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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.

Brand Trudeau Wins a Second Term

“Brand Trudeau is: ‘Welcome to the new politics, just like the old politics.’” (Shachi Kurl, Angus Reid Institute, The Guardian, Aug 22, 2019).

Few politicians come across more as products of hashtag committee management than Justin Trudeau. His image has been doctored, massaged and spruced, and even then, the Instagram-Twitter committee did not quite see those corrupt influences that are bound to tarnish someone who believes in endless, indestructible parliamentary majorities. The image can do much, but not that much. 

After being elected in October, 2015, Trudeaumania became something of a syndrome, helped along by a persistent dedication to being in the permanent social media cycle. The photo-op became a staple, as is a certain shallowness that lends itself to it. In picking Canada’s first gender-balanced federal cabinet, he was mindful of the optical moment. Change was coming, and his revolution would be tweeted. 

In a fast spinning, whirling age of disseminated images, lacking substance helps and acts as a powerful propulsion. The Internet, observed Eric Andrew-Gee in 2016, “has given still photos a pride of place in our media culture that they haven’t enjoyed since the rise of television. Mr Trudeau has used that power, and that technology, to the hilt. He is the first prime minister of the Instagram age.”

In July 2016, it was noted that Trudeau “has had about one official photo-op for every weekday he has been in the business of governing.” Marie-Danielle Smith of the National Post considered him “the most visible Canadian leader since his father, Pierre” having “participated in at least 168 public events since swearing in his cabinet last November.”  

Trudeau the Brand has been in business for some time. It came to the fore in the now famed charity boxing match in March 2012 against Patrick “Brass Knuckles” Brazeau, a second-degree black belt in karate and former navy reservist. The Liberal MP for Papineau seemingly did not stand a chance. Nor did the Liberal Party, having been wiped by the Conservatives. Trudeau, after absorbing the initial barrage of punches, won.

In a film on the encounter by Eric Ruel and Guylaine Maroist, Trudeau suggested that “the power of symbols in today’s world” should never be underestimated. The Liberals were weak in parliament. “We’ve never had so few MPs. The Conservatives have all the money and the support. So… wouldn’t it be fun to see Justin Trudeau win? A triumph over the all-powerful Conservatives?”

In 2017, Trudeau would tell Rolling Stone that the choice of opponent in the boxing bout was entirely conscious, giving the impression that the whole affair, from start to finish, had been an exercise of eager manipulation. “I wanted someone who would be a good foil, and we stumbled across the scrappy, tough-guy senator from an Indigenous community…I saw it as the right kind of narrative, the right story to tell.” Very British New Labour; very Old Third Way.

The Canadian elections have returned Trudeau to Ottawa, but with a reduced vote. The sheen has come off, and the coat seems somewhat tattered. Trudeau was found by Canada’s ethics watchdog to have violated conflict of interest laws in pressuring his attorney general to avoid a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for bribes made to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011. As the ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, found, Trudeau “contravened section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act”, being the only public official “able to exert influence over the attorney-general in her decision whether to intervene in a matter relating to a criminal prosecution”. 

Then came the other side of branding and e-marketing political candidates. What goes around in image terms will come around. If you pontificate about the evils of toxic masculinity, be wary of what skeletal remains the historical cupboard is stocked with. And so it transpired that a younger Trudeau was prone to don “blackface” and “brownface” pose, less in terms of toxicity than being intoxicated by moment and situation (Those few mishaps included singing Harry Belafonte’s Day-O at a high school revue, and sporting an Afro wig, blackface and body paint in the company of fellow white water rafters.) A public apology followed: “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognise it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.”

As it wore on, the nodding suggestion of Trudeau’s time in office was a return to what had been dubbed in Canadian political circles the Laurentian Consensus, the elite self-absorbed view of those in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and cities along the St. Lawrence River. As John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail described it in 2011, “On all the great issues of the day, this Laurentian elite debated among themselves, reached a consensus and implemented that consensus. In short, they governed the country.”  

Nor could Trudeau claim to be vastly different from his 2015 conservative opponent, Stephen Harper, certainly on the subjects of Canada-US ties, free trade and the Keystone XL pipeline. Trudeau might have excited millennials on the subject of legalising cannabis, or opening doors to Syrian refugees, but he caused suitable irritation, even fury, over breaking a campaign promise to end “first-past-the-post” federal voting. The Afghan Canadian Liberal MP, Maryam Monsef, was saddled with the task of gradually strangling electoral reform in the crib.

Trudeau also revealed, in his government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline for some $3.4 billion from Kinder Morgan, that he was more than willing to back fossil-fuel infrastructure while proclaiming green credentials. As Martin Lukacs noted with devastating precision, despite Trudeau signing the Paris Climate Accords in 2016, “the gap between Canada’s official carbon reduction targets and its spiralling emissions has grown wider.”  

The record, then, is not only patchy, but abysmal for this particular cardboard progressive. Oil companies have been guaranteed continuing subsidies, organised labour has been confronted with attempts to outlaw strike action, notably in the postal sector, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been assured arms sales even as Trudeau celebrates Womankind.

Fighting an Instagram prime minister might have required some marrow, but the Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer was not going to provide it. He did win more votes than the Liberals and dominated in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but this merely served to eliminate Trudeau’s majority and highlight a chronic sense of Western alienation. Nor did Jagmeet Singh’s NDP, whose caucus was reduced by half, roar with any success. The Bloc Québécois buzzed, the Greens were a preserving stutter and the People’s Party barely registered.

Scheer decided to play the card of ordinariness, and stayed, for the most part, ordinary.  When supporters chanted the old Donald Trump expression of locking up the opponent – in this case, Trudeau – he doused the flames, favouring the chant of “Vote him out.” A judicial inquiry would be preferable. The politics of blandness.  

Canadian political strategists were even noting a certain similarity between Scheer’s views and those of the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, whose tactics he is said to have embraced. But Canadians were left with the spectre of considerable vacuity. As Jonathan Kay argued this month in Foreign Policy, the big issues had been settled if not avoided altogether, leaving the ground on hashtag wars to be fought with mind-numbing emptiness.

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Equine Hypocrisies: Racehorses for the Knackery

It was always a probable fact: the dark consequences of having what is termed in Australia a “racing” industry, where breeds do battle on the track, sponsored and watered by the money of an industry that sees no sign of contracting. Curiously, most states within the Australian Commonwealth boast a racing minister to mind the industries in which punters, animal owners and investors partake. From greyhounds to horses, a lingering question remains: Where to with the animals once they have done their dash?

The answer came last Thursday in an ABC 7.30 Report, showing the grizzly reality facing horses once they have performed their valiant duty on track. The footage featured the mistreated beasts in their thousands, brutalised, shocked and dragged to their imminent death. Racing broadcaster Bruce McAvaney had his mind on the footage, even as he was celebrating race meets at Caulfield and Randwick. “Thursday night’s ABC expose of what happens to some retired racehorses calls for immediate action.”

There have been tears, distress and the sense of being unable to view the procession of cruelty. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk claimed being “sickened and appalled”. Her minister for agriculture and minister for racing were likewise “deeply concerned about the allegations of animal abuse that surfaced.”

But such grieving critics have also cultivated a sense of denial over the years, nursing romantic notions that racehorses find their plot of acreage and enjoy a life of well-fed retirement. McAvaney, for one, sees, “The nurturing of our racehorses in retirement as just as important as the care and training given to a yearling for a four-year old champion.”

The ugly, yet obvious point, has been avoided. Not all horses in the racing industry rise to the level of feted aristocracy. Many are the unknowables and even the untouchables. Viewed as assets, the racing horse who does not race, or races poorly, depreciates. Many end up at places such as the Meramist abattoir, purchased by kill buyers such as Peter Loffel, who is on record suggesting the industry’s complicity.

This squeamishness about horse slaughter is inconsistent in one sense. It suggests a privileged sentimentality: the noble animal, butchered in industrial fashion and unable to live out its days in admired splendour, should strike a person as exceptionally appalling. Then again, other animals are just as readily industrially slaughtered. In Calla Wahlquist’s words, “while the slaughter of horses through methods identical to those used to slaughter cattle or sheep is ethically no different, it has caused significantly more upset.” If only cattle and sheep could race.

It should be noted that the slaughter of horses is legal under Australian law, though these are regulated by national standards, animal welfare legislation passed at the state level, and industrial codes of practice. A publication outlining the relevant standards is matter-of-fact in tone. “The focus is on essential health and hygiene issues and provides for standards that are consistent with the principles and objectives of the world standards contained in Codex Alimentarius, Volume 10 (1994).” Hardly a moving document, the focus here being on the guarantee of “wholesomeness”.

On the issue of figures, stubbornness prevails. The national broadcaster has questioned suggestions by industry stalwarts that a mere one percent of horses who retire from racing find their way to an abattoir or knackery. But the cold reality remains that horses who have left the racing fold no longer come within the purview, one might even say interest, of the industry.

A study done in 2008 by the School of Animal Studies and the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Queensland made the point that “the subject of horse slaughter can be emotive as the horse is considered, by many, to be a companion animal. Information concerning the industry is therefore limited and because of this, little is known regarding the demographics and condition of horses relinquished to either abattoirs or knackeries.” That research came to the rather glum finding that some 40 percent of those ending up being slaughtered were thoroughbreds.

Then there is the economic incentive. Animals, however elevated in the imagination, are ultimately expressions of lucre. The callings of the racing industry take precedence over the calling of kindness or ethical worth. Barry O’Farrell’s 2018 report, for instance, is celebratory about thoroughbred racing in Australia, seeing as it contributes $9,152.2 million to the economy, $800 million in State and federal taxes while keeping some 71,937 people in jobs.

Those in the interest of animal welfare have various, mixed suggestions on how to approach this. There is an accounting approach: the establishment of a national horse traceability register, for instance. The Australian Senate is on the task and set to release the findings of an inquiry into the subject in December. Till then, there are only brief spikes of rage when the next figure or statistic is published showing the bloody end of racehorses. (In June, The Guardian noted that some 30 percent of Australian race horses imported by South Korea over a five-year period have ended up being butchered).

One chance to avoid the slaughterhouse is to prolong the durability of the racing animal. “If we come to value durability as much as other performance traits,” suggest Paul McGreevy, Bidda Jones and Cathrynne Henshall, “we can reward breeders who select for long racing careers alongside other attributes.” Another suggestion, albeit starker and one draining on the industry racket, is to have fewer horses. Reducing the scale will reduce the harm. But those besotted by the mighty dollar would have something to say about that. First comes the investment, then come the morals.

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Celebrity Protesters and Extinction Rebellion

Benedict Cumberbatch. Olivia Colman. Fine actors. They believe in Extinction Rebellion, or perhaps, rebelling against the prospect of extinction. The environment thing, humanity as a damnably scandalous, ecologically damaging species. But they also believe in taking sponsorship from the very same entities who are doing their best (or worst) to engage in matters of existential oblivion. So the circle of contradiction, even hypocrisy, is complete.

The matter has come to the fore over overt expressions of support for XR’s two-week effort of disruption in London by the entertainment set. Severable notable sites have received the attention of the climate change protest group. The Treasury building has been sprayed with fake blood. The London Underground train system has been disrupted. Protestors have glued themselves to trains, to floors and even mounted trains. Roads to Westminster were blocked, sit-ins staged at City Airport. Over 1,700 arrests have been made.

Phil Kingston was one such figure, not exactly a rabble rouser or hardened rioter. The 83-year-old glued his hand to the side of a carriage at Shadwell and was concerned for his grandchildren. “I’m also very concerned about what’s happening in the poorer parts of the world who are being hit hardest by climate breakdown.” Being Christian, he expressed concern about “God’s creation being wrecked across the world.” Kingston was also jointed by a rather eclectic sampling: a vicar, an ex-Buddhist instructor, and a former GP.

The incident, which involved aggressive scuffling between commuters and the protesters, was acknowledged in a statement from the movement as something divisive. “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.” Others were keen to pick holes in the rationale of the protest: Why, for instance, get at an electric train? Within XR, things are far from uniform.

Such protestors were a rather humble lot, but it did not take long for the bigger fish to join the shoal. Cumberbatch added his voice of support, his grin flashing as it was snapped by cameras in front of the Extinction Rebellion hearse blocking traffic to Trafalgar Square. Behind him were the conspicuous words hovering with spectral, foreboding promise: “Our future.”

The criticism of this was not far behind. Cumberbatch is the very conspicuous “brand ambassador” for MG in India. (Previously, Jaguar counted him among their celebrity proponents). The MG GS sports a particularly thirsty engine, and the actor is featured in an advertisement doing rounds in one on, of all places, Trafalgar Square. MG India’s Hector SUV has also boasted Cumberbatch’s smooth persona.

Academy award winner Colman has also found herself at odd between protest and brand. Having openly expressed her support for the movement, questions were asked by some of the more barbed wings of the British press whether there might be a clash between being on a British Airways inflight video, and disrupting flights.

Over the summer, Oscar winning actress Dame Emma Thompson was also ribbed for flying from Los Angeles to London to participate in an Extinction Rebellion protest. Her explanation to BBC Radio 4 was that the objects of her job, and being a protester, might not always converge. “It’s very difficult to do my job without occasionally flying, although I do fly a lot less than I did.”

Those bastions of supposed establishment wisdom, such as The Spectator, were chortling and derisive. Toby Young was keen to highlight how purchasing vegan baguettes at Pret a Manger was inconsistent with anti-capitalist protest. He also expressed, at least initially, concern at how law enforcement authorities had, generally speaking, been models of restraint before XR enthusiasts. Had there been “a group of Catholic nuns protesting about changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the riot squad would have been straight with the tear gas.” For Young, it was good to laugh at these modern millenarians infused with the spirit of apocalyptic terror.

The issue of celebrity encrustation, however, was bound to come by and find voice. And the engine room of entertainment turns the moral message, however hypocritical, into entertainment. Bite the hand that feeds you and call it a show. Having anticipated the rage, the celebrity big wigs have turned vice into a virtue. An open letter with a hundred names or so, from Sir Bob Geldof to Sienna Miller, took to the barricades and distribution channels with an open letter of affected contrition.  “Dear journalists who have called us hypocrites. You’re right. We live high carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints.”

What matters is the broad church of hypocrisy. “Like you – and everyone else – we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm.”

Those behind the letter stressed the speed of change as their concern. “Climate change is happening faster and more furiously than was predicted. Millions of people are suffering, leaving their homes and arriving on our border as refugees.” Children, through the voice of Greta Thunberg, had also called upon “the people with power and influence, to stand up and fight for their already devasted future.” (Rather cocksure are these celebrities, they, who wield such, as yet unmeasured influence).

Unlike those critical journalists, the signatories cannot help but be just a touch smug. There was “a more urgent story that our profiles and platforms can draw attention to. Life on earth is dying. We are living in the midst of the 6th mass extinction.”

Much, and in some cases too much, can be made about the celebrity activist who undercuts the argument. “None of us,” explained Sarah Lunnon of Extinction Rebellion, “is perfect.” The argument is still worth making, and publicity still worth having. Unfortunately for the likes of Cumberbatch, the gravity of such messages can be obscured by the person as label. In revolution, becoming a label is not only counterproductive but deadly. Protestors like Kingston can just hold their head that much higher.

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The Decent Protester: A Down Under Creation

The Decent Protester, appropriately capitalised and revered is, from the outset, one who does not protest. It is an important point: to protest in the visage of such a person is an urge best left to inner fantasy and feeling. You come late to the scene: the best work and revolt has been done; the people who made the change are either dead, in prison, or ostracised. Modest changes might be made to the legal system, if at all.

To actually protest, by which is meant screaming, hollering, and disrupting, with the occasional sign of public indignation, is something of a betrayal. A betrayal to your comfortable station; a betrayal to your happy state of affairs. Show disgust, but keep it regular, modest and contained. Add a dash of bitters that amount to hypocrisy.

This regularity is something that ensures the continuation of police states, apartheid regimes, and vicious rulers. It also perpetuates the status quo in liberal democracies. The cleverness of this is the idea of permissible revolt: As long as you operate within the acceptable boundaries of protest, your conscience is given its balm, and the regime can continue to hum to the tune of the tolerable. It is a principle that states of all political hues adopt, though the degree of that adoption is sometimes moderated by bills of rights and the like.

When Henry D. Thoreau was arrested and found himself spending a night in a Concord prison in 1846 for refusing to pay his poll tax, he was making a broader statement about breaking rules, albeit from a selfish perspective. His objects of disaffection were slavery and the Mexican War. To the individual exists a conscience that should not bow to majoritarian wishes.  If there is a law “of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another,” he writes in Civil Disobedience, “then, I say, break the law.” In Walden (1854), he elaborated on the point, claiming that no citizen “for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation.”

This view has hardly gone unchallenged, suggesting that civil disobedience can be a slippery matter. Hannah Arendt cast more than a heavy stone at Thoreau in her own essay on the subject in The New Yorker in September 1970. Her proposal, instead, was the necessary need to institutionalise civil disobedience and render it a matter of recognised action, rather than individual abstention. Thoreau had, after all, suggested distance and the will of the individual, that it was “not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even to the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it…”

To that end, Arendt felt that “it would be an event of great significance to find a constitutional niche for civil disobedience – of no less significance, perhaps, than the event of the founding of the constitutio liberatis, nearly two hundred years ago.” But she resists, curiously enough, the idea of legalising it, favouring a political approach akin to treating the protester as a registered lobbyist or special interest group. “These minorities of opinion would thus be able to establish themselves as a power that is not only ‘seen from afar’ during demonstrations and other dramatizations of their viewpoint, but is always present and to be reckoned with in the daily business of government.”

Few countries better exemplify this dilemma than Australia, a country that has no formal constitutional protection of the right to protest yet insists on a collaborative model between protestor and state (protest permits, for instance, take precedence over any organic right; cooperating with police is encouraged, as laws are to be abided by). In some ways, an argument might well be made that civil disobedience, in anaemic form, has been institutionalised down under.

The result from brought forth in this coagulation is simple if compromising: the Decent Protester. Such a person is one very much at odds with the barebones definition of civil disobedience advanced by Robin Celikates, who describes it as “intentionally unlawful protest action, which is based on principles and aims at changing (as in preventing or enforcing) certain laws or political steps.” In other words, there can be no Australian Rosa Parks.

Each state has its own guidelines for the decent protester, offering a helpful hand for those braving a march or organising a gathering. An information booklet covering the right to protest in the Australian Capital Territory has a range of “guidelines”. It speaks of “many public places” in Canberra, the national capital, “where people can exercise their right to communicate their opinions and ideas through peaceful protests and demonstrations.” The authors of the booklet make the claim that Australian “democracy recognises this right which is subject to the general law and must be balanced against the rights and interests of others and of the community as a whole.”

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s office gives the false impression that Australia has a clear right to peaceful assembly for people to meet and “engage in peaceful protest.” A list of international human rights treaties are suggested as relevant, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 21 and 22) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8(1)(a)). But being a party to a convention is not the same as incorporating it. Legislation needs to be passed and, for that reason, remains mediated through the organs of the state. The Fair Work Act 2009, for instance, protects freedom of association in the workplace but only in the context of being, or not being, members of industrial associations. Not exactly much to go on.

Other publications venture a much older right to protest, one that came to the Great Southern Land, paradoxically enough, with convict ships and manacles. “The origins of the common law right to assembly,” argues a briefing paper by Tom Gotsis for the NSW Parliamentary Research Service, “have been traced back 800 years to the signing of the Magna Carta.” This, in turn, finds modest recognition in state courts and the High Court of Australia, not least through the limited implied right of political communication. Ever eccentric in its conservatism, that right is not a private one to be exercised against the state, merely a control of hubristic parliaments who venture laws disproportionate to it. Not exactly a glorious, fit thing, is that implied right.

Such protest, measured, managed and tranquilised, makes the fundamental point that those who control the indignation control the argument. Much time has been spent in Australia embedding police within the protest structure, ensuring that order is maintained. Trains, buses and cars must still run on time. People need to get to work. Children need to be in school. The message is thereby defanged in the name of decency. It also means that genuine lawbreaking aimed at altering any policies will frowned upon as indecent. Good Australians would never do that.

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Piggish Problems: African Swine Fever Does Its Worst

You cannot get away from it, at least in print or in Google land. African swine fever is doing its rounds, cutting through the swine population of Asia with remorseless dedication. Since its deadly debut in China last year, it has done away with some 25 per cent of the globe’s pig population. The symptoms are dramatic and lethal (mortality rates range from 95 to 100 per cent), with the infected animal haemorrhaging and perishing between a period of five to fifteen days. This decline has sparked all manner of comment: a feared deprivation of pork dishes, a spark of hope in exports of pork untouched by the disease and alternative meat supplies, and the more serious issue of food security.

In China itself, the decline of pork is causing a strain of desperation, though it is always marked by reassurance and stiff-upper lip confidence. Pork supplies, both domestically and internationally, had been seen to be something of an essential in Chinese food security. In September, the country’s pig population, numbering some 440 million animals, had shrunk by 41.1 per cent. While figures coming out of various Chinese ministries should be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism, the numbers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs have caused a stir. Such contractions are perpetuating and will continue to perpetuate a loss in the global consumption of protein.

On Monday, China’s Premier, Li Keqiang did something uncharacteristic for the politburo: he ventured to a roadside stall to test the vox populi on the subject of rising pork prices. Not that the episode lacked its fair share of choreographic sense. The owner was suitably stoic; it simply would not do to panic. “Our prices have also risen a bit accordingly. The effect on business hasn’t been too big.” Bravely dishonest for party and country, perhaps?

The disastrous wasting of domestic herds, one that sees no ebbing, has caused a spike in imports in pork. The PRC saw some 1.3 million tonnes coming into the country in the first three quarters this year.

Other countries are also showing a certain fear in the face of rumour and speculation. In Europe, the fever is being held at bay, though pork consumers are seeing prices rise. But in Asian countries, the response is graver, and slightly panicked. South Korea, for instance, is mobilising snipers and civilians in an effort to shore up its border with North Korea. Drones equipped with thermal vision will also be deployed. All of this is in aid of one thing: targeting infected pigs near the line of civilian control. The South China Morning Post is positively apocalyptic. “The intensified measures aim to exterminate feral pigs in areas including Incheon, Seoul, Goseong and Bukhan River.”

As far as North Korea is concerned, the concern is that the fever is doing its worst, though official figures suggest the opposite. The North Korean agriculture ministry claimed in a May 30 report to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) that animal deaths had been modest, with only 22 recorded on a cooperative farm some 260km north of Pyongyang.

For those in the Asia-Pacific region as yet untouched by ASF, nerves are catching. Countries like Australia have demonstrated that terror characteristic of island mentalities: Be wary of what you import and what you let in. Biosecurity is a tic of the Australian policy mindset, though it does not come without its ironies: the Australian scientific and agricultural sector has been arguably more devastating and disastrous for the country’s ecology than any malicious or accidental introduction.

Be that as it may, Australia’s $5 billion pork industry is nothing to sneeze at, keeping something in the order of 36,000 people busy. But off Australian shores, the fear is that the fever is making its marauding march, with news that East Timor had become the tenth Asian nation to be added to the list.  Customs officials are proving edgier than usual, and the federal Agricultural Minister Bridget McKenzie is getting a tad judgmental. “People are still disregarding our biosecurity laws. We can send them home, we can slap significant fines on them and I’ll be encouraging our biosecurity officials to be doing exactly that with those offenders.”

On Saturday, a Vietnamese woman was sent packing after arriving at Sydney Airport with quail, squid and raw pork. The unfortunate had her visa cancelled, the result of amendments made in April. As the Department of Agriculture described it, “International visitors who are believed to have contravened particular provisions of the Biosecurity Act 2015 can have their visitor visa cancelled for up to three years.”

The biosecurity and vet gate keepers have their eye on one aspect of Australia’s pig population. The 2.5 million domestic population might well be one thing, but imagine, fears Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp, the prospect of 15 million feral pigs being infected. (This figure, it should be said, varies – another estimate puts the number at 24 million). But where crisis presents itself, there are salivating opportunities. Australian Pork Limited chief executive Margo Andrae is one who is drooling at the prospect that Australia can “increase production and prices to fill gaps that other markets can’t supply.”

What then, to do? From a thriving epidemic, ASF has become an enthusiastic pandemic. It is cutting through protein consumption and posing a risk to food supply, but as yet, there are no cures nor vaccines. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has also noted that the disease’s impact is complicated by “the range of pig production systems coexisting in the different countries.” Such instances, if they do at least conjure up a world without pork, may well encourage a world less reliant on the staple. But till then, individuals such as Dr Hirofumi Kugita of the OIE are punting for the border control and biosecurity obsessives.

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A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange

Australian politicians, and the consular staff of the country, are rarely that engaged on the subject of protecting their citizens. In a couple of notorious cases, Australian authorities demonstrated, not only an indifference, but a consciously venal approach to its citizens in overseas theatres.

Mamdouh Ahmed Habib, a dual Australian-Egyptian national, was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and subsequently sent to Guantánamo Bay via Bagram in Afghanistan and Egypt. His subsequent detention till 2005 in a chapter of that sinisterly framed Global War on Terror was without charge and heavy with speculation. In April 2002, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation formed the view that Habib had not been involved in the planning of future terrorist attacks, a point deemed insufficient in securing his early release. On his release, he initiated federal court proceedings against the Australian government over their complicity in the matter. The case was settled in 2010.

The squalid affair is worth nothing for the essential connivance of Australian officials in the ongoing detention of Habib. Even intelligence assessments within the intelligence fraternity pointing to his innocence were dismissed. In a joint media statement from the Attorney-General and the Minister for Foreign Affairs on January 11, 2005, the standard line was reiterated: “it remained the strong view of the United States that, based on information available to it, Mr Habib had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks on or before 11 September 2001.” What the US suspected, went.

In a wordy and not particularly illuminating report on the case by the Australian Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, it was “found that communication to the Habib family in respect of Mr Habib’s welfare was not adequate and recommends that an apology be made.” Stress was made that Australian intelligence officials were not directly involved in his rendering to Guantánamo Bay, though it was noted that “ASIO should have made active enquiries about how Mr Habib would be treated in Egypt before providing information which may have been used in his questioning in Egypt.”

An even more notable case of crude, dismissive abandonment can be found in the plight of David Hicks, another Australian who found himself facing an array of charges brought forth by the “war” on terror. His role in US legal history in fighting that dubious category of “unlawful combatant” and military commissions is assured, but what stood out in the case was an abject refusal on the part of Prime Minister John Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer to engage in anything resembling assistance.

In May 2003, with rumours thick that some detainees from Guantánamo Bay were being released, Downer was quick to scratch Hicks from the list. “After all, remember David Hicks was somebody who was allegedly involved with both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Taliban being the political articulation of the view of al-Qaeda.”

When pressed by ABC Radio on Australian contributory negligence, Downer merely swatted the allegation, insisting on cryptic and inchoate legal categories. “He’s being held though, let me just make this clear, he’s being held as an unlawful combatant, as somebody who was detained initially by the Northern Alliance and subsequently by the United States”.

Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan, in an open letter to Australian prime minister John Howard, made the case that Hicks had been abandoned. Even after the finding by the US Supreme Court that specifically established military commissions were unconstitutional, the Australian government remained approving of that most curious of aberrations. “They have not taken any effort to ensure that he gets a fair trial.”

In every sense, the Australian response to Julian Assange’s detention, both during his time in the Ecuadorean embassy and in Belmarsh, betrays an unhealthy tendency to regard the controversial citizen as a menace best distanced. Let another country deal with him, and if that country be the United States, all the better.

In recent days, a sense of momentum is gathering suggesting that Australia’s political classes might be tiring of this view. Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has been shooting off his mouth for reasons more constructive than usual. “Whether you like a person or not, they should be afforded the proper rights and protections and the process of justice, as determined by an Australian parliament, not another nation’s parliament.”

Grounds for extradition to the United States from the UK, argued Joyce, had not been made out. “If a person is residing in Australia and commits a crime in another country, I don’t believe that is a position for extradition.”

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie is also mucking in, hoping to cobble together a coalition of supporters in the Australian parliament to support Assange’s return to Australia. “The only party I’m having to work extra hard on getting members of the group is Labor.”

The more traditional front, however, is being maintained by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg. “He [Assange] ultimately will face the justice for what he’s been alleged to have done, but that is a legal process that will run its course.” Rather weakly, Frydenberg made a lukewarm concession: that “we will continue, as a government, to provide him with the appropriate consular services.”

If there was a time to fight legal eccentricity and viciousness, it is now. Just as Hicks and Habib faced complicity and a range of stretched and flexible legal categories, Assange faces that most elastic of instruments designed to stifle publishing and whistleblowing: the US Espionage Act of 1917. Should he be extradited from the United Kingdom and face the imperial goon squad in Washington, we will be spectators to that most depraved of state acts: the criminalisation of publishing. Australia’s parliamentarians, never the sharpest tools in the political box, are starting to stir with that realisation.

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University Woes: The Managerial Class Gets Uppity

The university, in a global sense, is passing into a managerial oblivion. There are a few valiant holdouts, but they have the luxury of history, time, and learning. Cambridge and Oxford, for instance, still boast traditional academics, soaking erudition, and education as something more than a classroom brawl of the mind. They can barricade themselves against the regulatory disease that has made imbeciles of administrators and cretins of the pretend academic class. They can, for instance, rely on their colleges to fight the university, a concept so utterly alien to others. Across Europe, the management structures wear heavily. In the United States, the corporate university took hold decades ago. Academics are retiring, committing suicide, and going on gardening leave.

In Australia, a more serious problem has become evident: You cannot expose the obvious. You cannot, for instance, expose the evident plagiarism of colleagues. You cannot expose corruption within the university, notably the sort that celebrates graft over industry. You cannot discuss the decline in academic standards, or the purposeful lowering of admission levels. The obvious, in a certain sense, is that standards will be lowered if there is a need for largesse and revenue. The natural impulse of fat cat Vice-Chancellors is to cry foul that the government of the day has not forked out from the taxpayer’s wallet. Pay the university; fund more places. Give us more funding, because we are teaching and research institutions.

The problem with this dubious formulation is that funding a university in its current, monstrous form is tantamount to giving a drug lord a state subsidy for a pool, a perk, or a prostitute. (A suitable doctoral dissertation: Compare the rhetoric of Pablo Escobar with Australian university management from 2000 to 2019. You won’t be disappointed). Vice-Chancellors of the university world are white collar criminals on par with bankers, and, like those bankers, claim they perform an invaluable service. When they fail, they are simply moved on to another institution, leaving their sludge in ample supply.

The pro-vice chancellors, the deputies, the deputy-deputies and the deputies under them, are co-conspirators in an enterprise that robs students blind and plunders the goodwill of academic staff. Never has there been a better case to start putting these types into re-education camps, the very sort that they wish academics who disagree with them to attend. Apropos on that point, it is notable that universities in Australia love sending disagreeing and disagreeable academics to counsellors hired by the university itself. Thought-crime thrives down under.

Be that as it may, the recent news that Murdoch University, a squalid outpost of obscurantism located in Western Australia, has decided to counter-sue an academic for exposing the lowering of academic standards, should come as confirmation. How utterly revolting to expose such a squalid secret! How revolting to believe that standards should be kept! (The issue here, as much as anything else, is to put to bed the snake oil language of being a “global educator”. A local non-educator will suffice).

Federal Court documents have done more than reveal that the university is seeking compensation from Associate Professor Gerd Schröder-Turk for millions lost since he appeared on a Four Corners program in May discussing the plight of failing Indian students. It involves a counter-action against the academic, who initially filed an action under the Fair Work Act to restrain the university from disciplining him for discussing the lowering of academic standards.

The university has been rightfully punished by a decline in student numbers but insists that it “maintains admission standards consistent with the national standards for international students, along with English language requirements in line with those across the sector.” In short, the Murdoch argument is that made by those who think failure sells: they all do it, so why pick on us?

Murdoch University’s overpaid VC, Eeva Leinonen, claims to refute (is it not confute?) “the claims made by the ABC” in an email sent to students after the Four Corners program aired. She babbles incorrigibly, resorting to those nonsenses about employability and global reputation for a university that struggles, just, to be local. “In 2018, Murdoch was ranked number one in Australia for graduate employability. Employers value the knowledge and skills that you have learnt at Murdoch University.” (Leinonen is yet another example of how corruption, to be pure, needs to be imported – she cut her teeth as Vice-President in Education at King’s College, University of London).

Even Australia’s restrained whistle-blowing commentators have been a touch troubled by the arid and vicious reasoning of Murdoch University. The university, as a realm of academic protection, is a piecemeal matter in Australia. But modern management, being itself a high-functioning criminal class, has made it imperative to cast an eye on protections for those who blow that all too rare whistle on plagiarism, charlatanism, shallow standards and good, down-to-earth theft.

A. J. Brown, who wears the rather rusted crown of whistle-blowing authority in a country that has found the practice irksome, ventured the obvious in his assessment: the action by Murdoch University will stifle whistle-blowing. “I’m not aware of any situation where a university, or really… any sort of organisation, has counter-sued the whistle-blower for damages.”

Murdoch University has revealed some important, and cheery results, for those who believe that the academy, and university, remains a place of challenge and learning rather than numbers and padding. The institution, in an effort to target Shröder-Turk, is full of complaint: shovelling amounts out for investigations by tertiary regulators; lamenting the upgrade of the Immigration Risk Rating by the Department of Home Affairs. Schröder-Turk should be given a knighthood.

What is needed, in the immediate future, is a redrafting of laws in states and the Commonwealth that permits full, iron-sheeted immunity to those who expose managerial corruption. This case shows the quibbling and the lack of clarity of those who engage in what is called “public interest disclosure.” University academics fit uncomfortably within that skimpy bit of legislation known as the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, but Shröder-Turk has attempted to apply it. (The provisions are so miserably weak and vague as to be ineffectual and, as the court documents note, he was “largely unsuccessful in his interlocutory application”). Nor can they avail themselves of the Corporate protections recently passed in Australia, exaggerated in their protections, but nonetheless important for having taken place.

What is astonishing is the free rein given to universities to punish and discipline their personnel for a disgusting tendency, namely, to have, and defend, principles central to teaching and research. How dare these learned types stand up for principled admission standards? Care about grades? Worry about performance? Away with those hideous farts, those people who refuse to play the corporate ball game.

We so happen to disturb an age where the university, as it has become, should be abolished. We await the madly dedicated Martin Luther in academic dress and garb to target his theses with venom against the Papacy of Management; we await the sit-ins of keen students, aware of thought, who have decided to be more than drugged consumers, leading the militant protests directed to learning, the determined opposition to expose the corporate hypocrisy of this dying animal. (Academics won’t, cowardice being their poesy and milky blood). Best kill it off now, and put us, and everybody else, out of a collective misery that serves to rob taxpayer, learner and instructor.

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The Politics of Funding: Cash Crisis at the United Nations

It remains one of the more unusual arrangements in terms of funding. Like a club filled with members of erratic disposition, the United Nations can never count on all dues to come in on time. Some members drag their feet. The bill is often delayed. In the United States, responsible for some 22 per cent for the operating budget of the UN, payment only tends to come in after October, a matter put down to the nature of the fiscal year.

That, however, is only one aspect of the broader problem. Withholding money is as much a political as it is a budgetary act, despite it being notionally a breach of Article 17 of the UN Charter. The article is important for stipulating that the Organisation’s expenses “shall by borne by the Members as apportioned by the General Assembly.”

Historically, foreign policy and matters of organisation reform have been cited as key matters to reduce or withhold membership dues. The reason is simple: such “assessed dues” go to funding the official regular budget, which defrays administrative costs, peacekeeping operations and various programs.

For the United States, this has been a critical matter, given that some 40 per cent of running costs for the organisation were initially borne by Washington. It was therefore unsurprising that some pressure would come to bear upon the organisation. In the mid-1980s, for instance, it became US policy to threaten the reduction of Washington’s “annual assessed contribution… by 8.34 per cent for each month which United States is suspended” if Israel was “illegally expelled, suspended, denied its credentials or in any manner denied its right to participate.”

The funding issue has been a burning one for a US Congress mindful of the money bags. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms, the immoveable furniture of that committee for years, could claim to be the one deciding voice on whether the US would pay its UN dues either in full or on time. (It often did neither). Along with Senator Joe Biden, a deal was struck in 1997 to pressure the UN to observe various “benchmarks” in order to receive full payments. These included the necessary reduction of UN staff, appropriate reporting procedures between the Inspector General and the Secretary General, and a ban on funds to other organisations.

In January 2000, Senator Helms was given a chance to advise, poke and condescend to the body he had held in such deep suspicion for decades, this so-called shadow government in waiting. The UN was greeted to the unusual spectacle of a Congressman addressing the UN Security Council, an event engineered by then US ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke. Despite professing a degree of strained friendship for the organisation, his purpose was to rebuke those critics who had considered US contributions to the body those of a “deadbeat”. As “the representative of the UN’s largest investors – the American people- we have not only a right, but a responsibility, to insist on specific reforms in exchange for their investment.”

President Donald Trump’s arrival was unlikely to start a new chapter of warm accommodation between US money and UN operating costs. In September 2018, the Trump administration announced that it would cease US humanitarian aid contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  Despite threatening social services, healthcare and education, Jared Kushner was convinced by the wisdom of the move. “This agency is corrupt, inefficient, and doesn’t help peace.”

The 2018 budget proposal also included slashing half of US funding to UN programs, with climate change being a particularly inviting target. (Congress has relented on the issue of enforcing a cap on contributions to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations). Such an example of hectoring, threatening UN agencies with a cessation of funding designed to induce changes of policy, remains a steadfast practice.

Of the current amount of some $1.3 billion owed to the UN by members, the US boasts the lion’s share of arrears at $1 billion. This figure of imbalance has not prevented Trump, from venting about other members. “So make all Member Countries pay, not just the United States!”

In June this year, Secretary-General António Guterres informed the budget overseers at the Fifth Committee that the UN faced catastrophe in terms of reputation and its ability to operate if payroll and supplies were not covered. “The solution lies not only in ensuring that all Member States pay in full and on time, but also in putting certain tools in place.” By the end of May, the organisation was facing a deficit of $492 million.  Guterres could not help but sound apocalyptic. “We are at a tipping point and what we do next will matter for years to come.”

The situation has duly worsened. On Monday, Guterres suggested the possibility that the UN would run dry of cash reserves by the end of October. In a letter to the 37,000 employees based at the UN secretariat, the secretary general explained that, “Member states have paid only 70 per cent of the total amount needed for our regular budget operations in 2019. This translates into a cash shortage of $230 million at the end of September. We run the risk of depleting our backup liquidity reserves by the end of the month.”

Belt tightening measure are being suggested. Conferences and meetings are being postponed. Non-essential travel is being stopped. UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric is pressing member states, of whom 129 have paid their annual dues in full to date “to avoid a default that could risk disrupting operations globally.” As the UN is only as relevant, and as effective, as its member states, failure to fill the coffers may well confirm Trump’s sentiment that the globalist is in retreat. Behold the parochial patriot.

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Cynical Enterprises: The Kurds Await Their Fate

Big powers, as with the greatest of gangsters, have always had a certain, indulgent luxury; their prerogative is to make promises they can choose to abide by or ignore. A vision is assured, guarantees made. Then comes the betrayal. The small powers, often pimped in the process, can only deal with the violent consequences.

The United States has gone the way of other powers in this regard. On Monday, the White House announced that US troops would be withdrawn from the Syrian-Turkish border. At a press conference, President Donald Trump explained that the US had been in Syria “for a long time”. The stint was intended to be short; and besides, the US had, by and large, “defeated ISIS. One hundred percent of the caliphate.” (This point is confuted by the US Defence Department Inspector General). Distinctly un-imperial sentiments were expressed. “We want to bring our soldiers home. These are the endless wars.”

Ankara, having been beating at the door impatiently for some for action to be taken against the Kurdish fighters who form the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces, has now been given what is tantamount to an encouragement: when we leave, do your worst. Trump, for his part, has made less than convincing overtures that any violent action on the part of Turkish forces against the Kurdish fighters will lead to an economic retaliation from Washington. In operational terms, Turkey has also been scratched from the roster of coalition air operations over Syria and limited in terms of receiving US intelligence.

Critics of the decision see the matter less in pro-Kurdish terms than in those benefitting US adversaries in the region. Russia, Iran and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), would be delighted as this “precipitous withdrawal”. Islamic State forces would also receive a boost of encouragement. For Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) Trump had made “an impulsive decision that has long-term ramifications” cutting “against sound military and geopolitical advice.”

The United States has, like a deep-pocketed sugar-daddy, funded, watered and encouraged agents, allies, entities and states in various global theatres, only to withdraw support at vital moments. The Kurds and Marsh Arabs, or the Ma’dan, were offered promises of support in 1991 in taking up arms against the Saddam regime. The more than heavy hint given was that Washington would put boots and vehicles on the road to Baghdad once the Iraqis were banished from Kuwait. Rebellions were started in anticipation.

The mission never went much beyond the issue of restoring Kuwait’s sovereign status. President George W. H. Bush felt that tic of restraint, the cold hand of geopolitical reason: to go further would inspire doom and possible quagmire, the US having previously received a most telling bruising in Indochina. The result of this cruel calculus was simple: Best abandon the promised. The result was massacre, with Iraqi forces mopping up with an efficiency unseen in its confrontation with Coalition forces.

The Kurdish story of abandonment and betrayal is historical staple. No mention was made of the Kurdish nation in the Treaty of Lausanne, which saw Britain and France deal with Syria and Iraq in artificial, jigsaw terms. Sects and tribes were jumbled. The ingredients for future conflict were mixed. Britain’s own great power contribution during the 1920s was to quash Kurdistan within the borders of Iraq. But it saw little trouble, at least initially, in recognising the Kurdish Republic of Ararat, as it was set up within the boundaries of a severely weakened post-Ottoman Turkish state. The Foreign Office, however, saw much value in Turkey as a geopolitical player. Britain duly repudiated its position, permitting Turkey to wipe that fledgling experiment from the map.

In time, the United States replaced European powers as the Kurds’ serial betrayers, and seemed to relish leading projects of autonomy down the garden path. Washington did not shy away from providing assistance to Iraqi Kurds during the rule of Abd al-Karim Qasim in the late 1950s. With Kassem’s overthrow in a 1963 military coup, support dried up. The US objective of having Kassem removed had been achieved, allowing the new order to liquidate Kurdish resistance.

In February 1975, the Village Voice published details of a covert action program supplying Iraqi Kurds with weapons and material that had run for three years costing $16 million. The aim was to turn the Kurds into a harassing force rather than a full-blown autonomous unit. This took place despite strenuous objections from those within the Central Intelligence Agency, a body not always known for its cautious take on such matters, warning that thousands of Kurds would perish. As ever, the man behind the effort – President Richard Nixon – made sure that the State Department was left in the dark for a good time after the program had commenced.

Despite US approval of an Iran-Iraq agreement over the Shatt-al-Arab in 1975, the Kurds were purposely not informed about the political shift and encouraged to keep fighting. For the border dispute, Saddam got what he wanted: Iranian-US cessation of support for the Kurdish cause, resulting in the deaths of 35,000 and the creation of 200,000 refugees. Before the  House Select Committee on Intelligence (also known as the Pike Committee), Nixon’s Iago, Henry Kissinger, was untroubled: “covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” The final report of the Pike Committee would not let this one pass. “Even in the context of covert action, ours was a cynical enterprise.”

The pattern of cold indifference, fed by hardened cynicism, continues through the 1980s. Few tears were shed in the White House over the use of nerve and mustard gas against the Kurdish populace of Halabja in March 1988. In fact, President Ronald Reagan, in the great US tradition of he’s-our-sonofabitch, made a point of ensuring that Iraq was not penalised by sanctions. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration separated its favourite, noble Kurds from their destabilising counterparts, the former a celebrated nuisance to Saddam; the latter a terrorist threat to Turkey, a US ally. In 2007, just to recapitulate the point, Turkey was allowed free rein to target Iraqi Kurds within a post-Saddam country.

The rise of Islamic State with its daft and dangerous caliphate pretensions had a seedling effect in northern Syria and Iraq: an incipient Kurdish independence movement throbbed in resistance. Turkey looked on, worried. But US support for the Kurdish resistance was premised on the continuing presence of Islamic State, and its eventual neutralisation. The defeat of its fighters, many of whom have found themselves in Kurdish custody, with their families in camps, gave Trump the signal to move US personnel out. While his sentiment on not feeding eternal wars is eminently sensible, the consequences of this decision make it just another betrayal, and another bloodbath in waiting. To the Kurds go the sorrows.

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Colin Powell’s Trump Problem

When the compromised speak of judgment, the voice of credibility vanishes. In its place, a certain niggling sense of hypocrisy and weakness prevails. Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell is one of those of those compromised voices. He presided over a redundant State Department before the pressures of the Pentagon and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, keen to initiate an invasion of Iraq. He oversaw the bankruptcy of the Republican ideal before the nibbling sharks of neoconservatism within the administration of President George W. Bush. But that has not prevented him from being cavalier in assessing the legacy of Donald Trump.

In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, Powell came across with an account pickled by the language of patriotic management and boastfulness. “I was a Republican who was Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor. I was a Republican who worked for George Herbert Walker Bush, and worked for George W. Bush. I’m a moderate Republican who believes that we should have strong foreign policy, strong defence policy, that we have to look out for our people, and we ought to work hard making sure we’re one country and one team.”

He took issue with the reticence and gingerly approach adopted by the Republicans to the president, who “are holding back because they’re terrified of what will happen to any one of them if they speak out.” They needed to “get a grip, and when they see things that are not right they need to say something about it, because our foreign policy is in shambles right now in my humble judgment.”

Those are the words from a man who clumsily added several paving stones on the road to war against Iraq in the United Nations on February 5, 2003. If a shambles was what was needed in US foreign policy, Powell was going to do his bit. His address was an effort to furnish delegates “with additional information… about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as well as Iraq’s involvement in terrorism, which is also the subject of resolution 1411 and other earlier resolutions.” The picture drawn by Powell was of an Iraq hostile and prevaricating, intent on overwhelming weapons inspectors with “useless information about Iraq’s permitted weapons so that we would not have time to pursue Iraq’s prohibited weapons.”

The evidence cited by Powell was given a cast iron guarantee, though anyone listening would have gotten the impression that it risked sinking. “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid evidence.” The sinking began early. Did Iraq, for instance, have a revived nuclear weapons program? “There is no doubt in my mind”.

During the display, a set of purposely engineered howlers found their way into the show. The evidence drawn from an intercepted conversation about UN inspections between Iraqi army officers was turned on its head, giving somewhat deceptive stuffing. The intercept, for instance never had such words as “Clean out all of the areas. … Make sure there is nothing there.” As Jon Schwarz helpfully reminds us in The Intercept, these are just a few pointers in what amounted to a grand game of Powellian deception.

Privately, the view from the self-advertised moderate was not so certain. “I wonder,” he pondered to his chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, “how we’ll all feel if we put half a million troops in Iraq and march from one end of the country to the other and find nothing.”

Trump’s defects in foreign policy are vast and extensive. His bullying, hectoring style to allies; his unorthodox and as-yet-to-be determined legality of using his office to solicit investigations from foreign leaders; his spontaneous, exit-driven obsession with existing treaties, all suggest a bleak record. Yet this is the president who brought North Korea, in drips and drabs, to the negotiating table, checked global US military interventions and farewelled the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is nothing more than a Corporations’ Charter of Rights over the commonweal. And this is the same president who has one refreshing vice: he lies in public, in open, all the time.

As for the general, Iraq was not his debacle but that of others. He has spent years cultivating his apologias, showing up his peers as imbeciles and he, a warning filled sage of reason. One of these efforts, from May 2012, can be found in Newsweek. “According to plans being confidently put forward, Iraq was expected to somehow transform itself into a stable country with democratic leaders 90 days after we took Baghdad. I believed such hopes were unrealistic. I was sure we would be in for a longer struggle.”

Powell’s Sunday barb fest is a reminder of how much form he has on this. Trump is but one in a cast of US political figures who have never matched the general’s own Olympian sense of worth, suggesting that Powell sports a vast chip on his shoulder. In September 2016, a leaked trove of his emails shows his spraying approach in terms of bile and critique. Trump, running as a presidential candidate, was naturally “a national disgrace and an international pariah.”

In a July 2014 email exchange with New York financier Jeffrey Leeds, Powell reserves a few nuggets of abuse for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton was replete with electoral liabilities, a “person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still dicking bimbos at home (according to the NYP).” But what irked Powell most of all was the effort by the Clintons to link his approach to information security and email usage to that of her own when she occupied his office. In August 20, he noted in an email how the Clinton campaign’s “email ploy this week didn’t work and she once again looks shifty if not a liar. Trump folks having fun with her.”

To James Carville, a steadfast friend of the Clintons, and one who had openly made the suggestion that both secretaries of state had used similar email practices (“Colin Powell said he has used his personal email address for work-related emails and said that he does not have any emails to turn over”), Powell fumed. “Dear James, you are the latest HRC acolyte trying to use me to cover her on the email caper. All these attempts and her dissembling have just made it Worse.”

Does of all this point to the grievances of history, failed hopes, and missed chances to reach the pinnacle of power in the US? Trump can, after all, always tell Powell how he slayed the GOP establishment and defeated his Democratic rival on his way to the White House. He effectively triumphed over two machines long encrusting the country’s politics. Powell’s sole role now is that of others on the cocktail and lecture circuit: the politics of resentment played on an expensive, endless loop.

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Internal Dissolution: Brexit and the Disunited Kingdom

While the European family seems to be having its internal spats – populist sparks within threatening to light the powder keg – the marshals and deputies, for the most part, are attempting to contain the British contagion. Britain is still scheduled to leave on October 31 without a deal with the European Union. The divorce papers remain unimplemented, and the lawyers and mediators are chafing. Governments across the European Union are planning for the hardest of hard departures, and Yellowhammer, the emergency government document contemplating the worst – queues, depleted supplies of necessaries, possible riots, transport shortages – has become, in a short time, part of the canon of apocalypse.

As that date looms, the internal prospects for British dissolution cannot be discounted. What the Brexit to-and-fro has shown since 2016 is a certain version of boisterous and blind Englishness, rather than composed Britishness per se. In announcing a Brexit war cabinet, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was really declaring war on Britain, with the EU enemy more spectral than ever.

The Britannic entity remains a political compact; England is a nation, albeit the dominant member. Scotland and Wales are also nations, but have been somewhat eclipsed by what Neal Ascherson describes as “the nation which still thinks it’s more than just a nation, which has been paranoid about ‘foreigners telling us what to do’ since Henry VIII told the pope where he could stick it.”

It was that Englishness, more than any coherent concept of Britishness, that Johnson has pursued, both as Brexit campaigner and scribe, penning pieces as Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph from 1989 to 1994 that have now come to be described as true right-wing satire. Those observations about Brussels-styled lunacy in regulation, much of it painfully emptied of fact, furnished the stirrings of English revolt.

The UK compact is under siege from several angles. The prime minister’s attempt to prorogue parliament went to the highest courts in both Scotland and England, and perished in what can only be described as a cool, legal death. The suspension of parliament had been obtained for improper purposes, a measure designed to prevent Parliament from exercising its scrutinising, and accountability functions. The response from the Brexit platoons was one of horror and outrage: the people’s wishes had been repudiated by unelected judges. Those wishing for Britain to remain, and those wishing for a clear Brexit deal, cheered the judges as discharging a relevant democratic function. Parliament, in turn, has returned to type: a state of doomed paralysis seemingly awaiting some external catalyst.

The nations within the union are also unsettled. Scotland is perhaps the most likely candidate to exit the Britannic family first. While 51.9 per cent of Britons voted to leave, 62 per cent of Scots voted to remain. Its attempts at independence have thus far failed, but the last three years have seen more kindling for the effort. This has also been assisted by the refusal on the part of the UK government to offer Scotland a specially tailored variant of Brexit, a sort of Greenland-Denmark model. This has been a feature marked by Westminster’s blanket exclusion of devolved governments in any part of the negotiations.

As law academic Sionaidh Douglas-Scott pointedly reminds us, the UK EU Withdrawal Act 2018 covering post-Brexit domestic law was enacted without Scottish consent, a clear “breach of the Sewel Convention.” While Sewel is not a legally enforceable understanding, this very fact suggested the breach of mutual trust, an institutional sneer. Westminster, in short, had shown its true colours.

The All Under One Banner (AUBO) procession on Saturday in Edinburgh attracted thousands, though it was unclear whether the hundred thousand number sought by the organisation was reached. Irrespective of that point, background work is being done to stage the next independence referendum. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has re-busied herself with the project, hoping to re-run another vote in 2020. This would require dispensation from the UK government. Her advertising plea? We are doing more for infrastructure and the environment (better busses, a decarbonised Scottish rail network by 2035, a new green deal) and combating health inequality that Westminster has evidently loss interest in. “We will seek agreement to the transfer of power that will put the referendum beyond legal challenge. We have a clear democratic mandate to offer the choice of independence within this term of parliament and we intend to do so.”

Ironically, Wales, having propped the leave vote in 2016, is now muttering about a possible exit from the UK while flirting with the idea of European re-engagement. In July this year the BBC wondered whether it was becoming “indy-curious”. The network’s Welsh affairs editor Vaughan Roderick had this assessment: “there is not much evidence of growing support for independence itself, but there is evidence that it’s being talked about a lot more.” Welsh Labour, for instance, suggests more than a smattering of interest for the idea.

This month, Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price told BBC Radio Wales’ Breakfast program that a referendum on the subject would take place by 2030. He suggested the probable dissolution of the UK. “The UK as we know it could cease to exist in a few short years.” The message of the EU being the big bad wolf against British sovereignty does not feature in Price’s vision. As an independent state – independent, that is, from the UK, yet a member of the EU – Wales would be able to obtain up to £2bn in extra funds.

To the Plaid Cymru party conference, Price reiterated the vision of “independence” as an “imperative”. It was because of his party that “the argument for independence has moved from the periphery to the centre.” He also issued a stern warning to the governing English centre in Westminster: £20bn was needed, not as charity “but reparation for a century of neglect that has left a country, rich in its resources, a bitter legacy of poverty, sickness, blighted lives and broken dreams.”

Like a misguided effort at summoning demons, Brexit conjured up creatures that are proving impossible to contain. The forces of history are finding their unruly way; the disaffected are starting to tear and itch. The EU bogeyman is becoming less real than the kingdom’s internal conflict. Hail, the Disunited Kingdom!

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Turning 70: Xi Jinping’s People’s Republic of China

During the era of Sovietology, experts would pour over images of the gathered politburo in Red Square, gazing with grey monolithic interest upon the military hardware moving across the forum. An absent figure might suggest a potential coup; a new face, a sinister reshuffle. A wink, a smile, a glare, a compendium of bodily moves that might shed light on the destiny of the Soviet Union. In the end, no level of expertise, nor heights of psycho-babble, prepared the Sovietologist for the end of their subject.

Seventy years on, and the People’s Republic of China sees no sign of going the way of the Soviet model. Market Leninism, or Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, has done its trick, and its magic – the billionaires, the luxury goods, the feverish manufacturing, the Belt and Road Initiative – troubles the modern gaggle of China watchers. That, and much more besides.

The parade itself was decidedly dramatic, ostentatiously baroque in scope and flourish. Supersonic un-manned drones made their stage debut; nuclear missiles were given a showing. In the crowded mix were 15,000 personnel, 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of weaponry. But the scale of such performances often belies loss: the immense self-harm of the Cultural Revolution, the murderous Great Leap Forward which seemed all too often to be a Great Retarding Moment. The China of the 1950s was characterised by rigid central planning marked by “agricultural producer cooperatives” and their successor Rural People’s Communes. The market was the enemy, and had, not so much to be tamed but eliminated. The results, at various points, were staggeringly costly: the famine of 1959-1961 gathered the lives of some 30 million. Sinologists were convinced they were seeing a creature on its deathbed.

By the 1980s, the script had changed.  Shanghai born veteran China watcher Arthur Doak Barnett, writing for the establishment Foreign Affairs in 1986, noted the “180-degree change of direction from Mao’s last years” with the move from “ideological dogmatism” to “eclectic pragmatism, from extreme totalitarianism toward liberalized authoritarianism, from a command economy toward ‘market socialism’, and from autarkic isolationism toward international interdependence.”

The language of that particular American mandarin is telling: China had woken up, a ray of enlightenment streaming through its policy. And it seemed to be, within reason at least, behaving, tasting the merits of a liberalised economy and casting aside dogmatism. Even more telling, Doak Barnett described China’s achievements up till that point as a series of failed endeavours: the collapse of the Manchu dynasty in 1911 which led to a republic worn and torn by war lords; the efforts of the Kuomintang to patch things up in the 1920s falling before the predatory efforts of Imperial Japan and the opportunistic inroads of the Communists. Only with the victory of Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949 would some semblance of stability return.

Till the early 1970s, China was treated in various Western circles, notably the United States, as the lunatic who had gained control of the asylum. It was for other powers in the West to give credence in recognising the PRC and finally acknowledging that the Kuomintang, fox-holed in Taiwan, would not be returning to the mainland anytime too soon.

This approach was heavy with condescension, and both US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could never quite agree who it was who came up with the idea of “bringing in” China from the arctic of international relations. But as part of the Nixon power play of détente, China would be courted, and suspicions between Beijing and Moscow stoked.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, and the absence of any rival, balancing power, the United States hunkered down in preparation for countering any emerging threats, drinking the intoxicating brew that was the Project for the New American Century. China’s development was welcomed, but the watchers were keenly taking note of any flexing muscle from Beijing. Besides, with more money, the country might start to flirt with liberal democracy.

In 2007, Giovanni Arrighi’s Adam Smith in Beijing, building upon his understanding of financial systems and global capitalism, noted China’s inexorable rise, and realisation, that aspiring hegemons must control finance and capital, far more so than technology or labour. The US, he argued, was on the wane, as it had been for some time. This paved the way for a potential Chinese-led East Asian primacy. This new hegemony, argued Arrighi, need not be militaristic, and certainly not in the order of previous US-European models. And China’s rise might well foster a more humane form of development, one not exactly capitalist but based on market exchange.

Much of this can be contested. The PRC at 70 is certainly boisterous and keen to offer alternatives for the developing world. It is squeezing out rival aid donors in Africa and the Pacific. It is proving more than a match in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. During the celebrations, China’s current President Xi Jinping was giving little hint that dogmatism has been put bed. He made it clear that “no force can shake the status of this great nation” but nor has he criticised such events as the Cultural Revolution as Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, did.

The rule of emperors has been reaffirmed. China, with its spanking new set of spectacles, is reading off a different script of power that seeks to balance the ledger of history. Desperate, the US and its allies are attempting to reclassify the state as being “developed”, a designation that would require different economic treatments under the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

The China watchers, like the Sovietologists of old, have been returning to images of the parade, pondering the advances of weaponry and Xi’s message. His speech, made on Tiananmen Square, was dough and staple, but did what was necessary. “Today a socialist China is standing in front of the world.” No force, he insisted, could stop the PRC. The “century of humiliation” endured under the Qing Dynasty was being mightily addressed. The program of “complete unification of the country” would continue. Even with these remarks, Muslim Uighurs remain in “vocational education centres” in Xinjiang, and Hong Kong risks fracturing.

There was something for everybody. The weapon gazers took interest in the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile, a lethal delight reserved for the end. With a range of 12,000 to 15,000 km, the DF-41 has been described as “China’s first road-mobile missile” making it less vulnerable in any pre-emptive strikes. It also sports decoys and anything up to 10 independently manoeuvrable warheads. Pentagon officials will be fretting.

Amidst the anxious notes and concerns, some strikingly earthbound assessments on this seven-decade old power have been registered. “There are many problems in the world that cannot be handled without China’s cooperation.” This include the digital economy, managing IT monsters, crypto currencies, arms treaties, and exploring space.  Sound observations from the editorial of Japan’s The Mainichi, despite its reservations about Xi’s turn towards authoritarian romance. But such words are not finding their mark in Washington. The war in trade and rhetoric continues.

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The President Did It: Donald Trump’s Phone Around

When the squalid, absurd and occasionally hilarious accounts are compiled by a sober mind, the Trump administration will stand out as much gargoyle with more than a touch of paranoia. But there will be one thing that might save the man who has given an era his name: The fact that there were those out to get him from the start.

Since becoming president, every establishment figure and manifestation of power has come to the conclusion that Donald Trump must go. Policy has ceased to be; political visions have been held up in a trove, stratifying into redundancy. The Democrats find themselves transfixed by an urge to discover an error in the universe rather than repair defects closer to home. To explain their catastrophic defeat in 2016, they have treated US politics as a vast play of whodunit. Trump could never have been justifiably elected, and so it follows that a ventriloquist or some grand puppeteer is operating.

When that particular made-in-Russia figure is not involved, it is Trump the grand contriver, seeking the assistance of his officials to investigate the origins of the Mueller investigation, and those who sparked it. Every good (or bad) investigation, it follows, deserves another.

In the last two weeks, it has transpired that the executive office of the US has been used, to varying degrees, to solicit favours from another country (Ukraine) to investigate aspiring presidential candidates and their offspring (Joe Biden and son Hunter) regarding a potential Kiev connection. The picture is larger than Biden-styled corruption, of which much can be said. What has unfolded is an effort by Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, and his own lawyer, Rudi Giuliani, to investigate those who have investigated Trump, legal vaudeville of stage-like proportions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had been asked in their July 25 phone call to scour for an absent computer server used by the Democrats that might yield information on Ukrainian interference favouring Hillary Clinton in 2016. “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it.  There are a lot of things on that went on, the whole situation.” (CrowdStrike had been hired by the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to beaver through information on who hacked their networks during the course of the election). Efforts were duly made to restrict and suppress the fact, and contents of the call, a point made in the latest whistleblower claim.

The picture gets more colourful, with Trump, much like the amorous drunk itchy on the dial, keen to do a calling round of his familiars. There are also Italian and UK links, the former characterised by a connection with academic Joseph Mifsud, who has managed to find his way into the Russian-connection Hall of Fame. But an Australian angle stands out, and while it would be remiss to dismiss all the president’s fears of an effort to unseat him (one is being commenced by the House Democrats), the antipodean chain is bound to induce some chuckles.

In May 2016, then Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos had a meeting with Australia’s UK High Commissioner Alexander Downer at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London. For those familiar with Downer, he remains a fairly insipid character with patrician pretensions, whose stint as Australian foreign minister was essentially one of pedestrian filling during the Howard years. It proved to be a meeting of two irrelevances who deigned to avoid the extensive wine list; gin and tonic was their preferred libation.

Downer’s tongue, and self-importance, had been loosened sufficiently to relay the contents of his discussion to the US chargé d’affaires in London. The reason?  Papadopoulos’s boastful claim, furnished by Mifsud, that the Trump campaign had damaging, Russian sourced material on Clinton, though neither men seem to recall the word “emails” mentioned, despite the New York Times suggesting so in its December 2017 account. Whatever actually transpired, the meeting proved to be the genesis of the Mueller investigation into the Russia-Trump nexus in the 2016 elections.

The incident was something that surprised the then Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation called on officials in Canberra to pursue the matter. But since then, the terrier in Trump has been intoxicated by a fantasy that Downer was a sturdy plant, urged on by Papadopoulos’s thesis that the Australian was an operative of Britain’s MI6, aided by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Narcissism has a tendency of inflating threats.

That meeting has gained a new lease of life. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, recently in the United States, was called by Trump as part of Barr’s effort to marshal cooperation in investigating the workings of US law enforcement and intelligence behind the 2016 campaign. The New York Times did not miss the humour of this. “In making the request – one of many at Mr Barr’s behest – Mr Trump was in effect asking the Australian government to investigate itself.”

Australia’s response has been deferential. When an Australian prime minister is courted by the US commander-in-chief, it is only important to ask one question: how high the requested jump might be. In the words of a spokesman for Morrison, “The Australian government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation. The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the president.”

When Trump got the keys the White House, one thing was certain in what was otherwise a storm of uncertainty. The presidency would be turned into a studio, its assisting staff part of a production team of some fantasy and much absurdity. The business, transactional model of statecraft lends itself to personal touches, violent outbursts and sigh filled reconciliations. Much of it is childish, the adolescent-in-chief as protagonist seeking explanation and reassurance. But whether these efforts to ring and needles allies for the sake of domestic politics constitute abuses in law is a separate question from whether they are farcical manifestations of power. President Richard Nixon’s words seem to be summoned with ghostly relevance, mentioned in a moment of agitation to British journalist David Frost in 1977: “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

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When Convenience Counts: Leaking, Whistleblowing and the Democrats

The entire Trump presidency has been a sequence of “watch this space” moments. Dismissals and political executions; attacks and distractions; gestures of deal making and promises of apocalypse. Perhaps it was high time for another bit of material to be added to this sprawling tapestry of mayhem. The elements seemed to form the basis of a badly told joke: a Ukrainian president, a US president and a whistleblower walked into a bar, and…?

Coming on the heels of another juicy sample from President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who had testified before the House Judiciary Committee on efforts by Trump to recruit him to halt the Russia probe, a rumour was filtering through: a whistleblower from the intelligence community, it seemed, had been irate about the president’s conduct.

The letter, written by the whistleblower in August this year, is positively pungent. President Trump, it argues, “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election. The interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and US Attorney General William Barr also feature.

The letter does have a qualifying note. The author admits that what is being conveyed is in the realm of hearsay, the tittle tattle of agency talk. “I was not a direct witness to most of the events described.” Credibility has been assumed, however, because the pattern emerging in various accounts seem consistent: we share, because we care.

Central to the complaint is the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The subject of the conversation: Democratic presidential contender and former vice president Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden. The allegation: that Zelensky and Ukrainian sources were essentially being urged to conduct an investigation into the conduct of the Bidens for Trump’s own electoral delectation. Then came the efforts by the White House to prevent any discussion of the call from getting out.

For all that, the letter itself forms an already rusting arsenal of claims based on information that is already in the public domain. As the Washington Post suggests, “if it continues to be relied upon as evidence of justifying impeachment, Democrats will have to make some hard choices about how to proceed.”

No matter. The whistleblower has become a well-timed sensation of deliverance for the Democratic caucus. The ecstatic thrill shown by Democrats lies in sharp contrast to the pre-Trump era, when those inclined to disclose secrets or classified information were sneered at as irresponsible and unpatriotic. The Obama administration made a habit of resorting to the 1917 Espionage Act against those daring to blow the whistle. Standing at eight prosecutions, it came to more than double those of all previous presidents combined.

In all the fuss, it was easy to ignore those remarkable words endorsed by the Continental Congress in its approved resolution of July 30, 1778: “It is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earlier information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanours committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge”.

When considered together, be it the tactical or careless leak, or the well-intentioned disclosure of sensitive information, inconsistency prevails. At points, such activities have drawn savage retribution from the state. On other occasions, the activity has been left unpunished, suggesting the inconstancy and unevenness of approaches to information. Lamentably, they also suggest favouritism, malice and convenient exploitation.

The case of General David Petraeus, for instance, was deemed a misdemeanour, despite disclosing notebooks to his biography scribbling mistress containing “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings and [his] discussions with the President of the United States of America.”

The March 6, 2015 letter to the US Department of Justice from Abbe David Lowell, the attorney representing Stephen Kim, one of the unfortunates charged and convicted for providing national defence information to a person without authorisation to receive it, outlined the asymmetrical nature of information disclosure in the security environment. Lowell contrasted his client’s situation with that of the General. “Despite the nature of the information and these intentional false statements [from Petraeus] the [Department of Justice] is not only permitting but is actively recommending that General Petraeus plead guilty to a misdemeanour.”

Lowell had suggested that the act of disclosure be treated as a misdemeanour regarding the mishandling or retention of classified material. Besides, his client, in discussing US ignorance of North Korea’s military capabilities with Fox News, had not intended to harm his country. This was dismissed out of hand: Kim had lied to FBI agents, which more or less sealed the matter. But as Lowell explained with pertinent sharpness, the decision to permit the general “to plead guilty to misdemeanour demonstrates more clearly than ever the profound double standard that applies when prosecuting so-called ‘leakers’ and those accused of disclosing classified information for their own purposes.”

The situation now is one of sublime convenience. The elections are next year. The Democratic contenders look more like sandpit debaters than clear-eyed candidates. But the whistleblower’s revelations are heralded as the stuff of gold dust; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, usually reluctant in the matter, has announced the beginnings of the inquiry.

The anger shown by Trump at the whistleblower’s disclosure is being treated as abnormally sinister. It has been noted, for instance, that the president is willing to reward anybody keen to divulge who furnished the information to the whistleblower with a bounty of $50,000. But the US security establishment is famed for targeting the careless and the noble when it comes to revealing what is rotten in a state. The question to ask is what makes this particularly whistleblower the exception that proves the rule? The answer, in all likelihood, is the politics of convenience rather than the nobility of patriotism.

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Jacques Chirac: The Art of Being Vague

The tributes have been dripping in heavy praise: former French president Jacques Chirac and mayor of Paris, the great statesman; the man who said no to the US-led war juggernaut into Iraq; the man loved for being loved. Many of these should have raised the odd eyebrow here and there. “We French have lost a statesman whom we loved as much as he loved us,” claimed current French president Emmanuel Macron.

When greatness is tossed around as a term in French commemorations, there is always a sense of merging the corporeal flesh with the non-corporeal state. The person thereby “embodies” France, inhabiting that rather complex shell that passes for a state. But the comparisons are all too loose and ready, showing an awkward accommodation.

Eulogies are often the poorly chosen instruments to express the mood of an occasion rather than the reality of a life. Given the crises facing the European Union, the pro-European sentiment of Chirac was cause for nostalgia. (He had encouraged a United Europe of States rather than a United States of Europe, moving France away from the Gaullist credo of self-sufficiency). “Europe is not only losing a great statesman, but the president is losing a great friend,” claimed Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission in a statement. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt saw his Europhilia and interest in Europe as the making of the man, “the real statesman that we will miss.”

Terms of amity were also reiterated by former French President François Hollande, whom Chirac had described in previous political battles as “Mitterrand’s Labrador.” “I know that today, the French people, whatever their convictions, have just lost a friend.” Smaller figures of history were also effusive in their praise: Boris Johnson, current British prime minister flailing in the Brexit imbroglio, expressed his admiration for that “formidable political leader who shaped the destiny of his nation in a career that spanned four decades”; one term UK prime minister John Major also doffed his cap.

Where Chirac excelled without question was in his role as political hypocrite (a kinder term would be political gymnast, or a weathervane, as he was sometimes associated with). Mayor of Paris for a touch under two decades, two stints as prime minister and two presidential terms suggest ample opportunity to master it. It also suggests shifts, adjustments and moving across hardened political divisions, the pragmatist rather than the polemicist.

His costumery in that regard could be exquisite. He could readily give the “le bruit et l’odeur” address in 1991 yet become the anti-racist option in the 2002 election, in which shell-shocked progressives were urged to vote for the crook rather than the fascist, Jean-Marie Le Pen. In foreign affairs, he did something memorable: fabricate the image of France as suspicious of war and interventions, a peaceful state above reproach and self-interest. This enabled him to lead the anti-war effort against Iraq mounted by the United States and Britain in 2003.

The populist jab is worth noting for its current relevance: the terror of an overcrowded Europe, the fear of tax-payer funded marauders – often of the swarthy persuasion – that has been played upon from Nigel Farage in Britain to Viktor Orbán in Hungary. Imagine, posed Chirac, the humble French worker with his wife who sees next to his council house a father with three or four spouses with some twenty children all supported by welfare. “If you add to that the noise and the smell, well the French worker, he goes crazy.”

He was also a creature of a brand of politics that would wear against the regulations. Mountainous ambition will do that to you, and the rust on Le Bulldozer was bound to be discovered at some point. In 2011, he was handed a two-year suspended sentence on two counts of embezzling public funds, something he did during his time as Paris’s mayor. The specifics centred around the creation of fake jobs at his RPR party and suggested no grand scheme of self-enrichment. Even after his conviction, Chirac the amiable, Chirac the admired, was a theme pressed home by his lawyer, Georges Kiejman. “What I hope is that this ruling doesn’t change in any way the deep affection the French feel legitimately for Jacques Chirac.” Kiejman had little reason to worry.

While hardly virtuoso, he advanced the uncomfortable question of French complicity in Nazi crimes, the otherwise great untouchable subject of post-war identity. The measure was significant, sinking, at least in some way, the notion that the French republic somehow retained its purity in abolition during German occupation and Vichy rule. That rule had resulted in a mutant political creation and monster; France the Republic could not be blamed, having ceased to exist. As former French President François Mitterrand claimed, rather unconvincingly, “In 1940, there was the French state, this was the Vichy regime, it was not the Republic.” Mitterrand, as with many in his position, did not feel an urging to join the French resistance till 1943; prior to that, he had been a civil servant in Vichy.

On July 16, 1995, Chirac noted how “the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French by the French state.” In July 1942 in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, 13,000 Parisian Jews were arrested by 4,500 French police in preparation for their murderous end in Auschwitz. “France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome asylum, on that day committed the irreparable.” The country had broken “its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.”

Court historians will be kept busy wondering about the man’s ideologies and beliefs. They will ponder legacies left, and things unachieved.  Structural and social divisions, for instance, remained unaddressed. With Chirac, appearances and demeanour had their distorting effects. Chirac, wrote French journalist Anne-Élisabeth Moutet, sported a “forceful manner” that concealed “terminal policy indecision.” While leaving no lasting legacy, he had one up over the current, struggling leader.  Despite being a chateau-owner, in the pink as far as the bourgeoisie was concerned, and married to an aristocrat, he had the common touch. For Professor Pascal Perrineau of the Paris School of International Affairs, he was a president who jogged and rode a Vespa, and appreciated for that fact. His lasting skill, however, was to immortalise the art of being vague in politics.

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