gut the bill, and we’ll say so publicly.”

That’s what they would say if they were genuinely negotiating. But they haven’t. And in our estimation they aren’t negotiating in good faith, and they won’t. And in refusing to do so, we strongly suspect they are signing their own political suicide note. Because there is also what’s known as a Lose-Lose negotiation, of course, Ms Bachmann: and that’s when the negotiation founders almost immediately because of a total lack of willpower on both sides, and no one wins really anything.

If America goes into shutdown, the GOP will be castigated for precipitating an avoidable budget crisis by a public that is undoubtedly uncertain about Obamacare, but in repeated polls seem to also be saying “We’ll give it a go, we’ve come this far, we need to work out what it means for us personally, before we make a final call.”

In failing to recognise that, the Republican Party is showing once again that it has apparently irrevocably lost its political antennae. Thoroughly lost its way. And as such, it is in danger of losing all relevance to all except the most right wing Americans when they oppose with such implacable illogic a reform which is clearly designed to help those least able to protect their own interests, even if the legislation is flawed.

You heard it here first.

Note: Michelle Bachmann has announced she is not running for Congress in 2014. So it’s no skin off her nose if the whole thing turns to s***.

Troy Davis & his family

Troy Davis and his family in a picture taken before the prison cut off “contact visits.”

Two days ago – incredibly, really, as it seems like just yesterday – it was two years since The State of Georgia, and America, put an innocent man to death.

Two years that Troy Davis and his family have had robbed from them. Two years of mourning.

Two years since the largest ever worldwide campaign for an innocent man to be freed when his conviction was obviously flawed was completely ignored by the parole institutions in Georgia, the Georgia Governor, the Supreme Court of the USA, and ultimately, President Obama. Two years when the State of Georgia knew better than a former head of the FBI, former president Jimmy Carter, 35 members of Congress, and even the Pope.

Not to mention petitions with literally millions of signatures on them.

That’s how obdurate the desire to kill an innocent man was.

Two years in which the anger has not dimmed.

In Troy’s memory – if you signed a petition, if you stood with a placard, if you wrote letters or emails, if you called your representative, if you commented on Facebook, if you stood vigil, if you cried – now you can continue your personal witness and purchase I Am Troy Davis, published this week and written by Jen Marlowe and Troy’s sister, Martina Correia-Davis, who died of breast cancer soon after her brother was killed.

It’s the story of Troy, his remarkable family, and the on-going struggle to end the death penalty.

Can’t say it better than Susan Sarandon: “I Am Troy Davis is a painful yet very important book” — unless it’s Maya Angelou: “Here is a shout for human rights and for the abolition of the death penalty. This book, I Am Troy Davis,should be read and cherished.”

The book tells the intimate story of an ordinary man caught up in an inexorable tragedy. From his childhood in racially-charged Savannah; to the confused events that led to the 1989 shooting of a police officer; to Davis’ sudden arrest, conviction, and two-decade fight to prove his innocence; I Am Troy Davis takes us inside a broken legal system where life and death hangs in the balance. It is also an inspiring testament to the unbreakable bond of family, to the resilience of love, and that even when you reach the end of justice, voices from across the world will rise together in chorus and proclaim, “I am Troy Davis”, I stand with you.

eve

“This book will devastate you …” Eve Ensler

If you make your purchase through the non-profit publisher, Haymarket Books, it’ll cost you just $18 to commemorate one man’s courageous yet ultimately tragic fight for justice.

And, by doing so, to make your personal stand against a justice system which is laughingly labyrinthine and slow, where process regularly overpowers any consideration of issues of right or wrong, where the application of the death penalty is obviously biased heavily against racial minorities, and which regularly has executed, and still does execute, innocent people.

A place, in other words, where “And justice for all” is clearly a sick joke. If that’s not what you want America to be, then buy the book. Buy it for friends. Buy it and donate it to your local library, or school. Buy it.

I am still Troy Davis.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action - the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action – the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

With his “red line” commitment, and the likely imminent bombing of Syria, Obama may have committed the worst blunder of what has in many ways been a Presidency mired in lost opportunities and disappointment.

When all’s said and done, it was never likely that Obama’s incumbency would reach the height of expectation generated by his first election victory.

And the economic crisis he had to deal with – and which he handled with some aplomb despite the criticism of an ornery Congress and the rabid right in America – dominated his first term.

Yet as we go along, there were also worrying signs that Obama lacks any genuine understanding of his role as a centre-left reformer on vital civil liberties issues.

He didn’t close Guantanamo as he promised to – but why? Was there ever any real doubt that Guantanamo inmates could be housed humanely and safely in America? No.

Just one of the many blight's on Obama's record as a small "d" democrat,

Just one of the many blights on Obama’s record as a small “d” democrat.

After years of incarceration, he has not released Guantanamo inmates who have been shown by any reasonable standard, including the opinion of the Administration, to be innocent of any crime. And trials of those considered guilty seem endlessly delayed.

Guilty as hell they might be, but justice delayed is justice denied, no matter who the defendant is.

He has not intervened to pardon whistleblower Bradley Manning, a principled if somewhat naive young person who many consider a hero.

He has argued it is acceptable for the Administration to kill US citizens without trial, via drone strikes, even within the USA’s borders if necessary. (You can’t even lock people up without trial, but you can execute them, apparently.)

For all his posturing, he has failed to act effectively on gun control.

He has done nothing to persuade states to drop the death penalty, nor has he intervened in cases where it is patently obvious that the soon-to-be-executed prisoner is innocent.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn't.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn’t.

He has continued – indeed, increased – drone strikes in countries nominally allied to the USA, despite their counter-productive effect on local opinion.

And now, faced with worldwide concern that we might be about to slip into a morass from which our exit is entirely uncertain, he seems determined to bomb the hell out of Damascus.

Current plans involve nearly 200 cruise missiles being dropped on the poor, benighted citizens of that beleaguered city.

(And that doesn’t count the payload of war planes that were yesterday landing at a rate of one every minute in Malta, according to one correspondent we have.)

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

Large scale civilian casualties will be brushed off by everyone as “sad but inevitable” except, of course, by the vast majority of the Arab and mid-East populace, already instinctive opponents of America, who will become, without doubt, angrier at the US and the West than ever, whatever they think of Assad.

Meanwhile, rumours continue to swirl unabated that the gas attack in the city was nothing to do with the regime, and could even have been an appalling accident from stocks held by rebel forces.

The US claims to have evidence of rockets being prepared with gas by the regime, but as this article argues, then why on earth not release that evidence?

We also have previous evidence that Syrian rebels have used gas themselves.

We have the persistent assertion that neo-cons have been planning to use Syria as just one more stepping stone to Mid-East hegemony, and that current alarums are just part of a long-range plan to hop into Syria on the way to Iran, as disclosed by retired general Wesley Clarke, presumably to depose the theocratic Islamic regime and grab the Iranian oilfields at the same time.

The fog generated by the secret state also makes it completely impossible to discern what was really going on when the Daily Mail first printed, then retracted as libellous (paying damages), an article about a British defence contractor revealing plans for a false flag gas attack on Syria.

So now, on the brink of war, we have the Obama government refusing to release all the facts that it is showing to members of Congress.

We can only ask “Why?”

If the case against the Assad regime stacks up, then the world – especially those in the mid East – need to know it before any action takes place. So does the UN, whether or not the Security Council can be persuaded to unanimity. (Extremely unlikely.) Because after Damascus is reduced to a smoking ruin will be too late to save the West’s credibility if it acts prematurely, or without irrefutable evidence.

And forgive us, but politicians reassuring us that the evidence is irrefutable just doesn’t cut it any more.

The continual accusation that something murky is going on will bedevil Obama unless this whole situation is conducted with total transparency. Memories of the “sexed up” dossier that led to the bloody war in Iraq (casualties 500,000 and counting) are still raw and fresh.

If he cares less about his legacy, Obama would do well to observe how Bush’s and Blair’s reputations have been forever trashed by that event. The tags “aggressors” and “war criminals” will follow them to their grave and beyond.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That's what you have to tell us.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That’s what you have to tell us.

As far as Wellthisiswhatithink is concerned, one piece of commonsense reasoning stands out for us above all others, fundamentally requiring an answer.

Obama had issued his red line warning. Why, in the name of all that is sensible, would Assad risk bringing down the wrath of Nato on his head by flinging chemical weapons at a relatively unimportant residential suburb, knowing full well what the response would be?

The war in Syria is a stalemate, his regime has suffered some losses but also some gains, and there is no evidence his personal grip on power was threatened. Why would this turkey vote for Christmas?

On the other hand, if a rogue Syrian officer wanted to aid the rebel cause, then what better way than to launch an attack which was guaranteed to provoke the West’s intervention, and possibly tip the scales emphatically in the rebel’s direction, something they seem unable to achieve for themselves?

As we contemplate the utter and ultimately murderous failure of diplomacy, we feel constrained to point out that the West – and all the other players like Russia – had a simple solution to the Syrian conflict available on the 23rd December 2011, while casualties were still horrific but minimal (just over 6,000), and before another civilian population had been utterly torn apart and traumatised.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

We offered it in an article that explained patiently that there cannot be a solution to the Syrian crisis unless the leaders of the Baa’thist regime are offered a safe haven somewhere (either Russia or Iran, in all likelihood) and also pointed that we would need to keep the bulk of the civil administration in place even after a handover to the Syrian opposition, in order to prevent a complete breakdown in civil society as occurred in Iraq. And, of course, to prevent handing over power to the appalling al-Qaeda forces that were swarming into the conflict on the rebel side.

Now, thanks either to the complete ineptitude of Western politicians, or due to some hazy conspiracy the details of which we cannot clearly discern, we have the ultimate disaster on our hands.

One hundred thousand men, women and children who are NOT combatants are dead, and countless others injured.

Assad is weakened but has no way out.

The Opposition is in thrall to murderous savages that cut the heads off innocent people with pocket knives and shoot soldiers captured on the battlefront.

And we are about to waste hundreds of millions of dollars that we don’t have “taking out” Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles which, in reality, means taking out civilian neighbourhoods with yet more horrendous losses while the Syrian Government squirrel any WMDs they do have deep underground where they can’t be found, let alone bombed.

As the new Australian Prime minister Tony Abbott presciently remarked a few days ago, our choice in Syria is really between “baddies and baddies”.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott's common touch pitched it about right.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott’s common touch pitched it about right.

He was criticised for dismissing the conflict so colloquially, but frankly we think he deserves to be applauded for putting it so simply. We may well be about to intervene on behalf of one baddie, when the other baddie is at least as bad, if not worse.

And we do not refer, of course, to the principled, secular and democratic Syrian opposition that has bravely argued for regime change for a generation, but for the lunatics who would hijack their cause in the chaos.

And we are not even allowed to see the evidence for the upcoming attack. We repeat: why?

So much for democracy. So much for humanity. So much for truth and justice. Meanwhile, let’s feed the population bread and circuses – a steady diet of game shows, reality TV and talent quests, with some sport thrown in – let us anaesthetise our sensibilities to the hideous nature of what is about to happen – while the real powers behind the throne seemingly effortlessly manoeuvre public opinion in a relentless search for power, personal wealth and to justify corporate greed.

Frankly, always more of a fan of the cock-up theory of public administration (that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) we are actually beginning to sense that the shadow state is more real than any of us beyond the wildest conspiracy theorists ever truly imagined.

And we are also so very grateful that we do not live in a country with major oil fields.

His administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Declassified CIA reports reveal that his administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Last but by no means least: how do you like the hypocrisy of flattening Syria for theoretically using chemical weapons – although we are not allowed to see the proof – that actually might well have made their way to Assad via Saddam Hussein, that were originally cheerfully supplied to him by America, to chuck at Iranian troops in the Iraq-Iran war?

That’s when Saddam was still our good ol’ buddy, remember. Before he got a bit uppity.

Those weapons – which the dictator was actively urged to use by America backed up by American supplied intelligence – killed tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people.

But that’d be wrong, right?

Sorry, my brain hurts.

It is always a matter of amazement to many that in the richest country in the world, so many live in grinding poverty, and many of those people are in work. Yet every move to raise the minimum wage for workers is met with howls of protest. (And not just in America: the syndrome is repeated everywhere.) But this pic illustrates how the public in America misunderstand what’s really at stake, as opposed to the populist bias against low paid workers.

Makes one think. no?

Makes one think. no?

In a general sense, it has always fascinated me how every rise in the standards for the poorest working people is invariably met with two canards from the politico-business community … “People will lose their jobs, employers wont be able to afford it!” and “the market should decide!”

Lloyd George and Churchill, then allies in the Liberal Party, shared a reforming zeal.

Lloyd George and Churchill, then allies in the Liberal Party, shared a reforming zeal.

Those were exactly the cries when David Lloyd George introduced the People’s Budget in the UK over a hundred years ago, and again when the UK brought in National Insurance … and you hear the same waffle today about Obamacare – not from those who will benefit, of course, but from those to whom it doesn’t matter, directed against those for whom it desperately does.

But time and again, when working people DO make an advance, people aren’t thrown out of work, businesses somehow keep making mega bucks, and we also know that left to its own devices the market invariably acts as if workers have no real rights or needs at all.

I think we need to seize back these debates in our own homes, around our own dinner tables, and with our friends and neighbours and work colleagues. In short, it’s time we recovered our decency.

We seem somehow to have lost, more’s the pity, the simple idea that it is the legitimate role of the state – acting collectively on our behalf – to support and empower the least powerful in our community, not with hand outs, but with hand ups. So they may look after their own, and so they may make a full-hearted contribution to our society and our economy. The most important hand up you can give anyone is a job, with a reasonable living wage.

I grew up as a member of the working poor, albeit in a nice neighbourhood of a genteel seaside town.

My father died when I was 2. Mum had little or no money put by, and worked long hours to ensure we had everything we needed. My older (adult) brother, who had fallen on his feet, topped up our household income, or we would have been in dire straights indeed.

From the age of 14, I never had a school holiday when I didn’t work. I wasn’t working for pocket money. I was working to make a genuine contribution to our household income. I was a part-time wage earner: my age was irrelevant.

Never asked for charity, nor yet social security. Just wanted a decent days pay for a decent day's work. When did we give up on that principle?

Never asked for charity, nor yet social security. Just wanted a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work. When did we give up on that principle?

I delivered papers, got up at 4 am and worked as a relief postman, made what must have added up to millions of cups of tea in beach cafes, sold ice-creams in a booth that was five feet by six feet in which I worked an eight hour day sometimes in blistering heat, then changed my togs and toted baskets of prawns and cockles around pubs late at night, worked as a sous-chef (including on Christmas Day), and so on.

I never took one penny of social security money.

But then, as today, I was grateful for legislation that guaranteed that I was not working for slave wages, and for trade unions who loomed in the background like avenging angels, the very mention of which would ensure management would not seek to “put one over on us”.

And assuredly, sometimes those unions went too far, or were needlessly obstructive. But many times a local union rep was a decent fellow who had a fair working relationship with the local boss, and they would work things through in a good natured way, and those with no stake beyond their labour were thus de-marginalised, brought into the process, and consulted.

My mother proudly noted that we never took a cent from any other member of the family other than my brother, and there were plenty of Uncles who could have chucked in a few bob and never noticed.

“Everything you’ve got, we paid for.” she would say, with a steely glint in her eye. “Never forget, Son, love them all you want, like I do, but you owe them nothing.”

Concern about low pay led to an unprecedented call for fast food workers in the USA to strike on August 29

Concern about low pay led to an unprecedented call for fast food workers in the USA to strike on August 29

It was that sort of home. Even then, as a die-hard lifelong Conservative, she was nevertheless deeply grateful for the representation she received at work from her Union, believing that she paid her dues uncomplainingly and deserved good representation.

As right-wing as they came, she simply didn’t trust employers to do the right thing spontaneously out of the goodness of their hearts: my Mum was nothing if not a realist.

When Friedmanite economics and the new Right (backed by the new Left, who should have known better) swept away many of these protections – when we were all, suddenly, free market capitalists – we may well have made the world more efficient. But we also made it colder, and less humane. We lost something of ourselves.

We lost our decency. Collectively. And we should all stand up and say so.

Over 100 years ago, when he introduced the People’s Budget in 1909, Lloyd George said:

“This is a war Budget. It is for raising money to wage implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness. I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests”.

As we schlep wearily into the last ten days of a general election campaign in Australia between two essentially identical right wing parties, that’s the type of stuff I want to hear from my political leaders, and leaders around the world.

Whatever happened to waging “implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness”, huh?

If you want to know what it’s like for a working adult male to try and live on or just above the minimum wage in America, click this link. Oh, and by the way? McDonalds made over $5.5 billion last year.

"I was taken out of context." Yeah, right.

“I was taken out of context.” Yeah, right.

From the Rachel Maddow blog:

Radical TV preacher Pat Robertson has made a career out of making ridiculous comments, but yesterday, the televangelist broke new ground on his own Christian Broadcasting Network.

For those who can’t watch clips online (or if this clip is removed from YouTube before I can find a replacement), Right Wing Watch spotted a doozy: Robertson told his viewers that that gay men in cities like San Francisco attempt to spread HIV/AIDS to others by cutting them with a special ring when shaking hands.

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen seemed to want to move the conversation along, but Robertson stuck to his crazy guns. “You know what they do in San Francisco, some in the gay community there they want to get people so if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger,” the TV preacher said.

“Really?” Meeuwsen asked, incredulously. “Yes, really,” Robertson replied.

And while the televangelist’s over-the-top rhetoric is painfully common, this one was especially interesting because of what happened next.

After Robertson’s comments were aired, the Christian Broadcasting Network posted the episode online — but edited out this portion of the program.

In other words, Robertson’s anti-gay hysteria was so ridiculous, even his own network was reluctant to allow people to see it. Indeed, CBN even forced YouTube to take down the clip posted by Right Wing Watch. (It was re-posted by many others, including the version included above.)

Robertson really shouldn’t say things on national television if he doesn’t want people to see them.

When The Atlantic asked for comment, Robertson said he “regret[s] that my remarks had been misunderstood, but this often happens because people do not listen to the context of remarks which are being said.” He added, “In no wise [sic] were my remarks meant as an indictment of the homosexual community or, for that fact, to those infected with this dreadful disease.”

There is no context in which it makes sense to accuse gay people in San Francisco of deliberately cutting others in the hopes of deliberately spreading the AIDS virus.

Robertson’s remarkably active imagination notwithstanding, there is no evidence to bolster his assertions.

Ends …

Senile? Barmy? Waste of useful oxygen? You tell us, Dear Reader. What is MOST worrying is people listen to this nonsense every day, and repeat it as if it is fact. In a week when a transgender woman was beaten to death outside a police station merely for wanting to be who she is, provoking the usual wail of ‘why are people like this?’ the answer is ‘people are like this because they are constantly fed rubbish from those who should know better’.

Rubbish? Spend a moment and consider some of Robertson’s other equally cautiously considered statements:

He wishes, for example, that Facebook had a ‘vomit’ button, so that he could click on it every time he came across a photograph of a gay couple kissing. (Why is he looking? Ed.) Anyhow, a viewer wanted to know how to address images of same-sex couples on social media sites, such as Facebook.

Robertson commented “You’ve got a couple of same-sex guys kissing, do you like that? Well that makes me want to throw up,” he said.

“To me I would punch ‘Vomit;’ not ‘Like,'” he added “But they don’t give you that option on Facebook.”

That was not the first time Robertson, 83, has used vomit to express his sentiments on homosexuality.

Robertson has also said the land would “vomit out” those who disobeyed the commandments of the Old Testament.

Here are some more controversial and colorful comments the “evangelist” has made that have gone viral:

To a man whose wife does not respect him as ‘head of the household”

Robertson  answered a question from a viewer named Michael about how to repair his marriage.

Robertson’s response: “Well, you could become a Muslim and you could beat her.”

Think I’m kidding?

Loathsome.

In case you cant see the video, bizarrely, this comment elicits laughter from Robertson’s co-host, Terry Meeuwsen.

Unfortunately, Robertson didn’t stop there.

“I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days but something has got to be done to make her.”

He also called the woman a “rebellious child” who doesn’t want to “submit to any authority.” However, since the Scripture doesn’t allow for divorce, Robertson urged the husband to “move to Saudi Arabia,” where, ostensibly, presumably, beating the woman would be permissible.

To a woman whose husband committed adultery

“Males have a tendency to wander a little bit. And what you want to do is make a home so wonderful he doesn’t want to wander.”

(Hang on, no stoning? Ed.)

On a man with an Alzheimer’s-stricken wife

“I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody (is) looking after her.”

Asked what about the “Till death do us part” part of the marriage vow, he said Alzheimer’s is “a kind of death.”

On Walt Disney World’s “Gay Days”

“I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you. It’ll bring about terrorist bombs; it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.”

On the role of a man and a woman

“I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household, and the husband is the head of the wife, and that’s the way it is, period.”

On feminism

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

On why Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a stroke

“God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible and he says ‘This is my land,’ and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, ‘No, this is mine.’ He was dividing God’s land. And I would say, ‘Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations, or the United States of America.’ God says, ‘This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.'”

(Not because he was a fat old guy under considerable stress, of course. Ed.)

On the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake

“They were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story.

And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

On homosexuality

“Many of those people involved in Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.”

On assassinating Hugo Chavez

“You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.”

On the tornadoes that ravaged the Midwest in 2012

“If enough people were praying, (God) would’ve intervened. You could pray. Jesus stilled the storm. You can still storms.”

playtimeIn my opinion this man is about as Christian as a housebrick, and as soon as he is gathered unto his Maker, which really can’t be all that far way now now, thank goodness, he will be going straight to his eternal reward, which, incidentally, will be to a loud and persistent soundtrack of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Robertson is in mo way a minor person, so far on the fringe that he can be idly ignored. In September 1986, Robertson announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

He said he would pursue the nomination only if three million people signed up to volunteer for his campaign by September 1987. Somewhat astoundingly 9and worryingly) three million responded, and by the time Robertson announced he would be running in September 1987, he also had raised millions of dollars for his campaign fund. He surrendered his ministerial credentials and turned leadership of CBN over to his son, Tim.

Robertson ran on a oft-adopted radical right platform. Among his policies, he wanted to ban pornography, reform the education system, and eliminate departments such as the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. He also supported a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.

His campaign got off to a strong second-place finish in the Iowa caucus, ahead of George Bush Snr. He did poorly in the subsequent New Hampshire primary, however, and was unable to be competitive once the multiple-state primaries began. Subjected to the oxygen of publicity, Robertson ended his campaign before the primaries were finished. His best finish was in Washington, winning the majority of caucus delegates. He later spoke at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans and told his remaining supporters to cast their votes for Bush, who ended up winning the nomination and the election. He then returned to CBN and has remained there.

He appears to be – on many levels – a thoroughly horrible individual.

Of the time he spent at Washington and Lee University, where he received a B.A. in History, graduating magna cum laude. Robertson has said, “Although I worked hard at my studies, my real major centered around lovely young ladies who attended the nearby girls schools.” Ah yes, the gals. Nice.

In 1948, the draft was reinstated and Robertson was given the option of joining the Marine Corps or being drafted into the army; he opted for the first.

In his words, “We did long, gruelling marches to toughen the men, plus refresher training in firearms and bayonet combat.” In the same year, he transferred to Korea.

“I ended up at the headquarters command of the First Marine Division,” said Robertson. “The Division was in combat in the hot and dusty, then bitterly cold portion of North Korea just above the 38th Parallel later identified as the ‘Punchbowl’ and ‘Heartbreak Ridge.’ For that service in the Korean War, the Marine Corps awarded me three battle stars for ‘action against the enemy.'”

However, former Republican Congressman Paul “Pete” McCloskey, Jr., who served with Robertson in Korea, wrote a public letter which said that Robertson was actually spared combat duty when his powerful father, a conservative Democrat U.S. Senator, intervened on his behalf, and that Robertson spent most of his time in an office in Japan.

According to McCloskey, his time in the service was not in combat but as the “liquor officer” responsible for keeping the officers’ clubs supplied with liquor. Robertson filed a $35 million libel suit against McCloskey in 1986.* He dropped the case in 1988, before it came to trial and paid McCloskey’s court costs.

*”Evangelist sues over combat story”. The Globe and Mail. (Toronto, Ont.). October 23, 1986. p. A.16.

**”Rpbertson’s libel suit by judge ex congressman ruled the legal victor” Philadelphia Daily News. March 7, 1988. p. 14.

Pete McCloskey

Pete McCloskey

By the way, McClosky is himself an interesting man, warranting more than a footnote in American political history. One of McCloskey’s enduring legacies is his co-authorship of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. A highly decorated war veteran and one-time moderate Republican turned Democrat, he was the first member of Congress to publicly call for the impeachment of President Nixon after the Watergate scandal and the Saturday Night Massacre. He was also the first lawmaker to call for a repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that allowed for the War in Vietnam.

He had sought the 1972 Republican Presidential nomination on a pro-peace/anti-Vietnam War platform, and obtained 11% of the vote against incumbent President Richard M. Nixon in the New Hampshire primary. At the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, Rep. McCloskey received one vote (out of 1324) from a New Mexico delegate. All other votes cast went to President Nixon, thus McCloskey technically finished in second place in the race for the Presidential nomination that year.

Anyway. Never did two more more vividly demonstrate the ‘broad church’ that is the American Republican Party. Or as I prefer to categorise it, the divide between those worth listening to, and those who should be flung into the outer darkness by some avenging angel.

paul_keating

Somehow the wagging finger rarely irritated. The brain behind it was so impressive.

Ex Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating is a fascinating man.

Uncompromising, arrogant – and even aloof – certain of his own intellectual superiority, frequently hilariously funny, master of Despatch Box wit, he was responsible for some of the most major reforms in Australian political history, including opening the country to free trade, and ensuring all Australians have some sort of superannuation to fall back on in retirement.

When "intellectual" wasn't a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

When “intellectual” wasn’t a dirty word. Whitlam and Keating share a joke.

Not for nothing was one of his mentors former Labour hero Gough Whitlam.

They shared a love of fine things, were both uber-brainy dandys, and neither brooked much opposition.

They controlled their caucuses by diktat, but they were so patently the most impressive guys around that no one really minded all that much.

Keating once memorable christened John Howard "His Oiliness"

Keating once memorably christened Liberal Party leader John Howard “His Oiliness”

To remember how good Keating was, one really only has to admire the strong, internationally-engaged economic state of the nation that John Howard inherited from him.

And one only has to trawl some of his more famous quotations – usually insulting put-downs – that framed the debate for year after year.

It would be easy to dismiss them as mere vitriol, but they were much more than that. Keating had an ear for what ordinary “little” people thought, and the imagination to wrestle that into pithy quotes.

Try these:

On Opposition Leader and then Prime Minister John Howard:

  • “The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on”
  • “What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.”
  • “He’s wound up like a thousand day clock.”
  • (Of his 1986 leadership contest) “From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him.”
  • “He is the greatest job and investment destroyer since the bubonic plague.”
  • “But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.”
  • “I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot.”
  • “He has more hide than a team of elephants.”
  • “Come in sucker.”
Keating believed Peter Costello essentially "lacked ticker". He was right.

Keating believed Peter Costello essentially “lacked ticker”. He was right.

On Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello:

  • “The thing about poor old Costello is he is all tip and no iceberg.He can throw a punch across the parliament but the bloke he should be throwing a punch to is Howard, but of course he doesn’t have the ticker for it.”
  • “He has now been treasurer for 11 years. The old coconut (John Howard) is still there araldited to the seat.The Treasurer works on the smart quips but when it comes to staring down the prime minister in his office he always leaves disappointed.He never gets the sword out.”

Just because you were in the same party as Keating, that was never protection from his wrath.

Keating’s passions were French antique clocks, opera and piano concertos. The sports mad Labor cabinet didn’t stand a chance.

He could dish it to his own side, too.

Like this stoush with John Browne and Bob Hawke (who he memorably named “Old Jellyback” because of Keating’s perception of his preparedness to compromise on principle) when he was Treasurer:

  • “Now listen mate,” [to John Browne, Minister of Sport, who was proposing a 110 per cent tax deduction for contributions to a Sports Foundation] “you’re not getting 110 per cent. You can forget it.This is a fucking Boulevard Hotel special, this is.The trouble is we are dealing with a sports junkie here [gesturing towards Bob Hawke].I go out for a piss and they pull this one on me.Well that’s the last time I leave you two alone.From now on, I’m sticking to you two like shit to a blanket.”
Hewson famously lost "the unloseable election" to Keating with the schemozzle over their "Fightback" plan. The Liberal Party ever since is chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

Hewson famously lost “the unloseable election” to Keating with the schemozzle over the “Fightback” plan. The Liberal Party has ever since been chary of releasing its polices for scrutiny, including in this election.

To then Leader of the Opposition John Hewson:

  • Hewson: [if you’re so sure of yourself] why don’t you call an election?Keating: Oh no, Hewson, don’t think you’re going to get out of it that easily mate. I’m going to do you slowly, son …” The relish with which Keating delivered the word “slowly” has passed into Australian political history …

And about him:

  • “Captain Zero”
  • “I did not insult the Honorable Member for Wentworth. I merely implied that he was like a lizard on a rock – not dead yet, but looking it.”
  • “[His performance] is like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”
WIlson "Iron Bar" Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

WIlson “Iron Bar” Tuckey only had to poke his head above the parapet to set Keating off.

Most memorably, Keating would fire up whenever confronted with the teasing of extreme right-wing MP Wilson Tuckey from the seat of O’Connor in WA.

Unparliamentary language? For sure. But rather wonderful nevertheless.

  • “You stupid foul-mouthed grub.”
  • “Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig!”
  • “You boxhead you wouldn’t know. You are flat out counting past ten.”
  • “You filthy, disgusting piece of criminal garbage!”

Anyhow, without demonstrating quite the same level of vituperative humour, Mr Keating has made a memorable intervention in the 2013 Federal Election to opine that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had steered the country through the “valley of economic death” in 2008-09 to be what no other country in the world has been.

“No recession, no great dip in employment,” Mr Keating said, launching the campaign of Labor minister Bill Shorten in his Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong on Friday, to rousing applause from party faithful.

“This is not like Europe. This is not like the United States. We’ve kept people in employment and given them real wages growth.”

Since 1991, real wages had increased 36 per cent and disposable incomes by 40 per cent, he said.

“This is the only country that has done this. It came from the policies of the Labor government. It didn’t come from the Tories. They know what they’re against. They never know what they’re for.”

Mr Keating credited Labor for creating equity in health, superannuation, education and now disability care.

“The others never do these things. They’re always mean. Mean little people,” he said.

“No imagination, no bigness and no heart. Just the natural cycle means every now and then they get another go.”

Mr Keating said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had to do more than offer slogans.

“Stop the boats, he says, we’ll get rid of the mining tax, and we’ll get rid of the carbon tax,” he said. “These slogans can never be an organising principle for the nation.”

Mr Keating accused the Liberals of walking away from accountability standards, saying they ignored former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello’s decision that treasury publish public accounts before an election.

“This is a very bad thing which is happening. Bad for the core integrity of the financial system, the way the country operates, bad for trust in the system.

“We’re facing a sort of flimflam opposition, one without standards.

“Even the previous conservative government accepted that standard but they’ve walked away from that.

“Cynical Joe Hockey says, ‘oh people are bored with numbers’. Really, Joe? They’re not bored with you are they?”

Except for his obligatory defence of Rudd, Gillard and, er, Rudd, Keating has nailed the Liberal’s essential intellectual vacuity, and he should be listened to. Sadly, the problem is that the alternative to Paul Keating is Kevin Rudd, and there is no cure for that.

Is there any doubt that Labor could win this election with Keating at the helm, instead of the Milky Bar Kid?

What as shame he seems to be thoroughly enjoying his retirement.

I mean, I only ask, you know, given that he’s now going to jail for thirty five years.

THIRTY. FIVE. YEARS.

210px-Bradley_Manning_US_ArmyAnd if you liked knowing that your Government was shooting children on your behalf, or abusing so-called friendly Governments in diplomatic cables, or had been caught out lying to you – I mean you might not have LIKED knowing that, but you’d rather know, right? – then what have you done so far to get this whistleblower out of jail?

If you want a good overview of what Manning leaked, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/21/bradley-manning-leaks_n_3788126.html

Remember, he’s going to jail for thirty five years because the US Government, and Governments around the world, think YOU should not know what they’re up to. Not Al Qaeda, or any other nasty. Because it’s been conceded that not one single American asset or serviceman has been harmed as a result of Wikileaks. Plenty of Government embarrassment: no danger.

No: they simply don’t want YOU to know what’s going on.

For a free society to work, for Government to be held to a decent moral standard, for us to make informed decisions about who and what we support, we NEED whistleblowers. We need Bradley Manning.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

I see his lawyers are now going to plead with Obama for a pardon. If ever Obama had a chance to show that he is not just some dyed-in-the-wool conservative like those he pretends to oppose across the aisle, this is it.

I will not be holding my breath, however, as this President shows every sign of becoming more authoritarian by the day. But we are watching, Mr President. We are watching.

Today is a very, very sad day for freedom. Today, we slipped a little further down the slope.

Speak up, world.

Related articles

I am perpetually in amazement at the comments that come out of the extreme right in America. Please note, I say the extreme right. There is still a right in America that is thoughtful, responsible, and decent. Just. I dread to think what could happen, though, were some of these utter wing-nuts to acheive real power, both in internal and external US policy.

Anyhow, before I hyper-ventilate, this article on the Rachel Maddow blog came across our desk. Un-fuc*ing-believable.

Begins:

Rp. Mike Kelly. The only problem with political jokes is that they frequently get elected.

Rp. Mike Kelly. The only problem with political jokes is that they frequently get elected.

When it comes to rhetorical excesses, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) is perhaps best known for his comments a year ago, when he said an administrative decision treating contraception access as preventive health care was comparable to 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Late last week, however, Kelly launched into another ugly diatribe, insisting that President Obama “divides” Americans “on race.”

The far-right congressman did not offer specific or substantive points to bolster the accusation, but added, “Listen, I’ll tell you what: It’s self-evident. I don’t know if people who aren’t reading or not watching, maybe, don’t have the same opinion, but I think it’s pretty obvious where we’re going with some of this stuff.”

I don’t know what “stuff” is disturbing Kelly, but when it comes to racial divisions, the evidence doesn’t exactly point in the president’s direction (via Perry Stein).

Hundreds of protesters wielded signs, chanted slogans and argued with each other Tuesday outside Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, while President Barack Obama spoke about housing and the economy inside. […]

Racially-charged sentiment infused the protests and split the crowd both politically and physically…. Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president’s skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”

President Obama in Arizona, Tuesday

President Obama in Arizona, Tuesday

One University of Arizona student said the president:

“Needs to go back to where he came from,” adding, “I am not a racist.”

(Er … that’d be Hawaii. Ed.)

Another protestor shouted, in reference to the president:

“He’s 47 percent Negro.”

Yet another whined about Obama:

“He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”

Oh for heaven’s sake …

Eisenhower

Eisenhower

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

Dwight Eisenhower, speaking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

In my opinion, American defence spending is bloated beyond belief, beyond anything necessary to fulfil either a defensive or offensive role in the world, and this is the result of an active and ongoing conspiracy between corrupt politicians (perhaps I should say, a corrupted political system) and the military-industrial complex.

Remember, American defence spending is greater than ALL of the next ten biggest defence budgets in the world, and that includes Russia and China.

And who pays for this? American taxpayers.

The role of the military-industrial complex is hardly new - as this 19th century cartoon exemplifies. Isn't it time we really tackled it?

The role of the military-industrial complex is hardly new – as this 19th century cartoon exemplifies. Isn’t it time we really tackled it? Over to you, taxpayers.

See, I cannot understand, for the life of me, why Americans – and especially those who detest taxes and Government waste of public money – do not rise up and demand that their defence budget is radically trimmed.

I cannot understand, for example, why Tea Party activists – almost universally anti excessive taxation – do not target defence spending first.

Just why is defence spending protected from cuts that are clearly necessary?

Why does the right wing demand defence spending be exempted from cuts?

Is it somehow a measurement or reflection of some deeply ingrained macho-psyche bullsh*t?

Is it merely that the political forces are so deep in their trenches that they cannot move from ossified positions?

Is it simply  that defence is a dog-whistle topic for the GOP base, and it’s better to try and make cuts to needed social security spending, despite the harm it causes, than to seek to educate their own supporters?

In which case, shame on them. And shame on the Democrats for letting them get away with it.

Yes, I understand that decisions about what items to cut are always complex … I have heard persuasive arguments from friends in the US Navy that they believe expenditure on capital ships has fallen to dangerously low levels. But I am talking here of the overall budget. Someone needs to get to it with a serious knife and cut deep, hard and long. It’s time.

There is another good reason for America to get it’s defence spending under control. Without excess (and excessive) forces, they will be less inclined to engage in military adventures overseas that are both morally and legally dubious. Iraq – and the 500,000 subsequent dead – would never have happened. And Afghanistan, in the absence of Iraq, would have been a two year event, and a much more likely success, rather than the morass it has become.

So – it’s over to you, American taxpayers. We are all relying on you. Are you really happy with the way things are going?

Feel free to cut and paste this on your Facebook page, blog, etc

Feel free to cut and paste this on your Facebook page, blog, etc. It is from the excellent “Ethical Reporters Against Faux News” Facebook page, a source of regular facts that need to be known.

Yes, before someone upbraids me, I know US military spending IS tipped to fall. From $638 billion this year to $538 billion by 2020.

But it’s not enough. And anyway, if pressure is not kept on, who says if that goal will be met?

Do I think it is beyond the wit and wisdom of Washington insiders to dream up another false-flag reason to suddenly ramp up spending again?

No. Sadly, I do not. Do you?

Oh, and Ike? He was a Republican. The type of moderate, thoughtful Republican that doesn’t seem to exist any more, more’s the pity. He was hawkish against communism, expanded America’s nuclear arsenal, but also launched the Interstate Highway System; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which led to the internet, among many invaluable outputs; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), driving peaceful discovery in space; the establishment of strong science education via the National Defense Education Act; and encouraging peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act.

In social policy, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools. He also signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote. He implemented desegregation of the armed forces in two years and made five appointments to the Supreme Court. He was no captive of extremists – he actively and adroitly condemned the excesses of McCarthyism without upsetting his own right wing – in marked contrast to the current leadership of the GOP, he articulated his position as a moderate, progressive Republican: “I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.”

He was a talented politician. He prevented the GOP from collapsing into extreme-right irrelevance, and became, in doing so, wildly popular with both Democrats, independents and Republicans.

In summary, Eisenhower’s two terms were peaceful and productive ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958–59.

So why was Eisenhower so chary of military spending?

Further comment superfluous.

Further comment superfluous.

Perhaps it was because, unlike most politicians today, he had actually witnessed the effects of that spending at first hand.

Not just the theft from those who needed the money spent on them, but also the carnage that war let loose really entails.

He walked the beaches after D Day.

He had ordered into battle legions that he knew would suffer 50%, 60%, 75% casualties.

He spoke with those men, face to face, hours before they left for France, knowing that most were just hours from dismemberment, disablement, or a  grisly death.

For him, every bullet fired, on both sides, was a disaster. But that understanding did not prevent him being one of the greatest military commanders in history.

And it didn’t stop him being a Republican.

Treasurer Chris Bowen believes Labor shouldn't enter into formal agreements with other parties. We think he's wrong.

Treasurer Chris Bowen believes Labor shouldn’t enter into formal agreements with other parties. We think he’s wrong.

An esoteric discussion for pointy heads and political tragics?

Yeah, maybe. But it’s an issue that fundamentally affects us all.

In recent years we have seen the dice fall in particular patterns so that even in “first past the post”  electoral systems, individual parties have not been delivered government in their own right.

It is wise to discuss how we respond to that situation, certainly.

The Conservative Party in the UK fell short of an outright majority at the last election, and formed a Coalition (“fusion”, in the USA) government with the centrist Liberal Democrats.

It would be fair to say that it has been a stable, but fractious, marriage. And whilst it has not been enormously popular, so the problems it has been dealing with are massive and deep rooted.

The Labor Party in Australia fell short of a majority and struck a deal with a few independents and the Greens. Again, it has been a relatively stable, if deeply unpopular, deal.

And it could be argued that a “non majority”  Government is something of the norm in America, where it is rare for one party to hold the Presidency and both houses of Congress at the same time.

Now a senior Labor figure in Australia is arguing, in a new book and ahead of the soon-to-be-called election, that his party should reject future deals if they find themselves in that situation again. I think he’s being foolish, and I shall explain why.

It is reported that the new Federal Treasurer, Chris Bowen, has declared Labor should never again strike a deal with another party to secure office.

Earlier this year, the Greens declared that their agreement with Labor was effectively over, citing a string of government policies including its refusal to re-design the mining tax.

Coalition government - better than no government at all?

Coalition government – better than no government at all? Or continual elections? We think so.

Mr Bowen said:

“This is not a criticism of the decision to go into alliance with the Greens.

It is a reflection of my views, having been considered, that the Labor Party – when it puts a view to the Australian people and campaigns in an election campaign for office – that we should govern alone and that we should not enter into formal deals with other political parties.

My contribution to the debate is that the Labor Party stands best by its policies and that we have a lot to offer with our policies and we shouldn’t need the policies of the Greens.”

In our view, Bowen is wrong for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the conduct of the Parliament is a matter for the people, not the political parties who coalesce there. If the people deny any one party a majority, then the parties surely have a moral and constitutional duty to seek to create a workable Government based on some formal arrangement, such as a Coalition or something very like it.

The alternative is for a party to seek to govern with a minority and no formal agreement governing how it will manage the situation.

This is almost always a cue for imminent chaos. Although it is not unheard of for the largest party to seek support on so-called “confidence” measures, and leave the rest to the whim of the Parliament, this kind of arrangement means any individual piece of legislation can be defeated willy-nilly.

Whilst this is a reflection of the make up of the house as expressed by the will of the people, it is also very bad for the uncertainty it causes in the country.

Businesses and public organisations plan their futures according to what is in a party’s manifesto. If it is entirely unclear which bits of that manifesto may or may not come to pass, then sensible planning becomes virtually impossible. For this reason alone, it is surely better for the largest party in the house to seek a stable arrangement with other parties or individuals.

The other variation on this alternative, that’s to say seeking to govern without either a coalition agreement or some working arrangement on confidence, is a nightmare scenario.

The Government can be defeated without warning, on matters ranging from the trivial to centrally important, and forced back to the country. A series of inconclusive elections arising from such a scenario can (and often has) led countries to question the wisdom of their democratic arrangements altogether.

So whilst it may be unpleasant for politicians to hold their nose and enter into Coalitions with parties that do not, of course, share every jot and tittle of their own platform, it is better than uncertainty and inertia.

Some Coalitions – and this seems to depend as much on the personalities of the people involved as it does on the policies of the parties concerned – work very well. Most European countries, as a result of using some form of proportional representation, find themselves requiring coalitions to be formed as a matter of course. As it is so common, it seems to produce much less angst than it does in First Past The Post countries or those, like Australia, who use the exhaustive but not necessarily proportional Alternative Vote system.

Countries which often operate with coalition cabinets include: the Nordic countries, the Benelux countries, Austria, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Turkey, Israel, New Zealand, Kosovo, Pakistan, Kenya, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand and Ukraine. Switzerland has been ruled by a coalition of the four strongest parties in parliament from 1959 to 2008, called the “Magic Formula”.

Instead of cleaving to the shibboleth of intellectual purity, Bowen would do better to consider that democratic government is nearly always government of compromise, and that steady, pragmatic and progressive change is change that is likely to stick, rather than be merely over-turned by an incoming government of the opposite persuasion, some way down the track. Bipartisanship (multi-partisanship?) isn’t a replacement for democracy – no one wants our system to be a contest of ideas that is so lacklustre as to be meaningless – but the goal of better understanding the agendas and opinions of others is a noble one, and one that would invariably result in better governance that garners wider popular support.

In Australia, at least, the public has almost entirely consistently, for example, returned a Parliament where those with a majority in the lower house (the House of Representatives) are not given a matching majority in the upper house (the Senate). When we do arrange for that to happen (as with the last Howard Government) we nearly always reverse the situation promptly.

Do you think this situation arises accidentally, Mr Bowen? Or merely because the electoral system is biased that way? Give us some credit. Any gathering of Australians will reveal a significant minority who vote one way for the lower house, and another for the upper, and do so very deliberately.

In short, we like governments to say what they mean, and to stick to their guns. We also like them to be somewhat hobbled.

Think about it.

Mr Bowen’s book, Hearts & Minds: A Blueprint for Modern Labor, is being launched by News Ltd boss Kim Williams today in Sydney.

With all due respect, it's President Obama, not King Barack, Sir.

With all due respect, it’s President Obama, not King Barack, Sir.

Ridiculously hyperbolic headline? We think not.

This fascinating Wall Street Journal article – riveting, for democrats everywhere – by a leading American jurist – again points out the worrying trend in Obama’s thinking that he is the ultimate arbiter of the law, which is discardable when it interrupts his policy agenda.

This is just the latest in a long series of over-steppings: the asserted right to kill American citizens without trial when they are engaged in terrorist activity (allegedly), the continued incarceration of detainees in Guantanamo who have been cleared of any wrongdoing, (let alone the fact it js still open anyway), the public crucifixion of Bradley Manning, the current confected fury over Edward Snowden, and the more mundane examples quoted in the article.

This latest move by Obama will neither upset left or right – the left will see it as a minor issue, the right will laud the relief to business – but as the article so appositely argues, if it is allowed to go unchallenged, it sets an appalling precedent.

In short,the message is “America: wake up”.

The slide to autocracy, by no means limited to Obama, (illegal invasion of Iraq resulting in 500,000 dead, anyone?), but certainly continued by him, carries on unchecked. This might seem a trivial matter in itself, but its implications are not.

I am an avowed Obama supporter, but equally, I feel that uncritical support is essentially un-democratic. Little d, and big D.

By MICHAEL W. MCCONNELL

President Obama’s decision last week to suspend the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act may be welcome relief to businesses affected by this provision, but it raises grave concerns about his understanding of the role of the executive in our system of government.

Article II, Section 3, of the Constitution states that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” This is a duty, not a discretionary power. While the president does have substantial discretion about how to enforce a law, he has no discretion about whether to do so.

This matter—the limits of executive power—has deep historical roots. During the period of royal absolutism, English monarchs asserted a right to dispense with parliamentary statutes they disliked. King James II’s use of the prerogative was a key grievance that lead to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The very first provision of the English Bill of Rights of 1689—the most important precursor to the U.S. Constitution—declared that “the pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament, is illegal.”

To make sure that American presidents could not resurrect a similar prerogative, the Framers of the Constitution made the faithful enforcement of the law a constitutional duty.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the president on legal and constitutional issues, has repeatedly opined that the president may decline to enforce laws he believes are unconstitutional. But these opinions have always insisted that the president has no authority, as one such memo put it in 1990, to “refuse to enforce a statute he opposes for policy reasons.”

Attorneys general under Presidents Carter, Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton all agreed on this point. With the exception of Richard Nixon, whose refusals to spend money appropriated by Congress were struck down by the courts, no prior president has claimed the power to negate a law that is concededly constitutional.

In 1998, the Supreme Court struck down a congressional grant of line-item veto authority to the president to cancel spending items in appropriations. The reason? The only constitutional power the president has to suspend or repeal statutes is to veto a bill or propose new legislation. Writing for the court in Clinton v. City of New York, Justice John Paul Stevens noted: “There is no provision in the Constitution that authorizes the president to enact, to amend, or to repeal statutes.”

The employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act contains no provision allowing the president to suspend, delay or repeal it. Section 1513(d) states in no uncertain terms that “The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013.” Imagine the outcry if Mitt Romney had been elected president and simply refused to enforce the whole of ObamaCare.

This is not the first time Mr. Obama has suspended the operation of statutes by executive decree, but it is the most barefaced. In June of last year, for example, the administration stopped initiating deportation proceedings against some 800,000 illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16, lived here at least five years, and met a variety of other criteria. This was after Congress refused to enact the Dream Act, which would have allowed these individuals to stay in accordance with these conditions. Earlier in 2012, the president effectively replaced congressional requirements governing state compliance under the No Child Left Behind Act with new ones crafted by his administration.

The president defended his suspension of the immigration laws as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. He defended his amending of No Child Left Behind as an exercise of authority in the statute to waive certain requirements. The administration has yet to offer a legal justification for last week’s suspension of the employer mandate.

Republican opponents of ObamaCare might say that the suspension of the employer mandate is such good policy that there’s no need to worry about constitutionality. But if the president can dispense with laws, and parts of laws, when he disagrees with them, the implications for constitutional government are dire.

Democrats too may acquiesce in Mr. Obama’s action, as they have his other aggressive assertions of executive power. Yet what will they say when a Republican president decides that the tax rate on capital gains is a drag on economic growth and instructs the IRS not to enforce it?
And what of immigration reform? Why bother debating the details of a compromise if future presidents will feel free to disregard those parts of the statute that they don’t like?

The courts cannot be counted on to intervene in cases like this. As the Supreme Court recently held in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the same-sex marriage case involving California’s Proposition 8, private citizens do not have standing in court to challenge the executive’s refusal to enforce laws, unless they have a personal stake in the matter.

If a president declines to enforce tax laws, immigration laws, or restrictions on spending—to name a few plausible examples—it is very likely that no one will have standing to sue.

Of all the stretches of executive power Americans have seen in the past few years, the president’s unilateral suspension of statutes may have the most disturbing long-term effects. As the Supreme Court said long ago (Kendall v. United States, 1838), allowing the president to refuse to enforce statutes passed by Congress “would be clothing the president with a power to control the legislation of congress, and paralyze the administration of justice.”

Mr. McConnell, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is a professor of law and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The presentation of the Declaration to congress

The presentation of the Declaration to Congress

Most Americans – and most of the rest of the earth – will actually know that the Fourth of July – Independence Day – marks the assertion by the former British colonies that made up America of their right to henceforth be an independent nation.

But have you ever read all of the ACTUAL declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, to which the leaders of the colonies penned their names?

It is actually well worth a thorough read, because besides the inspirational and soaring rhetoric of its opening phrases, it also lists the grievances that the Americans had against the British king and people.

Another recording of the event

Another recording of the event

And they were by no means trivial. The rage of the Americans at their treatment by their British cousins is palpable.

It puts into a fascinating context the original move to independence, but also the nature of America today.

The deep mistrust of bad government that runs through the body politic, the nature of states rights in free union, and the assertion of a purer form of democracy – essentially, the concept that America is a unique human invention – is just as vital today as it ever was, just as it also led inevitably to the murderous American Civil War and America imperialism overseas, and still does.

The original document

The original document

America fascinates any reasonable person who ponders the best way the peoples of this planet should arrange their affairs.

It is simultaneously the best and the worst of us, and the experiment always needs to be nurtured, both from within and without, tended, considered, and monitored. Appealing, not only to “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions”, but to all peoples.

It is because the road to hell is paved with good intentions that we hold America to such high account. For lovers of democracy everywhere, it is the light on the hill. Nothing must ever be allowed to dim, obscure or extinguish that light.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here.

We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This ad was printed in 1937.  The fancy bottle was the “Steinie.”  It was specially made this way so it easy to handle and didn’t take up space in the fridge or icebox. In an interesting bit of trivia (and according to another Schlitz print ad), the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company pioneered the idea of bottling its beer in brown bottles.  This was done to keep unwanted light out and keep the freshness of the beer in. The good old days when "a truth well told" was at the core of advertising.

An ad from 1937. The fancy bottle was the “Steinie.” It was specially made this way so it easy to handle and didn’t take up space in the fridge or icebox. In an interesting bit of trivia (and according to another Schlitz print ad), the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company pioneered the idea of bottling its beer in brown bottles. This was done to keep unwanted light out and keep the freshness of the beer in. The good old days when “a truth well told” was at the core of advertising.

Case histories of head-butting brand versus brand challenges are always interesting to advertising and marketing tragics like me … read: tired creaky-jointed ad guy who is old enough to watch Mad Men and wonder “Why are they making a movie of my life? More to the point, why aren’t I getting a royalty? I was that soldier!” … but also to most of you, it appears.

But really: who would spend five long, detailed blogs writing up the story of the beer wars in the United States, focused on the brand he loves, Schlitz and it’s everlasting battle with the likes of Budweiser?

Well, my mate Bill, would.

And it’s a good read, too, packed with heaps to learn for marketing managers and ad agency people and consultants and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, including avoiding the hubris that also led icon brands like Coke and Fosters-CUB to change the formulas of their brown fizzy water and Victoria Bitter respectively .

http://billsbrainworks.com/beer-wars-the-birth-of-the-brands/

Don’t say I never give you the good stuff.

If Schlitz want to win the beer wars again – and it would be so nice if they could, because I remember drinking it appreciatively when there was only one American burger bar in the whole of the English town I lived in – yes, I go that far back – which was called, with delicious homage to the States “Alice’s Restaurant” – and yes it was actually run by a bird called Alice – well, if Schlitz need a hand, I reckon they should call Bill in for a chat.

What have they got to lose? If passion equates to likely success, Bill’s their man.

I am indebted yet again to a contact made through social media for this fascinating discussion of both the need for, and the experience of, writing literature that uses strong female role models as the central character.

One of the most common complaints from women actors, for example, is the dearth of strongly-written roles, especially for older women. I wish Phyllis enormous good luck with her novel – and note, one of her books Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel is currently available as a FREE download for Kindle at Amazon

I am very impressed by all those women – and men supporting them – who have spent decades patiently chipping away at the ridiculous attitudes and barriers that deserve to be buried deep in the past. It is not the grand gestures or major campaigns that ultimately change the world, it is the work of individuals, talking person by person, sticking to their truth, demonstrating by example, that make change happen.

Today’s guest blogger: Phyllis Zimbler-Miller

“I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s in a small Midwestern town northwest of Chicago.  The only professional women I knew was one woman doctor who was generally considered somewhat crazy.  (Remember, these are memories – absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.)

I do recall in seventh grade choosing the foreign service as a career path about which to write a report.  Of course, I did not realize at the time that such a career path, besides a secretarial position, was not open to women.

As a newspaper journalist in Philadelphia in the early ’70s I became aware of how even respectable newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal were somewhat derogatory towards women.  In fact, I had quite a collection of examples of such “put downs.”

Then in the mid-70s I taught newswriting courses at Temple University Center City.  In order to get my students to write about women in the same way as my students wrote about men, I first had to do “sensitivity” training about women.  Literally, I had to convince both the women and the men in my courses that women were equal to men.

During this period the Equal Rights Amendment was being voted on by state legislatures.  I had the fearsome experience of being present at a taped debate in 1976 between Phyllis Schlafly (see below) and the women’s group NOW (the National Organization for Women, founded in 1966).

From Wikipedia:

“The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and, in 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. The ERA failed to receive the requisite number of ratifications before the final deadline mandated by Congress of June 30, 1982 expired, and so it was not adopted, largely because Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservatives to oppose the ERA.”

One of my accomplishments at the weekly newspaper at which I was an editor and reporter was to get the right for women to have their own name in their obituaries.  Until then a woman, for example, was Mrs. John Smith (nee White) and her first name was never mentioned.

Then around the time I started at The Wharton School to get an MBA, I had a “Women In Business” column in the Philadelphia Bulletin – at the time one of the two major Philadelphia newspapers.  I wrote on such topics as business suits now being available for women.   Yes, that was actually big news!

At Wharton I remember walking through the snow to the job interview center wearing boots with my skirt (no pants).  But when I got to the center I had to change into pumps.

Years later, when my husband Mitch and I started writing screenplays together, we wrote strong female characters because we both believe that fictional characters are often role models for people.

(In fact, in the early ‘90s I tried to convince people in Hollywood to portray safer sex scenes in films in order to encourage teens to follow the example of movie stars.  Unfortunately, this was not one of my successful projects.)

In the case of Mitch’s and my screenplay LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS, we wanted to explore what it would be like for the first woman officer on a U.S. submarine.

We did a great deal of research for the story, and the screenplay was a 2005 Nicholls Fellowship quarter-finalist – the contest sponsored by the same organisation that puts on the Oscars.

We then wrote a prequel to the screenplay, A NEEDLE IN THE HAYSTACK.  Finally, I decided to combine the two screenplays into a novel because Mitch and I really like the character of Mollie Sanders.

Phyllis’s book – why not download one of her novels for free if you own a Kindle? (See above.) If not, just buy a copy of this one 🙂

In retrospect, if I had known the antagonism that the book would get from certain quarters against a strong female character, perhaps I would not have adapted the two screenplays into a novel!

If you read the positive and negative comments that the thriller gets on Amazon, you will see that in many cases the character of LCRD Sanders is held to a different FICTIONAL standard than a male lt. commander would have been.

In addition, some people comment that a lt. commander is a low rank when, in fact, in the U.S. Navy it is equivalent to a major in the U.S. Army.  Apparently people see the “lt.” and miss “commander.”

Other people insist a fictional character could not do what she does.  But she graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, has a degree in the work she does for the Navy, and by her own admission she tries harder than the men around her!

On the other hand, there are both men and women who write reviews praising her as a fictional character.  I must admit, though, that I wasn’t prepared for the controversy over what is, after all, a fictional character.

Basically, I am saying that, just as there is still not equality for women in real life, there is apparently not equality for women in fictional life!

Oh, well, it is not for lack of my trying!”

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of fiction and nonfiction books, including TOP TIPS FOR HOW TO PUBLISH AND MARKET YOUR BOOK IN THE AGE OF AMAZON.  She is also the co-founder of the online marketing company Miller Mosaic LLC.  You can check out her Amazon Author Central profile at http://www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have been quietly issuing opportunities for people to appear on the blog as our guest, and we are delighted that George has taken up our invitation, via the StooshPR Facebook page which is an outpost of the very busy stooshpr.com.

This charming and insightful description of life and love as an expatriate in Japan’s snowy, mountainous, and exquisitely beautiful north is fascinating. Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and I will visit Tokyo briefly in a  few months, and this lovely article will enrich and inform our visit. Thanks, George! Would you like to be our next Guest Blogger, Dear Reader?

George

George Polley

“This isn’t my first experience with being an expatriate, but it is by far the longest, and will undoubtedly by my last one, as I intend to spend the rest of my life as an expat living in Sapporo, Japan.

Back in late 1973 I went to Mexico City for a little over two months, explored the possibility of moving there, going so far as to check out what I’d need to do to open a counseling practice there.

But the time wasn’t right for me, so I flew back home to Minneapolis. In January. Given the fact that it was 75 degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) in Mexico City and 25 degrees below zero when I arrived in Minneapolis, that was very bad timing. If you want to explore what being really cold is like, try doing what I did. It works in spades.

The two most important things about moving to another country are deciding to move, and knowing why it is that you’re moving.

My “why” was supporting my wife’s desire to move back home after half of her life in America. Would it be a big move? Huge! That’s why the decision has to be a good one, because it’s a lot of work. Suffice it to say that, after two years of planning, three visits to Japan, and having the astonishing good fortune of selling our house days before the real estate bubble popped, I retired from my mental health practice, we flew to Japan, found a condominium to buy, bought it, flew back to Seattle, packed up the rest of our things, and on March 28th 2008, caught a flight to Tokyo, then on to Sapporo and our new home.

“Home” in this instance, was vastly different from the 1200-plus square foot house with a big yard and gardens we had lived in for eighteen years.

Our home in Sapporo is a typical Japanese “mansion” (code for “condominium”), called a “2 LDK” — two small bedrooms, a small living room, and a dining area with a tiny kitchen at one end. The bath, toilet, washing machine and water heater are off the entryway which, in winter, is cold! Then comes the reality of trying to fit everything you own into this tiny space without driving each other mad. Downsizing to something this tiny was, well, a huge challenge once everything we had shipped arrived. We were literally tripping over each other. In our Seattle home my work space was in the basement, and my wife had the first floor all to herself. Here it’s a very different world.

Tall grasses

Tall grasses photographed by George along the Motsukisamu river bank

Japanese families raise their families in places this small, and my wife grew up in one, but after spending half of her life in America, adjusting to this kind of change has been daunting for both of us. We’re still adjusting, but we have reached the stage where we can laugh about it.

The neighborhood is lovely, public transportation stops across the street, the subway station is easy to get to by bus, and there’s the nearby Motsukisamu river (we call anything this small a creek back home) to walk along.

Our condo is ours free and clear, we’re both happy, although we are a bit nostalgic at times for the things we loved about living in America.

Before moving, we had thought that I’d be the one who would find the move the most challenging. After all, I’d spent my life in America, and was going to leave family (a brother and sister-in-law, four children and ten grandchildren) and friends behind to live as a foreigner in an Asian country.

Would I adjust? Would I find it uncomfortable to be among so many strangers I couldn’t communicate with? Would it be easy to meet other expats and establish friendships?

Central Sapporo in summer

Central Sapporo in summer

As it’s turned out, my wife has found it as difficult, and perhaps more difficult, than it has been for me, as she had lived away from Japan for half of her life, had adjusted very nicely to American culture and social norms, and discovered that readjusting to Japanese social and cultural norms was very stressful.

For example, in the US if you don’t want to do something, you say “No thanks,” and that’s it. Here it’s not so simple, as the person is likely to take offense. When you receive a gift from someone back in the States, you thank them for it, and that’s it. Here receiving a gift implies that you will reciprocate, and failing to reciprocate can – and often does – result in hurt feelings, which she finds very stressful, as she is expected to know, whereas I’m forgiven because, after all, I’m an “ignorant” foreigner and I don’t know better. Good for me, not so good for her.

The other difficult thing that’s been hard on my wife is having our roles reversed in the sense that the things I did for both of us back home (obtain medical services when we moved to Seattle, take her to medical appointments, obtain a dentist, go grocery shopping, and so forth), she had to do here, as I don’t read or speak Japanese.

This was tremendously stressful for her, as she had no idea where the good service providers were. The easiest part was getting medical insurance, which a cousin’s husband helped her to do, and getting me an ID card, which he also helped us do. And he helped her pick out utilities for our condo (“mansions” don’t come equipped with them). A friend helped us find a good contractor to redecorate (called “reform” here) our condo, which needed new wall covering, new patio sliding doors and a few other upgrades. Some of these things we’ve both learned to laugh about, but early on laughing about them wasn’t easy to do. Today we can laugh about the fact that our condo looks like a jumble store in the winter when the laundry hangs everywhere; so does everyone else’s “mansion”, which though it gives small comfort, is a lot better than none at all.

The upside is that after nearly five years, we’re both happy here, are able to laugh at the quirks and social gaffes that remain, and go our own way. What we’re not able do is become “Japanese”, which isn’t a problem for us.

Hokkaido

Hokkaido is widely considered one of the most beautiful areas on earth, enriched, of course, by Japanese sensibilities concerning architecture and gardens

What about friendships, you may ask? I’ve found several expats that I’ve become fairly close to, in the sense that we get together for coffee or a meeting of a few local writers once a month, and talk about various things of mutual interest, such as writing, politics back home, Japanese politics and so forth, much as we would do back home.

Generally speaking, I’ve not found the expat community all that open to connecting, which is pretty much the way it is back where I’m from.

We connect with people we have something in common with. I’ve established some good friends online that I sometimes chat with via Skype fairly regularly.

All-in-all I’m a happy camper as an expat living in an Asian country. The benefits have far outweighed the inconveniences for both of us, though it’s taken nearly five years for us to get to the point where we’re both feeling that way.

A wonderful, and unexpected, upside to our move to Sapporo is the way it’s stimulated my writing career. Living where everything is new and challenging is very simulating to my mind and my creativity.

Sapporo is famous for its annual Snow Festival in winter when massive snow sculptures delight visitors and locals alike

Sapporo is famous for its annual Snow Festival in winter when massive snow sculptures delight visitors and locals alike

For me moving here has resulted in writing and publishing two books (“The Old Man and the Monkey” and “Grandfather and the Raven”) both set in Japan; a short story about a Tokyo artist (“Seiji”) published in “A Rainbow Feast: New Asian Short Stories” edited by Mohammad A. Quayum and published in Singapore by Marshall Cavendish Editions; finding my publisher (Taylor Street Publishing, San Francisco, California); publication of a third novel (“Bear”, about a boy and his dog, set in Seattle), and a queue full of other writing projects that are either in process of being written or waiting to be written.

I’m sometimes asked what I would do if my wife died and left me widowed. (Indeed, she has asked me that herself.) I usually say that I’d probably move back to America, though I have no clear idea where, so I’d have to research that.

When asked why, my answer is always the same: I’m not fluent enough in Japanese to live a happy, connected life here.

But that’s mostly a passing thought that I don’t spend a lot of brain time on. Mostly I spend time living each day, enjoying each day, writing, and thinking of things Aiko (that’s my wife) and I can enjoy doing together.

And, in the final analysis, that’s the most important thing there is.”


George Polley is a writer, author and retired mental health professional from Seattle, WA. He and his wife moved to Sapporo, Japan at the end of March 2008, where they now live.

On the day that Australia and Afghanistan struggle with the official confirmation that Aussie troops in Oruzgan province shot and killed two shepherds aged 8 and 7, mistaking them for insurgent who had been firing at them, this fascinating piece of reportage from William Salaetan at slate.com a few days ago argues that, far from the indiscriminate slaughterer of innocent civilians that they are often painted to be, controversial unmanned drones in fact kill fewer civilians than conventional weaponry such as bombs. We comment at the end of the article.

Article begins:

An American Predator drone fires a missile.

An American Predator drone fires a missile.

UN: Drones killed more Afghan civilians in 2012,” says the Associated Press headline. The article begins: “The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan jumped 72 percent in 2012, killing at least 16 civilians in a sharp increase from the previous year.”

The message seems clear: More Afghans are dying, because drones kill civilians.

Wrong. Drones kill fewer civilians, as a percentage of total fatalities, than any other military weapon. They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others.

Start with that U.N. report. Afghan civilian casualties caused by the United States and its allies didn’t go up last year. They fell 46 percent. Specifically, civilian casualties from “aerial attacks” fell 42 percent. Why? Look at the incident featured in the U.N. report (Page 31) as an example of sloppy targeting. “I heard the bombing at approximately 4:00 am,” says an eyewitness. “After we found the dead and injured girls, the jet planes attacked us with heavy machine guns and another woman was killed.”

Jet planes. Machine guns. Bombing. Drones aren’t the problem. Bombs are the problem.

Look at last year’s tally of air missions in Afghanistan. Drone strikes went way up. According to the U.N. report, drones released 212 more weapons over Afghanistan in 2012 than they did in 2011. Meanwhile, manned airstrikes went down. Result? Fifteen more civilians died in drone strikes, and 124 fewer died in manned aircraft operations. That’s a net saving of 109 lives.

On Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned his security forces from requesting NATO airstrikes in residential areas. Why? Because a week ago, an airstrike killed 10 civilians. What kind of airstrike? Bombs.

The My Lai massacre in Vietnam. As in most cases in that and other conflicts, bullets and bombs inflicted the majority of civilian casualties.

The My Lai massacre in Vietnam. As in most cases in that and other conflicts, bullets and bombs inflicted the majority of civilian casualties.

In war after war, it’s the same gruesome story: crude weapons, dead innocents.

In World War II, civilian deaths, as a percentage of total war fatalities, were estimated at 40 to 67 percent.

In Korea, they were reckoned at 70 percent.

In Vietnam, by some calculations, one civilian died for every two enemy combatants we exterminated.

In the Persian Gulf War, despite initial claims of a vast Iraqi death toll, we may have killed only one or two Iraqi soldiers for every dead Iraqi civilian.

In Kosovo, a postwar commission found that NATO’s bombing campaign killed about 500 Serbian civilians, almost matching the 600 enemy soldiers who died in action.

In Afghanistan, the civilian death toll from 2001 to 2011 has been ballparked at anywhere from 60 to 150 percent of the Taliban body count.

In Iraq, more than 120,000 civilians have been killed since the 2003 invasion. That’s more than five times the number of fatalities among insurgents and soldiers of Saddam Hussein’s regime. (Wellthisiswhatithink considers the likely figure to be nearer 500,00 civilian casualties due to all causes, as we revealed in our article “The Dead and Not So Dead In Iraq. However only a tiny percentage of those deaths could be attributed to drones.)

 Why so many noncombatant deaths? Study the record. In Vietnam, aerial bombing killed more than 50,000 North Vietnamese civilians by 1969. Each year of that war, the least discriminate weapons – bombs, shells, mines, mortars – caused more civilian injuries than guns and grenades.
We know all about the atomic attackjs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Far worse was the "firestorm" attack on Tokyo using incendiary bombs. The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people died in the raid, 40,918 were injured, and 1,008,005 people lost their homes. Robert Rhodes, estimating the dead at more than 100,000 men, women and children, suggested that probably a million more were injured and another million were left homeless. American planners estimated the areas attacked to be 84.7 percent residential.

We know all about the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Far worse (and virtually forgotten) was the “firestorm” attack on Tokyo using incendiary bombs. The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people died in the raid, 40,918 were injured, and 1,008,005 people lost their homes. Historian Robert Rhodes, estimating the dead at more than 100,000 men, women and children, suggested that probably a million more were injured and another million were left homeless. American planners estimated the areas attacked to be 84.7 percent residential.

In Kosovo, the munitions were more precise, and NATO tried to be careful.

But according to a postwar report by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, NATO’s insistence on flying its planes no lower than 15,000 feet—a rule adopted “to minimize the risk of casualties to itself”—“may have meant the target could not be verified with the naked eye.” In Afghanistan, a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch found that “civilian casualties rarely occur during planned airstrikes on suspected Taliban targets.”

Instead, “High civilian loss of life during airstrikes has almost always occurred during the fluid, rapid-response strikes, often carried out in support of ground troops after they came under insurgent attack.”

Drones can overcome these problems.

You can fly them low without fear of losing your life. You can study your target carefully instead of reacting in the heat of the moment. You can watch and guide the missiles all the way down.

Even the substitution of missiles for bombs saves lives. Look at the data from Iraq: in incidents that claimed civilian lives, the weapon with the highest body count per incident was suicide bombing. The second most deadly weapon was aerial bombing by coalition forces.

By comparison, missile strikes killed fewer than half as many civilians per error.

How do drones measure up? Three organizations have tracked their performance in Pakistan. Since 2006, Long War Journal says the drones have killed 150 civilians, compared to some 2,500 members of al-Qaida or the Taliban. That’s a civilian casualty rate of 6 percent. From 2010 to 2012, LWJ counts 48 civilian and about 1,500 Taliban/al-Qaida fatalities. That’s a rate of 3 percent.

The New America Foundation uses less charitable accounting methods. But even if you adopt NAF’s high-end estimate, the drones have killed 305 civilians, compared to some 1,500 to 2,700 militants, which puts the long-term civilian casualty rate at about 15 percent. NAF’s figures, like LWJ’s, imply that the rate has improved: From 2010 to 2012, NAF’s high-end civilian casualty tally is 90, and its midpoint estimate of dead militants is 1,410, yielding a civilian casualty rate of 6 percent.

The highest reckoning of noncombatant killings comes from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Since 2004, BIJ counts 473 to 893 civilian deaths, against a background of roughly 2,600 to 3,500 total killings. Using BIJ’s high-end estimates, if every fatality other than a civilian is a militant, the long-term civilian casualty rate is 35 percent. Using BIJ’s low-end estimates, the rate is 22 percent. But again, if you break down the data by year, they point to radical improvement. From 2010 to 2012, BIJ’s count of 172 civilian deaths, against a background of 1,616 total fatalities, yields a civilian casualty rate of 12 percent.

In Yemen, NAF says drones have killed 646 to 928 people, of which 623 to 860 were militants. If you assume that everyone not classified as a militant was a civilian, that’s a civilian casualty rate of 4 to 8 percent. LWJ’s Yemen numbers are less kind: it counts 35 civilian deaths and 274 enemy deaths in 2011 and 2012, yielding a rate of 13 percent. BIJ hasn’t tallied its Yemen data, but if you add up all the fatalities it counted as civilian in 2012, you get a civilian casualty rate of 10 to 11 percent. (For one strike last May, which several witnesses attributed to a plane, BIJ counts more noncombatant deaths than total deaths. If you don’t include those fatalities in the drone column, the civilian casualty rate for 2012 is just 7 percent.)

You can argue over which of these counting systems to believe. But the takeaway is obvious: Drones kill a lower ratio of civilians to combatants than we’ve seen in any recent war. Granted, many civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other such wars were killed by our enemies rather than by us. But that’s part of the equation. One reason to prefer drones is that when you send troops, fighting breaks out, and the longer the fighting goes on, the more innocent people die. Drones are like laparoscopic surgery: they minimize the entry wound and the risk of infection.

Over the years, I’ve shared many worries about the rise of drones: the illusion of withdrawal, the militarization of the CIA, the corruption of law, the evasion of congressional restraint, the risk of mission creep, and the proliferation of signature strikes. But civilian casualties? That’s not an argument against drones. It’s the best thing about them.

Wellthisiswhatithink believes we need to re-evaluate the drone programme. Its range, its usage, its timing, its command and control.

We are on record as saying it poisons civilians against what the West is trying to achieve, and is explicitly making the already fraught relationship between America and Pakistan, in particular, even worse than it already is. However debate on drone warfare should be based, as far as possible, on facts, not on emotion. If we are going to fight wars – a questionable decision in its own right – then we need to fight them with lowest possible impact on the civilian population, for all sorts of practical reasons, leave alone the moral ones. Recent history is, sadly, littered with examples of politicians deciding to deliberately target civilian populations, the direct opposite of their responsibility under the rules of war.

Coventry. Dresden. Nagasaki. Hiroshima. Tokyo. Hanoi. Sabra. Shatila. Srebrenica. Sarajevo. Aleppo.

It is a very sad list, is it not?

Man's deadliest killing machine, by far.

Man’s deadliest killing machine, by far.

Last but not least, in deciding how best – I will leave you to decide your own personal interpretation of “best” – to kill our fellow human beings, we should also constantly remind ourselves that bullets – fired by one person from one weapon – still kill more people in conflict zones than all other forms of ordnance put together.

Controlling the merchants of death who sell them indiscriminately to the highest bidder might be the most immediate and most “do-able” thing we can do to reduce casualties of all kinds. The first step is to make it clear to our political masters that we don’t want our countries involved in this bestial trade. Meanwhile, we would all do well to remember the simple arguments of Edwin Starr in his immortal “War”. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Wot he said.

Wot he said.

Click the link below. This fascinating interactive graphic shows you were Americans have died of gun violence SINCE Sandy Hook on December 14th.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html

Dead victims. More than one and a half thousand of them. One and a half thousand families. One and a half thousand broken individuals, many of them full of potential and life and goodness. Horrendous emotional and financial costs, one and a half thousand police cases, chases, arrests, prosecutions, trials, jail terms, and executions to be planned and implemented. In less than two months.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html

Just ponder that. It’s more than 1,600, actually. In 55 days.

That averages out to 29 people a day. On Christmas, 30 Americans were killed by guns. On New Year’s Day, it was 58. On Martin Luther King Day, 28. Last Thursday was a good day — only 13 Americans were shot to death that day.

If you are an American and you want to speak to someone in the United States Government about these statistics – if you want to express your opinion that changes need to happen, then –

  • Call Congress: 202-224-3121
  • Call the White House: 202-456-1111
  • Find your Senators by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • Find your US Representative by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).

Meanwhile, politicians bicker, opinion-makers waffle and bluster and cajole and obscure, the facts get twisted and used partially, and as time passes and nothing changes the ordinary folk watch on, appalled. And people die. Men, women, and children. And dead is forever.

Sample script:

Hi, I’m calling from [location], and I just wanted to make sure that President Obama/Senator XXXXX/Representative XXXXX knows that I support the White House gun control initiative. I think that things like background checks, limits on magazine capacity, and a ban on assault weapons are common sense, and I think it’s so important to also work with inner city communities to address their particular needs — less than 1% of urban populations are responsible for about 70% of all shootings in cities, and it’s tragic that so many people are held hostage to that violence.

As gun victim and advocate for responsible gun ownership Gabby Giffords told Congress: “We must do something. It will be hard but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous.”

I am grateful to Emily Hauser for alerting me to these facts, to Slate for doing their work, and I encourage all my American friends and colleagues to think hard, and to make sure their voices are heard.

And if you disagree with the changes proposed, just send a different message.

But whatever you believe, don’t do nothing. or nothing is exactly what will happen.

Except for the body count.

That will continue to tick over. You can be sure of that.

The Omaha courthouse lynching - story below.

Will Brown, hanged, shot and burned. The Omaha courthouse lynching – story below.*

I respect the fact that many Americans defend the Second Amendment right to “bear arms” with great sincerity.

However, it is an indisputable fact that throughout the history of the United States, and until very recently, it has been a very mixed blessing, as it has also resulted in mobs of roaming racists taking the law into their own hands.

As Americans debate their gun laws, they would do well to also consider this important historical perspective. An armed citizenry – the “militia’ of the founding fathers – could well be considered a mixed blessing. Especially if you happen to be black.

I would urge you to read this article: http://www.examiner.com/article/armed-and-dangerous-right-wing-vigilantism-american-history

Wellthisiswhatithink says: Whatever gun laws are or are not put in place, the American people surely need to face their history unflinchingly, to understand this dynamic, and guard against it. The law-abiding, responsible gun-owning citizen is not the issue here. It is what guns can do in the hands of the wrong people, or where they are prevalent in the wrong situation.

*Although not specifically about guns – although they played their role – this infamous incident was part of the wave of racial and labor violence that swept the U.S. during the “Red Summer” of 1919 and is very relevant to an understanding of mob violence and vigilantism.

As in the nation at large, it was a turning point in the history of Omaha’s black community.

Following a national pattern, the local daily newspaper carried lurid, sensational accounts of attacks by African American males on white women, without similar coverage of assaults on African American women, by either black or white males.

After one particularly provocative story in September of 1919, Will Brown, an African American man, was arrested and held in the Douglas County Courthouse.  Largely due to the newspaper story, a mob gathered.  Omaha Mayor Edward P. Smith was nearly lynched himself when he unsuccessfully attempted to disperse the crowd.  Then the mob broke into the recently constructed building, tearing off Brown’s clothing as he was being dragged out.

He was hanged on a nearby lamppost and then his body was riddled with bullets.

Finally the body was burned.

Members of the mob tied what remained of his charred body to an automobile, and dragged it around the streets of downtown Omaha.  Pieces of the rope used to lynch Brown were sold as souvenirs for 10 cents apiece.

Henry Fonda

Popular American actor Henry Fonda, who witnessed the lynching.

Although some of the leaders of the lynching were placed on trial, most received suspended sentences, or were convicted of minor offenses such as destruction of public property.

Some of the causes of the “Courthouse Lynching of 1919” were linked to Omaha city politics.

The mayor, who was a recently-elected reformer, was at odds with the machine-controlled police department, whose members were conspicuously absent during the height of the riot.

One of the thousands of witnesses to the lynching was a young man named Henry Fonda, who later remembered, “It was the most horrendous sight I’d ever seen.

My hands were wet and there were tears in my eyes.  All I could think of was that young black man dangling at the end of a rope.”

(From blackpast.org)