Irresponsible Protections: Venezuela and Foreign Intervention

A stalemate of sorts has developed in Venezuela. The pretender, Juan Guaidó,…

John Lord’s Election Diary No. 5: The masters…

Easter with interruptions for religious observation has certainly dampened the campaigning of…

It's not the economy, stupid, it's climate change…

"In climate change, there will never be enough figures to satisfy the…

Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar moves…

The richly disastrous mess that is Libya has been moving into another…

Religion and ethics

By RosemaryJ36  I have just read online what I regard as a brilliant…

Climate Change Is A Cost!

Interesting ABC story headline: ”Climate change costings a cause for concern as…

The restoration of malpractice (part 1)

By Dr George Venturini  The restoration of malpracticeFraser, Lord Malcolm of Nareen supplied…

Stay tuned – Breaking story about Angus Taylor,…

Over the last week or so, an important story has been doing…

«
»
Facebook

Dr. Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed at @bkampmark.

The End of the Politician (in a Fashion): The Slovak and Ukrainian Elections

The structures of politics have become so rigid, so distant, and ultimately so irrelevant to those who vote for them that a trend through countries can now be confirmed. Brittleness has set it. The part and election strategists have few answers, they, who saw the voter as yet another subject, another follower, another convert of a faith. The churches and their following have been turned into secular sceptics and the disenchanted. The non-politician who, nonetheless practices a craft of politics (we are all Aristotle’s creatures), has become a burning disruption.

It started as series of shocks and disruptive announcements in 2016, confusing and upending the psephology across the establishment. That year yielded results that might seen the abolition of the entire witchcraft. The Brexit referendum outcome; the US presidential vote – both were predicted as victories for the politician, the experienced practitioner. Along the way, there were a few pompous, gilded pretenders – Emmanuel Macron managed to give the impression of lacking the sheep’s clothing he always donned. While his political achievement from the grind of the French political machine was impressive, he could never hide his establishment credentials. These are now revisiting him with brute reality.

Recent electoral developments to the centre and east of Europe suggest that not all populism need be filled with the toxins of violent divorce and nationalist disagreement. In recent days, a Slovakian lawyer and the comedian in Ukraine have added their spots to this new form of anti-political exuberance. Of these, the former is more conventional, though she remains salad green in experience.

While it is necessary to exercise caution in seeing a spectacular, rippling movement in the exceptional and irregular, the election of Zuzana Čaputová after Slovakia’s presidential runoff on Saturday against establishment choice Maroš Šefčovic is seen as a veritable toot of approval for a new approach. “Perhaps,” she claimed, “we thought politics was only a sign of weakness, and today we see it as a sign of strength.”

Čaputová had been boosted by the mood which took a turn in February 2018. That month saw the killing of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, who had been rummaging through Slovak links with the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, and his fiancée Martina Kušnírvá. Their deaths propelled people to the streets with a zeal not seen since the anti-Communist demonstrations of 1989. While having a whiff of the hyperbolic, the killings have been remarked upon as having the momentous influence of the fall of New York’s Twin Towers in September 2001. This gave sufficient and shuddering notice to Prime Minister Robert Fico to hand in his resignation papers. The murkiness of the whole business was profound; the individual said to be responsible for directing the killings, Marián Kočner, purportedly had ties to Fico’s SMER Party and various government officials. The rot had set deep.

In what might be seen as a characteristic neuroses of Central European politics, the reaction to the killings came in parliamentary laws affecting journalistic practice rather than political corruption: a right of reply would have to be given to politicians; in the event this was not done, a fine might be imposed. The ghost of Fico had made its unwelcome appearance. “It’s the opposite of what should have been done,” lamented former Slovakian prime minister Iveta Radičová

In a sense, this made the inroads by Čaputová, who defeated SMER’s choice, Šefčovic, even more striking. Far from seeing the European Union as an anti-nationalist bugbear to be slain or fled from, the new president shows a desire to bring Slovakia closer to its bosom. “My main focus is to bring about change in Slovakia, and for Slovakia to be a reliable and predictable partner of the European Union.”

The Ukrainian example is even more fitting, tinged with a degree of the exemplary absurd. A comedian whose main act is to play the good president finds himself in the running to become one. In politics, the comedian is usually inadvertent, an accident arising from a miscalculation of factors. He is magnificently idiotic (US Vice President Dan Quayle on thinking Latin was spoken in Latin America), or dangerously ignorant (US President George W. Bush: the French have no word for entrepreneur).

In Ukraine, with half the ballots counted, Volodymyr Zelenskiy was leading with some 30 per cent.  Incumbent Petro Poroshenko was lagging at 16 per cent. Not even the usual electoral violations could sway the vote dramatically, despite assertions by the third placed “gas princess” Yulia Tymoshenko that she might have nabbed the second spot.

Zelenskiy’s satirical television show Servant of the People features the antics, and efforts of an Ordinary Citizen and history school teacher turned President. The dragon he slays, or at least aspires to, is that of corruption. Invariably he is accused of lacking political mettle and clear policies, though he is open to conversing in both Ukrainian and Russian, a point that has earned some traction in the Russian-speaking east of the country. The establishment tend to critique the politician from the perspective of seasoning: like fermented fish, he must have pungency and long experience.

Not Zelenskiy who, for the moment, has a certain sense of rude freshness about him. “People want to show the authorities the middle finger, and he is playing the role of this middle finger,” surmised political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. Like other figures hostile to the political formula, he has abandoned any semblance of orthodoxy. He is not interested in interviews; he eschews rallies for the most part. But he is something of a social media junkie.

For all that, he is not immune to that tradition of patronage, having ties with Igor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest and sketchiest oligarchs. Think Kolomoisky, think the collapse of PrivatBank. Depending on viewpoints, Kolomoisky was simply incompetent in causing the loss of $248 million; or he was a ruthless marauder who raided the bank’s assets to the tune of billions of dollars.

Zelenskiy’s retort to claims that he is merely Kolomoisky’s closely controlled puppet has been simple: attacking my oligarch necessitates attacking your dubious business dealings and even more dubious business partners; “are you,” he asked pointedly of Poroshenko, “Mr. Synarchuk’s puppet?” The Ukrainian defence sector is pickled by the stench of the association between Poroshenko’s former business partner Oleh Svynarchuk and son Ihor.

Such instances supply notes of truly dark humour in the age of the finite politician, and one that promises to play out in the second, run-off election. And will debating Poroshenko matter in a now promised debate? No, claims the comedian. “What difference does it make?” A fond farewell has been made to political tradition – for the moment, at least.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Unnecessary Expansions: The Australian War Memorial

War is not merely a matter of sowing death, much of it needless; it entails preserving a rationale to perpetuate it. The mistake often made about reading, consulting and listening to the harrowing tales of those who have perished in battle or those who survived them is to presume that these should not happen again. Politicians, generals and strategists are all in the game: the dead are merely a reminder that more blood must be shed. Weak, imprecise terms are thrown about by way of justification: they died so that we could be free. Forget the bungling, the bad faith, the expediency.

One ample manifestation of this distasteful indulgence is the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  This particular entity can hardly be said to be short of cash but was promised $498 million that would have gone to other starved national institutions.  Half a billion is hardly a pittance, and the war memorial complex has been preparing since the announcement was made last year.

The proposal is meant to address a few points, some structural, others specific to narrative. (Wars are about stories, often distorted ones, especially when massaged by the State.) Spatial issues have become significant; Australia remains busy fighting the wars of others, and so finds itself running out of commemorative room. Officials feel that more should be made for a modern generation of fighters.

There is also push towards trendy digitisation, a pneumatic substitute that does wonders to hide rather than illuminate conflict; every site where Australians have fallen will have a display, termed Places of Pride. A focus on Australia’s more recent involvements will also be a priority. In the words of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “It means the Australian War Memorial will be able to display more of their collection and proudly tell the stories from recent years in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.”

For Australian War Memorial director, Brendan Nelson, Australian military deployments from the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean conflict and Vietnam were “largely told” in crowded confines. “Yet the service of 70,000 young Australians in the Middle East Area of operations of the past two decades currently covers only two percent of available space.”

No opposition was registered by Bill Shorten’s Labour Party to this excessive splurge. Sniffing the prospects of a future government portfolio, Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Amanda Rishworth stated her party’s unconditional approval of the bloated funding proposal to the defence forces. “Whatever political arguments we have in the chambers on either side of this room, both parties are […] united in our respect for your service.”

To be sure, there have been various Australians irritated and outraged by the measure.  Last month, they decided, via The Honest History website, to add their signatures to a letter signed by 83 or so, 24 of which, for what it’s worth, have received the Order of Australia. Thomas Keneally has been traditionally indignant at the proposed folly, as have other authors. But the opposition has not merely come from scribes and wordsmiths who might be accused of progressive tendencies. There is an air of protesting officialdom about many of them. Paul Barrett, former Department of Defence secretary, is a signatory, as is Brendon Kelson and Liam Hanna, former director and assistant directors of the AWM.

Nelson’s sins have been those of zeal wedded to money. He, the signatories accuse, tout “the Memorial as telling ‘our story’” yet show “excessive veneration of the Anzac story”. This denied “the richness of our history.” There was also an element of plain old vandalism about the whole matter. “His and his Council’s ambitions will destroy the Memorial’s character and entail the demolition of Anzac Hall, opened in 2001 and winner of the 2005 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture.”

The voices generally tread the line of fine logic.  ANU history academic Frank Bongiorno is unconvinced by the heralded role a ballooning war memorial is meant to have. “The AWM is already a very large institution, and I don’t buy into a lot of the discussion about the AWM having a therapeutic role in relation to healing returned service personnel as a justification for this. The notion you have to spend a half-a-billion to play that role appropriately and functionally just doesn’t seem plausible to me.”

Of the political parties, only the Greens have offered some measure of sense, though these do take aim at the more patriotic sensibilities of the war-crazed. Arms manufacturer sponsorship, for instance, should end; the Frontier Wars and the Tent Embassy should be commemorated and recognised.

While valuing the War Memorial, Senator Richard Di Natale suggested that the expansion “to showcase military hardware is deeply inappropriate, especially when our other National Institutions don’t have the funds to repair their leaky roofs.”  Australia’s National Institutions, reminded former Greens Senator and leader Christine Milne, spoke of the corrosion caused by the “efficiency dividends” principle to Australia’s National Institutions. The sacred will have an endless money pot.

Selling war and its merits has been the crass way states have done so for centuries and Australia’s inflated expenditure in the name of remembering the dead exceeds that of other states by some margin.  Memorials should be a reminder of loss and warning; they have become, instead, the means by which the apologetics for conflicts past, present and future can be promoted.  The redirection of funds to the AWM says much about the priorities of the Morrison government, supported, as it were, by the Labor opposition: the war complex needs feeding, even as the roof of the National Gallery of Australia leaks.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Angles of Tolerance: Yusuf Islam in Christchurch

Let’s not be too churlish about this; but then again, let us not be ignorant. The singer once known as Cat Stevens (in pre-conversion state), and known as Yusuf Islam to others, made a considerable impression on the stage in Christchurch. The slaughter of fifty at two mosques in the New Zealand city had made enough of an impression to lure the singer.

Yusuf had worshipped at the Masjid Al Noor in December 2017, a pit stop as part of his 50th anniversary Peace Train tour. On Friday, he performed at the National Remembrance Service in Hagley Park. Assisted by double-bassist Bruce Lynch, he wowed the crowd. To various New Zealand press outlets, he was in a mood to reflect, recalling a city “peaceful” and “orderly” with “nice people”. Then came the trigger happy “monster”. The response to the killings impressed him. There was “this incredible backlash of kindness and love and unity which is obviously so powerful that it changes the whole picture from dark to light.”

The Ardern government had furnished him an exemplary case of emotional management and response. They had shone the light. “Things like [the reaction] don’t happen in many other places in the world. Things happen but it stays dark. The government rarely does anything of any importance in the aftermath. Here the story is different.” He reflected on ignorance being the enemy; freedom of speech was to be valued “but truth, peace and harmony are kind of more valuable.”

Tolerance, inclusiveness, love. These words are often bandied about as part of a stage set but not always practiced. Yusuf Islam supplies us a troubling example, and his dig at freedom of speech as being of secondary order of importance is important. His selection as part of the mourning and commemoration process might have been an oversight on the part of the organisers; if so, it was a grave one, suggesting that ignorance and grief are often two parts of the same distorting lenses.

In 1989, on British television, the singer was posed a hypothetical by international lawyer and pundit Geoffrey Robertson QC. A state sanctioned edict, or fatwa, had been issued by Iran’s supreme leader the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. All Muslims were to be encouraged in the endeavour; publishers were also be targets. Even a novel, with an exploratory theme suggesting that the Prophet Mohammed might have stemmed from pagan tradition, was too much to stomach. Rushdie was intentionally naughty, deploying terms long seen as taboo: Jahilia, alluding to Jahiliyyah, or “state of ignorance from guidance of God”; a brothel named Hijab; and Mahound, a pejorative variant of Mohammed.

Did Rushdie deserve to die? “Yes, yes,” came the unequivocal response from Yusuf. Would you be his executioner? “Uh, no, not necessarily, unless we were in an Islamic state and I was ordered by a judge or by the authority to carry out such an act – perhaps yes.” Would you attend an effigy-burning protest against the author? “I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing.” Should Rushdie turn up at his doorstep, he “might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like. I’d try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is.”

Hard to forget, and Rushdie would grimly muse in 2010 on the appearance of Yusuf at Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity. “I have always liked Stewart and Colbert but what on earth was Cat Yusuf Stevens Islam doing on that stage? If he’s a ‘good Muslim’ like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar then I’m the Great Pumpkin. Happy Halloween.”

People can mellow, and, with age, even shift their positions. Defects can be revised; mistakes revisited. Andrew Anthony of the Observer failed to note much in the way of change a decade or so after the singer expressed his faithful bloodlust. “He told me in 1997, eight years after saying on TV that Rushdie should be lynched, that he was in favour of stoning women to death for adultery. He also reconfirmed his position on Rushdie.”

Yusuf had also dedicated himself to that unhealthy tendency latent in many monotheistic religions: proselytization. The Islamia school in Brent, Anthony notes, was dedicated to “bring about the submission of the individual, the community and the world at large to Islam.” Women were also to abide by their fair share of subjugation and heed submission in the enterprise. Such is the way of that type of tolerance.

In 2017 on News24, Yusuf continued what has been a systematic process of aversion and denial. (The faithful fanatic can wobble when needed). “I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie; nor backed the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini – and still don’t.” Instead, he was happy to blame Rushdie, a sure sign about where guilt should lie. “The book [The Satanic Verses] itself destroyed the harmony between peoples and created an unnecessary international crisis.”

The Robertson episode is ignored; instead, Yusuf finds fault with “a loaded question posed by a journalist, after a harmless biographical lecture I gave to students in Kingston University in 1989”. The tendency to erase in the name of faith is all too evident here.

The lasting truth about those solemn, and for the most part heartfelt proceedings in Hagley Park, is that they were marked by a person who has little in the way of any problem with theocratic-sanctioned murder for the use of language. By an author, a wordsmith, a thinker. For an occasion supposedly staged to rebuke extremism, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern effectively shared the same stage with one of the more extreme creatures of fanaticism, one who embraces assassination as one of the more effective means of censorship. As Rushdie himself would pen in a letter to the Telegraph in 2007, “Let’s have no more rubbish about how ‘green’ and innocent this man was.”

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

The Logic of Annexation: Israel and the Golan Heights

Any measure of annexation is based on the extension of a military’s boots. Diplomats tend to be silenced before the noise of tanks, weaponry and garrisons. Countries may claim to possess territory but can only dream in the absence of military weight. When it came to the issue of negotiating the post-World War II agreements, Generalissimo Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union had a clear sense of this in charting out Soviet influence in East European states. Israel also bullied its way into recognition, making sure that it acquired, at various stages, the Sinai (since relinquished), the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

The status of the Golan Heights has been a disputed business since the 1949 armistice line hammered out between Syria and Israel. The seven-hundred-square-mile stretch features all gazing vantage points: Jordan to the south, Syria to the east, Lebanon to the north, and Israel to its west. To military advantage could also be added water security: the edge of the Golan Heights features the freshwater Sea of Galilee.

Israel remained convinced that the mandate lines of Palestine and Syria should have finalised the issue but rendered much of that moot with the seizure of the territory in the Six Day War of 1967. (Syrian forces made use of their elevation during that war by shelling Israeli farms in the Hula Valley.) The UN Security Council proceeded to pass Resolution 242, calling for Israeli forces to be withdrawn from territories occupied during the conflict and “acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries.” The international lawyers duly fussed over the wording and quibbled over niceties: the issue of “secure… boundaries” kept plaguing the issue, as Israel refused to budge; translation matters between the French and English versions of the resolution were also seized upon.

No international body was going to stop the Israeli push to incorporate the heights and do what it has become so adept at doing: colonising it into a new reality. The Knesset showed its disdain in 1981 by adopting the Golan Heights Law, passed by 63 votes to 21, which effectively acknowledged that the law, jurisdiction and administration of Israel would be duly extended into the territory. Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s views on Syrian hostility, reflected in the deployment of missiles on Lebanese soil, was also cited as an excuse.

The recent turn of events centred on the Syrian Civil War renewed interest in the Golan.  Syria seemed to be collapsing, the Assad regime in dire straits. Iran and Hezbollah came into play. Given the assisting presence of Teheran’s Quds Force, Israel’s strategists have seen a further need to maintain a forward presence, mindful of militants of all persuasion moving through the territory.

The position of Israel’s unqualified and foremost ally was, at least notionally, with an international reservation on the status of the Golan.  But that contested state offered another overturned convention for the Trump administration and US foreign policy. On March 21, President Donald Trump decided, via his own chosen, special medium, to claim that, “After 52 years, it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s [s]overeignty over the Golan Heights.” As is operating protocol in the administration, it was not initially clear whether Trump had merely cyber-aired an opinion in an act of spontaneous release or announced a genuine policy shift. The US State Department preferred to direct press concerns to the White House; certainty was, for a period, suspended in the scramble for elusive facts.

Those scrounging for some hook to hang their questions on did have an additional statement from National Security adviser John Bolton, also made on Twitter: “To allow Golan Heights to be controlled by the likes of the Syrian or Iranian regimes would turn a blind eye to the atrocities of Assad and the destabilizing presence of Iran in the region. Strengthening Israel’s security enhances our ability to fight common threats together.” Unsurprisingly, for Bolton, there was no reference to the body of international norms he has come to regard as absent.

In Israel, clarity had cooled, and the mould set. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convinced by Trump’s meditations, revealing that the White House had been most accommodating towards a shift.  Trump had “made history.” Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights had been recognized, and there was no better time than now, “when Iran is trying to use the Golan Heights as a platform for the destruction of Israel.”  But in addition to the security justification came the old sinister and stretched notions of exclusive, lengthy habitation.  “Jews lived there for thousands of years and the people of Israel have come back to the Golan.”

Next to Netanyahu was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who made the stumbling affirmation of the position: the Golan Heights were to be considered an appropriate “sovereign part of the State of Israel.” Israelis should also “know the battles they fought, the lives that they lost on that very ground, were worthy and meaningful.”

It all comes as a measure of grades. Start gradually, then push the issue with force and settlements. Over time, the attrition might convince; international opposition would melt away.  The Golan-based human rights group Al-Marsad is gloomy about Syrians in the area, seeing the existential demise of its residents. “Syrians in the occupied Golan face calculated Israeli efforts to restrict their building and land use, destroy their enterprise, cleanse their Arab culture, manipulate their Syrian identity, and suffocate their freedom of movement.”

The Trump decision, similarly to its stance on East Jerusalem, tilts the head of US foreign policy away from the basic principles of peace and security embedded in the UN Charter, as weak a document as it has proven to be over the years. It will also further muddy the waters with the Assad regime, ever keen to restore order as the bloody civil war painstakingly comes to a close. And as for the issue of Arab-Israeli peace? Forget it. Boots, construction and missiles are proving far more effective than diplomatic advances.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Michael Jackson, Convenient Freak

The comedian Dave Chappelle put it like this: why were accusations of inappropriate conduct directed at Michael Jackson always so superbly timed? “Listen Michael,” goes Chappelle’s mock white executive voice, “we need you to jerk off another child.” (Chappelle is also prudent enough to append a qualifying note: he might have done it, but who knows?)

Jackson could always be relied upon to provide distractive, and mad fodder, for social angst and voyeuristic sickness. Murders, atrocities and falling markets might be troubling, but a fit of moral hysteria would always be a reliable distraction. From the dream confection of Neverland, he could be relied upon to be the ghoulish fairy, the floss of nightmares to distract a tormented and terrified population. He could be spoken about, suggests Chappelle, because he was a freak, fair game to all. For all that, goes the comedian, he “did it for you”, the audience. He mutilated himself for you; he altered his persona for you, even as he hoped to influence you.

In many concrete instances, Jackson did play on the gift of freak, ramping up the challenge to accusers and fans alike: I am weird, so celebrate. His video of Ghosts suggests stylised horror, with the Maestro, skeleton robed in black, condemned as a freak who must leave town. Margo Jefferson, writing in On Michael Jackson, deems the music “a bit insipid and nonsensical, the dance moves freakazoid and ridiculous, the scenario grandiose and egotistical, but the whole package is nevertheless a riveting, baroque and show-stopping amplification of Jackson’s fractured self-image.”

Even discussions attempting to remain serious fall for the assumption of sickness, weirdness, freakiness. Sharing bed with young boys, for instance, a point brought up in the notorious interview with Martin Bashir, had a “morally repulsive aspect”, chided Albert Mohler, “In a very real sense,” suggests Mohler, not shying away from grandstanding, “the Michael Jackson affair represents the intersection of America’s celebrity culture and postmodern morality.” Celebrity tickled a certain interest, but “the public mind is torn between moral repugnance and gawkish fascination.”

The documentary Leaving Neverland continues the freak theme with the additional suggestion of skill; Jackson proved adept, goes this theme, at concealing his pederastic tendencies. He deployed his deft performing skills in the name of clandestine hook-ups and cover-ups. James Delingpole of The Spectator is happy to speculate, showing how far presumptions have gone. “His entire career and persona, you might argue, we’re just one gigantic honeytrap, erected with the purpose of luring pretty little boys into his web of sin.” He did so with “cunning”.

Such language has the purpose of attributing all-powerful agency to the man and discounting all else. The adoring fans are not that relevant; the celebrity gawkers, boys and parents are treated as pathetic but somehow free of choice and ill will (what of money and fame, attained by feeding on the Jackson magic?). Powerful stardom destroys volition.

The man, being dead, cannot defend himself, but Leaving Neverland details an assortment of sexual abuse accusations from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the latter having joined the singer’s dance routines in the 1980s Bad tour. Tagged on is commentary from the mothers of the alleged victims, Joy Robson and Stephanie Safechuck. The grounds are laid for feistily expansive ponderings: the accounts provide burning matter for critics about faulty maternal rearing; supposedly, the women in question were nearby when Jackson was engaged in various bedroom antics with the youths.

Filmmaker Dan Reed, as stern judge, keen jury and celluloid executioner, is clear in his motivations for making Leaving Neverland, capitalising on the moral distemper of #MeToo. “The Michael Jackson estate – the Michael Jackson machine – pumps out a lot of propaganda to the effect that he was just a childlike lover of humanity and a saviour of children, which is complete bilge. ”Reed easily discounts the fact that Robson defended Jackson in the 2005 child sex abuse trial, something he puts down to the muddy relations perpetrators and victims share in matters sexual.

A battle of accounts and feeble memories did not stop with his death. Jackson supplies an endless reserve for tabloid fantasists and publicist droolers across a spectrum of behavioural assessments. They are sordid and rarely rise above the level of lavatory indulgence and the curious sidelong perve. When the stream seems dry, a revitalising surge is provided. Forget the music; focus on the man. Recently, Lisa Marie, daughter of Elvis, was happy to share experiences as a conjugally active partner to Jackson between 1994 and 1996, though, as ever, she was sharing them with Jackson’s “childhood friend” J. Randy Taraborrelli, dangerous business that sees much spillage in such rags as The Sun.

In life and in death, he can tease the interest of high-brow, middle-brow and low. He is the Prince of Pop, the Gloved One, the Baby Dangler. In life, he was riddled with financial problems (a $240 million debt with the Bank of America; legal actions from 90 of Neverland Ranch’s employees). Some statements have hit the mark: Jackson as protean, according to Andrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books (Jul 6, 2006), confused, desperate “but complete in his devotion to self-authorship. His every move shows him to be a modern conundrum about race and identity and selfhood.” He is instability in search of perfection; he is a tormented product of excess of demand – demand, that is, of the public.

In current moral climates of hysterical re-assertions and a newfound moral police in matters sexual, the dead are seen to deserve their drubbing. Their remains need to be symbolically exhumed to be judged and burned. If they are accused (and again, without ever being tested by the law) as kingpins of pederasty, they will deserve moral spite, their products shunned. After the airing of Leaving Neverland, certain radio stations removed Jackson songs from their playlists. “Michael Jackson isn’t currently on any MediaWorks Radio stations’ playlists,” explained an unconvincing Leon Wratt of MediaWorks. “This is a reflection of our audiences and their preferences – it is our job to ensure our radio stations are playing the music people want to hear.”  Awfully considerate of him.

This is not to say that Jackson is guiltless; we are simply left to build upon images of degeneracy that, when viewed from a distance, confirm the ledgers of the accusers in the absence of rebuttal. The colossally flawed jumble that was Jackson, a character mutilated in flesh and spirit, has ceased to command pity. Now, he is merely commanding the needs for the vengeful. The freakish will bring that out in you, and the morally indignant will confuse the merits of a monster’s work with the monster’s own credentials.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

A Privileged Education: The US College Admissions Scandal

The oldest idea of history; the perennial problem of station: education. Get the child as far as possible so that he or she can be propelled, as if from a trebuchet across the ramparts of life. Nasty obstacles – one being a lack of intellect – will be cleared, and the wretched genetic issue will find itself in sinecures, positions of influence and sat upon the comfortable chairs of the establishment.

Universities should be places of educational exultation. In practice, they have become creatures of the state, friends of various industrial complexes, and complicit in some of the darker tendencies of society. Go to university, and understand dankness and rot; go to university, and acquaint yourself with what foul pools of unrefined group-think looks like. (The very idea of a “school” of thinking is disturbingly boxed-in nature),

It is also clear that any institution which hands caps out in hope of filling them is bound to be influenced by the heaviest contribution, though how that contribution is assessed can be a point of conjecture. As the issue of Benjamin Franklin’s diamond snuffbox, a present from Louis XVI showed, a gift might be as troublingly influential as a bribe.

Cap filling, in other words, is beyond rebuttal as a university practice. What is significant is the form it takes. It can either be subtle, with the old blood and club ties playing a role, greased by donations and a designated background; or it can be more direct, with employees of the university taking a cut, an overt way of exploiting the process.

Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, for instance, was of the latter persuasion, supplying what were considered by the university “fraudulent athletic endorsements” for two applicants. One failed to get in; another was admitted around January 2018, with parents paying Rick Singer, the grand poohbah of the operation, $1.2 million for the facilitation of acceptance. A good slice of $400,000 went to Meredith.

The Boston US Attorney’s Office got wind of the matter. A federal grand jury subpoenaed the Yale Office of the General Counsel on November 16, 2018, requesting information about Meredith. Full details were revealed once the charges were unsealed on March 12 this year.

Singer has made a pretty sum from such transactions in what appears to be the largest, and longest running college admissions scandal in US history, his modus operandi being the counterfeit athletic and exam profile (doctored photos and exam results, bogus special needs certificates). Other colleges, coaches and parents, have found themselves wading in the pool of accusation, though Southern California seems to be ground zero in that regard. Half of the 32 parents who found their way into the FBI affidavit filed in the US District Court in Boston are linked to USC, accused of old fashioned bribery of college entrance exam administrators, varsity coaches and administrators responsible for athletics recruitment and using “the façade of a charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of the bribe payments.” 

This Monday, former coaches from the University of Southern California and Georgetown University, part of a select dozen, pleaded not guilty to charges that they had participated in the scheme. The list reads like a thick who’s who of the establishment gone south: former USC women’s soccer coaches Ali Khoroshahin and Laura Janke; former USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, and Gordon Ernst, Georgetown’s former head tennis coach. They are said to be part of an enterprise of 50 individuals, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, part of a racketeering project worth $25 million.

As is the nature of such processes, universities retreat behind an assembled body of rules and spectral processes that are supposed to guarantee accountability. Yale’s attempt to do so in this latest college admissions scandal fails to disappoint. “On the very rare occasion when Yale receives an allegation that a current student included false information in an application,” explains the university in a statement, “Yale gives the student the opportunity to address the allegation.” If the university deems the allegation true, “the student’s admission is rescinded, based on language in the application that requires applicants to affirm that everything in the application is true and complete.”

The university also denies, in an effort to ward off speculation on the subject, that there is “no evidence that a student admitted under this scheme has graduated.” Traditional, indirect ways of influence tend to be the norm; the recent US college admissions scheme was simply more daring, and brazen, in its implementation. It was daylight looting.

It all comes down to style and method. Daniel Golden had already shown in his 2006 publication The Price of Admission, that the wealthy in the US purchase a pathway for under-achieving offspring into elite universities via enormous, tax-deductible donations and the exertion of influence on appropriate university committees. Take a certain Charles Kushner, New Jersey real estate developer, who pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University in 1998. Son Jared, hardly jaw dropping with his SAT or GPA scores, was duly admitted, the rate of acceptance then being one out of nine.

That decision was greeted with consternation at The Frisch School in Paramus, NJ, Jared’s boyhood stomping ground. “There was,” opined a former official of the school, “no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard.” The backfill response, often coming from a spokesperson for Kushner Companies, has always been consistent: there was no link between Charles Kushner’s gift and his son’s admission.

Similar principles, at a stretch, apply to Oxbridge, but the British tend to prefer the subtlety that comes with hypocrisy and class impenetrability. As UK Professor David Andress wondered when looking at the US example, “Why these people didn’t just make strategic donations, perfectly legally, to achieve the same end…” And so he tails off; thickness can only go so far. What is needed there is an additional good “blag” factor, a heftily billed private school education, and good family ties. Exaggerated sporting achievement can help.

This is the issue of corruption in universities who, like any bureaucratic institution linked with establishment values, desire money and possess a self-subsisting interest in supporting its favourites. Where education is not universally free, favours will be done, or least be seen to be done. Appropriate backs will be rubbed. Regulations written in mosaic stone will be broken if needed. In some cases, no law need ever be broken; appearances will triumph.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Disinviting Jordan Peterson: The Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge and Approved Ideas

He has sent so many cliques and groups into titters of anger, and the indignant have attempted to turn on him. The university environment should be the last place where dangerous ideas, and views, are stifled and stomped upon. In actual fact, we are seeing the reverse; from students’ unions to middle and upper-managerial parasites and administrators, the contrarian idea must be boxed, the controversial speaker silenced and sent beyond the pale. Dissent and disagreement are lethal toxin to such affected notions as “diversity” and “inclusiveness”.

It should be very clear that meaningless terms such as diversity and inclusiveness do very little to the content of actual intellectual conversation. Ideas are there to be debated, not accepted by high caste strictures. The modern academic environment suggests something quite opposite: a policing rationale, an insistence on thought control that is insidious and all too common in managed structures. When incorporated into the university structure, the bureaucrat takes precedence over the intellectual, the mindless cherry picker over the polymath. The more ideas you have, the more of a threat you will be, requiring regulation and the occasional ostracising. In broader public spaces, this may even require you losing a platform altogether.

Which leads us, then, to Jordan Peterson, agent provocateur and psychology professor at University of Toronto who was led to believe that he would be taking up residence for two months at the Faculty of Divinity in Cambridge University in Michaelmas Term. In a statement to the Cambridge student newspaper, Varsity, a University spokesperson confirmed “that Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review.”

In a bitter irony that should have been apparent, the Canadian academic had his invitation rescinded in the name of “inclusiveness”, a baffling justification given its very opposite interpretation. In a statement to the Guardian, the University spokesman proclaimed Cambridge “an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot”. Now there speaks the virtue of an intolerant tolerance.

Left hanging with menacing dullness is the entire lack of precision as to what those politburo designated principles are. Even more to the point, the Faculty of Divinity is left looking buffoonish having first extended an invitation in the first place, presumably because it was in the spirit of the University’s values. Those values, in turn, must have been flipped in an act of feeble mind changing.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guide on Freedom of Expression for higher education providers and students’ unions in England and Wales is instructive here. It notes section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, which places a legal duty on universities and Higher Education Providers more broadly to take “reasonably practicable” steps to protect freedom of speech within the law for their members, students, employees and visiting speakers.

There is no “right” for any group or speaker to speak to students at Student Unions or HEP premises. But once a speaker has been invited to speak at any meeting or event, he or she “should not be stopped from doing so unless they are likely to express unlawful speech or their attendance would lead the host organisation to breach other legal obligations and no reasonably practicable steps can be taken to reduce these risks.”

As Peterson tetchily noted, he not only requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity but been extended an invitation. “You bloody virtue-signalling cowards,” he tweeted. He also deemed the Faculty of Divinity’s publicity on the issue misrepresentative, having “not equally” publicised “the initial agreement/invitation” while giving the impression that he had gone “cap-in-hand to the school for the fellowship.”

So what is it about Peterson that could possibly fall within those extreme instances?  Causing offense, perhaps, but certainly nothing illegal or criminal. He had, after all, visited Cambridge last November during the course of a book tour. He spoke at the Corn Exchange. He met faculty staff members. He also recorded videos and podcasts with the noted philosopher and Cambridge don Sir Roger Scruton, presented at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism and Stephen Blackwood, founding President of Ralston College. But perhaps most importantly, he was invited to address the venerable, and student-run Cambridge Union to a packed house.

The Cambridge University Student Union had a different take. They were “relieved” at the rescinding of the offer. “It is a political act to associate the University with an academic’s work through offers which legitimise figures such as Peterson. His work and views are not representative of the student body and as such we do not see his visit as a valuable contribution to the University, but as one that works in opposition to the principles of the University.”

The statement is riddled with daft, anti-intellectual claptrap. It is stingingly parochial.  It is also dangerous. The only “political act” in this entire affair is one affirming that a speaker with certain views associated or otherwise with the student body cannot take up residence to discuss views that are not approved by prior screening. The CUSU has taken it upon itself to deliberate over what a “valuable contribution” from an academic might look like, suggesting that it already has a set of acceptable, stock ideas that are beyond challenge. The statement is also vacuous on one fundamental point: to merely allow someone to debate a position is to legitimise him (note – not even the idea, but the person), a position presuming that an attempt at understanding is the same as approval.

Varsity has gone through the supposedly precarious resume that is Peterson’s: his opposition to an anti-discrimination bill adding gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Code in 2016 as an infringement of free speech; his refusal to use any gender neutral pronoun; his claimed defence of white privilege and masculinity. Even this laundry list is hardly a credible basis for denying him a place to engage in debate; if anything, those card carrying CUSU members, not to mention Faculty staff, might wish to engage and confront Peterson in gladiatorial bouts of the mind. But not so; far easier to pull the platform away, and simply claim to know the whole truth.

Instead of showing the very resilience that should be encouraged in thinking, the opposite is being fostered by such decisions. An enfeebled student and academic community is being encouraged, because it is free of controversy and packed with acceptable behavioural norms. The latter is distinctly geared towards a beastly toadyism at universities, where students prefer to attack certain contrarian ideas rather than the very class that detests them: university management.

When brands are being advertised, names promoted, thoughts only count in a bland, inoffensive sense. The sweet is preferred over the bitter; the discomforting eschewed in favour of Aldous Huxley’s pneumatic chair. Any complement of controversial ideas must be approved of in advance. Given that Peterson has no interest in complying with this diktat, he has become, inadvertently to many, a torch for intellectual freedom. Attempting to shut, and shutdown the man, is mere confirmation of many of his claims, even if you disagree with a good number of them.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Globalising the Christchurch Shootings: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Gallipoli and Invasion

Never let a bloody and opportune crisis pass. In New Zealand, there is talk about gun reform after attacks on two Christchurch mosques left fifty dead. There have been remarks made in parliament about unchecked white supremacy growing with enthusiastic violent urge in Australasia. In Turkey, the approach has shifted into another gear: the canny, even menacing exploitation by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The election campaign is in full swing.

Spending his time, as he often does, whipping up audiences at rallies into feverish states, the sometimes-shrill leader hits form when he dons the gear of the fully fledged demagogue. With the massacre still fresh, and the unavoidable insinuations from the Christchurch shooter about the mortal dangers posed by Islam, both current and historical, the platform was set.

Using footage from the Christchurch attack as part of his campaign show, Erdoğan promised that he was on guard against anti-Islamic forces and keen to hold the shooter to account. He also found reference to Gallipoli – site of much slaughter between the Australian New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and Turkish forces in 1915 – irresistible. “What business did you have here?  We had no issues with you, why did you come all the way here?” He already had the reason: “we’re Muslim and they’re Christian.” As for those who came to Turkey with anti-Islamic sentiments, the promise was stern: they would be sent back in coffins “like their grandfathers were” during the Gallipoli campaign.

Senior aide Fahrettin Altun was left with the task of adding ill-concealing camouflage: the President’s “words were unfortunately taken out of context”, reassuring those coming to ancient Anatolia that “Turks have always been the most welcoming & gracious hosts to their #Anzac visitors.” A translation of what Erdoğan is meant to have said was quickly issued, though the thrust was similar. The difference here was the speech’s stress against the shooter and those of his ilk, with an unmistakable promise for retribution against any malcontents. “Your ancestors came and saw us here. Then some left on their feet, some in coffins. If you come here with the same intentions (to invade our land) we will be waiting and have no doubt we will see you off like your ancestors.” Softening the waspish blow slightly, Erdoğan also spoke of Gallipoli (Çanakkale) as both “the symbol of the dream of peace we all share, and the brotherhood that grows from common sorrows.”

As a gathering of the press on March 20, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison considered the remarks by Erdoğan to be “highly offensive to Australians, and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment.” The reason was rather elementary for the prime minister: the Turkish leader had attacked the sacred nature of the ANZAC tradition, insulting their “memory” and violating “the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Ataturk to the mothers of our ANZACs.” Travel advisories to Turkey might have to be updated; the Turkish ambassador would be rebuked.

Morrison’s understanding, and, for that matter, that of many Australians, shows the latent contradiction inherent in the ANZAC tradition. Having invaded the Ottoman Empire in a daring, foolish and ultimately catastrophic enterprise in 1915, the Allied forces of the First World War, which did have a significant contingent of fresh faced Australian and New Zealand soldiers, were treated in death far better than most.

The slain ANZACs, in particular, were given soothing balm and reassurances by the victorious Turks. In 1934, a tribute was made by Atatürk, one that inscribes the Kemal Atatürk Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra: “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.”

Having removed the boundaries of difference between the men, the Turkish statesman posits a maternal image, one intended to reassure mothers that their lost sons had become the offspring of another land, to be cherished and remembered in their death.  Images of soil and earth abound. “You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

These sons had a mission; they had attacked a sovereign entity as part of a great power play. Winston Churchill, then Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, felt that knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the First World War was just the ticket to break the murderous stalemate on the Western front. To that end, the ANZACs had merely been another set of invaders in the service of empire. Instead of gloating, Atatürk showed a measure of modesty and humility.

Erdoğan should never be accused of such restraint and composure, just as the cult of ANZAC cannot be accused of being wholeheartedly receptive to the Turkish perspective of the Gallipoli campaign. For the Australian and New Zealand dead, their sacrifice is given the ghastly cellophane of freedom; they did so to protect liberties held sacred. It would be far more appropriate to see the Turkish effort as one for freedom. As Erdem Koç ruefully penned in 2015, “Had the hundreds of thousands of young men not joined the army and headed to Gallipoli, and the bravery displayed on the frontlines not happened, it’s without doubt modern Turkey would not have been formed.”

Did the Turkish leader have a point on Australian laxity in dealing with the shooting? For Morrison, misrepresentations had been taking place on “the very strong position taken by the Australian and New Zealand Governments in our response to the extremist attack in New Zealand that was committed by an Australian, but in no way, shape or form, could possibly be taken to represent the actions, or any policy or view of the Australian people.”

Morrison fumed that his response had been appropriate and swift, those of an “open, tolerant society, accepting all faiths and peoples”, embracing “our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response.”

Morrison’s programmed retort – Australia as tolerant, open, embracing – jars with the reaction within Australia in various, irritable circles. Waleed Aly, who wears academic, journalistic and broadcasting hats depending on the occasion, explained with regret on his program, The Project, that there was “nothing about Christchurch that shocks me.” Its ordinariness proved the most threatening of all.

Remarks from the tetchy, reactionary Senator Fraser Anning were then cited, ones insisting that the Christchurch killings were a product, not of white nationalist mania but permissiveness towards Islamic fascism and the tendencies of those who follow Allah. The comments were not part of the shooter’s manifesto, Aly noted, but placed upon “an Australian parliament letterhead”. As he continued to urge: “Don’t change our tune now because the terrorism seems to be coming from a white supremacist. If you’ve been talking about being tough on terrorism for years, and (on) the communities who allegedly support it, show us how tough you are now.”

Polemical and polarising comments will continue; there may even be retaliatory attacks to add to the bloodletting. It is not just jealousy that doth mock the meat it feeds on; hatreds will do just as nicely, ensuring that the Johnnies and the Mehmets shall part ways, man barricades and fill the coffins.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement

A censorious and censoring attitude has engulfed responses to the mental airings of the Christchurch shooter. Material in connection with Brenton Tarrant, the alleged gunman behind the killing of 50 individuals at two mosques in New Zealand, is drying up; his manifesto, for one, is being dis-aggregated and spread through multiple forms, removed from their various parts with blunt razors. Doing so does a disservice to any arguments that might be mounted against him, but having a debate is not what this is generally about.

Arguments on banning the incendiary and dangerous are easily mounted against a range of publications. The smutty supposedly corrupt public morals; the revolutionary supposedly give citizens strange and cocksure ideas about overthrowing the order of things. Then there are just the downright bizarre and adventurous, incapable of classification, but deemed dangerous for not falling into any clear category. Certitude is fundamentally important for the rule-directed censor and paper shuffling bureaucrat.

One example stands out, a testament to the failure of such efforts and the misunderstandings and distortions that follow. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as a stellar case, was banned in Germany after the Second World War. In January 2016, it was republished on the expiry of copyright held by the Bavarian government. As Steven Luckert remarked in The Atlantic at the time, “the history of the book, and of Hitler’s words more generally, demonstrates that there’s no clear-cut relationship between banning speech and halting the spread of ideas.” The Nazi party did not disappear in the aftermath of the ban; nor could it be said that his ideas had captivated whole states and their governments, despite being accessible.

The book, deemed to be an insight into the darkened corridors of Hitler’s racial and biologically charged mind, was not initially seen as off limits in the war of ideas; even as the United States was doing battle against Nazi Germany, advocates for understanding the mental baggage of Hitler was sought rather than dismissed. Houghton Mifflin made it a patriotic duty for Americans to familiarise themselves with the tenets of the text.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was also keen that those battling Germany have a sense of what they were up against. As he noted in his history of the Second World War, “There was no book which deserved more careful study from the rulers, political and military, of the Allied Powers.” All the elements were there, from “the programme of German insurrection” to establishing “the rightful position of Germany at the summit of the world.”

With Tarrant, the push to restrict discussion and siphon off any serious mention is well underway. The Great Replacement is become scarcer on the internet, having been removed from numerous sites and scoured off digital domains. White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway insists that the document be studied and read “in its entirety.” Her reasons, explained in a Monday morning interview with Fox & Friends, are valid enough; she wants to argue that Tarrant is not merely a white nationalist warrior, but as much a radical in other contexts. Yes, he mentions President Donald Trump “and there it is, one time. But he also said he aligns closely with the ideology of China. He said he’s not a conservative, he’s not a Nazi, I think her referred to himself as an eco-naturalist or an eco-fascist.” Such are the muddying details of completeness.

The suggestion prompted scorn and outrage from the media cognoscenti. Aaron Rupar called it “highly irresponsible.” Joan Donovan of Harvard’s Technology and Social Change Research Project, demonstrating the enlightened disposition one has come to expect from boxed squirrel scholars, demanded a curb to its reach. “It is loaded with keywords that lead down far-right rabbit holes. Do not repost.” Tech writer for The New York Times Kevin Roose was decidedly paternalistic, issuing a hazard warning to any would-be reader: “be careful with the NZ shooter’s apparent manifesto. It’s thick with irony and meta-text and very easy to misinterpret if you’re not steeped in this stuff all the time (and even if you are).” Like the Catholic Church of old, it has been left to a priestly cast of read, steeped-in-the-stuff interpreters to give the highlights, carefully chosen, for public consumption. No rabbit holes, meta-text, or irony for the unfortunate plebeian readership.

The mechanism by which this censorship is being engineered is questionable from ethical, evidentiary and epistemological contexts. The copy-cat syndrome has roared to the fore as real and influencing, and to that end, justifying. Be wary of social contagion in the aftermath of a mass killing, we are told.

In 2015, a multi-authored study in PloS ONE claimed to find “significant evidence that mass killings involving firearms are incented by similar events in the immediate past.” There was “significant evidence of contagion in school shootings.” The authors suggested that an increased risk of mass killings and school shootings in a 13-day period following previous incidents. Such perspectives on contagion have been echoed in a range of publications which insist on not publishing names or photographs of mass shooters.

Adam Lankford and Sara Tomek revisited the theme in studying mass killings in the United States between 2006 and 2013 in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour. They noted the absence of relevant empirical studies on the subject, and previous contradictory findings. The authors suggested that contagion requires transmission. “The social contagion thesis requires that the imitative mass killer be at least indirectly exposed to the model killer’s behaviour.”

On examining their gathered data, Lankford and Tomek confidently asserted that their study raised “significant questions about previous findings implying a short-term social contagion effect from mass killings.” No “statistically significant evidence of contagion” was detectable within the 14-day time period. Ever careful to cover their tracks with heavy padding, they also issue a cautionary note; “that longer term contagion or copycat effects may pose a significant threat to society.”

The banning complex is hard to resist. After catastrophe, material can find itself onto forbidden lists. Authorities, fearing mayhem, are the first to identify such dangers in slipshod fashion. Uncertain and unverifiable contagion measures are considered. But keeping such material off the radar will not advance the discussion of nationalism of a certain pedigree and the source of its inspiration. If white nationalism be the problem, then call it out. Examine it. Consider remedies. Tarrant’s The Great Replacement, like Hitler’s Mein Kampf before it, should be studied for its implications and understandings rather than avoided as a viral inducement for further violence. The censor, in attitude, practice and assumption, remains as great a danger to society as any dangerous text ever could be.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Saving the Planet One Child at a Time: Children, School Strikes and Global Climate Action

Children’s crusades do not necessarily end well. During the years of armed missions to the Holy Land, when Jerusalem meant something to the sacredly inclined in Europe, children were encouraged to take to the rough and dangerous road as it wound its way towards Palestine. In 1212, a boy of 12 is said to have begun preaching at Saint-Denis in France. God had supposedly taken some time to communicate a pressing wish: Christian children were to head to the Holy Land and liberate it from the Infidel. How they would do so was not clear.

They subsequently starved, suffered deprivation, were killed and enslaved en route to their destination. The modern student movement against climate change stresses another Jerusalem, that there will be nothing to salvage if nothing is done now. We are all, in short, for the chop if climate change is not arrested. As an Oakland high-schooler by the name of Bruke told Wired, “My GPA isn’t going to matter if I’m dead.”  And much else besides.

To such movements can also be added other acts of striking in peaceful protest. Tens of thousands of US students did so in 2018 swathed in the grief and despair of gun shootings, the most immediate being the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The National School Walkout of March 14 and the March for Our Lives ten days later had a biting clarity of purpose: students and staff were entitled to feel secure in the teaching and learning environment. The movement was characterised by much eloquence wreathed in anger and tears, not least of all Emma Gonzalez, who chided those political representatives “who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been ever done to prevent this”.

Criticism of such movements emphasises helplessness and delusion; they are children and so are vulnerable, idiotic and irrelevant. They are to be taught and have nothing to teach the adult world. Leave it to the big boys and girls to stuff up matters. The critics, often estranged from the very political processes they have been complicit in corrupting, see embryos in need of a constructive voice, expressed constructively without inconvenience, not coherent agents keen to affect change. There is, as Kari Marie Norgaard observed in 2012, a lag between the accumulating evidence of doom on the one hand, and the absence of public urgency, even interest, in response. “Although not inherently unproblematic,” surmised Norgaard, “local efforts may provide a key for breaking through climate avoidance from the ground up.”

Greta Thunberg

The global climate change strike movement by children, blown and swept along by the efforts of Swedish student Greta Thunberg, have suggested the possible short-circuiting of this dilemma: to combat the global by being stridently engaged in the local. (Such statements can become feeble mantras but do operate to galvanise interest).

For Thunberg, the issue of change is unavoidable. In her COP24 Climate Change Conference speech in December, the plucky youth did not believe that begging world leaders “to care for our future” would make much of a difference. “They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.” What mattered was letting “them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

Protests were registered on March 15 across 2,052 venues in 123 countries. There were 50 in Australia; and protests in every state in the United States. Often forgotten in these movements is the role played by children themselves in the organisational side of things, often clear, fathomable and inherently coherent. In the United States were such figures as 12-year-old Haven Coleman of Denver, Colorado, Alexandria Villasenor of New York City, and 16-year-old Israr Hirsi of Minnesota.

Squirrel scholars suggest that these actions represented a “transformation” at play. Associate lecturer Blanche Verlie claimed that her research revealed how “young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.” It can be tempting to read too much into matters, to see flowers grow in fields initially thought barren. But there is little doubting climate change as a catalyst of active and noisy encouragement amongst youth, one akin to the anti-war movements of the Vietnam War period.

There has been much finger-wagging against the children from, for instance, politicians who just cannot understand how a striking student could ever get employment. How dare they take time off learning in a classroom while taking to the classroom of the streets? The spokesman for UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for instance, argued that such protests increased “teachers’ workloads” and wasted lesson time. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, signalled his preference for the marchers and strikers: “Climate change is the greatest threat that we all face but it is the school kids of today whose futures are most on the line.”

In Australia, New South Wales Education Minister Rob Stokes preferred to brandish the rod of punitive action: both students and teachers would be punished for participating in the March 15 rally. By all means, find your “voice”, suggested the threatening minister, but avoid doing so during school hours. For such scolding types, climate change and injustice have strict timetables and schedules, to be dealt with in good, extra-curricular time.

Australian Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s views on the youth climate action movement are childishly simple and representative, suggesting that Thunberg is correct in her harsh assessment. Recorded in November last year, the minister sees education as an instrumental affair. “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge of your life and getting a real job.” Forget the environment’s durability; drill it, excavate it, mine it, drain it and burn it to a cinder. Australia, and the world, do not need environmentally conscious citizens, merely automata consuming and feeding the commodity markets. For the likes of Canavan, it is too late. For the children, the battle to change the beastly status quo is urgent, pressing and inevitable.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings

The argument that the Christchurch shooter, suspect Brenton Tarrant, or the views of Australia’s Senator Fraser Anning, seemingly holding a lone torch, are somehow not representative of the broader whole, be it Australia or New Zealand, is a self-deflecting exercise. They are the uncomfortable mirrors of ruin, actual and perceived. They are the voices of people who can either be marginalised and confined or addressed.

Tarrant’s views sizzle with clenching anxiety, shot through the desire to recover what has been lost and what has been taken. It is deprivation, and it is not so much nostalgia as castration and insufficiency. How to overcome that? The response is spectacular violence, one that seeks to “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people.”

Australian Senator Fraser Anning, with the bodies still warm, decided to wade into the debate. “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” he posed on Twitter. He had no time for the “clichéd nonsense” that the Christchurch killings were the result of poor gun laws or those “holding nationalist views”. “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

Marginalisation, coupled with severe muzzling, is the preferred formula to such individuals. A petition to remove Anning from parliament, for instance, has reached 750,000, a move that will do wonders to martyr him and make way for crude shrines. “We call on the Australian government to expel this man who blames victims for their own violent deaths, and uses references to genocide to further his hateful agenda.”

Repeatedly, remarks have been made across the politically smug spectrum that neither the shooter, nor the reactionary senator, represent the “values” of Australasia. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, has dismissed Tarrant’s views as alien and incompatible. “He is not who we are.” Ditto Anning, deemed a freak. “I say to the people of New Zealand, I say to all people, Mr Anning does not represent Australia, he does not represent our values, he does not represent who we are.”

This is self-denying, camouflaging guff; individuals like Tarrant and Anning are, in of themselves, representative of a particular strain of thinking of alienation, morbid fear of extinction, a terror of being subsumed. Call it bruised White ego, the governing classes left out in the cold. Call it a sense of drowning and asphyxiation and falling into social and political irrelevance. They are the ones whose views suggest a loss of control, and, fundamentally, a loss of power. Consider Anning’s remarks on March 12: “I can see what happened in the UK where 429 Muslims are in political office now and hold massive influence over law making including introducing Sharia law.” Those of Wong’s persuasion would do well to consider that many Australians of a certain ilk and background are, however delusional, terrified about the incompatibilities of Islam and the Anglo-Australian legal system.

In August last year, Anning made the claim before his Senate colleagues in his maiden speech that Australia needed to finally redress the issue of immigration. He reflects on the era of Sir Robert Menzies, one where change was slow and wealth abundant; he then looks the country now, and sees welfare seekers everywhere. (A touch shabby on the actual success of Australia’s immigration program, is Anning). “In the days of Menzies, immigrants arriving here were not allowed to apply for welfare and that attracted the right sort of hard-working people this country needed.”

Such a program, one that had been taken out of the hands of the Australian people, needed a “final solution”. Whether Anning’s choice of words was intentionally vulgar, or simply ignorant and convenient, is impossible to know. But few listened or consulted the full text of that speech, which has a number of surprises. Anning mentions, for instance, the methods of the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, the inspiration behind an “insidious revolution”. Understand Gramsci, and you will understand the dangers posed by cultural Marxism. Anning misses the boat by a good stretch on why individuals concur with their institutions (people can be seduced not to revolt), but his views nonetheless draw the customary lines in the sand in the culture debates.

His words got their predictable reaction, fodder for his brand label. As a minor politician, publicity is pure oxygen. In the kingdom of clippings and short takes, his message was simplified and amplified. It is also worth noting that Katter’s Australia Party, to which he initially belonged, endorsed his claims about immigration only to have a dramatic change of heart.

Playing the values game is a dangerous one. What, exactly, are “Australian values”, inchoate and slippery as they are? We see those two words repeated with machine automated promptings. Australian values were not reflected in the killings; they were not reflected in the extremist sentiments of the suspect shooter or the senator with a loose tongue. But Australian values have just as easily been ones of expropriation, dispossession and racial fear, a product of British colonial mentality, frontier conflict against the Indigenous population, and the deputy sheriff essentials so keenly embraced by this extension of the US imperium. How pleasant it is to assume that something else is at play, that Anning and Tarrant are the exceptional monsters in the playground.

The poisoned well of anxiety and resentment is a deep and broad one, common to Islamic State and the right-wing fundamentalism that supplies their counter. They are, as journalist Stan Grant noted on ABC News quoting from Mark Lilla, the shipwrecked minds; they catastrophise the world, see it as calamitous. They nourish each other, supplying the nutrient of hate. To not understand the fundamental unity of these seemingly opposite positions, and seeking ways to remove that polarity, will be to mask the condition. Talk about values, to that end, is pernicious.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings

Five weapons were said to have been used, all inscribed with symbols, numbers and insignia. The individual charged with the shootings at two Christchurch mosques that left 49 dead was an Australian with, it is alleged, a simple purpose: inflict death, and on specific communities in worship. Even as the carnage became clear, Christchurch was already the epicentre of twenty-four hour news television, supplying a ghoulish spectacle. Saturation coverage followed, and continues to do so, a point that will warm the attacker’s blood (his entire effort was streamed on live video on Facebook).

The alleged perpetrator, one Brenton Harrison Tarrant, left an unstirring piece – to call it a manifesto would be far-fetched – for those interested before the attack. It is a document of banality and off target assumptions. “Who are you?” he asks himself, suggesting an inner voice in need of reassurance and clarity. “Just an ordinary White man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family.” Stock: “Scottish, Irish and English”; a “regular childhood without any great issues”.

He did not like education, “barely achieving a passing grade.” Universities did not offer anything of interest. He invested money in Bitconnect, then travelled. A sense of cognitive dissonance follows; Tarrant had recently worked part time “as a kebab removalist”.

No criminal record, no watch list, no registry. Nothing to suggest a tendency towards mass murder, disrespect or mania. What Tarrant did have was a desire to avenge individuals he felt a kinship for, suggesting that the dull witted are just as capable of killing as the charismatically ideological. The “radical”, rooted nature of violence lies dormant in many; all that is required is a match.

The simple language of the note resembled that of various European populist platforms, albeit trimmed of deep historical flourishes: fear the Islamic invader; take to the barricades to repel the forces of Allah. Interestingly enough, Tarrant leaves the detail of the invaders unclear, given that European lands have received all manner of invasions over its existence, of which the Ottoman and Islamic is but one stream. The broad statement strikes a note of nonsense: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Other statements of motivation follow: the “enslavement of millions of Europeans from their lands by the Islamic slavers”; “the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands”. Rather conveniently, and in manipulative fashion, the spirit of young Ebba Åkerlund, who died in 2017 in a terror attack in Sweden, is also channelled. It was not sufficient to merely mention her; the eleven-year old inspired the shooter to name rifles after her. “How the hell,” expressed stunned father Stefan Åkerlund, “can we ever get to mourn in peace?”

The problem with any such event is the risk of immoderate response. Sensible comments have been noted: the risks posed by non-Islamic terrorists have tended to be neglected in budgets and rhetoric, though US President Donald Trump is, unsurprisingly, insisting that militant white nationalism is fringe worthy rather than common. Under the John Key government, the overwhelming focus of funding intelligence and security efforts was directed at the phantom menace of Islam, burrowing deep into the suburbs. Watch lists of suspects were constantly noted; the fear of returned “radicalised” fighters was constantly iterated. To add a greater sense of purpose to the mission, New Zealand troops were deployed to Iraq to fight the troops of Islamic State. “Get some guts!” exclaimed Key to his opposition counterpart, Andrew Little, who seemed somewhat half-hearted in committing to the effort.

Other policy recommendations, still embryonic and possibly never to fly, are making their errands. There are suggestions of deploying around the clock security personnel to mosques in various countries, something that risks militarising places of worship.

Vengeful rebuke can also find room in legislative and executive action. In New Zealand, reforms to gun laws are being promised. (These are already strict, and it is by no means clear if safety would be improved by such changes). In Australia, Tony Burke of the Labor Party suggests punishing hate speech and denying visas to certain right-wing advocates of the white supremacist persuasion. Australia’s immigration system is sufficiently intolerant and erratic enough to deny visas to those who might interfere with the false tranquillity of its society but a suspicious paternalism remains the enemy of free speech. Debate, in short, cannot be trusted.

The move to further push tech companies to reign in violent content will also receive a mighty boost. The response from such companies as Facebook thus far is one of optimism: last year, some 99 per cent of content linked with terrorism content promoted by Islamic State and al-Qaeda was successfully purged by artificial intelligence. Calls to do the same for other sources of inspiration are bound to follow.

There is also a stark, uncomfortable reality: no one is safe. The entire field of terrorist and anti-terrorist studies is replete with charlatan impulses and the promise of placebo styled security. There are fictional projections and assessments about whether an attack is “imminent” or “probable”. There are calls to be vigilant and report the suspicious. Political leaders give firm reassurances that all will be safe, a point that, quite frankly, can never be guaranteed.

The actions of Friday demonstrate the ease with which an act of mass killing can take place, the damage than can arise from attacking freely open spaces where people commune. Extremism is said to lack a face or an ideology, but on Friday, it manifested in an all too human form.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Lobbies and Belated Groundings: Boeing’s 737 Max 8

Lobbies, powerful interests and financial matters are usually the first things that come to mind when the aircraft industry is considered. Safety, while deemed of foremost importance, is a superficial formality, sometimes observed in the breach. To see the camera footage of the wreckage from the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 was to be shocked by a certain irony: cameras was found lingering over an inflight safety cards on what to do in the event of an emergency. For those on board that doomed flight, it was irrelevant.

The deaths of all 157 individuals on board the flight en route to Nairobi from Addis Ababa on Sunday might have caused a flurry of panicked responses. There had been a similar disaster in Indonesia last year when Lion Air’s flight JT610 crashed killing 189 people. Two is too many, but the response to the disasters was initially lethargic.

Concern seemed to centre on the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), deemed vital to prevent the aircraft from stalling.  Sensors within the MCAS might, according to accident investigator Geoffrey Dell, have sent “spurious signals to the flight management computers and resulting in the autopilot automatically pushing the nose of the aircraft down”. If so, then the ability to manually counter those actions, a safety design feature of previous aircraft autopilots, would have to be questioned. Troubling Dell was another question: why did the pilots fail to disconnect the autopilot when it played up? Ditto the auto throttle system itself.

When it comes to safety in the aviation industry, powerful players tend to monetise rather than humanise their passengers. A company like Boeing is seen as much as a patriot of the US defence industry as a producer of passenger aircraft. The company’s presence in Washington is multiple and vast, characterised by the buzzing activity of some two dozen in-house lobbyists and twenty lobbying firms. Lobbyists such as John Keast, a former principal at Cornerstone Government Affairs, have links with lawmakers such as Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi nurtured since the days he was chief of staff. Wicker spokeswoman Brianna Manzelli was, however, keen to narrow that influence supposedly wielded by Keast in a statement made to CNN. “While at Cornerstone Government Affairs, John Keast lobbied for a variety of clients including Boeing on defence issues only.”

Such combined lobbying efforts cost $15 million last year alone, which makes Boeing’s contribution relatively small to trade groups, but significant in terms of outdoing such competitors as Lockheed Martin. Added to the fact that CEO Dennis Muilenburg has an open channel to the White House, the campaign favouring the Max 8’s continued, and unmolested operation, was hitting gear. A Tuesday call made by the executive to Trump after the president’s tweet on the dangers posed by complex systems suggested some serious pull.

For a time, it seemed that the lobby was doing its customary black magic, and winning, attempting to douse fires being made by the likes of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Union calling for a temporary grounding of the Max 8. Certain pilots had noticed control issues while operating the Max 8 over US airspace.

Boeing initially convinced the Federal Aviation Administration, which failed to note in a surly statement from Acting FAA administrator Daniel K. Elwell any “systematic performance issues” worthy of grounding the model. “Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action. In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”

This statement stood in stark contrast to that of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.  “Currently, there is no clear indication for the actual cause of accidents in Indonesia & Ethiopia, and no evident risk management measures or any mechanism to ensure the safety of 737 Max 9 aircraft from the aircraft manufacturer.”

The lobby’s traction has gradually slowed on the Hill, and its tittering has, at least for the moment, started to lose conviction. Calls started to come from lawmakers that the 737 model needed to be looked at. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested grounding the aircraft as a “prudent” measure. “Further investigation may reveal that mechanical issues were not the cause, but until that time, our first priority must be the safety of the flying public.” Democratic senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) were also itching to convince the FAA to ground the Max 8 “until the agency can conclusively determine that the aircraft be operated safely.”

Other lawmakers, ever mindful of Boeing’s influence in their states, preferred to leave the regulators to their task. Till then, the planes would be permitted to continue taking to the skies. “Right now,” cautioned Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), chair of the subcommittee overseeing aviation and a political voice for a state hosting an important Boeing facility, “the important thing is that relevant agencies are allowed to conduct a thorough and careful investigation.”

It was President Donald Trump who ultimately decided to reverse the earlier decision by regulators permitting the aircraft to continue flying. The emergency order put the US in step with safety regulators in 42 other countries. “I didn’t want to take any chances,” explained Trump. But ever mindful of Boeing’s shadowy hold, the president added a qualifying note. “We could have delayed it. We maybe didn’t have to make it at all. But I felt it was important both psychologically and in a lot of other ways.”

The FAA’s continued “data gathering”, previously deemed insufficient to warrant a grounding despite the quick response in other countries, had led to the opposite conclusion. This included “newly refined satellite data available to the FAA”. But Elwell was unwilling to eat anything resembling humble pie. “Since this accident occurred we were resolute that we would not take action until we had data. That data coalesced today.” A coalescence demonstrating, in more concrete terms, how safety, while important, tends to lag in the broader considerations of profit and operation in the aviation industry.

Image from wktv.com

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Lies in the Branding: Justin Trudeau’s Implosion

“Trudeau came out and asked for strong women, and he got them.” (Michelle Rempel, Conservative Party MP, The Atlantic, Mar 12, 2019).

The gods have various roles, and most of them are intrusively irritating. They select humans, and drive them mad. They select them for special missions, praise them and drive them to death. They also select them to, if the time comes, commit foolish suicide. The going might be good for a time, but they shall utterly be vanquished, mortal snots that they are.

The situation with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will either ensure his survival for some time, or his destruction. For many, his looks, his manner and his sense of presence have been prime excuses for avoiding sternly critiqued policy, pushing him up charts of aesthetics and chat shows. Like the Camelot of the Kennedys, the substantive nature of achievements have given way to a nimbus of awe and praise.  In an appropriate observation from Jesse Brown, Trudeau was a “social media savant”, “the political equivalent of a YouTube puppy video. After your daily barrage of Trump and terror, you can settle your jangled nerves with his comforting memes.” Serious issues could hang, and Canada could resist growing up and challenging the lies of its label.

On some level, he was excused for simply being a half-decent, bearable presenter after nine years of the conservative Harper administration, one who caused the occasional flutter and quiver in appropriate audiences. Tickling an audience will get you some way.

He also, much like Tony Blair of the New Labour wave in Britain in the late 1990s, decided to fan progressive tendencies while caking them in the most god-awful spin. He preferred conciliatory approaches. He ticked the boxes of the progressive report card, because ticks matter: go for a gender-balanced cabinet; chew over climate change policy; be sensitive to the First Peoples and seek their representation.

In 2015, when asked why he felt his cabinet should be evenly divided in terms of gender (on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, he sported the fine distribution of 15 men and 15 women), his response reverberated on the tarted waves of social media. “Because it’s 2015.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould, was one of the faces of that cabinet, appointed justice minister and attorney general, and the first indigenous person to attain that post. Full marks were given to the new leader. He was walking, not just on water, but well.

That period of uncritical Trudeau-ism is over. The dirt is coming in. The brittle realities of politics have become apparent. The glory boy has lost his shine, his coat looking that much more ragged. Wilson-Raybould has resigned from the cabinet claiming interference from Trudeau in her efforts to prosecute engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, a company which has thousands of Canadians in its employ and a certain smell of bribery and corruption touching a number of Libyan business contracts. (The Qaddafi era still casts its shadow.)

Wilson-Raybould proved to be a true spoil sport to the Trudeau image. Jobs were playing on the prime minister’s mind, and became a dominant intrusion. Going heavy on the company for grounds of fraud or corruption would lead to job losses, notably in Quebec. A criminal conviction would fetter the company from bidding on government contracts for a decade. Best keep SNC-Lavalin up and running, in a fashion. The company would be encouraged to confess, spanked with a manageable fine and be made to promise improvements. Wilson-Raybould refused.

On February 27, in extended testimony to members of the House of Commons Justice committee, the former Attorney General explained that between September and December 2018, she had “experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion [in her] role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”

Her refusal to accede to the deferred agreement for SNC, she surmised, led to her shuffling out of her cabinet position on January 7 this year. She duly resigned. Before the committee, she reminded members of the role of the attorney general, one who exercises discretion to prosecute “individually and independently.” Cabinet’s views on the matter were irrelevant in making such decisions.

The extensive cloud was irritating and morally vexing enough to compel another resignation, a certain capable Jane Philpott of the treasury board. “Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me.”

If there is nothing more pronounced in outrage, it is those who felt faith and lost it; who adored stupidly, idiotically, only to understand that politics has a habit of feeding, and promoting, certain acts of self-interested and damaging imbecility. Trudeau’s actions were those of a person caught up, concerned at the loss of jobs and votes. Accordingly, he massaged any principles.

Other parties have started to express interest at this fall from grace. Investigations have been mounted by the Justice Committee and the federal ethics commissioner. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has expressed concern over the SNC-Lavalin affair, feeling that it poses a challenge to Canada’s reputation for upholding the rule of law. NDP MP Charlie Angus insists that the perception of Canada on the “world stage” was at stake. (Canada’s sense of virtue tends to assume a strained rhetorical quality at points.) “If Canada is seen as a jurisdiction soft on corporate corruption, Canadians lose out.”

SNC-Lavalin may well be the undoing of the prime minister in every sense, starting with members of his own party, though he seems to have retained support – at least for the moment – within his caucus. The two resignations did not precipitate movements for an imminent coup.

If he had simply set his sights lower, clinging to the grime of politics and the arithmetic of amorality, the fall would not only have softened but be lower. Not so. He felt better; elevated and irritatingly cocky, he could gaze from Olympus on the miscreants and assume that he had become exceptional in the frothy nonsense that is social media and goggle-eyed celebrity. He could dabble in the world of moose shit and look puppyish and cute. That time is at an end.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Publicised Cruelty: Scott Morrison Visits Christmas Island

His visit struck a sour note. The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was making an effort to show he cared: about those intangible things called borders, secure firm and shut to the unwanted human matter coming by sea. The distant Australian territory of Christmas Island was selected to assist in coping with arrivals from Manus and Nauru Island needing medical treatment. Having lost the vote in parliament on preventing the move, the Morrison government has done its best to ensure that a cruel element remains.

During the visit, Morrison rationalised the re-opening as the fault of the opposition. “As Prime Minister, I closed the Christmas Island detention centre and got all the children off Nauru.” The Labor Party had “voted to weaken our borders and we have acted on official advice to reopen Christmas Island.” The facilities provided “a deterrent to people smugglers and to anyone who thinks they can game the system to get to Australia.” The mythology persists.

There are parallels with atrocity and jail tourism (fancy seeing concentration camps?) in a man being filmed going through such facilities, though this time, they are intended for full use rather than being a site for instructive purposes or moral outrage. Should Australians ever wake up to the full implications of what their government does in their name, such camps might become appropriate measures of a gulag mentality that paralysed any sensible discourse on refugees for a generation.

Being a man obsessed by the moving image (once and adman always an adman), Morrison ensured that cameras never left their focus; the prime minister was keen to push the credentials of the North West Point Detention Centre. He made a pit stop at a library. (Cue necessary movement of arms to bookshelves; expansive hand movements). He even found himself gazing at a lavatory. “It was short,” recalled a disgusted resident, John Richardson. Small businessman Troy Watson was also a touch bitter. “It’s got be some sort of publicity stunt.”

And stunt it is. It belies the fact that Australia is facing, under its current Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, a record number of asylum seekers who are entering as tourists and economise on their status. They simply prefer to do so by that more approved mode of transport: the plane. As former Department of Immigration official Abul Rizvi points out with sharp relevance, “People arriving on visitor visas and changing their status onshore constituted an astonishing 24 percent of net migration in 2017-8, the mark of a visa system out of control.” Dutton, he charges, has no genuine immigration or refugee policy to speak of.

The re-conversion of Christmas Island into a detention centre has also provided some encouragement to locals. With refugee arrivals comes a market, an opportunity to expending cash. Human cargo can have its value: increased number of personnel, more individuals to clothe and feed on the island, more, for want of a better term, services, however poor. As Watson had to concede, “The economy on Christmas Island has been low for a good 12 months now, all local businesses including our own have certainly suffered.”

The company providing such services Serco, is a UK-based security outfit that deserves being reviled. Self-touted as adept in taking over outsourced services, the company specialises in running defence, health, transport, justice and immigration, and “citizen services”. Forty percent of its work comes from the UK, with about half that share drawn from Australia, where it is involved in some 11 Australian immigration detention centres.

Lodged in the trove of corporate devilry known as the Paradise Papers is an assessment by a Mauritius-based law firm Appleby which regards the company as replete with “problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”. This, it’s fair to say, comes with the troubled territory and again reminds us that privatising the swathe of public sector services does much to drain rather than save the treasury. It also serves to corrupt the delivery of such services. Again, deterrence comes before quality; harshness before vision.

The legal firm in question furnishes eager corporate watchers with a spicy note: in 2013, Serco was exposed, along with another charming counterpart, G4S, for overcharging the public purse by millions in the field of electronic tagging. His delightful resume leads to the inevitable conclusion: the company is a “high risk” client that leaves more problems than solutions.

Despite such a patchy record, the company’s 2017 annual report is bright and confident, though concedes the following: “governments have become much more skilled at contracting and focused on risk-transfer; as a consequence margins and risk-adjusted returns earned by many suppliers to governments are much lower today than they were ten years ago”. Not to be discouraged, the report picks up with the confident assertion that “the world still needs prisons, will need to manage immigration, and provide healthcare and transport, and that these services will be highly people-intensive for decades to come.” Crudely and abysmally, the company might just be right, awaiting the commencement of the Christmas Island contract with mawkish eagerness.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Scroll Up