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The state and the economy

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COVID-19 – A Journey without Maps

By Dr John Töns  

Politicians around the world are treating the COVID-19 as a short-term crisis – the economy will go into hibernation and once the virus has run its course, we will resume business as usual.  It takes but a moment’s reflection to conclude that this is a delusional myth.

Baby boomers may not have experienced the Depression, but they have experienced the transformative impact of the Depression. Most of us would have been enjoined to be wary of debt; our parents would as far as possible save up to buy the things they needed. The closest we came to buy on credit was to use ‘lay by’ a term familiar to those of us growing up in the sixties and seventies but a mystery to the present generation. Any crisis forces people to reevaluate the way we look at the world – there is no reason to suppose that this crisis will be any different.

Therefore, to assume that this will be merely a hiccup; that when the threat of the virus has passed it will be possible to resume business as usual fails to take into account that we simply do not know how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted on the way people view the world.

For the first time many people will have discovered what it means to have clear skies and clean air. Zero-carbon emissions will no longer be such a threat – they will have experienced clear skies, the peace associated with a world where our ears not constantly assailed by the noise of traffic, will have discovered the joy of walking and shopping locally. Will they want to return to the hectic and frantic pre-covid 19 world?

The enforced home-stay will have given many pause to think and ask the questions raised by Trebeck, K. and J. Williams in their book The Economics of Arrival. Those questions centre around the benefits of a world of unbridled consumption. A world where the biggest real estate growth in the USA is in self-storage as people find they no longer have the room for all their accumulated possessions. Some will look at Kate Raworth’s idea of the Doughnut Economy and wonder whether COVID-19 was a valuable wake up call that we can simply not continue to take the natural world for granted; that there are indeed limits to growth. Yet others may find the time to read Bregman’s Utopia for Realists an account of the benefits associated with a Universal Basic Income. Moreover, they will have had the opportunity to experience a form of UBI and some will ask why would we not make this a permanent state of affairs.

We are already seeing a mushrooming of online communities – ideas are being shared, discussed and debated; expertise is being shared across the ideological divides – will these communities simply go away or will they become a political force in their own right?

Many businesses and employees will have learnt that it is possible to work from home.  Employees will be weighing up the benefits of working from home and eliminating the daily commute; employers will weigh up any loss in productivity with the savings associated with not having to rent large office space.

Tourist hotspots like Dubrovnik, Venice and Barcelona will have discovered the benefits of not being overrun by tourists and may decide to go into some form of permanent semi-lockdown where the total number of tourists is strictly limited.

Businesses and Governments will have seen the untapped potential of global telecommunications. Whilst there always has been talk of a telecommunications superhighway perhaps it is time to invest in a global telecommunications system that treats access to that telecommunications superhighway as a fundamental human right.  It may well mean a significant reduction in the number of air-miles that people travel in favour of video conferences.

It should also have impressed on all of us that the neoliberal idea of the rational market was always a myth. COVID-19 has demonstrated that we are all in this together – this means that we need to pursue policies that ensure no-one is left behind.

Like it or not the world is on a journey, a journey without maps and without an agreed destination. All we can be certain of is that when we emerge from the crisis we will enter a very different world, a world defined by uncertainties.

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Is a Food Crisis the next big hit for humanity?

By Julian Cribb  

As the world reels under corona virus and the resulting economic meltdown, another crisis – far more serious – appears to be building: the potential collapse of global food supply chains.

For those who cry “We don’t want any more bad news”, the fact of the matter is we have landed in our present mess – climate, disease, extinction, pollution, WMD – because we steadfastly ignored previous warnings.

The first warning of a corona pandemic was issued in a scientific paper in 2007 and was blithely ignored for thirteen years. In it, the scientists explicitly stated “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the re-emergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.” [1]

Similarly, in 1979, the World Meteorological Organisation warned “… the probability of a man-induced future global warming is much greater and increases with time. Soon after the turn of the century a level may possibly be reached that is exceeds all warm periods of the last 1000-2000 years.” [2] And climate warnings have been coming thick and fast ever since, to scant avail.

Now we have a new warning from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, a cautious body if ever there was one, that states “We risk a looming food crisis unless measures are taken fast to protect the most vulnerable, keep global food supply chains alive and mitigate the pandemic’s impacts across the food system.” [3]

Border closures, quarantines and market, supply chain and trade disruptions are listed as the chief reasons for concern. However, like many national governments, FAO insists “there is no need to panic” as world food production remains ample.

This, however, depends on fragile assumptions. It assumes that farmers and their families do not get sick. It assumes they will always be able to access the fuel, fertiliser, seed and other inputs they need when supply chains disintegrate. It assumes the truck drivers who transport food to the cities do not get sick, that markets, cool stores and food processing plants are not closed to protect their workers. That supermarkets continue to function, even when their shelves are stripped bare. All of which is starting to appear tenuous.

There is never a ‘need to panic’ as it does not help in resolving difficult situations. But there is definitely a need to take well-planned precautions – as we have failed to do in the cases of climate and corona virus.

The looming food crisis starts from three primary causes:

  • The global ‘just-in-time’ industrial food and supermarket system is not fit for purpose in guaranteeing food security. It is all about money, and not about human safety or nutrition. Its links are fragile and any of them can break, precipitating chaos – especially in big cities.
  • The agricultural system we know and love is becoming increasingly unreliable owing to climate change, catastrophic loss of soils worldwide, shortages of water and narrowing of its genetic base. Farmers are struggling with their own pandemics in the form of swine fever, army worms and locusts. This unreliability will become increasingly critical from the 2020s to the mid-century.
  • The predatory world economic system now punishes farmers by paying them less and less for their produce, driving them off their farms and increasingly forcing those who remain to use unsustainable methods of food production. This is causing a worldwide loss of farmers and their skills and destruction of the agricultural resource base and ecosystem at a time of rising food instability.[4]

The reason that a food crisis is far more serious than either the corona virus or its economic meltdown, is that the death toll is generally far larger. More than 200 million people have died in various famines over the last century and a half, and many of those famines led to civil wars, international wars and governmental collapses. That is why we need to pay attention now – before a new global food crisis arises. Not brush it aside, as so many inept world leaders have done with the virus.

The Spanish have a well-learned saying that “Lo que separa la civilización de la anarquía son solo siete comidas.” [5] The French and Russian Revolutions both arose out of famines. WWII arose partly out of Hitler’s desire to capture Soviet farmlands in order to avoid another WW1 famine in Germany. Many modern African wars are over food or the means to produce it. The Syrian civil war began with a climate-driven food crisis. Indeed, there is growing evidence that lack of food plays a catalytic role in around two thirds of contemporary armed conflicts. As US former president Jimmy Carter has observed “Hungry people are not peaceful people.” [6]

Food failures bring down governments and cause states to fail. In 2012 a drought in Russia and the Ukraine forced them to cut grain supplies to Egypt and Libya – where governments promptly fell to popular revolutions. It was a strange echo of history: in the third century a combination of climate change and a pandemic caused a failure in grain supplies from North Africa, an economic crash and, ultimately, the end of the Roman Empire.

While there is ‘no need to panic’ over food, there is a very clear and urgent need for plans to forestall major shortages around the world. Yet, there is very little evidence that governments worldwide are preparing to head off a food crisis, other than to reassure their citizens, Trumplike, that there isn’t a problem.  However, lack of trust by citizens in their governments has already prompted a global rush to stock up on staple foods which has ‘upended’ the vulnerable ‘just-in-time’ food delivery system in many countries.[7]

Over four billion people now inhabit the world’s great cities – and not one of those cities can feed itself. Not even close. None of them are prepared for catastrophic failure in fragile modern food chains, on which they are totally reliant. It would appear almost nobody has even dreamed of such a thing. We are sleepwalking into something far larger and far more deadly than corona virus. The delicate web of modern civilization is fraying.

What is to be done? The short answers are:

  • Introduce emergency urban food stocks
  • Compulsory reduction of food waste at all points
  • Prepare for WWII-style rationing if needed
  • Pay farmers a fair return
  • Increase school meals programs and food aid to the poor
  • Encourage local food production and urban food gardens
  • Develop a global emergency food aid network as a priority
  • Reinvent food on a three-tier global model encompassing: regenerative farming, urban food production (and recycling), accelerated deep ocean aquaculture and algae culture.

There are few crises that cannot be avoided with careful forward planning, including the ten catastrophic risks now facing humanity as a whole. [8]

It is time we, as a species, learned to think ahead better than we do, and not listen to those who cry “no more bad news, please”. They only lead us into further crisis.

 

References

[1] Cheung VCC et al., Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus as an Agent of Emerging and Reemerging Infection. Clinical Microbiology Reviews Oct 2007, 20 (4) 660-694; DOI: 10.1128/CMR.00023-07

[2] World Climate Conference 1979, http://wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/wcc-1979.html#flohn

[3] FAO. Will COVID-19 have negative impacts on global food security? March 2020. http://www.fao.org/2019-ncov/q-and-a/en/

[4] These issues are extensively analysed in my recent book Food or War, Cambridge University Press, 2019. https://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/food-or-war

[5] Civilization and anarchy are only seven meals apart.

[6] Carter J., First Step to Peace is Eradicating Hunger. International Herald Tribune, June 17, 1999.

[7] Lee A, How the UK’s just-in-time delivery model crumbled under coronavirus. Wired, 30 March 2020.

[8] Cribb JHJ, “Surviving the 21st Century”. Springer 2017. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-41270-2

 

This article was originally published on SURVIVING C21.

Julian Cribb is an Australian science author. His book Food or War describes what must be done to secure the world’s food supply.

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The state and the economy

By Evan Jones  

Right-wing governments splashing the cash in gay abandon – what gives?

Sydney Morning Herald journalist Matt Wade finished a recent article with: “In the shadow of a pandemic, we’ll have to get used to a bigger role for government in the economy”.

Quite, and not for the first time. Although perhaps what Wade meant is ‘a different role for government in the economy’. Residents of New South Wales are familiar with the over-arching activism of successive Liberal-National governments in this State since 2011 in plundering public property and in privileging developers, miners and rapacious elements of the rural sector. In Sydney, infrastructural monstrosities rule unhindered. More of this we don’t need.

Similarly, Americans are all too familiar with the leviathan that is the military-industrial-intelligence complex that not merely destabilises the globe but impoverishes the American millions who foot the bill.

The evolving imprint of the state

Behind Wade’s suggestion is an issue of historical import. Hark back two hundred years in Britain, experiencing industrialisation and urbanisation at a furious pace. What were the forces of ‘free enterprise’ doing at the time? Employing people under intolerable conditions and housing them in spec-built tenements in intolerable conditions.

From such conditions there arose dysentery, typhus, typhoid fever, smallpox, whooping cough, measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and … (Asiatic!) cholera. Infant mortality raged. Herbert Spencer was hardly born, Darwinism a future creed, so time was not yet ripe for Social Darwinists to posit the inevitability and justice of the survival of the fittest, although the Rev Thomas Malthus was much quoted in support of that cause. Instead we got the consummate bureaucrat Edwin Chadwick’s 1842 Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Classes.

Chadwick highlighted, predictably, that suffering differed across the classes, but he also highlighted that the privileged classes were not immune. Horrors. Meanwhile the denizens of ‘the private sector’ were in their counting houses and reposing on estates acquired from an impoverished gentry. Here was a problem of the collective, and the entity evolving to pursue the collective interest, the state, had to step into the breach. By default.

This was a period that some economic historians had designated ‘the age of laissez-faire’, but there never was such a period. The state was dismantling timeworn structures at the behest of an ascendant bourgeoisie. Yet before that task was completed the state was confronted with problems arising structurally from the new order.

In 1833 there was legislated the Factory Act, which restricted the use of child labour in textile mills. That in itself was the product of thirty years of manoeuvring, and a foretaste of more factory Acts to come.

Since that time, the state has never ceased to pick up the pieces, direct traffic of a wayward economy and society. Its bailiwick – economic development and infrastructure, economic crises, natural calamities, scams of every description, class conflict, social deprivation, war and the aftermath of war, etc.

For example, in the late nineteenth century some governments instituted compulsory primary education, beginning an edifice of significant long term expense and administration demands. The motivation was complex. Employers demanded rudimentary skills even of the lower echelons of their workforce. Moreover, with the onset of adult (male) franchise, reluctantly ceded, the lower orders had to be educated as to what was right and proper.

The establishment and maintenance of economic and social order thus proved to be jolly hard work, an enterprise in progress, with a global dimension involving a system of states.

Thus has ensued a quantitative increase in the state’s presence, in terms of expenditures, and perennial qualitative transformations in the nature and subjects of regulations – all of which are the object of political and social contestation.

The state is hydra-headed. At root is the natural prerogative of states to make war, and to promote its economic interests abroad. The state, as a matter of course, will privilege the powerful (Engels, 1884: ‘… the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but as it arose, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class …). The state will also, less regularly, privilege the less powerful and the dispossessed. From this latter category came the building blocks of the modern ‘welfare state’.

The sources for Marx and Engel’s generalisation were self-evident – as in the brutal repression of agitation for worker rights and political reform, as in the barbaric 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. Previously, the British state oversaw centuries of enclosure movements by which a working class was forcibly created. State-legitimised class rule was embodied in the carry over and enforcement of Master-Servant statutes which structured workplace subordination and incidentally formed the basis for modern employment law.

As to contrary tendencies with the state attending to the less powerful, some state personnel had altruistic motives, but the majority were strategically more visionary. It was necessary to give a little, make concessions to the pressure from below and its supporters to prevent social breakdown and to maintain the social order. This was ‘intelligent conservatism’ (in the true sense of the label) at work – a label now difficult to understand as the breed and the mentality have been utterly obliterated from within the Right by the forces of reaction.

Such developments were not driven by ideas but facts on the grounds. Political processes in turn produced defensive philosophies and ideologies. Thus in late 19th Century Britain a dysfunctional classical liberalism was countered by a philosophical ‘social liberalism’ – as in the works of T. H. Green and, most accessibly, of Leonard Hobhouse. In Australia, we would later call this mentality ‘small-l liberalism’.

In the 20th Century, the pressure of events (crisis) and a social liberalist mindset operated dialectically to produce J. M. Keynes and his path-breaking analysis of an economic system behind the 1930s Depression. Ditto William Beveridge’s monumental overseeing of the creation of Britain’s National Health Service during World War II.

The state’s role through a glass darkly

The general public has been inadequately apprised of the nature of this long term evolution of the role of the state. Compounding the issue of gaps in general education has been persistent misrepresentation and deception.

The state in the economy is obtusely labelled ‘government intervention’, implicitly imparting an unnatural character to the state as actor.

Austrian economist and philosopher Frederick Hayek pushed the concept of ‘spontaneous order’. Rational autonomous individuals, acting out of self-interest with no bonds of formal cooperation, ‘collectively’ generate an ordered structure. The ‘market’ (always in the abstract) and the price mechanism are the impersonal means to this outcome. Don’t mess with it and all will be well. In the human domain, it is a concept both ahistorical and preposterous.

The much-feted Milton Friedman, in his (with wife Rose) much-feted 1980 Free to Choose, has it that the evolution of the role of the state in 20th Century US is due to the influence of the Socialist Party in the Century’s first decades. Friedman claims that although inconsequential electorally, “both major parties [henceforth] adopted the position of the Socialist party” (p.334). A proposition too ludicrous for words.

Down under, the key role of the state in the development of the 19th Century white settler economy is curiously labelled ‘colonial socialism’.

A sterling example of misrepresentation comes from the reconstruction of the economy in what became West Germany after 1949. According to the pundits, here was Exhibit A for the merits of financial orthodoxy coupled with a conscientious application of the homegrown ‘ordoliberalism’ (a Christian Democrat variation on a ‘free market’ theme). On the contrary. Andrew Shonfield’s 1965 Modern Capitalism, sadly neglected, sets the story right (p.274-5):

“… when the German Government intervened to accelerate the growth of certain sectors of the economy, it went to great lengths to present the matter … as if it derived from or supplemented some primary private initiative [unlike in France]. Indeed the German Government seemed at times almost to be trying to disguise what it was doing even from itself. …

“While the Ministry of Finance was busy keeping house, and conscientiously disregarding the effect that this frugal exercise might have on the rest of the economy, the Ministry of Economics was most actively intervening wherever opportunities for more production, aided by strategically placed subsidies or tax concessions, presented themselves. Rarely can a ministry so vociferously devoted to the virtues of economic liberalism and market forces have taken so vigorous a part in setting the direction and selecting the targets of economic development.”

This misrepresentation subsequently played a significant part in the terms of the construction of the European Union (under American suzerainty), ultimately under West German (later unified German) domination. The parlous effects of this gigantic sleight of hand are played out daily in the structured asymmetry of benefits from the Union.

Compounding the lack of understanding is the economics profession and its tentacled influence. The typical tertiary training in economics gives one no exposure whatsoever to the state. At best, the state exists as a deus ex machina handing down ‘macroeconomic policy’, perhaps the odd extra function exposed in an optional course that few take, but that’s it. It’s a monumental scandal, but internal dissent generally gets quashed, and the hallowed principle of academic freedom ensures that it the ‘profession’ is secure from outside forces. The sub-discipline of economic history previously offered some insight, even if over-populated by mainstream economic historians (c/f. ‘colonial socialism’). As economics departments were subsumed within business schools, the far-sighted new managerial class decided that economic history was dispensable. History is irrelevant.

More, said ill-tutored economics graduates staff, indeed stuff, key parts of the public service, especially the central agencies and the regulatory agencies. They become cogs in arms of the state of whose functions, history, capacity and limitations they are oblivious.

Beyond the perennial obfuscation is a larger project of denial.

If you want to bash the state you have two prominent, albeit divergent, schools to draw on (n.b. anarchism has been written out of history, so that doesn’t count). One is the US-based ‘Economic Theory of Politics’ school, for whom the late James Buchanan is a guru. The state is bloated and the source of this parlous situation is the unceasing demands of the masses on their governments. The problem is democracy itself, which will have to be dramatically straight-jacketed. Not unsurprisingly, Buchanan and fellow travellers have apoplexy over some activities of the state (welfare, affirmative action) and not others (the military, corporate welfare). Buchanan was instrumental in the counter-democratic refashioning of Chile’s constitution under Pinochet, against which the Chilean people are currently rebelling.

The second school draws its intellectual lineage heavily from the post-World War I Austrian School (Ludwig von Mises). This school boasts a phalanx of foot soldiers of purist libertarian persuasion, many of whom are curiously comfortably employed in corporate-funded ‘think tanks’ (c.f The Institute of Public Affairs, Hoover Institution, etc.) and press themselves regularly into the mainstream media with their homilies. For this mob, the significant role of the state in modern capitalism has all been a huge mistake and unnecessary.

One of the better informed of this latter mob is the much-published Richard Higgs. His 1987 book Crisis and Leviathan captures its substance in the title. Higgs argues that, at key junctures, crises that are ‘manageable’ are either overblown or non-existent crises manufactured so that the state apparatus can be dramatically and permanently expanded. Higgs’ argument is not without merit, drawing empirical support at this very moment as governments (France, Hungary, Israel) cynically use the Covid-19 emergency to develop nascent authoritarian tendencies into a fully blown police state. Indeed, Higgs’ argument provides substance for why those who postulate the possibility of ‘false flag’ operations by government operatives, universally denigrated as deranged ‘conspiracy theorists’, might occasionally have just cause.

But there is something essentially pathological about the libertarian set, with its vision of the ideal state illusory. The evolution of the role of the state in the West over the last two hundred years, in general rather than in particulars, has been inevitable. A strong state, for both good and bad, has been essential to the functioning of the capitalist economy. Finding an acknowledgement of that fact anywhere outside of select academic literature is a near impossibility.

The age of neoliberalism

Hawke/Keating Labor ushered in the neoliberal era in Australia, and John Howard determinedly cemented it. On the Liberal side, Howard tenaciously cleared out the small-l liberals in their midst. In Labor ranks, nobody had the courage to question the Hawke/Keating legacy (even with Hawke’s death, but Keating is still there to kick heads). Advisory staff to both major Parties would have been born the day before yesterday and have been suckled in the neoliberal age. Public servants, especially the newly fragilised Senior Executive Service, adopted the correct line to save their jobs and pay their mortgages.

Rod Clement, Australian Financial Review, 10 December 1999

This is ground zero. The past is irrelevant. An age of stunning intellectual vacuity. Exemplary for the age is the opening stanza of the fat 1981 Campbell Report into the Australian Financial System: ‘The Committee starts from the view that the most efficient way to organise economic activity is through a competitive market system which is subject to a minimum of regulation and government intervention’. Brilliant!

There ushered in through the front door an army of vested interests, hiding behind a front of ignorant but zealous ideologues. The arguments were all bullshit, floating on thin air. Neoliberalist tenets, unlike those of classical liberalism, had no organic relation with existing conditions. It was a vehicle for plundering public assets, exploiting small business, undermining hard-won workforce conditions and dismantling the hard-won welfare state.

Whitlam Labor created the Industries Assistance Commission to deal with a specific issue needing reform but entrenched an ideological coven. Hawke/Keating Labor reprieved it, gave it a universal brief as the renamed Industry Commission, and Howard had only to tweak the beast into the Productivity Commission. No other country has ever granted so much responsibility for ‘intelligence’ to a single unreconstructed think tank. Couple that with the massive out-sourcing of ‘intelligence’ to private consultants (now especially the Big Four ex-accounting firms) and one has an environment in which policy options are systematically truncated, alternatives still-born.

The neoliberal era was not a move to ‘the small state’. Rather, it involved a reorientation of a strong state to significantly different priorities – essentially catering to the wishlist of corporate capital. In the process political personnel and bureaucratic personnel have decapacitated the state apparatus to effect robust management of any crisis, leave alone to effect progressive change.

Representative was the Coalition’s belligerent indifference to the impact of climate change and to expert pressure on the need to prepare for impending bushfire devastation. Other reflections of this mentality are the Coalition’s attempted discrediting of Rudd Labor’s modest post-GFC stimulus, the deeply imbalanced economic relationship with China, the impoverishment of public infrastructure, workplace conditions and welfare, and the governing Coalition’s absurd mid-2019 tax cuts while tolerating widespread corporate tax evasion.

It is welcome then that this federal government, intrinsically reactionary, prone to lassitude, ignorant, arrogant in its ignorance, has turned on the sluice gates. For lack of grounding, it is forced into the ultimate in pragmatism, dependent on a federal Treasury out of its depth.

But will it change its ways after this crisis relents? There’s no evidence, as there is no evidence of such to date in any other country. With a nasty budget black hole, that ‘bigger role’ will, in all likelihood, not be turned to permanently enhancing Newstart or abolishing Robodebt siphoning but to further tightening the screws.

Evan Jones, now retired, lectured in political economy at the University of Sydney for 34 years.

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Death of a Princess

By Graham Nowland  

From the car park on the roof of Coles in Fremantle shoppers can see the MV Artania. It’s on the old Passenger Ship Terminal in Fremantle Inner Harbour. This is where the poor and hopeful got their first look at the new land. First Australian port of call, Gateway to Australia. Now the terminal just handles cruise ships. There are said to be about eight of these vessels stranded around Australia.

Australian Border Force personnel are on guard at the gangway to the MV Artania and, far above, the master is locked in battle with the government over its fate. Skipper Captain Morten Hansen is Norwegian, so the West Australian has cast him as a Viking charmer somewhat out of his depth.

He seems more like his fellow Norwegian, Captain Arne Rinnan, master of the car freighter Tampa, who defied the Federal government back in 2001. The Tampa left Fremantle and shortly after rescued 400 asylum seekers from their sinking boat. Rinnan took them to Christmas Island. At that moment John Howard was embroiled in an election battle where ‘asylum seekers’ was the key issue. The PM ordered Rinnan to clear off, to dump these illegal immigrants somewhere else, anywhere, he didn’t care, just not in Australia.

Rinnan refused. He held his ship off Christmas, a very tricky port, using a risky back and forth manoeuvre under power. He did it for days. He won and ADF people took the asylum seekers off his ship. John Howard won the election with the tough guy act but maritime people were not so impressed. Howard had contravened SOLAS – the sacred maritime law of Safety of Life at Sea – for politics. The boat people ended up at Nauru and it was the beginning of an agonising two decades of Australian border policy.

Captain Morten Hansen is at the centre of a quite different battle, but he is proving just as stubborn, imaginative and probably just as principled as Rinnan. Scott Morrisson seems to have learnt from John Howard. He is letting Labor WA Premier, Mark McGowan, deal with it.

All big ship’s masters are clever, resourceful and wily. They have to be as they pick their way round the world’s ports keeping ship, crew and passengers out of trouble. In addition, they have a huge battery of international maritime laws to draw upon. At sea they have almost unlimited power.

In port this diminishes but they deal mainly with other Masters. The harbourmaster is a former ship’s Master. The pilots are Masters, the tugboat captains are Masters. They have a code and are used to wielding absolute authority. They stick together and almost enjoy these tussles with land governments. It’s hard to imagine, if you haven’t seen it in action, and they keep it all quiet, but it’s true.

OK given all that and given the COVID 19 crisis is tricky, why doesn’t Captain Hansen just set off with his crew back to Germany. It’s a German ship isn’t it?

Well quite apart from the crew being mainly from South Asia, which has a considerable number of implications, the ship is not German owned. Finland built, the vessel was originally christened Royal Princess in 1984 by Diana, Princess of Wales. The first cruise ship to have all cabins on the outside with a sea view it was a P&O liner and British (more or less).

It was renamed Artemis the following year. Artemis cruised with P&O for over 25 years. In 2009 a British Virgin Islands company, MS Artania Shipping, was formed to own Artemis but P&O continued to operate it. Two years later the ship became MV Artania and the Virgin Island company leased it (or perhaps sold it) to Phoenix Reisen. At this point Phoenix and Johannes Zurneiden, its founder-owner, acquired shares in the Virgin Islands company.

Pheonix Reisen is a German travel agency which charters ships to operate cruises. Did Johnannes Zurneiden somehow find the vast amount of capital needed to buy the ship outright? Is that the right question? Should it be more like does P & 0, itself now owned by the British-American shipping giant, Carnival Corporation, still really own it? Here is a bit more of the story.

Johannes Zurneiden dreamed up Phoenix Reisen initially while studying publishing. It was a theoretical model, but he suddenly had the bright idea of making it real to finance his studies.

The company’s MO is leasing ageing ships to run cruises until the vessel has to be scrapped. The first one was the Maxim Gorky which Phoenix leased from a Soviet Union company, Black Sea Shipping. It had a lot of mechanical problems so Zurneiden began leasing better old ships. He currently charters five but he has had over a dozen in total. The rest have been cut up or changed livery.

Zurneiden is a skilful promoter. In the last few years he has let a TV company make MV Artania into a kind of reality show called ‘Crazy for the Sea’. The stars were Captain Hansen, his officers, the fading ship, the charming crew and the ageing wealthy passengers.

When Mark MacGowan ordered the ship back to its port of origin this history is what he was dealing with. No wonder he looks so exasperated and gets so testy at the daily COVID-19 press conferences when reporters ask him about it.

What is the port of origin? The ship operates under a Bahamas flag with a British Virgin Islands owner. Tracking the voyage of the Artania before it came here reveals it is, like so many of these ships, a sort of nomad. Since P&O distanced itself, the MV Artania hasn’t really had a real port of origin.

Now the Royal Princess/Artemis/Artania may have reached the end of the line. Most of the crew are from the Philippines or Indonesia. The passengers have nearly all gone home. This is a very old ship with little hope of another cruise. Captain Hansen is playing for time and seems to be trying to get an outcome for his crew. He must know the ship itself might be doomed. This is the sort of story many of the cruise ships currently in or just off Australian waters are likely to have.

Graham Nowland is an ex-staff news reporter/photographer on world-leading shipping paper, Lloyds List DCN. Graham was also a regular freelance feature writer for West Australian, Sunday Times, and Brisbane Courier-Mail and many others.

 

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Dud’s Army

By Grumpy Geezer  

The make-over of FauxMo, a disaster recovery project, has been overtaken by circumstance. After his facile daggy dad routine was found to be not fit for purpose in the face of a crisis a revised personal brand was no doubt being worked on by the empathy consultants and image managers.

But a comprehensive and coherent national response to a virulent pandemic leaves no time for a re-branding. Or does it?

Wait, there it is … the practised choke in the voice, the wiping away of a tear. Unfunded empathy, albeit feigned, has been plucked from the disposable principles bin to serve the greater good – the resurrection of Scotty PM, V5.0.

Unfair? Too cynical? If it was anybody but Morrison perhaps so, but we have here the master cynic and spinmeister, the leader of a cynical party that divides through invented fears to rule as they see fit. Now that we are confronted by a valid fear, one not of their own fabrication, FauxMo and the Tories were caught flat-footed. Weeks of denial, prevarication and incompetence left the country exposed.

Panicked into action, FauxMo and Co. have seen their beloved lifters-and-leaners feudalistic #Mefirst ideology founder, as useful as a concrete lifejacket. I won’t lie – the schadenfreude of watching the rampaging, free-marketeers scramble for the sanctuary of the socialist life boat has brightened the gloom a tad and there’s some small promise of a better society and a greener planet once the pandemic has passed.

But through it all Brother Scotty has maintained his Mammonite’s faith in his elitist god, the dispenser of wealth and privilege to the deserving. He’s spent time on his knees and on Zoom to check in with the Big Guy; he’s not surrendered his core beliefs. Is the Corona virus his god’s test for him and his like to rebuild new and improved means to serve the interests of the righteous rich?

Should this be so he’ll need a marketing strategy and Flim-Flam Man will need a new persona to pull it off. Chubby, pie-stained, smirking dickhead won’t cut the mustard.

There’s BroSco’s role model, Deranged Donny, who in his lucid moments is merely moronic. Mr Tangerine Man could blame syphilitic dementia or hairspray poisoning for his current psychopathy but his criminality and greed are life-long characteristics. Rumpled Thin Skin, a 150kg freezerpack of congealed hamburger grease with a spray-painted complexion applied from the exhaust fan of a Cheetos factory is a joyless, friendless, habitual liar and monosyllabic goon who, with his demon spawn, has never seen a grift he shouldn’t graft, a charity he shouldn’t steal from nor a child labour force he shouldn’t exploit.

Trump’s cloistered privilege manifests itself in a weakness for ostentatious, gold-plated, dictator kitsch as narcissistic displays of wealth and power, his fawning obsequiousness to despots is paired with a disdain for the disenfranchised and powerless yet there is a real prospect that, heart attack or criminal charges aside, he’ll get a second term. Fat Donny and his crime spree is looked upon admiringly by many of our RWNJs – they see a test case for their own proclivities. FauxMo sees a populist hero. Despite Morrison’s fawning even he will see the lack of appeal of a Trump-lite in the face of a crisis.

Boris Johnson, the rumpled defective currently squatting at 10 Downing Street, may get into knife fights for the cheap haircuts but he does have the toff background and scholarly knowledge to lend a jot of credibility to the Churchillian delusions he’d adopted with his treatment of Brexit as his Battle Of Britain, but it’s a bridge too far from The Shire to the war rooms of Whitehall for our second rate ad man. Gravitas to BroSco is what he puts on his chips at Maccas so the British Bulldog theme is not credible.

So, another bespoke personal brand is called for.

Serious, take charge leader seems like the appropriate option for FauxMo to recover from the poor look of his cowardly Hawaiian decamping holiday, his partying at Kirribilli to a backdrop of bushfire smoke and his embarrassingly risible photo ops amidst the charred remains of people’s lives.

Despite the new found, if belated, solemnity with the virus’s arrival, the real Morrison is still there. The facile slogans (“Australians being Australian”, “the Anzac spirit”), the hokey homilies, the condescending tone, the avoidance of scrutiny, the religiosity. The smirk still breaks through to remind us of the arrogance of this prick who’s more Captain Mainwaring than Winston Churchill.

FauxMo hasn’t changed, his elitist right-wing ideology has not changed and neither has that of the crime cartel working undercover as Tory MPs. Morrison’s capture by the mining lobby is complete with his call to Nev Power, ex-CEO of Fortescue Metals Group to head a Corona virus task force  (“I said Nev, I said love, I said pet”). Nev has no knowledge of epidemiology; his expertise is digging huge holes in the ground and sacking people.

The institutions that underpin a fair and functioning democracy are still on their shit list – unions, the ABC, the CSIRO, Medicare and Centrelink have all demonstrated their value during the pandemic. The Tory attacks upon them will be resumed over time if we allow it – FauxMo has said he wants things to return things to “normal”. The Lib’s agenda has been put on hold, it will be resumed camouflaged as recovering from the crisis.

Climate change, a greater threat than the virus, will be sacrificed in the name of “economic recovery”. Mining will be accelerated, safeguards dispensed with, the environment will be exploited as never before. Democratic oversight will not be fully restored. Rules limiting the number of people allowed to gather will be used to silence dissent. The sports rorts crimes will be brushed aside as unimportant. Accountability for the Ruby Princess debacle will be dodged. The incompetence of Stewart Robert and the dodginess of Angus Taylor will be swept under the carpet. Franking credits and tax cuts have already been ruled as sacrosanct. The spivs and grifters are working on their disaster capitalism business plans as we speak.

The positive steps that have been taken have a lifespan of 6 months, yet the negative aspects have no sunset clauses. Drought, fires, the virus and next up … a plague of profiteering locusts.

I hope I’m wrong. I fear I’m not.

This article was originally published on The Grumpy Geezer.

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Doing a Wuhan

By Graham Nowland  

Only when COVID-19 testers get to test more widely do we stand a chance of avoiding the worst this virus can dish out. That is what the overseas evidence is telling us. The governments in Australia seem to realise this. Western Australia Health Minister, Roger Cook, unveiled expanded testing will start on Thursday. The other states are thought to be doing the same.

It’s good news, but should include a model which looks for a worrying phenomenon, asymptomatic carriers. This is according to a professional data analyst who also suggests sampling methods could minimise the number of kits used.

Mr Cook could not at this stage reveal any details on the tests, statistical models or criteria. His message was clear though. ‘We need to do research not only in the labs but on the front line as well.’ He said maps are coming that will show which suburbs are affected. ‘They are euphemistically called ‘heat-maps’ and show the intensity of cases locally’. These could be here within 24 hours. Presumably they will be updated as the expanded testing starts to yield results.

More generally he said, ‘We are doing a virtual Wuhan making sure we reconfigure our beds utilising under-used beds to essentially rebuild a whole new hospital made up of hundreds of beds dedicated to COVID-19’. Hundreds of respirators are also on the way from overseas along with other equipment.

Mentioning Wuhan as a point of reference is a breakthrough. Up to now any questions about the Chinese experience have been curved away. The change suggests a policy adjustment by the National Cabinet which is flowing into the states’ health departments.

in December and January China instigated two tough but unsuccessful waves of measures against COVID-19. The government were shaken to realised encouraging dips in numbers of new cases didn’t stop deaths and hospital overload. It sent teams of doctors and scientists into Wuhan to make major reassessments and get fresh evidence for analysis. Soon they found out they needed to know a lot more about where local clusters had got hold. They realised transmission within the family especially drove the virus in its early stages in Wuhan. They also discovered evidence of asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 – carriers with no symptoms.

Deputy chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, stated five days ago asymptomatic transmission is an issue. WA Health information shows current tests at hospitals aim mainly to confirm symptoms are really COVID-19.

Evidence on the net from respectable sources creates a strong suspicion that other testing is also needed. The professional mathematician who, until very recently worked in a prominent data analysis company in Perth, confirmed this.

‘Trying to get information on the relationship of testing and community is quite a challenging problem and, given the urgency testing those with symptoms, may be a bit much to promise. I think the big question for Health is how they can tell there are not more people out there who are asymptomatic. For instance, what proportion of the people they have traced down so far have no symptoms.

‘A statistical sample could be designed to try to identify the extent of community spread, especially of those who may display no symptoms or mild symptoms. Using statistical sampling methodology this could be designed in such a way to minimise the quantity of tests required. Currently as all testing has only been on overseas travellers or those with a known contact, and the cases have to display more severe symptoms, there is currently no information on the extent of community spread (if any).

‘The WA minister for health Roger Cook has announced the state would be expanding its testing regime for COVID-19, but still only including those with severe symptoms. While this is a step in the right direction it still leaves open the question of whether there is widespread asymptomatic spread’.

With testing apparently about to go up to the front line, wherever that is, will this mean new jobs? Can stood-down workers quickly retrain to do testing? If so, will they need masks and protective gear which appear to be short supply in Australia?

Some factories in Australia do appear to be gearing up to produce more test kits, masks and protective clothing. However, today’s news also reveals we are going overseas for respirators and other high-tech COVID-19 equipment. Shouldn’t we do that here too, given we have the resources and a work force being stood down?

(The Chinese data comes from a Harvard University report, a WHO report, and a Chinese foreign affairs press release signed by ambassador to Ghana, Shi Ting Wang. China is currently helping Ghana manage its COVID-19 outbreak).

Graham Nowland is an ex-staff news reporter/photographer on world-leading shipping paper, Lloyds List DCN. Graham was also a regular freelance feature writer for West Australian, Sunday Times, and Brisbane Courier-Mail and many others.

 

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The chickens are coming home to roost

By 2353NM  

Apart from the creation of a futures market in toilet paper, pasta and rice, the Coronavirus may also have a few positive political effects here and overseas.

Firstly, the messaging from the government regarding protection of you and those around you seems to be based on the recommendations from the medical community. Yes, there is a realisation that scientists who are experts at understanding communicable diseases do know more than politicians. In this case the politicians are taking the advice, even to the stage of Peter Dutton’s accepting Queensland Health’s recommendation for isolation in hospital when diagnosed with Coronavirus. While Morrison and the rest of Cabinet didn’t choose to self-isolate despite being in contact with Dutton in the period immediately prior to Dutton’s diagnosis, Morrison chose not to go to what was the first and may be the last opportunity to see his favourite football team play for some time the following weekend. Also to be fair, testing the Ministry and advisors in the Cabinet Room prior to the onset of symptoms is pointless — and a waste of resources.

Is it too much to hope for a recantation of the dodgy accounting and bluster in regard to the emissions targets and ‘carbon tax’ that have poisoned Australian politics for a decade? After all, the experts in environmental science have been warning of events such as ‘mega-fires’ and greater frequency of highly destructive cyclones for about the same length of time.

Secondly, the government released ‘scalable’ financial measures to attempt to keep the economy from diving into a recession. There are a number of measures that promote ‘instant’ spending as well as measures that will take some time to have an effect. Again the measures seem to be based on the advice of experts in their field at Treasury. It’s probably not accidental that the measures imitate to an extent those implemented by Rudd and his Treasurer Wayne Swan around a decade ago during the ‘Global Financial Crisis’ (you know the one that the Coalition has been arguing didn’t exist because Australia didn’t go into a recession). The Coalition have been pillorying the ALP for a decade about the measures that put the infamous “$900 cheques” into the hands of people that would ‘only spend the money on (the then new and expensive) flat screen televisions and at the pokies, built a large number of assembly halls and other needed infrastructure at schools and assisted a considerable number of people to be able to regulate the temperature in their homes in a far more environmentally sustainable way. Certainly the implementation at the time wasn’t gold plated perfection — but Morrison’s will probably come up against similar issues with his stimulus package in the months ahead including loading the $750 stimulus given to Centrelink ‘customers’ to the ‘cashless welfare card’ if it’s an option.

The Coalition’s carefully crafted ‘truism’ that they are the better economic managers because the ALP hands the cash out to anyone now has the same credibility as their line about ‘the carbon tax’ causing $100 lamb roasts, the wipe out of Whyalla and ongoing economic pain. Don’t forget former PM Abbott’s Chief of Staff told us the ‘carbon tax’ claim was just brutal retail politics. If you doubt it, the audio is here, courtesy of Buzzfeed.

It isn’t only Australian politicians that are eating humble pie — US President Donald Trump has been somewhat less than enthusiastic about vaccination in the past. Like the Coalition government’s budget cuts to the CSIRO, the editor of the USA’s Science Magazine reports

For the past 4 years, President Trump’s budgets have made deep cuts to science, including cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH. With this administration’s disregard for science of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the stalled naming of a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy — all to support political goals — the nation has had nearly 4 years of harming and ignoring science.

Suddenly, a change of tune

“Do me a favor, speed it up, speed it up.” This is what U.S. President Donald Trump told the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, recounting what he said to pharmaceutical executives about the progress toward a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

It would be easy to comment that “karma is a bugger” and leave it there. But there is something to consider further here. While Morrison (and Trump) have been caught out playing politics, Morrison at least is also finding out that reacting to changing circumstances can be accepted if it is seen to be in the public’s best interests. Let’s hope he joins the dots and figures out most of us couldn’t give a damn if there is an economic surplus or not, it is far more important to produce meaningful reductions in emissions (without dodgy accounting) and demonstrate kindness and compassion to refugees, the jobless and those that genuinely need a hand in our society. The UK and USA have been printing additional money for years with apparently little adverse economic effect.

You and I need to tell all those that run for political office that we no longer have the appetite for a winner take all competition. We need to know why you are doing what you’re doing (even if it takes longer than 30 seconds on the evening news to tell us), if the situation changes it is acceptable to change tack and leaving a healthy and liveable environment for our descendants is of utmost importance. In addition, all those elected to office (regardless of political ‘colour’) have the right to have a seat at the table and their opinions heard and considered.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword

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Call for a Global Plan for Human Survival

Media Release from the Commission for the Human Future

Canberra, March 28, 2020: A group of Australian scientists, business leaders, public servants and academics has called for the world’s nations to come together to develop a strategy for human survival.

Recognising mounting catastrophic risks from mismanaged human and environmental systems, under-regulated weapons and the failure of our political processes to address serious challenges like climate change and pandemic disease, the newly formed Commission for the Human Future said it is time for humanity to act together to secure our future.

“The coronavirus pandemic, Australia’s recent bushfire crisis and severe drought highlight how catastrophic risks are building up. Most countries are experiencing similar increases in uncontrolled threats. These are a wake-up call to the whole of humanity that it is time for action,” Commission chairman Professor John Hewson said.

“At our online Roundtable today, we considered ten major catastrophic threats to humanity – and we recognised they are interconnected. This means we must solve them together, not one at a time, and with solutions that make no threat worse. What we are facing now with COVID19 is a dress rehearsal for other threats to come.”

“The group also agreed that many practical solutions exist and can easily be implemented to avoid catastrophic consequences in the years ahead.

“What humans do about catastrophic risks in the next decade will determine whether current and future generations will face serious threats to their survival – or whether we can build a safer, more prosperous and sustainable future.

“The group concluded that solving these risks holds tremendous opportunities for wellbeing, development, stability, peace and renewal for the whole world – and that the benefits to all of acting now as a global community are enormous.”

A full report of the Roundtable discussion will be issued shortly. Contact us for a copy.

More information:

Professor John Hewson AM, ph +61 412 261 463

Em. Prof. Bob Douglas AO, ph +61 409 233 138, eml bobdouglas@netspeed.com.au

Julian Cribb FRSA FTSE, ph +61 418 639 245, eml jcribb@grapevine.com.au

Arnagretta Hunter FRACP ph + 61 418 419 414 eml dr.aj.hunter@gmail.com

More details on global risks and The Commission: http://humansforsurvival.org/

 

This media release was original published on Humans for Survival.

 

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Terminal adolescents (part 9)

By Dr George Venturini  

Is it possible that certain British historians have consistently tried to play down anti-Semitism in the British Royal Family during the 1930s?

“Edward VIII was particularly attracted to the Nazis because of their social ideas,” said Karina Dr. Urbach, an assertion which contrasts with that of the British historian Philip Sandeman Ziegler. In 2012 Ziegler published a biography of Edward VIII, who was king for six months in 1936 only to abdicate so he could marry an American divorcee. Ziegler has written that Edward VIII was only “mildly anti-Semitic.”

In her book, much of Dr. Urbach’s narrative focuses on royal relative Charles Edward and his loyalty to the Nazi movement for two decades. It would appear his ties to Hitler helped to create a widespread culture of anti-Semitism among the British monarchy.

In April 1945 code-breakers at Bletchley Park, England, intercepted the following telegramme from Adolf Hitler, who was then under siege in his bunker in Berlin: “The Führer attaches importance to the President of the Red Cross, the Duke of Coburg, on no account falling into enemy hands.” No guessing what that means.

Dr. Urbach believes that whatever information Hitler shared with Charles Edward it was damning enough to warrant an assassination request.

According to The Guardian Charles Edward was aware of the death camps’ work (L. Mangan, ‘Last night’s TV,’ The Guardian, 5 February 2009).

It is almost impossible, affirmed Dr. Urbach, that Charles Edward did not have a deep understanding of the gas chambers and the plans for the extermination of the Jews. In fact, Charles Edward’s cousin, Prince Josias Waldek-Pyrmont, was a high-ranking member of the SS and supervised one of the death camps in Buchenwald. The two men also shared a villa in Berlin where other SS officers constantly frequented.

Prince Josias Waldek-Pyrmont, a high-ranking SS member, who supervised a Buchenwald death camp

At Buchenwald alone, it is estimated that the Nazi programme killed 100,000 disabled people. (P. F. Kapnistos. Hitler’s doubles, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, New York 2015).

American officers who were part of the army’s psychological warfare team captured Coburg during the second world war. When asked if he thought the Jews were treated badly in the war, Charles Edward said that methods used by Hitler to eliminate them were harsh, but necessary to remove Jewish influence from the world of German arts, media and culture.

Charles Edward was later imprisoned with other Nazi officials. His sister, Princess Alice, learning of his incarceration, travelled to Germany with her husband, the Earl of Athlone  –  then Governor General of Canada, to plead for his release with his American captors. They dined with the American generals holding her brother, who declined to release him. In spite of being a cousin of king George VI, he was held in the harshest internment camps. (M. Thornton, ‘The Nazi relative that the Royals disowned’, The Daily Mail, Australia, 1 December 2007).

Charles Edward was imprisoned until 1946. He was originally charged with crimes against humanity and the trial was held. Though he was exonerated of complicity in actual war crimes, he was judged to have been ‘an important Nazi’. Only his failing health saved him from remaining in prison. Another factor for leniency towards him was the fact that in April 1946, his daughter Sybilla had given birth to a son, the future King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who became, upon birth, third-in-line to the Swedish throne. In January 1947 Sybilla’s husband died in a plane crash, and in October 1950, King Gustaf V of Sweden died, at which point Charles Edward’s grandson became the Crown Prince of Sweden. In that same year 1950, after several appeals, Charles Edward was sentenced by a denazification court as a Mitläufer – a follower, the fourth lowest group or category in the denazification proceedings – and Minderbelasteter – a follower of lesser guilt – fined DM 5,000, which was quite a sum at the time, and almost bankrupted. Had he been convicted for the greater charge of ‘crimes against humanity’, he would have been liable for a death sentence, and even otherwise, to criminalise the future king’s grandfather for ‘crimes against humanity’ would lead to major embarrassment in the immediate term and could have had ramifications in years to come. The lesser sentence was therefore handed out.

Apart from being fined DM 5,000, Charles Edward also lost significant property as a result of his participation in the second world war. Gotha was part of Thuringia and was therefore situated in the Soviet occupation zone. The Soviet Army confiscated much of the family’s property in Gotha. However, Coburg had become part of Bavaria in 1920 and was occupied by American forces. The family were able to retain the substantial property located there and in other parts of Germany and abroad.

The once Leopold Carl Eduard Georg Albert, now simply Karl Eduard, spent the last years of his life in seclusion and poverty because of the fines he was forced to pay as a result of the denazification process. In 1953 he was able to watch the coronation of his cousin’s grand-daughter at a movie house. He died as a ‘penniless criminal’ on 6 March 1954.

Dr. Urbach believes that the influence the Nazi party had on the British monarchy can be traced back to the German relatives of Queen Mary of Teck (1867-1953), the wife of king George V (1865-1953), mother to king Edward VIII (1894-1972), George VI (1895-1952), and grandmother to the current Queen. [Mary was a princess of Teck, in the Kingdom of Württemberg, although she was born and raised in England. Her parents were Francis, Duke of Teck, who was of German extraction, and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, who was a granddaughter of King George III].

“This has never been analysed in thorough detail though,” said Dr. Urbach. “Again, because letters from the German relatives to Queen Mary, from 1918 onwards, are not available from the Royal Archives.

The journalist from The Times of Israel asked Dr. Urbach whether this withholding of information was happening for fear that the contents might paint a picture of the British Royal Family as deeply anti-Semitic.

“Yes, of course,” Dr. Urbach replied. “The British upper classes were deeply anti-Semitic during this period. This has been swept under the carpet.

Whenever I describe to certain historians how Edward VIII was saying things like ‘put Jews against the wall, they are responsible for everything,’ they respond defending him saying ‘Yeah, but he was friendly with the Rothschilds.’ Of course the Rothschilds were rich and powerful. But did Edward VIII have sympathy with poor Jews in London’s East End ? I don’t think so,” said Dr. Urbach.

When Dr. Urbach requested letters she believes most certainly exist between Charles Edward and Queen Mary, the Royal Archive gave her one postcard and told her nothing else exists.

“The British upper-classes were deeply anti-Semitic during this period. This has been swept under the carpet.

This is bizarre and ridiculous,” said Dr. Urbach.

“We know that Carl Edward visited Queen Mary all the time. So there must be lots of letters. But mysteriously they have all gone. There have been lots of conspiracy theories about this. Because after 1945 there was what has become known as a ‘cleaning up’ mission.” (J. P. O’Malley, ‘British archives hiding royal family’s links to anti-Semitism in 1930s, says historian,’ The Times of Israel, 19 July 2015).

Anthony Blunt, who was once an art adviser to the current Queen – and who later confessed to being a Soviet mole – was sent over to Germany to clean up any evidence of links between the British Royal Family and the Nazi party, said Dr. Urbach. Apparently, the Russian government have a file on this, she added.

“I was ostracised by the Royal Archives because I wanted these papers. Russia has always threatened to publish this file on Blunt, detailing what kind of letters he collected in Germany after the war.

In the United Kingdom, which is a constitutional monarchy, the Royal Family is often portrayed in the British media as apolitical: an institution that represents tradition without political power. But when certain members of that institution are continually attempting to hide their Family’s past dealings with Nazi sympathisers, surely this is highly undemocratic and needs to be investigated further?

Yes, I’m not the only historian saying this,” said Dr. Urbach. “Other historians who want to work at the Royal Archives are afraid to say this publicly.”

Dr. Urbach said that, when she was writing a book on Queen Victoria, she was invited around for tea at the Royal Archives. However, when she started demanding any material involving details of the British monarchy’s dealings with Nazi Germany, the relationship turned sour.

“I was never asked for tea at the Round Tower at Windsor again.

I was ostracised by the Royal Archives because I wanted these papers. The Royal Archives claim that they are a private archive. Of course they are not. The British public are entitled to have access to this correspondence because it’s their history. You cannot just cut it out, or cover it up, because you don’t want to upset the current Queen,” said Dr. Urbach.

Finis coronat opus

John Cleese, best known for his work with the comedy group Monty Python, explained in a video excerpt the idea that truly stupid people lack the capacity to realise just how stupid they are. Most Cleese’s statements are based on research by David Dunning, a retired Professor of Psychology at Cornell University and Justin Kruger a social psychologist and Professor at New York University, once both of Cornell University.

One such statement runs as follows: “I think the problem with people like this is that they are so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are.

You see, if you are very, very stupid how can you possibly realise that you are very, very stupid? You would have to be relatively intelligent to realise how stupid you are.

There is a wonderful bit of research by a guy called David Dunning at Cornell, who is a friend of mine I am proud to say, who has pointed out that in order to know how good you are at something requires exactly the same skill at it as it does to be good at that thing in the first place, which means, this is very funny, that if you are absolutely no good at something at all, then you lack exactly the skill that you need to know that you are absolutely not good at it. And this explains not just Hollywood but almost the entirety of Fox News.”

Previous instalment – Terminal adolescents (part 8)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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The great awakening

By Ad astra  

No sooner had I completed a piece titled: How would YOU revive the economy? than it became redundant. A quick glance through it will show why it dated so rapidly.

Like me, do you ponder why it took the dramatic events of recent days, of which you are all well aware, to bring about what can only be described as ‘a great awakening’ among those in charge.

For weeks, the most coherent appraisal of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic has come from medical and public health specialists. Over and again, they had warned of the dire consequences of an uncontrolled transmission of the virus. In unambiguous terms, devoid of political spin, they had insisted that unless transmission could be curbed, the virus would continue to spread worldwide, bringing with it not just illness, but hundreds of thousands of deaths, as well as profound economic disruption.

To many, this seemed to be too far-fetched to believe, as is evidenced by their words and their actions: congregating at the beach-side in defiance of advice. Now the validity of this prediction is being exposed on every news bulletin. The blithe dismissal of the threat by those burdened with ignorance and stupidity is a measure of the problem of convincing the man in the street of the threat.

Our leaders, keen to avoid spreading alarm, used weasel words to placate us. ‘We’re all in this together’; ‘If we all pull together, we’ll get to the ‘other side’. Our PM eagerly grasped the words of the Reserve Bank governor when he promised “To build a financial bridge over the growing chasm in the Australian economy”. Cronulla Sharks fan Scomo offered pseudo reassurance when he insisted he was still going to the footy, later having to change his mind.

But until the announcement of his second stimulus package it was apparent that Morrison had not really grasped the gravity of the situation. Now it seems he has.

He seems to have had a belated realisation that as coronavirus spreads mainly by contact the only way to counter it is to maintain distance between people. Thus he has closed ‘non-essential’ services: bars, restaurants, cafes, clubs, gyms and other outlets. He seems to have been startled by the social and economic disruption and the acute unemployment that this move is already bringing about, resulting in long queues at Centrelink of desperate and worried people who have lost their jobs. They may eventually number a million.

Talk of closing schools is also about, with all the educational and economic complications that would bring with it, such as keeping them closed for months on end, thereby disrupting the jobs of the parents, as well as the schooling of their children. The response of individual states has varied. Uncertainty prevails.

Not only has Morrison and his government had a great awakening; it also has put its money where it’s most needed via its initial $189 billion rescue package. Here’s a brief account of the government’s second stage $66billion remedy taken from ABC News:

On the economic front, small businesses will receive cash payments up to $100,000 and some welfare recipients will receive another $750.

Additional measures include:
• Temporarily doubling the Jobseeker Payment, previously called Newstart
• Allowing people to access $10,000 from their superannuation in 2019-20 and 2020-21
• Guaranteeing unsecured small business loans up to $250,000
• Reducing deeming rates by a further 0.25 per cent

There’s no need to spell out the details: you can read them here.

Now, deeply alarmed by the profound implications of the pandemic and the complexities of putting Australian society together again after it slows, Morrison has established a COV19 Cooordination Commission to carry out this difficult task.

The most striking reversal of LNP ideology though was the government’s decision to double the Newstart allowance and extend it to others. Hoping that voters would not see that as tacit acceptance of the repeated advice of countless social advocates, as well as hard-nosed economists, they ditched the name ‘Newstart’ in favour of the more benign-sounding ‘Jobseeker Allowance’. It was obvious to all that the LNP was devoted to the belief that Newstart recipients were bludgers, ‘leaners’ rather than ‘lifters’, people who ought to be out getting a job. It must have been a hard pill to swallow to accept that increasing Newstart would have large economic benefits, as so many have been telling them for months.

Morrison and Frydenberg have been given praise for their package, bordering on lavish from their media set. But we have to ask why it took a crisis the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic to bring about their awakening.

We can only hope that the great awakening the LNP is now experiencing will cast the scales from its eyes and make it more sensitive to the earnestly offered advice of the many experts who in good faith put forward an opinion. LNP ministers are not the economic magicians they fancied they were. Hopefully they now realise that, and will listen more attentively.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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Terminal adolescents (part 8)

By Dr George Venturini  

In Go-Betweens for Hitler Dr. Karina Urbach tells how Hitler’s secret diplomatic links with some of Germany’s top aristocrats provided a direct line to their influential contacts and relations across Europe – especially in the United Kingdom, where they included the press baron and Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere and the future king Edward VIII.

Dr. Urbach’s essay for Talking Humanities, 6 August 2015 and the article ‘Only with the Blitz did the royal family give up on peace with Hitler’ | Karina Urbach, The Guardian, 19 July 2015 were tagged with Duke of Coburg, Freikorps, German politics, Go-Betweens for Hitler, Munich agreement, royal appeasement, Royal Nazi salute.

Some elucidations may be necessary.

The name of the Duke of Coburg appears frequently in recent studies by Dr. Urbach. He was – precisely – Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, of the same house as Queen Elizabeth II.

This is his story.

Officially known as Leopold Carl Eduard Georg Albert (1884-1954), Charles Edward was the son of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the fourth son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and of Princess Helena, Duchess of Albanynée Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, the fourth daughter of George Victor of Waldeck and Pyrmont and of his first wife Princess Helena of Nassau. He was born at Claremont House near Esher, Surrey.

Present to his baptism and acting as godparents were Queen Victoria – his paternal grandmother, the Prince of Wales – his paternal uncle, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein – his paternal aunt,  the Marchioness of Lorne – his paternal aunt, Princess Frederica of Hanover – his father’s second cousin. Two more invitees, Alexis, Prince of Bentheim and Steinfurt – his uncle and George Victor, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont – his maternal grandfather could not attend.

As a grandson of Queen Victoria, the Duke was a first cousin of King George V and of many European royals: Queen Maud of Norway, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse, Empress Alexandra of Russia, Queen Marie of Romania, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, Queen Sophia of Greece, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Josias, Hereditary Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont and Wilhelm II, German Emperor.

Significantly, he was cousin to both kings George V and George VI and a direct relative of today’s Royal Family, but his name is never mentioned in royal circles – even today. He is regarded as the ‘black sheep’ of a family still embarrassed by some of its links to Germany.

Charles Edward was educated as a Prince of the United Kingdom for his first 15 years. He attended Eton College.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, and because of a dispute on the succession to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, sixteen-year-old Charles Edward found himself next in line. And when his uncle Alfred died in July 1900, he inherited the ducal throne of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

In 1900 the then Eton schoolboy was requested by the Royal Family to go to Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to take up the ducal title, as they feared losing a valuable inheritance and considerable land.

Originally the role had been offered to his cousin Arthur, who turned it down. Prince Arthur was something of a bully and threatened to “punch Prince Charles Edward’s head in” if he did not accept. Immense family pressure was also brought to bear and he was left with no alternative but to comply. He told his friends at Eton: “I’ve got to go and be a beastly German duke.” He would later change his mind – and considerably.

With his mother and sister Charles Edward moved to Germany. Following an education plan by Wilhelm II, he attended the Preußische Hauptkadettenanstalt  (Prussian Main Cadet Institute) at Lichterfelde, studied in Bonn and became a member of Corps Borussia Bonn. He also joined the 1st Garderegiment zu Fuß  (Guard Regiment on Foot) at Potsdam and spent some time at the German court in Berlin. His uncle, Edward VII, made him a Knight of the Garter on 15 July 1902, just prior to his 18th birthday. He was unable to speak German at the time. Kaiser Wilhelm sent him to the Bavarian equivalent of Sandhurst for training. Between 1900 and 1905 Charles Edward reigned through a regency.

The regent acted under the strict guidance of Emperor Wilhelm II.

Such was the interest Wilhelm II showed in his young cousin’s upbringing that Charles Edward was known amongst the Imperial Court as “the Emperor’s seventh son.”

It was then that the task began, much of it uphill, of transforming a gawky young schoolboy into a powerful German duke. Charles Edward’s advisers, however, were encouraged by the fact that he had a distinctly Germanic appearance – not surprising considering the origins of the Royal Family.

He was tutored in German history, traditions and – importantly – how to be a German officer.

He already spoke the language – King Edward VII spoke German frequently at Court – and before long Charles Edward had been transformed into a typical Teutonic aristocrat.

All too easily he absorbed the mannerisms of a heel-clicking martinet – a complete contrast to the more languid English aristocrats with whom he had grown up.

Upon coming of age on 19 July 1905, he assumed full constitutional powers. He proved loyal to the Emperor and was deemed a constitutionally-minded prince.

Charles Edward was the last reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from 30 July 1900 until 1918.

At the time when one seeks a partner for life Wilhelm II gave him one:  Princess Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein, the niece of his wife, Empress Augusta Victoria. The designated bride was the eldest daughter of Friedrich Ferdinand, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, and Princess Karoline Mathilde of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. Marriage took place on 11 October 1905, at Glücksburg Castle, Schleswig-Holstein. They had five children, including Sibylla, the mother of Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

Until 1919 Charles Edward was also a Prince of the United Kingdom and held the British titles of Duke of Albany, Earl of Clarence and Baron Arklow from birth.

Charles Edward was a controversial figure in the United Kingdom due to his status as the sovereign Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which was part of the German Empire, during the first world war.  The war might have caused an uncomfortable conflict of loyalties for Charles Edward. He had titles and connections in the United Kingdom, but held vast possessions in several parts of Germany. He threw his fortune with that of the German Empire. He broke off relations with his family at the British and Belgian courts. Yet he had not calculated correctly. Perhaps he was not too bright a calculator: his undoing was not sufficient to overcome doubts about his loyalties in Germany.

His misfortune began in 1915 when king George V ordered his name removed from the register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

In March 1917 the Landtag – the State Diet – of Coburg excluded members of the ducal family from the succession if their country, in this case the United Kingdom, was  at war with Germany.

In July 1917, still unaware of the change in law at Coburg, in an effort to distance his dynasty from its German origins, George V changed the name of the Royal House from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor. At that time, anything with a faintly German ring to it was hated and King George V had to convince his people that he was not some German puppet. It was an infantile gesture, meant perhaps as a way of reneging on the monarchy’s German origin. (A. Roberts, The House of Windsor, Orion Publishing, London 2000, at 6).

That same year the United Kingdom Parliament  passed the Titles Deprivation Act which empowered the Privy Council to investigate “any persons enjoying any dignity or title as a peer or British prince who have, during the present war, borne arms against His Majesty or His Allies, or who have adhered to His Majesty’s enemies.” (A. Lyon, Constitutional history of the UK, Taylor & Francis Ld., London 2016, at 421).

Having fought in the German Army – as a general, of course – under the terms of that Act, an Order in Council on 28 March 1919 would deprive Charles Edward of his British peerages, his title of Prince and Royal Highness and his British honours. His children also lost their entitlement to the titles of Prince and Princess of the United Kingdom and the styles Royal Highness and Highness. Nevertheless, they retained the style of Highness as members of a sovereign ducal house in Germany. He was of course regarded as a traitor and  labelled a “traitor peer.”

The Russian Revolution of 1917 had caused Charles Edward much concern and he watched anxiously during the ensuing power struggles between the left- and right-wing parties in Germany. On the morning of 9 November 1918, during the German Revolution, the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council of Gotha declared him deposed. On 11 November his abdication was demanded in Coburg. On 14 November 1918, however, after a revolution in Germany, he was forced to abdicate and to acknowledge that he had lost any right to the ducal throne, and therefore ceased to rule as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

He had been effectively exiled from the United Kingdom and was fearful of the communist threat. He thus started looking for a new ‘political home’. He also worked towards the restoration of the monarchy, thus supporting the nationalistic-conservative and populist right – essentially racist.

There is sufficient evidence that, not long after the German defeat, he joined the Freikorps – German for ‘Free Corps’ – German volunteer units which had  existed from the eighteenth  to the early twentieth centuries. They were essentially mercenary or private armies, which fought regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries they were made of native volunteers, enemy renegades, deserters, and plain thugs – more or less like Mussolini’s contemporary squadristi.

In the aftermath of the first world war, and particularly during the German Revolution of 1918–1919, Freikorps consisted largely of war veterans. Many German veterans felt disconnected from civilian life, and joined a Freikorps in search of stability within a military structure. Others, angry at their sudden, apparently inexplicable defeat, joined up in an effort to exact some form of revenge on those they considered responsible for the armistice. They were essentially right-wing paramilitary militias, ostensibly to fight on behalf of the government against the Soviet-supported German Communists attempting to overthrow the Weimar Republic. However, the Freikorps also largely despised the Republic and were involved in many assassinations of its supporters.

Charles Edward became associated with various right-wing paramilitary and political organisations. He supported Hermann Ehrhardt both morally and financially after the Freikorps’ commander’s participation in the failed Kapp Putsch. Hermann Ehrhardt was a  Freikorps commander during the period of turmoil in Weimar Republic Germany from 1918 to 1920, he commanded the famous II.Marine Brigade, better known as the Ehrhardt Brigade or Marinebrigade Ehrhardt. The Kapp Putsch, also known as the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch after its leaders Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz, was an attempted coup on 13 March 1920 which aimed to undo the German Revolution of 1918–1919, overthrow the Weimar Republic and establish a right-wing autocratic government in its place. It was supported by parts of the Reichswehrthe military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was united with the new Wehrmacht, and other conservative, nationalist and monarchist factions. Until 1922 Charles Edward was the head of the Preußenbund – broadly translated as the Prussian confederation, which included  certain areas of eastern and central Germany.

He met Adolf Hitler for the first time on 14 October 1922, at the Nazis’ second Deutscher Tag – German Day, held at Coburg. The following day Hitler and Charles Edward celebrated together in a Coburg local pub, following a mass street brawl between Communists and Nazis. Fighting continued throughout the night and a local Jewish businessman was attacked.

Their camaraderie would continue and in 1935, Hitler would present the Charles Edward with the Coburger Ehrenzeichen der Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – the Coburg decoration of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or N.S.D.A.P. – a special decoration awarded to those who had participated in the Coburg German Day which became immortalised in Nazi mythology.

In 1923 Charles Edward joined the Bund Wiking – Viking League as Oberbereichsleiter – Governor, in Thuringia. When the Wiking joined the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten  – the Steel Helmet, League of Front Soldiers, Charles Edward became a member of the Stahlhelm’s national board.

In 1932 Charles Edward took part in the setting up  of the extremist Harzburger Front – Harzburg Front, a short-lived radical right-wing, anti-democratic political alliance in Weimar Germany – which became associated with the Nazis. He was mesmerised by Hitler and, being now totally German in outlook, found a new allegiance to his adopted country through the ranting dictator. He publicly called on voters to support Hitler in the presidential election of 1932.

Charles Edward formally joined the Nazi Party in March 1933 and that same year became a member of the Sturmabteilung, SA – Brownshirts, rising to the rank of ObergruppenführerSenior Group Leader by 1936. He also served as a member of the Reichstag – the German Diet or Parliament representing the Nazi Party from 1936 to 1945 and as president of the German Red Cross from December 1933 to 1945. By the time he took over this position, the German Red Cross had already been under the Nazis’ control.

In 1934 Charles Edward visited Japan to attend a conference on the protection of civilians during war; he delivered Hitler’s birthday greeting to the Emperor. By 1936 he had agreed to be a spy for Hitler, while attending the funeral of George V at Sandringham, for example, but he was unreliable, according to a historian, “telling them what they wanted to hear.” (D. Blakeway, The last dance: 1936: The year our lives changed, Hodder & Stoughton, London 2011). Hitler also used him to encourage pro-Nazi sentiment among the Duke of Windsor and his wife. (A. Morton, 17 Carnations : The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History, Grand Central Publishing, New York 2016) Records indicate that Charles Edward received a monthly payment of 4,000 Reichsmark – worth about AU$37,000 in 2018) from the Führer.

After some backdoor diplomatic arrangements, the former Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was allowed back to Britain in 1936 in his role as President of the Anglo-German Friendship Society. His mission was to improve Anglo-German relations and to explore the possibility of a pact between the two countries. It was in fact a cover for an organisation the main aims of which was to prevent war between Britain and Germany – and, hopefully, either entice Britain on to Hitler’s side or persuade it to remain neutral.

“Hitler was an Anglophile, and his dream [during the early 1930s] was to have an alliance with Britain.”  Dr. Urbach is firmly of the view that the British Royals are covering up an anti-Semitic past.

“Hitler needed people who had access to the elite in Britain. Carl Edward was therefore ideal. He was born in Britain, and he was related to Queen Mary, who was very pro-German. She invited Carl Edward several times to England and had a correspondence with him that has mysteriously vanishe,” said Dr. Urbach.

“The Royal Archives in Britain are hindering research on this subject,” she alleged. (J. P. O’Malley, ‘British archives hiding royal family’s links to anti-Semitism in 1930s, says historian,’ The Times of Israel, 19 July 2015).

The former Prince sent Hitler encouraging reports about the strength of pro-German sentiment among the British aristocracy and about the possibility of a Britain-Germany pact. He had been instructed by Hitler to measure the degree of appeasement and pro-German sympathy which existed in Britain.

In her book Go Betweens For Hitler (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2015) Dr. Urbach explores how members of the aristocratic class across Europe worked as secret negotiators for Hitler during the interwar years.

The ‘go-betweens’ were unofficial, invisible actors who secretly delivered messages between heads of state to ensure that off-the-record conversations could happen at the highest levels in the murky world of international relations.

While research hitherto has focused on the support German aristocrats secretly provided Hitler within Germany, Urbach’s book discusses an additional, international dimension to this secret diplomatic back channel, most notably from members of the British Royal Family.

Charles Edward became acquainted with the ‘Cliveden Set’, led by Lady Nancy Astor – a Right-wing, upper-class group who wielded much political influence. They met regularly at Cliveden, the stately home in Buckinghamshire which was then the Astors’ country residence.

The former Prince was welcomed by the group, most of whom were in favour of Hitler’s views – although their attitudes changed on the outbreak of war in 1939.

Charles Edward, somewhat overwhelmed by his welcome among these Right-wing aristocrats, sent messages back to Hitler that there was considerable sympathy to the idea of an Anglo-German pact.

He underestimated the large body of opinion, led by Winston Churchill, that felt war was inevitable and that Hitler and Nazism had to be stamped out.

The ex-Prince’s arrogance knew few bounds and, much to the horror of the Royal Family and the anger of the crowds, he wore his Sturmabteilung – Brownshirts – general uniform, complete with swastika and metal helmet, at the funeral of his first cousin George V.

The former aristocrat formed a close friendship with king Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson. Charles Edward had many encouraging discussions with the king about the future of Europe and the manner in which Germany was being run.

After the ‘Abdication crisis’, he played host to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former King-Emperor and his wife, during their private tour of Germany in 1937.

There was additional warmth towards Mrs. Simpson, who had forged a close friendship – some say more than that – with Hitler’s Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop.

However, Nazi hopes of a sympathetic presence on the British throne collapsed with the king’s abdication.

Edward, Duke of Windsor reviewing a squad of SS with Robert Ley in October 1937 (Bundearchiv, Bild 102 – 17964 /Pahl, Georg/CC-BY-SA

At the end of the second world war, the American Military Government in Bavaria, under the command of General George S. Patton, placed Charles Edward under house arrest at his home, the vast Veste Coburg or Coburg Fortress, because of his Nazi sympathies, which had been made obvious when he joined the Schutzstaffel – an élite military unit of the Nazi party which served as Hitler’s bodyguard and as a special police force, better known as SS. As well, “Carl Edward’s British network was very useful for Hitler,” according to Dr. Urbach. In a discussion with a journalist, Dr. Urbach said that she found evidence of Carl Edward donating generously to the Nazi party for years, financing political murders and being aware of the death camps in Buchenwald. (J. P. O’Malley, ‘British archives hiding royal family’s links to anti-Semitism in 1930s, says historian,’ The Times of Israel, 19 July 2015).

Continued Saturday – Terminal adolescents (part 9)

Previous instalment – Terminal adolescents (part 7)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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Terminal adolescents (part 7)

By Dr George Venturini  

Edward abdicated as king on 11 December 1936, saying in a broadcast to the Empire: “… I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

He took the title the Duke of Windsor and stepped aside for his brother Albert, who became King George VI. Governments of British Commonwealth countries especially, with Australia at the forefront, had objected to their king marrying Wallace Simpson.

After Edward’s broadcast, the Catholic Prime Minister of Australia, Joe Lyons, revealed to Parliament that he had been in direct contact with the King, telling him bluntly: “ … any proposal that Mrs. Simpson should become consort and not Queen and that her issue (children) should be barred from succession would not be approved by my government.”

Lyons would not have an American as Queen either, telling British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that Mrs. Simpson’s marriage to Edward, as “a lady of American birth, twice divorced” would be inconsistent with him remaining on the Throne, and would invoke “widespread condemnation.”

After his abdication, in 1937, Edward and Mrs. Simpson visited Hitler at his mountain retreat at Obersalzberg and inspected a guard of the SS. The Schutzstaffel, literally ‘Protection Squadron’, was a major paramilitary organisation under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during the second world war. But – as previously seen – they were far from alone in sympathising with Germany, which was the original home of his Royal Family. Lyons was one of a string of Australian leaders who consistently appeased Hitler.

From 1933 until 1939 Britain had sat staring like a mesmerised rabbit at Germany’s preparation for war. Any suggestions for action on Britain’s part were discouraged on the ground that it might irritate the Nazi monster and produce the very calamity that Britain desired to avert, to quote friend of King Edward, cabinet minister and diplomat, Duff Cooper in his autobiography Old men forget (Faber & Faber, London 2011).

The genuine fear of a repetition of the unprecedented slaughter of the first world war strongly suggested appeasement. Neville Chamberlain was among the foremost in Britain.

When Lyons in Australia was challenged with the Nazi atrocities against the Jews as late as November 1938, he insisted that ‘internal affairs’ be separated from ‘diplomatic concerns’ and declined to protest. Robert Gordon Menzies enthusiastically joined the appeasers – as already seen.

Duff Cooper wrote that he was gently chided at a dinner once by Edward VIII for being mildly critical of Germany: “He hoped, as so many people did at the time, that we should be able to come to terms with the new regime in Germany, and he regretted my attitude towards it.”

A much-admired popular historian, travel writer and television personality, who recently passed away, John Julius Cooper, the son of Duff, suggested that it all would have been so much worse without Edward’s abdication. That, of course, is a supposition and has no supporting evidence. He himself was part of the establishment as the 2nd Viscount Norwich and decided to write under that name.

J. J. Norwich thought that “Wallis Simpson saved the country.” … “I think that Mrs Simpson saved not only the monarchy but also the country. She is actually my candidate for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.” He was commenting on the original English documentary of The Nazi king – fool or traitor? (‘SBS Radio, 10 November 2018).

In matters such as these it is always difficult to establish the truth beyond doubt, or to the extent that it would satisfy a law court – although it has been seen how difficult it has been even to try and obtain ‘The Palace letters.’ There is nothing beyond a high suspicion that John Flastaff colluded with Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Ambush of the Whitlam Government. Only Her Majesty would know, and probably remember.  Falstaff left the stage long time ago, 24 March 1991. The Queen is about to turn 93, 21 April 2019.

The world of monarchs, particularly in democracy-defective countries such Australia and the United Kingdom, is a very complex one, in which ‘The State’ may have an interest in ‘protecting The Sovereign’ by spying on her/him!

Professor Richard Aldrich of the University of Warwick’s Department of Politics and International Studies, began in April 2017 to present a programme to Channel 4, titled Spying on the Royals, which is a new documentary series about how the British government spies targeted Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson and even the reigning king George VI.

Newly found evidence revealed who ordered the surveillance, the extent of it, and the unique insights it provided into the royal scandal.

“The government has maintained that it does not intercept or tap royal communications – this episode turns history on its head”, said Professor Aldrich. He is the author, with R. Cormac, of The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers (HarperCollins, Publishers, London 2017).

“This is not the intelligence agencies acting alone, this is not spies acting as rogue elephants. This comes from the very centre of power,” said Professor Aldrich.

He might have been more fortunate than a colleague in Australia who is still waiting for a modern move by the judicial system.

More fortunate was Dr. Karina Urbach, a German historian with a special interest in the Nazi period, particularly 1933-1945. She has written several books on 19th and 20th century European political and cultural history. She is currently researching American intelligence operations against the National Socialists in wartime and post-war.

Dr. Urbach has had a fortunate education and a brilliant career. She was a Kurt Hahn Scholar at the University of Cambridge where she took her M.Phil. in international  relations in 1992 and her Ph.D. in history in 1996. For her German Habilitation – the key for access to a professorship in many European countries – she was awarded the Bavarian Ministry of Culture prize. She taught at the University of Bayreuth, was a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute London (2004-2009) and thereafter at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. In 2015 she became a long term visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey.

In 2015 Dr. Urbach took part in uncovering a 1934 film clip of the British royal family making the fascist salute. (T. Whitehead, ‘Queen ‘Nazi salute’ footage could have been inadvertently released by Palace,’ telegraph.co.uk, 19 July 2015); (T. Morgan and J. Reilly, ‘Their Royal Heilnesses, Video shows royals giving Nazi salute at Balmoral,’ The Sun, 17 July 2015, Secret 1933 film shows Edward VIII teaching this Nazi salute to the Queen); (O. Gillman and  I. Calderwood; E. O’Flynn for Mail on line; and E. Davies and H. Sime for The Daily Mail, Fury after The Sun publishes Queen’s Nazi salute footage, ‘The Sun has sunk to a new low’: British public reacts with fury after tabloid publishes 80-year-old pictures of the seven-year-old Queen and the Queen Mother being taught a Nazi salute, Footage has emerged of the Queen being taught Nazi salute by Edward VIII, 1933 video shows future King, Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at Balmoral, The Queen Mother is also in archive footage, taken as Hitler rose to power, Buckingham Palace has slammed The Sun‘s ‘exploitation’ of the footage, 18 July 2015); (J. Shammas, Queen Elizabeth filmed performing Nazi salute with uncle in 1933 footage’, Mirror Buckingham Palace has said it is disappointed by the footage, and how it “has been obtained and exploited in this manner”); (‘Uncovered film shows Queen Elizabeth II rehearsing Nazi salute as a child (Video)’, RT International, 18 July 2015); (J. Contrera, ‘After controversial Queen Elizabeth II video, should royal records be public records ?,’ Washington Post, (L. Smith-Spark and R. Gigova, ‘Young Elizabeth’s Nazi salute: The Sun sparks furor – CNN,’ CNN, ‘Buckingham Palace Might Have Accidentally Released Elizabeth Nazi Salute Footage,’ International Business Times, 19July 2015) ; (Low, Camila Ruz and Harry, ‘What is the context of the royal ‘Nazi salute’ film?,’ BBC News; (J.P. O’Malley, ‘British archives hiding royal family’s links to anti-Semitism in 1930s, says historian,’ The Times of Israel, 19 July 2015); (T. G. Grose, ‘What Secrets Are the Royal Family Hiding?,’ 23 July 2015, A grainy clip of Queen Elizabeth II giving a Nazi salute as a child has prompted calls to open Great Britain’s Royal Archives).

Dr. Urbach has worked as historical adviser on many B.B.C., P.B.S. and German documentaries: ‘Die Windsors’, which is marked “Unfortunately, the content you want is not available.”

In a piece that she wrote in August 2015 Dr. Urbach narrated the fortuitous circumstances in which she came to see the picture which appears early in the present essay and represents a seven-year-old Elizabeth making the Nazi salute. Next to her is sister Margaret, three, and next to both are Queen Mary, their mother, and uncle Edward. In the film which was shown to Dr. Urbach the first time on 8 July 2015 both Mary and Edward appear as raising their right arm in the Nazi salute.

Here is how Dr. Urbach told the story:

“It started with an email. On 8 July a journalist from the Sun was looking for me ‘urgently.’ I was sitting at home in Cambridge trying to pack for our move to America and had no idea what he could want. Perhaps it had something to do with my recent publications on the Duke of Windsor, but the newspapers had already covered that the previous month. I emailed back and the journalist asked whether I could look at a document. He did not want to tell me what the document was about and he insisted he could not email it to me, I had to see it in person. It all sounded very clandestine and much more exciting than packing boxes. Two hours later he sat at my dining table and I signed a confidentiality agreement. For the next ten days I stopped packing boxes.

I had expected him to show me some Russian or German documents connected to the Duke of Windsor but instead he took out his phone and played the Nazi salute film. I saw the Duchess of York, the Prince of Wales and Elizabeth and her sister doing Nazi salutes on a lawn. [Emphasis added] Two thoughts came into my mind – the first one was ‘this is going to cause major trouble’, the second one was, ‘this is the trigger to open up the royal archives.’

For a long time I had been trying to interest people in the fact that the royal archives were hindering serious historical research on the 20th century. People listened politely but nothing ever happened. [Emphasis added] Since 2008 I had tried everything to get at least a catalogue of the German material in the archives. With my colleagues Franz Bosbach and John Davis, I had finally been allowed to list some of the Anglo-German correspondence up to 1918. Our project had cost the German taxpayer 500,000 Euros, but we were never sure whether we had seen all the pre-1918 material. The head archivist never gave us access to her secret internal catalogue and there was no hope that we could ever look at any of the decisive interwar material. Every time I asked for correspondence from the 1930s I had been rebuked. I knew that a lot of my British and American colleagues had suffered a similar fate and were deeply frustrated. The royal archives were a secure building and if you weren’t an official biographer there was no back door into it. [Emphasis added]

And now there was this film in front of me that gave a glimpse behind the façade. It was too good to be true. And that is why I was so suspicious. How did the Sun get it? There was no way one could ever smuggle something out of the Round Tower at Windsor Castle where the Archives are situated. It was a fortress.

The journalist assured me the film was obtained in a legal way. It seems to have been released by mistake, because somebody did not check the material properly before handing it over for a documentary on E II. It made sense to me because something similar had once happened to me. A royal archivist had given me letters from the 1920s, which must have looked innocent to her because she was not a properly trained historian. Ironically the royal archivists do not know much German history and they do not read German, even though lots of the material at their archive is in German. In the letters I was given accidentally the Duke of Coburg explained to his sister, a minor royal, that he was a member of a particularly lethal Freikorps. The archivists probably did not know that this Freikorps was involved in several murders. Historians live off such mistakes.

Unintentionally releasing the Nazi salute film, however, was a much more exciting mistake. It was an amazing chance that could really bring us forward in opening up the archives and I told the journalist I would do anything to help to put the film into its historical context. There was another historian involved in this process but he did not want to be named and later publicly condemned the publication of the film (which I found rather odd). Behind the scenes there must also have been lawyers involved, because up to the last moment it wasn’t at all certain whether the story would be published. On 16 July the Palace was given the chance to comment on the film. To my surprise they did not say anything about its content but just called its imminent release “disappointing.’ It reminded me of what I tell my eight-year-old son when I am in a Victorian state of mind.

The story finally broke on Saturday the 18 July. The next week was tumultuous, because I had to explain myself on several fronts. Some people thought that as a German I would not understand that Nazi salutes were meant humorously (well, they were after the Charlie Chaplin film in 1940, but certainly not in 1933/34 when it was a political gesture. A gesture the Queen Mother had already seen during a visit to Mussolini’s Italy and understood with all its political implications. That the later Duke of Windsor supported it was evident anyway).

Other defenders argued that the royals could not understand German politics anyway and were therefore political innocents. This was even less convincing, since the royals were briefed by the [Foreign Office] regularly as well as informed by their enthusiastic German relatives. They also would have read the Times, which already in July 1933 reported on Jews being lynched in the streets. In the following days I also had a few debates with defenders of appeasement, who thought whatever the royals did in the 1930s regarding Germany was absolutely understandable, including the unconstitutional step of George VI to celebrate the Munich agreement with Chamberlain on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Since I had written in my book Go-Betweens for Hitler on back channels George VI ran to Nazi Germany I could not agree with seeing him as a political innocent.

I am now back at packing boxes. But thanks to many supportive journalists and fellow historians the crusade to open up the royal archives is now unstoppable. And I have a feeling we will see more releases from other archives soon.” (‘Peeping through the chinks in the royal armour,’ Talking Humanities, 6 August 2015).

Continued Wednesday – Terminal adolescents (part 8)

Previous instalment – Terminal adolescents (part 6)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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Home Alone – Punishment or Privilege?

By Elizabeth Dangerfield  

A question of attitude

In our extraordinary full lives, we rush headlong from one event or task to another with no time to pause, think or take time out. In our modern style of living every iota of time is allocated to doing something, and everything we do has to be done to perfection. It is exhausting trying to fit everything in and on top of that is the constant stream of social media that demands our attention and input. No wonder that people are fearful of being home alone with so much time but so limited in scope. As social animals, many of us must see isolation as a terrible price to pay for slowing the spread of Covid-19. A real punishment, a denial of our very existence.

Many people have been condemned to far worse situations than being home alone for a few weeks or even months. People have been caught up in horrendous wars, been wrongly imprisoned, endured terrible natural disasters; people have lost everything and experienced deep deprivation and physical and mental trauma.

Being home alone can be a challenge but it is an incredible privilege. How often in a lifetime do we get the opportunity to take time out of our incredibly busy existence and just take one day at a time, to savour the moment, to have time to think, to not be controlled by a to-do list? Being home alone is a golden opportunity to try a different approach, to rejuvenate and evaluate. Instead of spending it watching endless re-runs of old TV series, scrolling through social media or playing online games; you can use it as an opportunity to come out of the experience better than when you went in.

Seeking help

Firstly though, some people are home alone because they are in quarantine; some are self-isolating to reduce their chances of picking up Covid-19, some people are working at home, some are home because they have no work to go to, and for some, the Covid-19 virus has resulted in their whole world falling apart. Not everyone has pantries overflowing with enough food and toilet paper to withstand a siege of a year and some people find being isolated very bad for their mental health. If you are in a situation in which staying home alone is likely to be stressful you need to seek help. Call upon family, friends, work colleagues, employers, governments, charities, community bodies, to provide you with the help that you need to get through this challenging period. It is not your fault that you are in this position and you have every right to ask for help.

Once you have done what you can to solve your problems then it is time to let go of what you can’t change and see how you can turn it to your advantage. While isolation may seem very restrictive you have more time available to you than you are likely to have at any time in your life. After all, you have no place to go, no one to meet, no set program to follow. If you are working at home, you may find that if you are self-disciplined you can be more productive at home because there are fewer distractions.  

Do something different

It is very tempting to fill your time at home alone with more of the same things you normally do. In order to reinvigorate and rejuvenate your life during this period of confinement try doing the opposite of what you normally do. If you are an incessant talker try enjoying silence, if you are an inveterate list make try living dangerously, don’t make a list for your entire time at home alone. If you turn the TV on first thing in the morning try leaving it off for most of the day! If you constantly check social media try making set times to check, if you always cook the same food try experimenting with new recipes; if you play games on your computer all day long try doing other activities instead. Learn something new. Read books, watch documentaries, learn a language online, take up a hobby, learn a new skill, do something creative. Change your habits and prove to yourself that you are flexible, adaptable and capable of moving out of your comfort zone.

Contemplate

In our frantic world, very few of us have time to think about things deeply, to contemplate the issues facing our world, to reassess our values, to look back on the past or imagine the future. Our minds are often in a whirl and stress and anxiety can affect our health. Now is the time to have a break from all that striving and ceaseless activity. Meditation, breathing techniques, mindfulness activities can all help to still the mind and help us stay in the present moment rather than worrying about what we did wrong in the past, or being anxious about the future.  

Being home alone also gives us the opportunity to think deeply about an issue rather than being overwhelmed by a stream of thoughts reflecting the multiple tasks and concerns that confront us on a busy day. You can use this opportunity to be introspective. To think about who are you – what are 20 labels you could apply to yourself that would capture the diversity of your interests, talents, experience, aspirations? What do you believe and why? What are your basic values and how do you apply them in your life? Given that the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an indication of how suddenly life can change what is your deepest wish for the future?

Put your life in order

During the Covid-19 crisis, we may feel that we have little control over things, but our home is our dominion and we can order it as we like. The possessions we keep tell us a lot about ourselves. They all have stories. You can go for a virtual journey around your home by considering every item in it. Where it came from, what its purpose is, how it is bound to you, and whether you still need or want it. You can decide what to keep, what to repair, what to recycle and what is too much of a burden. What better time to wade through all your paperwork, to put your legal documents in order, to make real or virtual photo books as a reminder of your life, to rummage through every drawer and cupboard; and basically, to take stock.

Strengthen your relationships

For all the extroverts in the world, being confined alone must be daunting. Of course, it is still possible to have contact with friends, relatives and acquaintances through social media, and to see them in person through Skype and Facetime. But time alone provides an opportunity to examine our relationships because we often take those closest to us for granted. It highlights, that even though we are not perfect, and our loved ones are not perfect, we need each other. While we can live separately for a while, contact with other people is very important to our well-being.

Some people who are in isolation are not home alone but sharing it with family members. Being with your partner 24/7 when you are not used to it can be quite challenging. Couples need to have some space and time to themselves, and it can be useful to agree on a daily plan. Communication is the key, talking about issues, supporting each other, thinking outside the square to do something unexpected. Practising the best of manners can be helpful too as it nourishes a sense of respect and appreciation. Listening carefully to each other and delving into topics you haven’t explored in-depth can stimulate communication and open new horizons. Have some fun together, play games, take up a hobby together, be creative.

Adding children to the mix makes it all more complex. They too need their own space at times, and they need to be reassured. You can get them to help you develop a program for the day and enjoy yourself participating in activities with them. It is a golden opportunity to get to know your children better – what they are thinking, how they are feeling, their concerns for the future, how they feel about their relationships with others, their likes and dislikes. And they can get to know you more too.

Look after yourself

Sleep better

Take some time to improve your sleeping habits. This is one of the best things you can do for your brain and body. Adequate sleep is essential for your health, without enough of it we do not function efficiently, we increase our susceptibility to illness and stress, befuddle the brain and drag ourselves through the day. If we are deprived of sleep, we go mad. Most Australians do not get enough sleep. Assess your bedroom and turn it into a calming, comfortable, sleep haven. Ban all electronic devices from the room, turn off any screens at least half an hour before you go to bed; shut all curtains and turn the lights down as well. Enjoy the luxury of snoozing in bed in the mornings without being rudely awakened by an alarm.

Eat without guilt

Home alone is the perfect time to improve your diet. You can take your time to prepare healthy meals and snacks. You can make your meals a leisurely, enjoyable affair by setting the table and turning off the TV. Without distractions, you can eat your meals more slowly and savour your food however simple it might be. Sometimes we are so busy we hardly taste our food.

Healthy eating will also improve your immune system so that it is better able to respond to threats like viral infections. You can’t go too wrong by eating a combination of vegetables of all colours, fruit especially berries, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, nuts and seeds, and good fats, and avoiding food that raises your blood glucose levels too quickly, increases bad cholesterol or raises your blood pressure.

Exercise in the comfort of your own home

There is a story of an Australian woman who desperately wanted to lose weight and get fitter and yet she could not leave her home so each day she walked many times around the Hills hoist in the backyard and achieved her goal. Being home alone is the perfect time to establish an exercise regime that you can maintain without having to go to the gym or pool. You have no excuses. You can devise your own exercises using what is available at home – bottles of water and cans of food make good weights – or you can try out some of the many exercise videos on YouTube.

Above all, do things that make you feel joyous. Singing is great for the soul. Music lights up the brain. Doing something creative makes time fly. Doing something you have never done before gives a sense of accomplishment. Give yourself a pat on the back for making a sacrifice in order to help others. Hopefully, you will come out of your isolation feeling healthier, more rested, thoughtful, organised, and energetic than when you went in.

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There is a silver lining to the Coronavirus Cloud

By Dr John Töns  

I received my Telstra account today. Irritated that they were asking me for money I rang their number to dispute the account. Now if you have rung Telstra you would probably have been greeted with the same message: ‘due to the high volume of calls blah blah.’ It advised me that I would be placed in a queue and the anticipated wait time was 20 minutes – 37 minutes later my call was answered.

Normally when you are running a business you do not have time to hang on whilst Telstra decides to contact you but thanks to the coronavirus what else was I going to do with my time? So, I hung on and finally was able to explain why I was disputing my account.

The bushfire came through our area on December 20. Since that time I may have had a total of ten days when customers could actually ring me. Small businesses like mine rely on the phone – if the phone is dead your business may as well be dead.

Most businesses in fire-impacted areas are either small businesses or micro-businesses. All of us have been doing it tough. You may not have been burnt out but the fact that you are close to the bushfire-impacted areas is enough to put customers off. Just as the gum trees were beginning to sprout fresh growth, so many of us began to see the first signs of a recovery – customers were coming back.

Then nature followed up with the coronavirus. This time the trees are not affected but the many small businesses are affected; we were already well behind we are now even further behind as many people simply stop using our services.

The key word here is ‘many’: There are still people who want to use our services. Our existing customers have our email address and mobile numbers, but new customers rely on the landline. When they ring the landline it seems it is a lottery – they will either be told that the number has been disconnected – great when you are running a business or they actually get to speak to someone. A kind person called Glen has complained to Telstra that his phone is not working – but he sometimes gets our calls – he now lets people know our mobile number. Meanwhile, every time I ring Telstra I am told that the problem has been escalated and the A team is on the job. I will be told as soon as it is fixed.

So, receiving an account today was the last straw. I was determined to get answers. Whilst I was on hold, I realised that one of the reasons for the long delay was probably that there are quite a few people working from home. Nothing like beating the boredom to hold companies like Telstra to account. But was my 1 hour and 6-minute phone call worthwhile? Well at last I did get an answer: “the problem has been escalated and the A team is on the job. I will be told as soon as it is fixed.”

So, the virus has given me the luxury of the time to be left dangling on the line to be reminded yet again that privatisation has destroyed Telstra.

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Terminal adolescents (part 6)

By Dr George Venturini  

On 16 November 2018, delivering his report in London on a visit of twelve days to the United Kingdom, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights – and incidentally an Australian – had this to say:

“The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.

It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.

And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies. Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centres have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centres have been sold off. While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

The results? 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. [Emphasis added]

Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, (Social Metrics Commission, ‘A new measure of poverty for the UK,’ September 2018; and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. [Emphasis added] (Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Glen Bramley, et al., ‘Destitution in the UK 2018,’ June 7, 2018).

The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. [Emphasis added] (Institute for Fiscal Studies, “Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2017-18 to 2021-22,” ifs.org.uk, November 2, 2017).

For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one. [Emphasis added]

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone. Its manifestations are clear for all to see. The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country.

But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.  The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. [Emphasis added] Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention. The good news is that many of the problems could readily be solved if the Government were to acknowledge the problems and consider some of the recommendations below.

In my travels across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland I met with people living in poverty, whether old, young, disabled, in work or not. I talked with civil society, front line workers, work coaches, and officials from local, devolved, and UK governments; and visited community organizations, social housing, a Jobcentre, a food bank, an advice center, a library, and a primary school. I also met a range of Ministers in the central government and in Wales, as well as with the First Minister in Scotland. I spoke at length with politicians from all of the major political parties.

In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders.

I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength, and generosity, with neighbours supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services. I also heard stories of deeply compassionate work coaches and of a regional JobCenter director who had transformed the ethos in the relevant offices.

Although the provision of social security to those in need is a public service and a vital anchor to prevent people being pulled into poverty, the policies put in place since 2010 are usually discussed under the rubric of austerity. But this framing leads the inquiry in the wrong direction. In the area of poverty-related policy, the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering. Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it. Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.  In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.

Most of the political debate around social well-being in the UK has focused only on the goals sought to be achieved. These goals are in many respects admirable, even though some have been controversial. They include a commitment to place employment at the heart of anti-poverty policy, a quest for greater efficiency and cost savings, a determination to simplify an excessively complicated and unwieldy benefits system, a desire to increase the uptake of benefits by those entitled, removing the ‘welfare cliff’ that deterred beneficiaries from seeking work, and a desire to provide more skills training.

But Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy. In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit. The many billions advertised as having been extracted from the benefits system since 2010 have been offset by the additional resources required to fund emergency services by families and the community, by local government, by doctors and hospital accident and emergency centres, and even by the ever shrinking and under-funded police force.

Leaving the economics of change to one side, it is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems. The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded, and some have claimed simple-minded, focus on getting people into employment at all costs. Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instil discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society. I provide various examples later in this statement.” (OHCHR | ‘Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom’, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, London, 16 November 2018).

In the remainder of the damning report, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur condemned the British government’s “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” treatment of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable.

The special Rapporteur said that policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world, adding that Brexit was exacerbating the problem.

“The United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union poses particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought.”

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The Report goes on to document a series of findings which combine to present a withering assessment of Britain’s approach to its poorest citizens, detailing a predicted 7 per cent rise in child poverty, a 60 per cent increase in homelessness since 2010 and exponential growth in the number of food banks.

“During my visit I have spoken with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future,” Professor Alston said. And he added:

“I’ve also met young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose benefits, against their doctor’s orders.” [Emphasis added]

The Rapporteur said that successive governments had overseen a systematic dismantling of the social safety net, suggesting that the introduction of universal credit and significant reductions to support had undermined the capacity of benefits to relieve poverty.

“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach,” he said.

“As a ‘digital by default’ benefit, universal credit has created an online barrier between people with poor digital literacy and their legal entitlements. And the ‘test and learn’ approach to the rollout treats claimants like guinea pigs and can wreak havoc in real peoples’ lives.”

Delivering the Report, Professor Alston said that “not nearly enough” was being done to address the challenges and described a “state of denial by ministers” regarding the state of poverty in the United Kingdom.

He added: “[Ministers] have an overriding set of objectives to cut the welfare system, cut what they see as dependences. I cannot believe that they are as happy with the system as they told me they were.”

Referencing reforms to the benefit system, the U.N. Rapporteur said that universal credit was a “sudden tonne of bricks approach” which is “utterly inconsistent with the essential underpinnings of not just human rights, but the whole British sense of community and the values of justice and fairness.”

Professor Alston added: “The system epitomised by universal credit, but not limited to that, is in fact driven by the desire to get across a simple set of messages: the state does not have your back any longer. You are on your own. … The government’s place is not to be assisting people who think they can’t make it on their own. The government’s place is an absolute last emergency order, and what goes along with that is a sense that we should make the system as unwelcoming as possible.

The command and control approach reflected in universal credit is that sanctions should be harsh, immediate and painful – and yet all of the evidence that I’ve seen indicate that sanctions are usually counter-productive, that they create fear and loathing among claimants and they impose immense hardship.”

When asked about the kind of future the United Kingdom faces, Professor Alston said: “Britain is heading towards an alienated society where you have pretty dramatic differences between the upper classes and the lower classes … “The era of connectivity, social media and so on make it much less sustainable to have these two dramatically different societies – of people living the high life but people on the other hand not able to afford a tin of baked beans.”

Describing the state of affairs for poor groups on a local level, Professor Alston said that local authorities, which he said performed a “vital role” in providing a social safety net, had been “gutted” by a series of government policies. He added: “The public land that is being sold off, the libraries that are being closed down, the youth services that are being sized down. Soon, there will be nowhere for them to go. … They will find themselves living in an increasingly hostile society because community roots are being broken. There is real reason for concern.” [Emphasis added]

When asked by The Independent to what extent the government’s immigration policies contributed to poverty, Professor Alston condemned the treatment of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom and urged ministers to consider giving people seeking asylum the right to work.

“Expecting asylum seekers to survive without any access to government services on £37 a week is unrealistic and very punitive. Enabling those people to seek work is a minor concession that should be contemplated,” he said.

Responding to the findings, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood urged the government to listen to the people being pushed into poverty by its policies. “Universal credit is failing miserably, leaving families in debt, rent arrears and at risk of becoming homeless. Three million children are growing up in poverty despite living in a working household,” she added.

“Labour will stop the roll out of universal credit, end the benefit freeze and transform the social security system so that it supports people instead of punishing them.” (M.Bulman, ‘UN condemns UK government’s ‘mean-spirited and callous approach’ to poorest,’ independent.co.uk, 16 November 2018).

Two weeks after the Windsor Inc., the Special Broadcasting Service returned to the subject of ‘The Royals’ in a documentary which had a less gossipy, much more serious purpose: to document the story behind the connection and support that Hitler and his régime enjoyed among the British élite: 10 November 2018 at 8:30 pm: ‘The Royals, British Aristocracy and the Nazis.’

“When does misguided and hazardous appeasement become criminal collaboration with the enemy?”

The S.B.S. documentary from Oxford TV on Edward VIII, The Nazi King unwittingly raises the question.

It chiefly portrays recently declassified Federal Bureau of Investigation files as revealing that the king of the British Empire, Edward VIII, and his lover Mrs. Wallace Simpson were not only pro-Nazi, but also maintained contact with Hitler’s Germany throughout the war, allegedly giving away secrets to the enemy, and wanting to return to Britain after a Nazi victory as leader.

That Edward was a love-struck fool who acted dangerously and deeply embarrassed and troubled the British Government, there is no doubt. But was is a traitor? Hard to say conclusively.

Continued Saturday – Terminal adolescents (part 7)

Previous instalment – Terminal adolescents (part 5)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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