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Farmer Protection GM inquiry fails GM-free farmers and consumers

Media Release

The report delivered by the parliamentary committee’s inquiry into mechanisms for compensation for non-GM farmers has disappointed consumers and GM-free farmers alike.

“While we are grateful for the opportunity to have this inquiry we are dissatisfied by its findings and find it astonishing that there are no recommendations at the end of this process” says Janet Grogan, FOODwatch representative and principal petitioner.

“Our primary reason for creating this petition and call for farmer protection legislation is because we are concerned by the potential loss of access to GM-free food grown here in WA due to repeated events of GM contamination.”

“The committee finds minimal evidence of systemic contamination by GMOs in WA”, but who is looking? There have been many GM contamination events in WA since the dismal GM canola trials of 2009 when, despite best practice and intensive monitoring, there were 11 contamination events at just 19 sites.”

“We know anecdotally that farmers are experiencing GM contamination problems, but are wary of speaking publicly because of the very findings which the committee has made concerning the impacts these problems have in small rural communities”.

“It is unfair that the committee is suggesting that the GM-free farmer now carries additional responsibility to deal with potential GM contamination events by increasing insurance cover, which comes with its own risks”.

“Common Law has already failed to deal with GM contamination so it is unreasonable to believe that it can be used adequately again. The report actually concedes that “the use of Common Law may be inadequate.”

“Here the GM sector of WA’s grain industry has seen its share in the local market fall for the past three years. GM canola now accounts for less than 20% of all canola, and less than 3% of all grain grown in WA, and yet appears to take no responsibility to control contamination.”

“This report should have come with recommendations to shift the onus of mitigating GM contamination onto the GM growers, as was suggested in our submission. The majority of people want the choice to buy GM-free food, but if our farmers are not protected they may not be able to provide it.“

You can see the report here.

See page 5 of the Canola Variety Sowing Guide for canola variety table.

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A Unified Korea: Good for All (Except Japan)

By Dr Strobe Driver  

Korea has a strong and unique history as it is ‘arguably the most ethnically homogenous country in the world with thirteen centuries of political unity and national and provincial boundaries older than almost any other state.’[1] Unification of the country had been in place since 668 (Common Era) during the Three Kingdoms Era – Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje (57 BCE–668 CE).[2]  The Gorguryeo Period rule was not able to withstand a growing power and preponderance of Japan. The eventual outcome of this state-of-affairs would result in the annexation of Korea by Japan which effectively, shattered centuries of Korea’s domestic rule. This problems for Korea would be compounded by World War Two (WWII) and the Korean War – both would add to the decline of a once great nation. Notwithstanding these two recent major happenings the desire on the part of the Korean peoples to have some semblance of unification has been growing; and there appears to be a slow but sure change for the better. Should it continue, there will be for all intent and purpose, a major change in the Asia-Pacific (A-P).

The core of the problem within the A-P is the non-resolution of the Korean War (1950–1953),[3] in which South Korean, United States of America (US) and United Nations’ (UN) forces fought the (North) Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers Forces. Whilst North Korea’s intent (with the help of China and the Soviet Union) never came to be realised, the war also never officially ended. With the recent political exchange and progress between the US, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) there is an attempt to bring about a final end to the war. The task-at-hand brings to the fore the possibility of a unification-of-sorts through the ending of the war. The unification process which was essentially, initiated by the Trump administration and notwithstanding the difficulties, if successful will throw up newfound issues in the region. Japan will unfortunately, will not be a beneficiary of the new political tide. A unified Korea will change the already complex geo-strategic balance in the region and simultaneously, produce a major new and powerful actor – a unified Korea. The possibility of Koreas being ‘one country’ and the ‘knock-on’ effect this will have on the A-P region cannot be assessed until the role Japan has had on the region, and in particular its relationship with the Koreas, being addressed.

Japan as an Asia-Pacific power

To be sure, it was the US that forced Japan out of its self-imposed isolationism during the mid-nineteenth century. Commodore Perry and his ‘black ships’ threatened to fire upon the port city of Edo (now Tokyo), if the Japanese government did not open up to trade with the West [4] (1853–1854). Whilst it was the American commander that demanded the opening the action was supported by European powers—in particular Britain, France and the Netherlands. The subsequent unification of Japan under the guidance of the Meiji Restoration (1895) and its subsequent mercantile efficiencies would allow Japan to prosper and this would be the beginning of Japan’s rise in the A-P. Japan’s preponderance would grow through winning a war with China, in which Taiwan would be ceded (1894–1895), it would also go to war with Russia—the Japan-Russo War (1904–1905).Upon winning this war Japan would become further emboldened. As part of its regional ‘imperialism’[5] Japan would annexe the Korean Peninsula Korea (1910).  For Japan this was a strategic ‘necessity’ in order to circumvent Tsarist Russia’s regional expansionist tendencies and its subsequent ‘designs on Korea,‘[6], invade Manchuria (1931 and 1937[7]), and occupy Indochina (1939[8]). For all intents and purposes, Japan by the end of the 1930s had become a regional superpower.

With regard to Japan’s occupation of Korea, it would be enacted through the prism of the Japan–Korea Protectorate Treaty of 1905 (Ūlsa Treaty[9]), which was signed by King Kojong (Yi H’ui) the ruler of Korea (1897–1919) and allowed the Japanese to use the country as a military base; and place advisers in the government.[10] It should be noted that Kojong did not believe the annexation of Korea to be valid, and expressed this through sending letters to numerous newspapers (bearing his Royal seal) around the world.[11] As Japanese pressure mounted Kojong was forced into abdicating in 1907[12] and thus, the full extent of the Japanese annexation of Korea included the signed (albeit unwillingly) document that Korea ‘agreed to be guided by Japan,’[13] which was essentially, an affectation for subjugation. The suppression of Korea by Japan and its concomitant cruelties of colonial rule – which it must be stated was largely supported by the West[14] -consisted of

[T]op-down, centralized, direct and intensive powers … Commanding the military forces in the Peninsula, controlling a highly centralized police system, appointing all important local officials, and possessing broad legislative power as well as executive power, and [the Japanese] governor-general was a new authoritarian power in Korean political history.[15]

The opposing argument by Japan is that its tenure of rule had positive outcomes, as it ‘offered’ ‘Koreans reliable courts, a just financial system and honest weights and measures’ … [nevertheless] the Koreans were not satisfied with Japanese rule and rebelled in 1919, declaring themselves independent.’[16]  Japan’s interventions in Korea and the subsequent treatment of Koreans, and in particular the bitter war the Japanese waged against the Korean people in the sixteenth century,[17] has resulted in Japan being labelled by Koreans as an ‘accursed nation.’[18]

The taking of Korea would be a part of the power-based ambitions of Japan and reinforce the notion that to be a modern power was to be a colonising power.[19]  Within its sphere of domestic irredentism and extramural ventures, Japan’s A-P successes would include control of Taiwan; the annexing of Manchuria (1931); invading Nanjing (1937); and entering a tripartite pact with Germany and Italy (1941). The ambitions would eventuate in the Pacific phase of WWII being initiated through its ‘surprise attack’ on Pearl Harbor, which would lead to subjugating Malaya and controlling the archipelagos of the Philippines and Indonesia (1942),[20] and extending its stretch into Oceania. The ‘empire overstretch’ would be so great however, it would retard Japan’s protection of its homeland and bring about total surrender. To wit,

Japan’s air force—not only its aircraft but its skilled pilots as well—had virtually ceased to exist. Its merchant marine lay at the bottom of the ocean. Almost all of the country’s major cities had been fire-bombed, and millions of the emperor’s loyal subjects were homeless. The defeated imperial army was scattered throughout Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean, its millions of surviving soldiers starving, wounded, sick and demoralised.[21]

Japan was subsequently and progressively relieved of its colonies after its unconditional surrender to the US in 1945. Korea would return to a UN authorised independence in 1948. Frictions between the two Koreas however, remain to this day as well as and due to the past between the Koreas and Japan. The dynamics of the region will change if an irenic agreement comes to pass and what the unification will comprise can now be addressed.

The reality of Korean ‘unity’

Based on the history of the two Koreas it should be noted that it is politically impossible to achieve an absolute reunification unless a forced alignment was to occur. The way in which absolute reunification occurs is often through a victory via a war and a recent example of this is writ large in the  total victory of North Vietnamese forces at the end of the Vietnam War (1963–1975).[22]Using the Vietnam War as an example is pertinent in order to show that unification through limited war is definitive in its outcome, as it provides an unambiguous power-base to the winner. Hence, it would take a restart of the Korean War to gain the same ‘type’ of unification of the Koreas as Vietnam.  Notwithstanding this, there is no ‘political appetite’ for this to happen as the dangers of the Koreas undertaking such a pathway would pose enormous problems for them and the region. The overriding problem would be it would have the potential to draw in other actors and could thereby, escalate into a total war. This would be due to the most powerful A-P actors – China, the US, and possibly Russia – becoming involved. Notwithstanding the aforementioned, it would require an inordinate leap of faith on the part of both North and South Korea to achieve total unification and as such this will not take place. There is however a considerable possibility that a form of ‘bilateral reconciliation’[23] will come to pass, although the reason the two countries cannot and will not seamlessly merge into one, is in the current political climate and due to the historic power-stakes a requirement of the ceding of power by one actor to the other would need to take place. This too, cannot and will not take place. Both Koreas would not be willing to cede their politico-status and more importantly their military power as the repercussion would be an immediate ‘security dilemma’[24] being created for both actors; and moreover, it would also create cultural shame and a ‘loss-of-face’ predicament. This too, would not be acceptable to either actor, or their respective populaces.

With the above-mentioned factors in mind, there is under both Korean administrations – including their major allies, China for North Korea, the US, Australia and Japan for South Korea – at least a desire to elicit an irenic outcome and finally bring about an end to the Korean War. Such a happening will not only present a greater degree of stability in the region as a result of the lessening of decades-long tensions it will also assist in returning Korea to the profoundly politically-mature nation it once was. This is where the problems for Japan will begin in earnest, however and in order to understand the situation a brief, analysis of what is currently and actually happening is required.

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has moved beyond the isolationism of previous decades, with perhaps the most important visits being China, South Korea and more recently Singapore at the behest of US President Trump, in March, April and June 2018 respectively.[25] Whilst it is impossible to predict the continuation of the current diplomacy and its impacts, what has become clear is a triad: there has been a significant shift in bilateral relations between the two Koreas; China remains the linchpin of North Korea’s survival; and the current Trump administration is noticeably enthusiastic to lessen the threat of another war on the Korean peninsula becoming a reality – if only due to American forces being drawn into yet another, interminable war. To be sure, an irenic agreement also offers a chance for North Korea, and thereby Kim Jong-un to become a more cosmopolitan regional and international actor;  offers greater economic prosperity to his people; and significantly reduces the use of brinkmanship – in this case the threat of missile strikes – as a mechanism to gain greater regional status. The upshot of all the aforementioned for Japan is that it will face a will be vastly different neighbour, than it has been. This factor can now be examined.

Japan’s coming predicament: facing three united countries

Japan has been a significant A-P post-WWII regional power. This is due to its military status per se and its, post-WWII links to US forces – especially with the ongoing presence of a large US military contingent on Okinawa. Additional to this, Japan has had a successful industrial revolution in the 1970s which allowed it to become an ongoing international economic power which also remains the case in contemporary times. From a political perspective Japan has also been able to positively exploit its mutually-allied US–South Korea partnership due to North Korea remaining consistently belligerent. The issue for Japan is a change in the level of co-operation between the Koreas would cause a re-alignment of allegiances and this would place significant pressures on Japan, as the deep-seated animosities that linger between South Korea and Japan are veiled, and the allegiance of South Korea and Japan is largely due to North Korea’s continuing recalcitrance. This will change upon any decrease in the current frictions between the Koreas, and Japan will be forced to deal with a two reinvigorated countries with a barely-concealed hostility. This is writ large in the current currently  Japan -South Korea relationship in that even though they both share similar political and societal developments in the sense they are liberal-democracies, highly-developed and industrialised countries and have had significant security issues with North Korea it does not diminish the fact that the relationship between the two remains fraught with historical tensions.[26]

Three which it can be argued, that affect the relations are the general post-WWII ill-treatment of Koreans that reside in Japan (which has been criticised by the UN); the signing of the 1965, Treaty on Basic Relations[27] in which the South Korean government cannot claim war reparations from Japan; and the sexual slavery of Korean women – euphemistically referred to as ‘comfort women’ – by the Japanese military forces in WWII.[28] These issues will immediately return to the fore and have an enormous impact on Japan should the Korean Peninsula become less fractious. Whilst the aforementioned issues will be problematic for Japan the problem that will eclipse the Koreas uniting will consist of a knock-on effect: a greater alignment with China will take place. This will be due to China positively and opportunistically exploiting the unification of the Koreas as a chance to improve its preponderance in the region and elsewhere. China too has long-term animosity toward Japan and it will use the unity for its own politico- and military-leverage and the offshoots will consist of, but not be limited to China being more aggressive in its Arunachal Pradesh border dispute with India; enable the retrocession of Taiwan to be more forthrightly pursued; and the ‘Belt and Road’ and South China Sea initiatives will be able to progress more efficiently. The de-escalation of problems within the Koreas will allow China to place more effort on the regional components mentioned and whether China is successful in its claims is moot and need not be discussed further here. What is of interest here is the way in which the catharsis of a new set of China-Japan relations will further pan out, as the already corrosive relations become more prominent. The single issue which will gain more credence – as it will have the direct support of the two Koreas – is directly supplanted in the two invasions of China by Japanese forces in the early twentieth century – especially the 1937–1938 Nanking massacre;[29] – and are directly reflected in ‘China’s relations with Japan have long been poisoned by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of China before and during World War Two.’[30] This factor, it can be argued, has had more relevance in regional machinations due to Germany having apologised for its part in WWII, and moreover it is without doubt that such an undertaking does offer a significant contribution to irenic relations between nation-states.[31] Certainly, a more direct and forthright united front that Japan will face from its neighbours will impact heavily upon its place in the region.

Conclusion

There is ample historical evidence that when a country has domestic stability, reliable allies and a powerful military that allows irredentism and expansionism to flourish. Throughout history America, China, England, France, Iraq, Israel, Spain and many other nation-states are testament to this taking place. Others however, are often directly impacted upon and this is true of Hawaii being usurped by America; China and its taking of Tibet; France in its invasion of Russia; England and the seizing of India; Iraq and its invasion of Kuwait; Israel and the taking of East Jerusalem/West Bank; and Spain undertaking the conquest of the South Americas. As stipulated Japan and its irredentist policies within the region have created tensions means that as the Koreas gain greater harmony they will assert a more co-ordinated approach toward Japan’s past deeds and its present ambitions. This, combined with China’s preponderance will heavily, and negatively, impact on Japan. The way in which Japan will respond to these pressures remains to be seen, however any China-North Korea-South Korea quasi-tripartite or direct agreement would see a coalescing of historical animosities which must place strategic pressures on Japan. For instance, a unified Korea, regardless of not being a single sovereign nation-state and albeit, with two distinctive regions will nonetheless, identify more strongly as ‘one people with a shared history’ and set about diminishing Japanese politico – and military – influence. An immediate outcome it can be safely argued, would be the two Koreas being less inclined to directly criticise China’s overt military role in the South China Sea per se; would explicitly favour China’s claims on the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea; and would side with China in rejecting Japan’s attempt to become part of the UN Security Council’s permanent members. All would directly impact upon Japan’s ‘middle power‘ status. The regeneration of what would constitute a new Korea would be to elevate the difficulties for Japan and if this were to be in parallel with the US remaining on its current pathway of further developing quasi-isolationist tendencies and remained true to its mantra of wanting its allies to ‘do more’ in building their own defence capabilities will also add to Japan’s woes.

The outcome of a unified two Koreas living in (relative) harmony with each other would place Japan in a newfound politico- and regional-strategic situation in which it would have to come to terms when facing two semi-united countries; and a unified country. Simply put, all three countries have long-term deep-seated animosity toward Japan and a unification-of-sorts would offer the opportunity for retaliation, or a quasi-revenge to take place. Going to war against Japan however, is highly-unlikely as it would draw in other powerful actors – this is not what either country wants. Notwithstanding this, China North Korea and South Korea will do all they can to constrain Japan. Any decrease in tensions on the Korean Peninsula would be good for the world from the perspective of a ‘kinetic exchange’ or a ‘shooting war’ not breaking out. Paradoxically however, the peace will introduce a completely new set of enormous politico – and military – challenges for Japan, as it is forced to endure the repressed rage of its closest neighbours finally coming to the political surface.

Notes

[1] Michael Seth. A History of Korea. From Antiquity to the Present. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc, 2011, 2.

[2] See: ‘Three Kingdoms Period in Korea Timeline.’ Ancient History Encyclopediahttps://www.ancient.eu/timeline/Three_Kingdoms_Period_in_Korea/

[3] See: ‘Korean War.’ History.com https://www.history.com/topics/korea/korean-war

[4] Kim Ji-hyung. ‘The Japanese Annexation of Korea as Viewed from the American and British Press: focus on The Times and The New York Times.’  International Journal  https://ijkh.khistory.org/upload/pdf/03._IJKH_16-2_Kim_JI-hyung.pdf

[5] Imperialism’ consists of ‘the projection of political power across large spaces to include other states.’  See: Robin Butlin. Geographies of Empire. European empires and colonies, 1880 – 1960. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, 6.

[6] Japan and Korea since 1910,’ 52.

[7] David Day. Conquest. A New History of the Modern World. Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, 196-197.

[8] For a full account of Japan’s military expansionism see: ‘Japan profile – Timeline.’  BBC News. 20Feb, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-15219730

[9] A History of Korea. From Antiquity to the Present, 265 – 266. 

[10] ‘Kojong. Korean Ruler.’ Encyclopædia Britannica. The Editors of Encylopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kojong

[11] See: The Japanese Annexation of Korea as Viewed from the American and British Press: focus on The Times and The New York Times, 88.

[12] ‘Kojong. Korean Ruler.’ Encyclopædia Britannica.

[13]  Japan and Korea since 1910,’ 49 – 50.

[14] The Japanese Annexation of Korea as Viewed from the American and British Press: focus on The Times and The New York Times, 116.

[15] A History of Korea. From Antiquity to the Present, 265 – 266. 

[16] Clarence Gilliland. ‘Japan and Korea since 1910.’ JSTOR. University of California: University of California Press, 1920.  https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41168782.pdf

[17] ‘Japan and Korea since 1910,’ 47.

[18] ‘Japan and Korea since 1910,’ 47.

[19] Tim Harper.  ‘Japan’s giant second world war gamble.’ The Guardian, 7 Sep, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/07/japan-imperialism-militarism

[20] ‘Japan’s giant second world war gamble,’ The Guardian. 

[21] John Dower. Embracing Defeat. Japan in the Wake of World War II. W W. Norton and Co: New York, 1999, 43.

[22] The Vietnam War is ‘known as the “American War” in Vietnam.’ See: British Broadcasting Corporation. Timeline: Vietnam. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1243686.stm

[23] John Nillson-Wright. ‘Koreas summit: Will historic talks lead to a lasting peace?’ BBCNews.28 Apr, 2018.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43932032

[24] Security uncertainty exists in the international arena between nation-states according to Herz in the form of a ‘security dilemma.’ This is a process in which each constellation/group ‘must be, and usually are, concerned about their security from being attacked, subjected, dominated or annihilated by other groups and individuals. Striving to attain security from such attack, they are driven to acquire more and more power in order to escape the impact of the power of others … ’ See: John Herz. “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma.’ World Politics, Vol. 2, Jan, 1950, 157.  http://www.jstor.org/view/00438871/di971097/97p0057z/0

[25] For a complete list of places visited by the North Korean Supreme Leader see:  ‘Kim Jong un Fast Facts.’ CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/26/world/asia/kim-jong-un—fast-facts/index.html

[26] Brad Glisserman. ‘Japan-South Korea: So close, yet so far.’ The Diplomat. 28 Feb, 2018.  https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/japan-south-korea-so-close-yet-so-far/

[27] Wi Tack-whan and Chang Iou-chung ‘1965 Korea – Japan agreement should be re-estimated.’ Korea.net. 23 Mar, 2016. http://www.korea.net/NewsFocus/History/view?articleId=134245

[28] To be added

[29] See: ‘The  Rape of Nanking.’ History.com. The Editors of History.com.

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-rape-of-nanking

[30] Chehui Peh and Teppei Kasai. ‘Asian neighbours protest as Japan PM sends war offering to war dead shrine.’  Reuters.  15 Aug, 2017https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ww2-anniversary-japan-idUSKCN1AV009

[31] ‘Many praise Germany, scorn Japan 70 years after WWII.’ Japan Times. 13 Aug, 2015.  ttps://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/13/national/history/70-years-wwii-neighbor-states-hold-germany-high-heap-scorn-axis-ally-japan/#.W7bldHszbIU

This article was originally published on E-International Relations.

Strobe Driver – Strobe completed his PhD in war studies in 2011 and since then has written extensively on war, terrorism, Asia-Pacific security, the ‘rise of China,’ and issues within Australian domestic politics. Strobe is a recipient of Taiwan Fellowship 2018, MOFA, Taiwan, ROC, and is an adjunct researcher at Federation University.

 

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The Prospects for Socialism Today

Writing in the Herald Sun, Chris Collins (11/1/19) argues that the Nordic countries have never been “socialist” because they have not conformed to the original Marxist definition of the centralisation of the means of production in state hands. In reality, though, there were always a variety of definitions, and even Marxists themselves have revised their understandings.

Socialist aspirations include ending exploitation and the class system ; and reducing inequalities to a fair level. In Marx’s words, to advance the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need’. That should include a strong welfare state and social wage ; involving not only natural public monopolies and strategic state ownership ; but also producers’ and consumers’ co-operatives, democratic funds, and a mix of competition, markets and planning.

Socialism also means building an economy focused on ‘use values’. (ie: not just maximising abstract exchange value ; eg: preserving the natural environment). But we’re in a global economy: which means we have to live with the transnational corporations. They are at best ‘a mixed blessing’: at times spurring innovations and job creation ; but also unacceptable inequalities in wealth and power ; as well as collusion, monopolism, planned obsolescence and so on. But also arguably the consequence of bourgeois dominance is that we live in a ‘One Dimensional Society’ where substantially different social alternatives are excluded from mainstream discussion. What’s needed is robust pluralism : where socialism is part of the debate ; and hence a genuine option in the broader context of democracy.

In response to writers who attempt to put Swedish Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism in opposition to one another: for key Swedish thinkers and politicians such as Wigforss, Palme, Rehn, Meidner etc the Nordic Model was definitely a kind of socialism. The ‘high water mark’ was with the Meidner Wage Earner Funds proposals of the 70s and 80s. That marked the end of a ‘corporatist consensus’ (institutionalised consultation and co-operation) which developed over several decades starting from the 1930s. The model has been in slow retreat since. But its past successes over many decades still give a sense of what is possible.

Importantly, the wage earner funds were to be structured in such a way as to compensate workers for prior wage restraint. But the extent of that wage restraint had been such that the funds would eventually deliver economic control to workers over many years. One of the biggest problems with the funds is that they focused on workers alone rather than the broader category of ‘citizens’. (Hence excluding pensioners for instance). In 1983 Australian Leftists like Laurie Carmichael wanted ‘Nordic Style’ policies in return for wage restraint under the Government of Bob Hawke and ‘The Accord’. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort was actually delivered.

That said : what kind of state is in a position to deliver on socialism?

Leninists are inclined to oppose the ‘liberal bourgeois state’ to the kind of state which existed under the Bolsheviks. A ‘workers’ state’. Trotskyists would argue it had become a ‘degenerated workers’ state’ under the domination of Stalin.

On the other hand, by certain interpretations a genuine workers’ state is a democratic state ; where we can interpret ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ as a ‘manner of applying democracy’ ; the ‘democratic dictatorship’ of the working class majority. (Widely misinterpreted, the term always referred to the democratic rule of the working class as opposed to the rule of a single man such as Stalin). The ultimate aim is to create a ‘pure democracy’ where the state represents all people ; and the class system is permanently transcended. Finally, the State itself is presumed by Marxists to ‘wither away’ with the end of all class divisions and antagonisms. One flaw of this thinking, however, is the presumption that over the long run ‘only class antagonisms matter’ to such a degree that some kind of state power is necessary either as arbiter ; or to enforce interests.

Arguably Sweden enjoyed a decades-long ‘equilibrium in the class struggle’ or otherwise what Korpi called a ‘democratic class struggle’. Where the class struggle was in some ways ‘institutionalised’ between social democrats, unions, employers. Concessions were made based on ‘the balance of class forces’ ; but open escalation of conflict was avoided as being in no-one’s interest. Then in the 1970s and 80s the Social Democrats and the LO (‘Landsorganisationen’ ; or Swedish Trade Union Confederation) attempted to assert their democratic leverage to achieve previously unheard of economic redistribution and democratisation.  Again: even with over 80% unionisation coverage they still failed. And Social Democracy has been on the defensive there largely ever since. If anything, this gives an idea just how difficult the struggle can be.

What we need is a democratic state which is not a medium for direct OR indirect bourgeois rule. Nicos Poulanztas wrote about a ‘logic of the class struggle’ which ‘imprinted itself upon the state field’. I’m not a structuralist (as Poulantzas was) ; but in a way that makes sense. The state tends to defend bourgeois interests ; but not totally. It is not a ‘simple instrument’. It is much more complex than that. Rather, it has its own internal contradictions and internal struggles. What we need is a state which is fully committed to the implications of democracy: as opposed to the direct or indirect rule of the bourgeoisie.

The problem is that capitalism is supported by a clear majority of states ; as well as by the transnationals which are an expression of and foundation for global bourgeois dominance. Even assuming a state which breaks POLITICAL bourgeois dominance at a local level ; there are still the remainder of bourgeois states internationally; and global bourgeois economic power ; and economic co-dependence.

Think about revolutionary France. The Revolution was diverted into Bonapartism. (The rule of the French Emperor, Napoleon I). And eventually with the Congress of Vienna there was total Restoration of the “Ancien Regime” in France, and the consolidation of monarchies and their traditional bloodlines elsewhere in Europe. Liberal Democracy did not really take hold through much of the world until the Bolsheviks put much of the European bourgeoisie under such pressure as to implement the crucial concession of universal suffrage. This had long been a key Social Democratic and Marxist demand. We’re talking about a period spanning over 100 years. (Throughout which we had other revolutions and struggles ; eg: 1830, 1848, 1871). Thereafter the bourgeoisie and its representatives have spent another 100-odd years thinking of ways to divide the working class against itself to prevent it from realising the potential of the suffrage. The splintering of the working class culturally and economically has made it increasingly hard to realise the solidarity we need to bring about the change we want. Narratives on ‘political correctness’ and ‘left elites’ have just this effect ; and sometimes by neglecting class interests we play into the bourgeoisie’s hands.

Critics of socialism often declare that they don’t want ‘statism’ or state domination. And this they associate with socialism.  Well, no – we don’t want Stalinist-style ‘statism’. (Though I hate the term ‘statism’ as it is commonly used to stigmatise any place for the state ; even a democratic state). But ‘wresting capital by degrees’ from the bourgeoisie still sounds like a good idea – if done properly – and if only it were possible.  The problems of exploitation and economic polarisation still demand our attention as practical and moral questions. And after all, radical redistribution of wealth is what the Swedes were attempting with the Meidner wage earner funds in the 1970s and 1980s.

Arguably the Mixed Economy represents progress towards that goal. Though the ‘mixed economy’, social wage and welfare state can be supported by far more ‘moderate’ forces who want nothing more over the long term than to ameliorate inequality and ‘save capitalism from itself’.

“Wresting capital by degrees” from the bourgeoisie can imaginably involve a mix of public, co-operative and other democratic ownership – as opposed to ‘Stalinist Statism’. But the process cannot be finished because bourgeois interests reinforce each other globally.  Currently, there is no (acceptable) ‘way out’ of capitalism. But if we mobilise we can at least force compromises which are in workers’ and citizens’ interests. And we can convince the bourgeoisie that compromise is sometimes in its own interests. (Again ; ‘saving capitalism from itself’). For example: natural public monopolies can reduce cost structures not just for citizens/consumers/workers – but also for business. And a state-owned savings and loans bank (with a charter promoting competition and ethical banking) could inject competition into the sector of benefit both to business, and to most ordinary people.

Importantly – forcing compromise through struggle is in some ways more involved than just ‘gaming the system’. Over the long term who knows what’s possible? Again: think about Revolutionary France – and the hegemony of liberal democracies which only finally arose more than 100 years later. We can only hope it will not take a catastrophe such as the First World War was to provide enough impetus to drive qualitative change ; to challenge the class system and the ‘defacto rule’ of Capital.

If anything the Global Financial Crisis gave a sense of capitalism’s enduring instability ; and that (should another crisis occur) radical interventions may be necessary ‘to save the system from itself’. But public dissatisfaction with “bailouts at the peoples’ expense” may drive strategic socialisations sooner than we think.

Socialism is not ‘inevitable’ as the old Marxist Centrists used to insist. We cannot anticipate all the policy innovations which may help ‘save the system from itself’. But over the long term a more generalised breakdown cannot be ruled out either. Socialists need to stand prepared for all manner of contingencies. Global organisation and dialogue are necessary to best prepare for those contingencies. That means not responding to discourse on ‘globalisation’ as an excuse for defeatism. It means working out the possibilities of domestic social democracy/democratic socialism ; but also building the organisation and dialogue necessary to give rise to internationalist responses. The current Socialist International is not an effective vehicle for this. Can it be reformed? Or do we need new forms of international organisation and dialogue?

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

Meeting in Moscow: The Taliban Meets the Afghan Opposition

It had the semblance of a play lacking key actors. They were deemed the difficult ones, and a decision was made to go through with the performance. The Taliban were willing to talk with their adversaries, but they were keen on doing so with opposition politicians rather than the stick-in-the-mud types in government led by the current President Ashraf Ghani. The assessment from The New York Times over the whole affair held at the President Hotel in Moscow was that the meeting could only be, at best, “a brainstorming session”.

The Taliban officials going to Moscow were a different crew, at least in terms of perceptions. These were not the intemperate salad day youths of 1996, yanking cassettes from car stereos in Kandahar and ranting against all matters musical and female. These were men of diplomacy, their guns holstered. Gone were visions of seizing the whole of Afghanistan and establishing a broader theocratic state. Doing so, by their admission, would not bring the state to peaceful order. Nor, and here there will be questions, did they seem unwilling to reconsider their position on broader notion of human rights.

The claims from the Taliban demonstrate their continued boldness and durability. Enemies have come and gone, and they remain steadfast in imposing order. Their brutality remains common and assertive, but they have become wiser, more discerning in their heavy-handedness. “Peace is more difficult than war,” suggested Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, one of the members of the negotiating party to head to Moscow.

The January draft agreement arising from a series of meetings with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, suggests a commitment on the part of the US to withdraw its forces from the country with a Taliban promise to prevent Afghanistan being used as a staging ground for jihadists in future.

The Wednesday statement did little to add flesh to any potential bargain but did outline nine points. Continued intra-Afghan talks would take place – the usual talks about talks; involving the cooperation of regional countries and others were “essential to determine lasting and nationwide peace in Afghanistan”.

One aspiration stood out, making all aware about the traumatic divisions in a society that has resisted internally and externally imposed changes for generations. Unity has been impossible; centralisation of the state an impracticable and unrealisable dream. “All parties agreed that the values such as respect for the principles of Islam in all parts of the system, the principle that Afghanistan is a common home to all Afghans, support to a powerful centralised government with all ethnicities having a role in it, protecting national sovereignty and promoting social justice, to keep Afghanistan neutral in all regional and international conflicts, protecting Afghanistan’s national and religious values and undertaking a unified and single policy.”

The other aspirations follow on from the first: the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghan soil; an affirmation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference. Then come promises to protect “social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles, protection of political and social rights of the entire people of Afghanistan and protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles.”

Ghani’s spokesman Samim Arif expressed his sentiments on the gathering. “On the issue of the peace process, we respect the views of all parts of society, including the politicians. But the ownership and the leadership of the peace process is the authority of the Afghan government.”

Ghani was even blunter: “With whom, what will they agree upon there? Where is their executive power? Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan’s national assembly and Afghanistan’s legal institutions.” Ghani might as well have asked himself those same questions, his rule itself very much a paper based one, his claims to executive authority adventurous at best.

Notwithstanding the activities in Moscow, there will no doubt be a good number of Afghans, left confused by years of external intervention and promptings, concerned by this affirmation and legitimation of Taliban rule. While the Moscow declaration insists on observing various rights previously anathema to Taliban theocracy, these are provisional within the remit of “Islamic principles”, which have been shown to be roughly interpreted when needed. Schools may continue being threatened under any new regime; education for females face the prospects of being reined in (religious reasons apply, naturally), as they always tend to in areas of Taliban occupation. Aired guarantees are simply that.

The gathering in Moscow signalled one undeniable reality: the Taliban as a political force cannot be ignored. Remarks made in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by US-led forces that the Taliban would be blown to smithereens and wiped off the lunar face of the country have come to nought. These fighters have lasted the distance; corrupt officials in Kabul, pampered and sponsored by foreign largesse, remain estranged and politically weak. The Trump administration, prone to erratic spots of unilateral viciousness, is keen on easing part of the imperium’s commitments in the Middle East. Eyes will be on Kabul to see how far this goes.

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Neeson, Racism, and Rape

Liam Neeson is not an actor in whom I have the slightest interest. So spending the last couple of days discussing his actions has felt a little odd.

Out and about promoting his new film, a revenge saga, Neeson used a story from his own past as an example of the desire for revenge, and how irrational and primitive it can be.

Forty years ago, a close friend of his was raped. Neeson asked her if the perpetrator was a black man. The answer was in the affirmative. He offers no explanation as to why he asked that question.

For about a week Neeson cruised areas frequented by black men, hoping to provoke someone into a fight that would give him the opportunity to inflict serious harm. He wasn’t seeking the perpetrator. He admits that at the time he thought any “black bastard” would do.

Fortunately, he did not fully act out his revenge fantasy, realised his behaviour was irrational and dangerous, and sought help.

Confronted about the perceived racist nature of his fantasy, Neeson stated that he would have gone after any group that resembled the perpetrator: this rapist happened to be black. He expressed shame, disgust and regret for his fantasy and his acting out, however, he did not agree that either were racist.

His disclosure of this fantasy is puzzling. It isn’t hard to foresee the path down which such a confession will inevitably lead and it has, with global calls for a boycott of Neeson and his films, and quite likely the loss of future employment. Neeson has now been marked as an unrepentant racist, lacking the consciousness to recognise what he is, and what he did.

Going after a group as a surrogate for going after an individual perpetrator is a savage act, as Neeson acknowledged. It’s been pointed out that going after black men feeds into the racist belief that they are “all the same,” and had the rapist been white, Neeson wouldn’t have gone out looking for just any white man because white men are not perceived as “all the same,” at least, not by other white men. People of other ethnicities have been known to observe the white people all look the same. However, it’s not likely that Neeson would have told himself that any “white bastard” will do: he would have needed some identifying characteristics that he didn’t feel he needed in his pursuit of black men.

In his explanation Neeson stated that he would have gone after “Scots, Irish, Lithuanians, Chinese” implying that he didn’t care about the race of the rapist, his primary driver was revenge, and this rapist happened to be black.

It is the nature of a revenge fantasy that it be peopled by characters who most closely resemble the perpetrator. It makes no psychological and emotional sense that Neeson would construct a fantasy centred around a man who bore no resemblance at all to the description he had of the rapist. This is not to make an argument against Neeson’s alleged racism, about which I know nothing outside of this situation. It is to say there are many factors at work here, and it is wise to consider all of them, whether you believe Neeson to be a racist or not.

Post traumatic triggers and revenge fantasies

Survivors of sexual assault, as adults or children or both, are familiar with the triggering experience that occurs involuntarily when something or someone triggers traumatic memories of the abuse. A powerful trigger is a reminder of the body of the abuser. You may remember the colour of an abuser’s skin, or hair, his breathing, the sound of his voice, his hands, his shape and size. You may encounter someone whose physical characteristics resemble those of the perpetrator, and you may find yourself immediately in a highly distressed state, a state that overwhelms you before you have consciously registered those similarities.

For example, two women told me yesterday that they had been stalked and abused by men of Asian appearance. Both women disclosed an ongoing fear of men of Asian appearance, and difficulties in managing their distress when encountering them. These women are not racists because they have these feelings. They are experiencing a “normal” post traumatic stress symptom when confronted with a trigger.

While there is obviously a world of difference between Neeson’s situation and the situation of a survivor of sexual abuse, there is one similarity. The revenge fantasy requires characters who most closely resemble a perpetrator. The trigger response requires encounters with situations and/or people who most closely resemble the perpetrator. Men of every ethnicity on earth  rape women. That is an horrific sentence to write.

Therefore, a revenge fantasy, be it created by an enraged male such as Neeson, or a raped woman, is going to feature characters who most closely resemble the perpetrators and that will be white men, black men, men of Asian appearance, men of Middle Eastern appearance, Chinese men, Mongolian men, Vietnamese men, Indian men, Sri Lankan men, need I go on?

Perhaps if the universal propensity of men to rape women is addressed, men such as Neeson will no longer be able to be racist about it.

The uses of fantasy

Next, we come to the uses of fantasy, and the frankly terrifying idea of policing the fantasies of others.

The therapeutic value of fantasy is well known. It offers a safe outlet for powerful feelings that otherwise have no expression. It relieves the suppression of feelings that can have negative physical, mental, emotional and psychological effects on an individual, and people around them. It can be immensely satisfying to fantasise misfortune and worse upon someone who has done you damage. In the ordinary course of events the fantasy runs its course and the fantasist moves on, released from crippling negative emotion. Neeson took his fantasy into the real world when he went looking for black men. It’s not unusual for people to do this, and still stop before they actually commit harm.

Neeson has copped a lot of judgmental criticism for having the fantasy he had, a fantasy deemed to be racist. His mistake was not in having the fantasy, which might well have helped to prevent him actually harming someone, but in admitting to it. Revenge fantasies are seldom pleasant. That’s their nature. The majority of us would not emerge from a scrutiny of our darker impulses particularly well, I am confident of that. Indeed, Neeson showed considerable courage, or some might say utter foolhardiness, in publicly confessing his fantasy of revenge.

I would like to raise here the horror of policing Neeson’s or anyone else’s fantasies, judging them unacceptable and condemning their creator. I’m casting serious doubt on the mind set of people who have done and continue to do that. You disapprove of somebody’s fantasies? You think they should censor themselves in their own minds You want to tell other people how they should fantasise and about what? You want control over another human’s fantasies? Really?

You are one scary motherfucker and I hope you never attain political office.

Fantasies are the one medium in which we can be at our very worst, without harming anyone. Writers, artists, filmmakers transpose fantasies into creative product we all consume. That last horror movie that so thrilled you? Read Aristotle on catharsis.

Whatever Neeson’s intentions, and I have no idea what they were, they seem entirely self-destructive if the consequences are any measure, the outcome of his revelation is a global fire storm of condemnation, contempt, judgement, and nauseating self-righteousness. Really, he should have kept his mouth shut and made a movie with the material.

We are creatures of the dark as well as the light. Neeson admitted his darkness. Sadly, the consequences of that admission will not encourage anyone else to do the same.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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Sharp Manias: Knife Crime in London

London.

A bleak London assailed by daily news about Brexit negotiation, prospects of food shortages and higher prices in the event of a no-deal with the European Union, provides the perfect apocalyptic backdrop for headlines. The city is ailing; the residents are panicked; and the authorities are gloomy.

Such environments are ideal for talk about emergencies. One doing much filling on London airtime is that of knife crime. Not that knife crime in of itself is unusual: for years, stabbing implements have made their way into broader law and order issues in the city’s policing scene, a good number featuring errant youth. These have encouraged a wide array of myths masquerading as solid fact: London, the city of the “no-go” area; Londonistan, city of perpetual, spiralling crime.

In 2008, Britain’s public institutions – political and public – became darkly enraptured with knife crime afflicting inner city areas, with a heavy focus on London. Stabbings were reported in lurid fashion; threats to urban safety were emphasised. As Peter Squires noted in a fairly withering examination of the phenomenon in British Politics, “The knife crime ‘epidemic’, as it came to be called, coincided with a series of youth justice policy measures being rolled out by the government, and significantly influenced them.”

Kevin Marsh of the BBC, writing at the same time, wondered how best a news organisation might report such crime figures. “How much does tone and prominence distort the real picture? Is some coverage self-fulfilling prophecy? Does it spread fear and anxiety way beyond the rational?” Marsh would admit that being a victim of a knife crime was “very, very unlikely”; and that young men, in the main, did not carry knives; “most young people are not components of what some politicians are calling the ‘broken society’.”

For all that, Marsh found himself admitting that “it’s part of the purpose of our media to draw things to our attention, however crudely.” The crude element remains the sticking point, resisting nuance, despite the hope that reporters might help “us citizens really think hard about possible solutions.”

Knife crime has become the bread and butter of lazy reportage, one hitched to the coattails of the broken society argument. Describing a broken fence is easier fare than describing a mended one; solutions remain dull, academic matters. The emergency narrative tends to emerge ahead each time; matters of social causes and complexity receive short shrift. In 2017, Gary Younge turned his noise up at the panic merchants, and deemed teenage knife crime “a tabloid obsession, blamed on feral youth running riot in our cities.” Such fears speaks to an obsession with decay and decline; youth go wrong if society does not go right.

In 2018, knife crime became a meme of terror. The Express shouted with “London BLOODBATH” in a June headline, and subsequently began using it as a running title for any knife-related crime. Political parties also capitalised on the atmosphere. In the east London borough of Havering, a local Conservative leaflet, buttering up electors ahead of the March local elections, promised mayhem. “Mayor Khan and Corbyn’s men are desperate to grab power in our Town Hall, so get ready for… A London crimewave with even less police.” In Lewisham East, UKIP candidate David Kurten added his bit in a by-election with a leaflet featuring the words “STOP THE KARNAGE” placed across a picture of a knife.

The dreary world of knife crime figures is erratic. Between 2008 and 2014, offences involving knives or sharp instruments fell from 36,000 recorded offences to 25,000. Then came an increase in 2015/6 – a nudge to 28,900. The figures on death occasioned by knife crime are even more inscrutable, prompting Spiked Online to conclude that there was “no huge upsurge in knife violence because society overall is becoming less violent, and crime in general is falling.” This was not to say that no concern should be felt: the issue is particular in London, and its effects disproportionate on young working-class black men. A possible explanation? Not just indigence or exclusion, but nihilism and plain susceptibility.

Barely two months into this year, and the rounds of panic are in full swing. As always, it’s the deceptive field of statistics dragged out to give a picture of clear, bolt-the-doors-and-hide doom. It began with a spate of violent actions on New Year’s Eve, which saw four young men stabbed to death in London, prompting London Mayor Sadiq Khan to berate the government for its squeeze on youth services, policing and education.

Police statistics, pounced upon by the Evening Standard just in time for the evening commute on Monday, suggest that 41 percent across London’s boroughs involve those between the green years of 15 to 19. Eight percent range from the even greener 10 to 14.

The Standard’s Martin Bentham sliced and spliced the announcement from the police with maximum, terrifying effect, all assisted by a picture-perfect grim background of law enforcement officials at a crime scene on Caledonia road. “The new figures came as a Scotland Yard chief warned that attacks in the capital were also becoming ‘more ferocious’ as offenders were ‘more and more young’ tried to kill or injure by ‘getting up close and stabbing someone several times’.”

Descriptions on police tactics follow, resembling those of urban battle plans keen on frustrating potential attacks. Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan, head of the Met’s Violent Crime Task Force is quoted as claiming that “some progress” is being made. There was also a more frequent use of search and “other tactics” including “the deployment of ‘embedded’ plain clothes officers to work with uniformed counterparts” in acts of prevention.

As Younge rightly notes, such realities are “more complex – and we cannot save lives if we do not understand it.” But understanding is a term absent in times of panic. These are times rich for exploitation. With Brexit having become the great psychodrama, all else is ripe for distraction and manipulation.

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The Monitoring Game: China’s Artificial Intelligence Push

It’s all keen and mean on the artificial intelligence (AI) front in China, which is now vying with the United States as the top dog in the field. US companies can still boast the big cheese operators, but China is making strides in other areas. The UN World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Thursday report found that IBM had, with 8,920 patents in the field, the largest AI portfolio, followed by Microsoft with 5,930. China, however, was found dominant in 17 of 20 academic institutions involved in the business of patenting AI.

The scramble has been a bitter one. The Trump administration has been inflicting various punitive measures through tariffs, accusing Beijing of being the lead thief in global intellectual property matters. But it is also clear that China has done much to play the game. “They are serious players in the field of intellectual property,” suggests WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry.

Machine learning is high up in this regard, as is deep learning, which saw a rise from a modest 118 patent applications in 2013 to a sprightly 2,399 in 2016. All this is to the good on some level, but the ongoing issue that preoccupies those in the field is how best to tease out tendencies towards bias (racism, sexism and so forth) that find their way into machine-learning algorithms. Then comes that problem of technology in the broader service of ill, a point that never really goes away.

In other areas, China is making springing efforts. Moving in the direction of developing an AI chip has not been missed, propelled by moves away from crypto mining. “It’s an incredibly difficult to do,” claims MIT Technology Review senior editor Will Knight. “But the fact that you’ve got this big technological shift like it once in a sort of generation one means that it’s now possible, that the playing field is levelled a little bit.”

The nature of technological advancement often entails a moral and ethical lag. Functionality comes before philosophy. AI has been seen to be a fabulous toy-like thing, enticing and irresistible. But what is good in one field is bound to be inimical in another. The implications for this should be clear with the very idea of deep learning, which stresses the use of neural networks to make predictions on collected data. Enter, then, those fields of natural language processing, facial recognition, translation, recommendation algorithms.

Canadian computer scientist Yoshua Bengio, regarded as a storming pioneer in the field of deep learning along with Yann LeCun and Geoff Hinton, has felt his conscience prick in this regard. “This is the 1984 Big Brother scenario,” he observed in quotidian fashion in an interview. “I think it’s becoming more and more scary.”

Bengio seems a bit late to the commentary on this point, given the prevailing dangers posed by existing technologies in the private sector in the field of surveillance. He could hardly have missed the fact that the tech company sector took the lead in matters of surveillance, leaving governments in the lurch on how best to get data on their citizens. Where there are the confessional solicitations of social media, monitoring officials have their work cut for them, a result which seems attempts to find backdoors and encourage compliance.

The PRC has enthusiastically embraced elements of facial recognition in its quest to create a total surveillance society, one that sorts the desirable wheat from the undesirable chaff. Anti-social behaviour is monitored. The way services are used by citizens is also controlled through its National Credit Information Sharing Platform, which is fast becoming a model for other states to emulate. Algorithmic tyranny has become a reality.

In January, George Soros, problematic as he has been in his financial meddling, noted how AI had supplied “instruments of control” which gave “an inherent advantage of totalitarian regimes over open societies.” (It was a pity that his speech was delivered before the failed managers and plunderers of the global economy at that holiday gathering known as the World Economic Forum in Davos.) China had become “the wealthiest, strongest and most developed in machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

The AI frontier, in short, teems with prospects dire and fascinating. But the way technology companies deal with data remain as important as those of the states that either sponsor them as champions or see them as collaborators on some level. The point is, both are out, through their use of artificial intelligence, to get at the basic liberties of citizens even as they claim to be advancing their interests. For some, is the making of a buck; for others, it’s that old issue of control.

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“Instagram Helped Kill My Daughter”: Censorship Tendencies in Social Media

It is all a rather sorry tale. Molly Russell, another teenager gorged on social media content, sharing and darkly revelling, took her own life in 2017 supposedly after viewing what the BBC described as “disturbing content about suicide on social media.” Causation is presumed, and the platform hosting the content is saddled with blame.

Molly’s father was not so much seeking answers as attributing culpability. Instagram, claimed Ian Russell, “helped kill my daughter.” He was also spoiling to challenge other platforms: “Pininterest has a huge amount to answer for.” These platforms do, but not in quite the same way suggested by the aggrieved father.

The political classes were also quick to jump the gun. Here was a chance to score a few moral points as a distraction from the messiness of Brexit negotiations. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was in combative mood on the Andrew Marr show: “If we think they need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.” Material dealing with self-harm and suicide would have to be purged. As has become popular in this instance, the purging element would have to come from technology platforms themselves, helped along by the kindly legislators.

Any time the censor steps in as defender of morality, safety and whatever tawdry assertions of social control, citizens should be alarmed. Such attitudes are precisely the sorts of things that empty libraries and lead to the burning of books, even if they host the nasty and the unfortunate. Content deemed undesirable must be removed; offensive content must be expunged to make us safe. The alarming thing there here is that compelling the tech behemoths to undertake such a task has the effect of granting them even more powers of social control than before. Don’t they exert enough control as it is?

While social media giants can be accused, on a certain level, of faux humanitarianism and their own variant of sublimated sociopathic control (surveillance capitalism is alive and well), they are merely being hectored for the logical consequence of sharing information and content. This is set to become more concentrated, with Facebook, as Zak Doffman writes, planning to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp further to enable users “across all three platforms to share messages and information more easily”. Given Facebook’s insatiable quest for advertising revenue, Instagram is being tasked with being the dominant force behind it.

The onus on production and exchange is on customers: the customers supply the material, and spectacle. They are the users and the exploited. This, in turn, enables the social media tech groups to monetise data, trading it, exploiting it and tanking privacy measures in the process. The social media junkie is a modern, unreflective drone.

Molly Russell

In doing so, an illusion of independent thinking is created, where debates can supposedly be had, and ideas formed. The grand peripatetic walk can be pursued. Often, the opposite takes place: groups assemble along lines of similar thought; material of like vein is bounced around under the impression it advances discussion when it merely provides filling for a cork-lined room or chamber of near-identical thinking. All of this is assisted by the algorithmic functions performed by the social media entities, all in the name of making the “experience” you have a richer one. Far be it in their interest to make sure you juggle two contradictory ideas at the same time.

Instagram’s own “Community Guidelines” have the aim of fostering and protecting “this amazing community” of users. It suggests that photos and videos that are shared should only be done by those with a right to. Featured photos and videos should be directed towards “a diverse audience”. A reminder that the tech giant is already keen on promoting a degree of control is evident in restrictions on nudity – a point that landed the platform in some hot water last year. “This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.” That’s many an art period banished from viewing and discussion.

The suicide fraternity is evidently wide enough to garner interest, even if the cult of self-harm takes much ethical punishment from the safety lobby. Material is still shared. Self-harm advisories are distributed through the appropriate channels.  

Instagram’s response to this is to try to nudge such individuals towards content and groups that might just as equally sport reassuring materials to discourage suicide and self-harm. Facebook, through its recently appointed Vice-President of Global Affairs, Sir Nick Clegg, was even happy to point out that the company had prevented suicides: “Over the last year, 3,500 people who were displaying behaviour liable to lead to the taking of their own lives on Facebook were saved by early responders being pointed to those and people and intervening at the right time.”  

This is all to the good, but such views fail in not understanding that social media is not used or engaged in to change ideas so much as create communities who only worship a select few. The tyranny of the algorithm is a hard one to dislodge.

In engaging such content, we are dealing with narcotised dragoons of users, the unquestioning creating content for the unchallenged. That might prove to be the greatest social crime of all, the paradox of nipping curiosity rather than nurturing it, but instead of dealing with the complexities of information from this perspective, governments are going to make technology companies the chief censors. It might well be argued that enough of that is already taking place as it is, this being the age of deplatforming. Whether it be a government or a social media giant, the same shoddy principle is the same: others know better than you do, and you should be protected from yourself.

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Reflections on Australia Day 2019

The other day I happened upon a Facebook meme which argued that even if all white Australians are not personally responsible for the original dispossession of the Indigenous Australian peoples, they have benefited from it. And they have a responsibility to set things right.

There’s a lot of truth here ; Though it’s not just white people who benefit ; it’s the whole of non-indigenous society. All non-Indigenous Australians have a responsibility to put things right. Economic and cultural empowerment. A genuine Treaty process.

At the end of the day we want Australia “to belong to all of us”. But Sovereignty was never ceded. A reconciled nation is something that needs to be negotiated. And a Treaty cannot be merely ‘tokenistic’. It has to address Indigenous grievances past and present. It has to set things right – permanently.

Some critics on the Right argue that Left proponents of Indigenous Rights (including on a Treaty) want to ‘divide’ the country. But that’s the whole point of democracy. Recognition of ideological and social divisions ; and provision of a democratic process to give them expression – and (to an extent) to resolve those. Though the urge to suppress all social conflict can lead to a kind of fascism.  ‘National unity’ can be a watchword for the suppression of dissent. In order for democracy to avoid being overly-authoritarian we need support for civil rights as well ; and tolerance of civil disobedience ; and support for industrial liberties.

For Australia Day, though, we need to consider our history and our values closely. Uncritical militarism is dangerous ; can lead to unthinking support for any and every war we’re dragged in to. There is far too little reflection on the catastrophe of Australia’s participation in World War One. And Billy Hughes’ attempts to enforce conscription when the nation was already being bled dry on the battlefields of Europe.

Colonisation was a trauma for Indigenous peoples and that needs to be remembered. But the ‘old’ Australian culture should not be ‘airbrushed’ either. There’s the spirit of Eureka. There are cultural figures like Henry Lawson who championed the sufferings of the working class and the downtrodden. There were cultural icons like Ginger Meggs. Australia also democratised ahead of Britain, and provided full, universal and equal suffrage (including women’s suffrage). Federation (the formation of the modern nation) was peaceful.

Pre-multiculturalism Australia had a culture. In part it involved deference to Britain and Empire. That led to the catastrophe of over 60,000 dead from the First World War. But it was more than that as well. We need to incorporate the old culture with the newer multiculturalism ; and preserve a central place for the appreciation of First Nations. A bit like a Hegelian dialectical spiral where the old is forever preserved in the new.

But remember also that tens of thousands of Australians died fighting fascism in World War II. Prisoners of War of the Japanese endured horrific hardships in Changi and on the Thai-Burma Railway. Be-headings, starvation, torture. The mateship they developed was not some ‘toxic masculinity’. It helped them survive in a bond of comradeship and shared hardship.

And let’s not forget the women who contributed to the fight against Japanese Imperialism and fascism either. Vivian Bullwinkel for instance ; who was the sole survivor of a Japanese massacre of nurses ; driven into the sea and machine-gunned. As well as testifying regarding Japanese War Crimes, she did crucial work supporting repatriated soldiers after the War.

The history of Australian Communism ; and of other socialists more broadly – can also be thought of as part of Australia’s legacy. (and indeed an international legacy as well) I think we can be proud of Evatt’s fight against the domestic McCarthyism. Of Whitlam’s reforms. Of the Communists’ fight against destitution, evictions and so on during the Depression. That our Communists overwhelmingly broke from Stalinism ; for instance, took a stand against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. That for a while we had a very strong mixed economy ; a highly progressive tax system ; and a very strongly regulated labour market. For a time there was even a strong element of  ‘bipartisan consensus’ there: before the 1970s supply shock (mainly the rise in the price of oil) saw neo-liberalism and attacks on workers embraced in an effort to restore profits.

Mostly people want to enjoy a kind of national identity. We have to contest the meaning and form of that identity. Again, the danger is unthinking militarism and creeping authoritarianism. But the Australian military needs a sense of its history, traditions, values. This is crucial for democracy. Given the history, that should overwhelmingly include anti-fascism.

The idea of an ‘egalitarian Australia’ is almost dead in terms of practical implementation. Over decades it has been ‘emptied out’ into privatisation, labour market deregulation, ‘user pays’ and ‘small government’. But it’s well-worth reconstructing a national identity where the fight is on to retrieve older egalitarian traditions and policies. It’s worth contesting national identity rather than ‘vacating the field’ and giving the Right ‘a free hand’.

On Facebook, also, more Conservative participants were arguing about ‘assimilation’ of indigenous peoples and migrants.

In response I argued:

I wouldn’t want to assimilate Indigenous peoples full stop. ‘Assimilation’ suggests minorities abandoning their old identity and culture to ‘fit in’ with broader society. I’d hope a Treaty would include a commitment to help preserve Indigenous culture and identity. But that we have a shared Australian identity as well. Think of Cathy Freeman when she won gold and did a lap of honour wielding both the Australian flag and the Indigenous flag. Shared cultural elements are the basis for common ground and engagement. I believe in an integration which is compatible with multi-culturalism. What’s necessary is effective dialogue, mutual recognition and mutual understanding.   We need to develop mutual respect; and the kind of genuine, active and deep solidarity necessary to fight for a qualitatively improved social and economic system. That is (for me) democratic socialism.

But we have to remember the ‘old’ Australian culture as well. Pre-multi-culturalism Australia was not a ‘blank slate’ as some people like to suggest.

Indigenous peoples could also have their own advisory parliament ; which would communicate their needs and demands to the Federal Parliament. Establishing such an elected advisory body could contribute to reconciliation ; and frameworks for the practical development of a Treaty.

Technically you can have nations within nations. That can potentially lead to divisions re: nationalistic antagonisms. (That’s not to say people should ‘forget’ their ethnic origins). But I think the Indigenous First Nations example is unique. They had their national identities. And the authorities of the day tried to take those identities away from them.

January 26th (marking the arrival of the First Fleet) is a divisive date on which to hold ‘Australia Day’. It is suggestive of the notion that ‘real’ Australian history only began with colonisation. Colonisation was a watershed moment – and that will never change ; but nonetheless the date should be switched if we are serious about reconciliation.

On the other hand, some kind of ‘national day’ will likely be preserved. And yet the meaning of that day will be – and perhaps must be – contested. There is cause for shame from some chapters of Australian history. There are also causes for pride. Australia Day must be a time for reflection on all of this. And to consider the form an egalitarian and just Australian nation might perhaps take into the future.

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The rise of underemployment in Australia

By Thierry Berger

We talk of underemployment when people work less hours than they would if they were employed full time or when their occupation doesn’t match their skills or education level. Let’s take two examples to illustrate this definition.

​Our first example is a worker who would like to work more hours than he or she currently does, but can’t get full-time employment. This often leads the individual to accumulate jobs if the number of hours worked is not enough to meet their basic needs.

Our second example is a qualified worker who can’t find a job in his or her area of expertise and is forced to take a job that is below their skills or education level. For example a university graduate who works as a delivery driver because he can’t find a job in his area of expertise. This is what we refer to as an overqualified worker.

The relation between unemployment and underemployment

Underemployment has been steadily going up for the last 30 years. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were more than 1.1 million workers who were considered underemployed in the first half of 2018. This represents about 9% of the working population. In comparison, the underemployment rate in the 1980’s was only 3% of the working population, almost 3 times lower than what it is today.

In order to get a complete picture of the current employment situation in Australia, we need to consider unemployment and underemployment figures together. The combination of both is called the under-utilisation rate. It is the  proportion of the workforce that is not utilised by the economy. With the unemployment rate at 5.3% in the first half of 2018, we add up the underemployment rate and the result is an under-utilisation rate of about 14%. This means that 1 out of 7 people of the  Australian workforce is either unemployed or working part-time.

Young workers and women are the first concerned

Underemployment is directly linked to the economic health of the country. As such,  underemployment and unemployment have evolved together in the 2000s. However, the gap between the two seems to have increased significantly over the last 3 years. While unemployment figures have been slightly going down since 2015, underemployment figures have maintained their steady upwards trend. This means it is very likely that we see double digit rates in the number of underemployed people in the next couple of years.

Workers aged 15 to 24 and workers with the lowest skills or education levels are the first affected by underemployment. Individuals living in rural areas are more likely to be affected by underemployment than people living in cities. What’s more, 6 out of 10 underemployed people are women. People who were or are currently underemployed are also more likely to be underemployed in the future.

What are the causes of underemployment?

One of the main causes of the rise in the number of underemployed workers is that the number of part-time jobs has been growing faster than the number of full-time jobs. From the 1990s, there has been a shift in the dominant industries from mining and manufacturing to services such as retail, health and tourism. The nature of work has slowly changed and a lot of full time jobs have been replaced by part-time jobs.

When we look at the proportion of part-time jobs across various industries, this  transition from traditional full time employment to more casual part-time employment is quite clear. Between 2012 and 2018, the accommodation and food services industry has been the third industry to create the most jobs, behind healthcare and construction. However, it is also the industry where we find the highest number of part-time workers. In the first half of 2018, more than 60% of all the jobs were part-time jobs.

The situation is very similar in the retail sector. Retail is the second biggest industry with the most people employed, and part-time jobs account for more than 50% of all jobs. Healthcare and social services, which I mentioned earlier, is the industry with the most people employed in Australia. It is also the industry that has created the most jobs in recent years. However, 45% of the people employed in healthcare and social services work part-time.

There are other causes that explain why underemployment is going up. Advances in technologies and automation have reduced the number of workers required to do the same amount of work. For example in manufacturing. The high cost of labour means that it is more affordable for a business to employ two workers on a casual basis rather than a full-time worker for the same number of hours.

Competition, changes and uncertainty in the market place means businesses have to adapt if they want to be successful. Businesses need to be more efficient in order to stay competitive. They need employees who are ‘flexible’, who can work more hours when business is booming and fewer hours when things slow down.

The consequences of being underemployed

The first consequence of underemployment is that it creates a situation of job insecurity and financial instability for the workers. The number of hours worked and the income perceived can vary from one week to the next depending on the need for workers and how business is going. Jobs that offer irregular working hours and variable income put workers at risk when they don’t have other sources of revenue. This can become problematic when applying for a mortgage for example.

The second consequence of high underemployment is that it keeps a lid on wages growth. When people think that a part-time job is better than not having a job at all, they are less likely to negotiate their wages or ask their employer for a pay raise. The increasing number of workers who would like to work more hours holds wages down. Low wages growth means households have less money to spend which eventually has a negative impact on the economy.

How to avoid becoming underemployed?

The good news is that solutions to the problem of underemployment exist. At the government level, developing policies that provide incentives for companies that hire full-time workers rather than part-time could prevent further growth. However, workers themselves can minimise the risks of being affected by underemployment by being proactive. They need to adapt to changes and new trends in their business place. This means keeping their skills current and relevant for the market. This is achieved through ongoing education, extra training and additional experiences.

Casual is the new normal

Full-time employment is becoming a thing of the past. Casual employment is becoming the norm in a lot of industries such as healthcare, retail or hospitality. Working part-time can be a personal choice and not all workers in this situation necessarily want to work more hours. However, while this ‘casualisation’ of work allows businesses to be more flexible and efficient, it also puts more stress on the workers and can lead to precarious situations for many of them.

Looking at the numbers, it appears that the jobs are there, that jobs are being created. The three industries mentioned above are employing more and more people every year. The problem seems that despite the number of jobs, there aren’t enough hours for the workers. It will be interesting to see how many jobs will be created this year, and more importantly what proportion of these new jobs will be full-time.

This article was originally published on FITNOLOGIC.

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The internet has for some become a dangerous place

How do we put this?

We have always prided ourselves on the site we have built, and those hundreds of commenters and authors that have become part of The AIMN family. As a family we have engaged with respect and maturity.

But lately … not so much.

Over the last six months there has been more of a tendency to attack rather than debate. The number of emails we receive from people – and there are dozens of them – that despair at the way they are treated on our site, forces us to act.

We are at fault for not doing something earlier.

We are extremely disappointed that people (mainly women) are leaving this site after years of contributing here. And why are these people leaving? Simple: they didn’t come here for denigration and abuse. But that’s what they have had to contend with. What’s worse is when these people reveal what is happening in their own lives and the difficulties they face (mainly with serious health issues). What fun (not!) it must be then to come to our site only to be denigrated, ridiculed, harassed etc. They simply don’t deserve it.

The internet has for some become a dangerous place. We don’t want to be such a place.

We are not trying to quell free-speech. As one of our commenters used to say: “Free-speech doesn’t give you the right to be an arsehole.” But we also have to weigh up the options: Do we give a dozen or so contributors the platform to debate in the manner they want, or do we shut down aggressive debate in order that a few hundred extra people would feel safe to contribute here? We have no choice but to run with the second option.

Surely we can all again debate with the respect and maturity that set this site apart.

We ask that you help us turn the trend around. We can do it.

Next time we won’t be asking.

On a different note, you would be aware that this site survives because of the wonderful support we receive from those making donations (including our own financial contribution), and from the income from Google ads. We couldn’t survive with just two of those income sources – we rely on all three.

We have a G-Rating with Google, and they regularly scan our site to ensure that we are complying with the conditions of that rating. The slightest little thing – such as aggression or a threat in the comments or the articles – sees us receive a Violation Report. One of those sets us off in a mad panic to remove or edit the offending material, and to respond to Google to review the violation again. The number of violations we can have before we lose Google ads is not unlimited.

We can’t afford to reach our limit.

If we may indulge ourselves allow us to conclude with the ‘disasters’ of not treating people with respect:

Michael related a story here the other day, of when he and a few of his footy mates – deciding to go up-market and drinking in the lounge of the Belair Hotel – found themselves in an argument with a well-dressed businessman after Whitlam was dismissed by Kerr. The gentleman – about 55ish – was pleased over the dismissal, but rather than debate the issue with him the boys fired off abuse after abuse (mainly words that shouldn’t be repeated here). It didn’t stop there: each encounter with him at the local invited abuse from the boys.

Twenty-five years later, on one ANZAC Day, one of the Adelaide stations included a story in the news about a young pilot who had been shot down over Germany in WW2. The now elderly war hero described his escape from Germany. It was a story to give you goose bumps.

Who was this war hero? It was the same man who Michael and his footy mates abused relentlessly back in the mid 70s. A hero who fought for Australia … was continually abused over something much less trivial than being shot down over Germany.

Michael cannot express the guilt he felt.

Oh how easy it is to make an idiot of one’s self.

But he didn’t know who he was talking to. A bit like us here, don’t you think?

Michael and Carol

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The Tragedy of Religion

The great tragedy of religion is that those who are trapped within its falsehood honestly believe it is a great and beautiful truth, that it can heal the world and enlighten people, and that it is the purest source of morality. These people are not stupid, nor are they intentionally wicked. Many are fine, upstanding people who genuinely want the best for those around them. Some have extraordinary minds, and have used them for the betterment of mankind.

Sadly, if they could step outside the deception woven into their minds, they would see the cruel contradictions of religion.

Opposition to abortion comes mainly from religion, yet the religious people are by far the greatest propagaters of it. Divorce is denounced by religion, but it is primarily the religious who avail themselves of it. Religious people believe their god promotes love, but they use their god to hate others, and are far more intolerant than non-believers. They insist that they value life, but murder statistics show they kill more people than the non-religious do. Disease, especially sexually transmitted disease is more common among religious people. Life spans are shorter. They are less educated, especially the women. Poverty is worse. Infant mortality is higher. In virtually every way you can measure, being religious is worse. If there really was a god then these things would preferentially afflict the godless, rather than the true believers.

The contradictions in religion are breathtaking in their number and their invisibility to the religious mind. God is loving but is willing to torture forever those who are not convinced by bad evidence. Most of the bible is forgery and contains hundreds of mistakes and contradictions, yet is somehow the unerring word of god. The great and good morality of religion somehow never noticed that slavery is deeply evil.

Even simple logic breaks the notion of a god. If a god can lie and do evil then he’s not perfectly good, but if he can’t then he’s not all-powerful. Injustice abounds, but any god that allows that can not be perfectly just. A god that can make something that’s completely indestructible, even by him, is by definition not all-powerful, but if he can’t make such a thing, then he’s also by definition not all-powerful.

Some of the most wealthy and powerful people are religious. And how do they wear it? They propagate hate and division. They try everywhere to prevent love among people who happen to be gay. They ally themselves with white supremacists, Nazis, and kleptocrats, excusing and encouraging corruption and racial vilification. They look the other way while pedophiles stalk children from inside the protection of their own ranks. For more than a thousand years of the Dark Ages religion controlled Europe, and what did it bring? Corruption, ignorance, superstition, poverty. Today the places that religion dominates most strongly are marked by brutality, violence, ignorance, and hate. Wherever religion gains power, human rights decline.

Yet the religious person can see none of this; they are blinded by their embrace of this devastating mind virus. To merely question their belief is seen by them as dangerously wrong — a betrayal of their god. There is no easy way for the honest religious person to unlock the chains that bind and enslave them. But increasingly, they are freeing themselves. The older generations, not so much, but the younger generations are breaking out of their servitude and breathing the fresh air of reality.

As the power of religion wanes everywhere, the world is improving. Rates of violence are declining. Extreme poverty is being eliminated, and along with it, starvation. War is gradually disappearing, and what war continues is becoming less deadly. Disease is being eliminated and we are becoming more prepared for new diseases that might appear. The population problem has been solved and the world birthrate is now around replacement level and set to drop below that. Because older generations continue to linger as newer generations reach childbearing age population still increases, but that growth is slowing, and soon actual population numbers will decline for the first time in history (despite religion frantically pushing for more births and trying to eliminate contraceptives). Education is spreading to everybody (including, crucially, females) even while religion tries to retard it with religious anti-science schooling. The internet has made it possible for potentially everybody to access Wikipedia — the greatest encyclopedia and knowledge resource in all of history. The internet has delivered Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, iBiblio, LibriVox, and many other great free libraries. It has given worldwide access to educational videos on almost any topic that can be imagined. Blogs and forums have sprung up where people can gather and discuss things and solve problems. It has been said that the internet is where religion goes to die.

So, is the way clear now? Is the danger over? No… not by a long shot. Religion is still a great threat. Religious extremists are working hard to undo democracy by capturing political power, with the aim of imposing theocracy once more. They would happily plunge us all into a new Dark Age. We need to prevent this happening. We will probably win against them, but our success is not guaranteed. There is much to be done. Attempts to pervert justice and democracy must be resisted.

We must use empathy and kindness as we spread knowledge and understanding so that we may help religious people break free.

I know it’s difficult when they attack us and our tolerant secular society, but try to always remember: they are not the enemy. Religion is.

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January 1: Exclusion and the White Australia Policy

Is there a day on the calendar that draws as much debate as January 26? While a large proportion of Australians celebrate this as Australia Day, there is a growing number who refuse to celebrate what they refer to as ‘Invasion Day’. On January 26, 1788 the Union Jack was raised on our shores, and Aboriginal ownership of the land was usurped.

The call to change the date of Australia Day from January 26 has been growing louder each year, to one where all Australians could feel included. January 26 does not offer this to the First Australians. The obvious choice espoused by many is January 1, which celebrates our federation in 1901. But history reminds us that this is as equally insulting to the First Australians as January 26.

Let us look at that history and build a case why January 1 should not be considered.

This is not a short read, but I hope for those who have the time and patience to read through it will gain an appreciation of why January 1 should not be the day we celebrate Australia Day. (Please note, for this article I have drawn together much of two of my previously published articles: Federalism and why we have it on Cafe Whispers, and Aborigines: They’re gonna die out anyway here on The AIMN, however, here they are presented with a different intent).

Perhaps the most debated reason behind Federation was the (then) popular concept of a common policy on immigration. The colonists, being mainly Britannic Australians, wanted it kept that way. Australia’s geography – further from the colonist’s ‘home’ than almost any place on earth, and separated by only a narrow sea passage from the teeming millions of Asia – resulted in the development of a xenophobic, isolationist world view, in which psychological barriers were erected against near neighbours, and intervention in foreign affairs was only at the behest of Mother England.

Arguably, the cornerstone in the foundation of Australia is racism; and that Federation was the opportunity to maintain white superiority. (England was, at the time, anti-racial). In drafting the Constitution the intention was to grant the Commonwealth power over the limited rights of immigrants, and subsequently the first act of the new Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act: better known as the White Australia Policy.

But what concern is this to the First Australians, and why should it be offensive to them to adopt January 1 as the date to celebrate Australia Day?

Colonial Australia was determined to maintain what it believed was its racial homogeneity. If the Indigenous peoples continued their perceived decline towards extinction (and other migrant races were excluded or expelled), a ‘pure race’ could logically result.

Even before colonisation, the construct of the Aborigine saw them positioned in the landscape as a savage: a subsequent depiction that evolved in the minds of European imagination. The English, especially, considered themselves well-credentialed. As the first Englishman to encounter Aborigines, William Dampier instilled in other Englishmen’s minds the preconceptions about these people when he wrote that they were “the miserablest people in the world.” And the image of the Aborigine was to leave no impression of excitement or significance on James Cook, a later visitor, merely accepting the Aborigines as Dampier had earlier reported. Cook had also brought with him images of Indigenous peoples as noble savages, largely the antithesis of Europeans. Cook was probably influenced by the writings of Rousseau, whose saw native peoples as unadulterated by the evils of civilisation. These idealistic views were modified after 1788, however these early explorers saw no, and reported no positive attributes among the Aboriginal people and believed in their own superiority. The land was declared terra nullius … and the various Aboriginal nations declared uncivilised.

Earlier constructs of Aboriginal people were no less flattering. Constructed by Europeans in their absence, Australia’s Aborigines were placed low in the order of humanity based on their perceived lack of intellect and active powers. These conceived attitudes were carried throughout colonial Australia and helped secure the fate of the Aborigines.

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The preconceptions had thus germinated by 26th January 1788 when the history of European-Aboriginal interactions began as the British flag was raised at Port Jackson. Accordingly, Governor Phillip and others brought their own preconceptions about Aborigines and also their intentions of their future. Based on these preconceptions they would be considered a part of Australia’s past.

Contemporary writers offer a picture suggesting that in January 1788 amicable relations between the Europeans and the Aborigines were established with comparative ease. They wrote liberally of pleasant interactions, confidently suggesting that the Aborigines would soon discover that the colonists were not their enemies, and noted that the Aborigines were treating the whites as their equals. However, as Aboriginal people had nothing the invader wanted but their land, attempts to maintain diplomatic relations with them were abandoned.

Nevertheless, Aborigines were to be treated as equals of British subjects – without actually being British subjects – in order to allow the Governor some semblance of control over actual British subjects.

Regarding the legal status of Aborigines in the early days of colonial settlement, official correspondence frequently drew a distinction between British subjects and the Aborigines, treating the two groups differently. However, as interaction between the groups increased, Aboriginal people came to be treated as if they were British subjects, albeit for some purposes.

At the outset of white settlement the British government claimed ownership of all land for the crown. London espoused the ethnocentric viewpoint that Aboriginal peoples who did not cultivate the land and who showed no signs of permanent homes were not accorded any legal rights to the lands. Instead, the Aboriginals were to be treated as coming under British dominion, subject theoretically to the same laws which applied to the European settlers. Just as the colonists were allowed to manage their own affairs, so the Aborigines were left to themselves to do as they like so long as they do not interfere with the colonists. If an effort was made by the government to benefit them by trying to induce them to adopt a civilised life, it is left entirely at their option whether they permitted themselves to come under the provisions made for their benefit or not.

However, as the colonies later became self-governing in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the influence of London declined, Aboriginal people were increasingly displaced, legally and physically, as a distinct people. This change was to be dramatic in the latter half of the nineteenth century when the distinctive differences could be explained, classified, and sanctioned.

The year 1859 saw the publication of a rather important book: Charles Darwin’s The Origins of Species. In his book Darwin suggested that species were not permanently fixed, that they were all undergoing change by natural selection. If a species did not adapt successfully, it was liable to become extinct. Only the favoured survived and prospered in the struggle for life.

Darwin’s theories also suited the social order. Even before The Origin of Species, the idea of ‘the survival of the fittest’, a phrase coined by Herbert Spencer, was being used to justify ruthless competition between individuals, classes, nations and races. Although The Origins of Species did not relate natural selection to humanity, it seemed to give a scientific – and therefore moral – sanction to repressive social relationships. For the remainder of the century, Social Darwinism, as this misapplication of Darwin’s ideas came to be called, was used to justify the oppression and exclusion of the Aborigines. Darwin’s ideas seemed to justify what happened when the British expanded their empire, populated new lands and dispossessed Indigenous peoples. Before Darwin had published The Origin of Species, the extinction of the Aborigines was being explained away as ‘the design of Providence’. Darwin’s theories gave such sentiments an aura of scientific legitimacy.

Following the publication of Darwin’s book the view of evolution was quickly applied to the study of racial groups. Herbert Spencer considered the development of society and human intellect in evolutionary terms and argued that the dominant races overrun the inferior races. Spencer’s premise that a general law of evolution could be formulated led him to apply the biologic scheme of evolution to human society. The doctrine of social structure and change, if the generalisations of his system were pertinent, must be the same as those of the universe at large. In applying evolution to human society, Spencer, and after him the Social Darwinists, was adding integrity to its origins. The survival of the fittest was a biological generalisation of the cruel colonial processes at work in late nineteenth century society. Spencer himself wrote that the whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better. Nature is as insistent upon fitness of mental character as she is upon physical character.

Spencer, significantly, was more concerned with mental than physical evolution. This doctrine confirmed his evolutionary optimism. For if mental as well as physical characteristics could be inherited, the intellectual powers of the race would become cumulatively greater, and over several generations the ideal person would ultimately be developed.

Spencer’s theory of social selection was written out of his concern with population problems. In two articles that appeared in 1852, seven years before Darwin’s book was published, Spencer had set forth the view that the pressure of survival upon population must have a beneficent effect upon the human race. This pressure had been the immediate basis of progress from the earliest human times. By placing a premium upon skill, intelligence, self-control, and the power to adapt through technical innovation, it had stimulated human advancement and selected the best of each generation for survival.

Darwin precipitated the development of this new perspective on ‘race’. If the human race had evolved, it was perhaps natural to suppose that the human races might represent evolutionary stages. Social Darwinism was subsequently to become one of the leading strains in conservative thought and was used to defend racial conflict. Although Darwinism was not the primary source of the belligerent ideology and dogmatic racism of the late nineteenth century, it did become a new instrument in the hands of the colonial theorists of race and struggle.

Spencer’s theory had considerable influence in European social evolutionary thinking. Within a few years of the publications of Spencer’s work he was known to a considerable body of American readers and the following article from The Atlantic Monthly 1864 draws parallels to the ideologies of the colonial Australian and articulates the influence of his work:

Mr. Herbert Spencer is already a power in the world . . . He has already influenced the silent life of a few thinking men whose belief marks the point to which the civilisation of the age must struggle to rise. . . . Mr. Spencer has already established principals which, however compelled for a time to compromise with prejudices and vested interests, will become the recognised basis of an improved society.

The doctrine of Social Darwinism had thus produced a set of ideas that were to be very engaging to the colonial society, and colonial Australia proved an attractive spawning ground for Social Darwinist ideas since it was an area of new Anglo-Saxon settlement where racial conflict needed to be explained away. Although Darwin only gained real acceptance in Australian scientific circles towards the end of the century, at a more popular level his ideas enjoyed a very wide currency. In the first place, they provided a comforting, seemingly scientific explanation for the actual destruction of Aboriginal society. Previously, Europeans had been convinced of the inferiority of the Aborigines, but that did not justify their extinction. Social Darwinism did.

In a period that witnessed Aborigines being hunted like animals, dying in their thousands through imported diseases, and reportedly murdered at the hands of punitive colonials, the emergence of a law which not only justified the extermination of Aborigines but argued that it was beneficial to the human race, was gratefully accepted and enthusiastically endorsed by many sectors of colonial society.

Popular literature of the nineteenth century depicted an image of the Australian Aborigine that reinforced these colonial ideals. We are to assume that the contemporary reader of the following extract from David Blair’s History of Australasia, when published in 1879, foreshadowed, perhaps demanded, the inevitable extinction:

As a race the aborigine is a savage in the strongest sense of that term.  Alike cruel and treacherous, he loses no occasion of wreaking his vengeance on an enemy, and indulges in the most bloodthirsty propensities.  The practice of cannibalism is general among the natives: for a long time this was doubted, but it has been proved, beyond the reach of question, and the practice often found accompanied by the most revolting ferocity – as the sacrifice of an infant by its own mother for the mere pleasure of eating its flesh.

It is arguable that evolution and survival of the fittest, per se, supported the colonial racist ideology of white dominance and the biological inferiority of the dominated (or displaced). The laws of evolution, it was confidently assumed, were not only pushing the Aboriginal race to the brink of extinction, but there was nothing that should, or could be done about it. Such demands, it was debatable, influenced by publications such as Blair’s as well as the dominant ideology, were being called for throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. In colonial discussions about the Aborigines references to racial struggle and the survival of the fittest became commonplace from the 1860s onward.

A strong correlation can hence be seen between racist thoughts and the racialist practices that developed. A definite inner-relationship can be drawn between the structure of a contact situation and the ideas and the theories which evolve from, and in turn, serve to strengthen that structure. The violence and rapid population decline, especially focusing on their apparent trend towards extinction in Tasmania, confirmed the emergent ideology of Social Darwinism, proving the inevitable consequences of colonisations … Australians were told not to trouble themselves about the disappearance of the Aborigines.

This doctrine conveniently helped justify colonialism and the favourable tenet that Aborigines would eventually disappear under the impact of civilisation and hence supported the ideal of white dominance and the biological inferiority of the dominated. To support this convenient doctrine it became a task to provide evidence as to whether the Aborigine was inferior to the European. This was already known. It was instead to become a task of confirmation. The Australian Aborigine thus became the victim of an intellectual hiatus. During the latter half of the century, it was increasingly to the writing of natural science that Europeans subsequently turned to find the most credible and compelling support for their racist suppositions.

The data that lent themselves most readily were clearly those of biology and natural history. Extended to human affairs, the pervasive spirit of simplicity sought to reproduce for social relations the sort of simple order thought to be inherent in nature. Hence there was an application of categories of racial classification to human groups on the basis of natural characteristics. This racial ordering also implied a behavioural expectation and that perhaps the major assumption underlying classification was that identification of races in terms of their differentia is adequate to establish the laws of behaviour for their members.

Early applications of this theory were none-too-soon observed in the behaviour of the Aborigines. Behaviour, it was argued, that was driven by primitive instinct and without the habits of forethought or providence. For example, their instinctive mating habits and the eating of raw meats – to an ethnocentric observer – clearly represented diminished intellectual development. Even the absence of nets or fish-hooks in some coastal Tasmanian societies was taken as an indication that the local Aborigines had not yet evolved to the point were they needed one of the most basic of human foods. Hence terms such as ‘the childhood of humanity’ were liberally and needlessly applied and the evolutionary theory enforced.

At this time, and certainly based on observation, few Europeans in colonial Australia doubted that other races were inferior, but many felt the need to establish some scientific basis for their belief. The evolutionary notions of Aboriginal inferiority were then founded on scientific racism. The most conclusive evidence to support the Aborigines’ low level of intellectual development was thus obtained through scientific proof. Science found a way to satisfy the ideology that primitive intellect was confirmed through recognisable primitive characteristics. One such conclusion was derived through the study of craniology: the examination and measurement of crania.

The crania of the Aborigines supplied fertile ground for evidence of their primitiveness: long heads with a sharp, sloping brow; prominent ridges and heavy bone structure; and significantly, a smaller, lighter (and presumably less complex) brain than that of a European. These structural features were considered ape-like, to which other physical similarities were unduly drawn. Such conclusions served to support the view that the Australian Aborigines were a relic of the oldest type of humankind, or indeed, even living fossils.

The science of phrenology was credited with further advancing consistencies of primitiveness in that the astute European could now – through even more elaborate scientific reasoning – develop a model for character analysis also drawn from cranial properties. Popular in the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century, phrenology was a pseudo-science based on the twin assumptions that specific areas of the brain were responsible for particular moral and intellectual characteristics and that the shape of the skull reflected the inner structure of the brain.

Phrenologists professed to discover an individual’s mental faculties from identifiable peculiarities of skull formation. With racist suppositions the colonial scientists elaborated Aboriginal inferiority based on phrenological evidence. Their prominent bumps or ridges on the skull – as an example – were a signature of depravity or other abstract qualities; and the smallness of their brain (or internal capacity of the skull – as compared with an average European) was the cause of miserable manifestations of mind; and even the mere thickness of the skull alone was a sure indicator of low mental ability, moral character, benevolence and conscientiousness. The conclusion was drawn, that based on the evidence of phrenological interpretation, the Aborigines possessed only a few of the intellectual faculties so evident in white Australians.

Image from creation.com

The colonisers therefore had no compunction in applying erroneous scientific theories as justification for extermination. Science had confirmed the inevitable: that the Aborigines as primitives faced extinction and every assessment of their situation, every evaluation of policy, took place in the shadow of that certainty.

The relationship between the colonisers and the Aborigines was fundamentally based on the social evolutionary theory. This theory justified European colonialism, summarising that destruction of the weak was the only way to assure success for the strong. Subsequently, government policy-making in Australia embraced these racial beliefs. These government policies took on a short-term palliative nature to ‘protect’ Aborigines by isolating them on state regulated reserves away from European contact and abuse in wait of their demise and by removing most of the rights they had enjoyed as citizens. The policies of ProtectionSegregation (and Assimilation which was sanctioned in the twentieth century) reflected this ideology.

Protection was influenced by the theory that Aborigines were certain to die out as a result of the European contact. Subsequently, all that could be done for them was to protect them until this inevitable demise. However nature had not yet selected Aborigines for extinction – only the colonisers had – and the policy of protection underwent a subtle change to Segregation. Their differences are difficult to identify although their purposes are not: Aborigines were a dying race so they were protected from the wider community; the Aboriginal race had failed to die off, so they were segregated from the wider community.

Whilst the Aboriginal race had survived, government policies reflected the attitude that, nonetheless, by the twentieth century they had still failed to progress since European contact. Sentiment thus ruled that continued segregation of the Aborigines from the wider community would ensure white purity. Such practices would not only expedite the demise of the Aborigines, but would hasten the emergence of the Australian national.

The Australian type was believed to be a new product of the multiplying British stock, the race which, in the heyday of British imperialism and legitimated by the now immensely influential ideology of Social Darwinism, saw itself as superior to all other races and therefore possessing the duty and destiny to populate and civilise the rest of the world.

Interest subsequently increased in using evolution theory for justification of a strong state in Australia. It is this racialist concern with a distinctively Australian type that under-girded the White Australia Policy, which was sanctioned by the adoption of the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901. The Imperialist and racist ideology drew on generations of conquest, slavery and exploitation, and on a whole language of black inferiority and white superiority, bolstered in the nineteenth century by the new sciences. This ideology proved useful and flexible in rationalising the bloody violence, dispossession and incarceration of Aboriginal people, necessary to clear the way for the white nation.

The Darwinist explanations of evolution asserted that given equal competition, the fittest societies would survive and the inferior would die out, and links the attempted and hastened destruction of Aboriginal societies based on this theory. The British, being industrious and capital driven, accepted themselves as superior to the improvident Aborigines and accepted that as racially doomed and undesirable were destined to die out, and provided encouragement to hurry on the inevitable result of colonial contact. Such acts, it could be argued, sidestepped issues of morality by assertions that such conflict was beyond the reach of normal moral or social concern, being driven by irresistible forces of species survival. Destruction of the weak was the only way to assure success for the strong.

And from that doctrine … Australia was born on January 1, 2001.

As January 26 will always be remembered as Invasion Day, perhaps January 1 can be remembered as Exclusion Day: the date the First Australians were officially excluded.

The First Australians were no longer considered Australians.

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Russian whistle-blower denied asylum in Australia

In 2006, British contractor Nick Stride was hired to work on the refurbishment of a palace under construction for Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov, on his estate outside Moscow. The project included the construction of a luxurious greenhouse known as the “Wintergarden,” and the cost of the refurbishment is thought to be in excess of $140 million.

Shuvalov is widely regarded as one of the more “liberal” of President Putin’s close associates, a “counterpoint” to the hardliners dominant in the Kremlin. He is credited with strengthening business relations between the US and Russia, improving the problematic reputation of Russia’s international commerce, and is thought to enjoy a good relationship with Putin.

Using the pseudonym “Lucas,” Stride blew the whistle on Shuvalov’s complex web of financial manipulations, including dubious transactions and avoidance of customs tax on materials imported to refurbish the estate and construct the greenhouse. “Lucas” provided relevant documents to journalist and author, Michael Weiss, including copies of invoices. The labyrinthine details of Shuvalov’s financial arrangements for the refurbishment of his estate can be seen here in a marvellously complex account written by Weiss for Foreign Policy, an account for which Stride was the source.

In 2010, Nick Stride and his family were threatened with “severe consequences” should they ever attempt to leave Russia, because of his extensive knowledge of Shuvalov’s business dealings. Fearing for their lives, the family escaped Russia and fled to Britain. However, believing they were still far too vulnerable to Russian retribution, Stride brought his family to Australia, where they requested political asylum.

A Refugee Review Tribunal Assessor found the danger they feared to be real, yet despite this assessment, their plea for asylum was rejected in 2012. Successive immigration ministers have refused to intervene to prevent the family’s deportation. Stride and his children will be deported to Britain, while his wife and their mother, Ludmila Kovateva, will be sent by Immigration Minister David Coleman to Russia. Ludmila faces almost certain execution in her home country, as retaliation by Shuvalov for her husband’s exposure of his financial affairs to US media.

On Thursday 17 January, Michael Weiss posted several tweets, appealing for Australian legal assistance for the Stride family, and revealing Nick, with his permission, as his source, “Lucas.”

Also using Twitter to bring the Stride family’s perilous situation to public global notice is financier and economist Bill Browder, perhaps best known for his successful lobbying of the US government to pass into law the Magnitsky Act, legislation that authorises the US government to sanction human rights offenders, freezing their assets and denying them entry to the country. Browder is also the author of “Red Notice,”an account of Browder’s own experience of falling foul of Putin, his deportation from Russia and his relationship with Magnitsky who was both his lawyer and his friend.

The only coverage of the Stride family’s situation by Australian media this writer has been able to find appears to be this piece in the West Australian dated March, 2018. That isn’t to say coverage doesn’t exist and any links will be appreciated. This is a story of immense interest, given the current global political situation, and it’s inexplicable why the mainstream media aren’t all over it.

The people going into bat for the Stride family against the intransigent Australian Immigration Minister know of what they speak. Weiss is an authority on Russia, and specifically, its propaganda. Browder conducted a highly successful financial career in Russia before being deported. He has also testified to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. Their concern for Nick Stride, Ludmila Kovateva and their children is palpable. And yet, the Australian Immigration Minister, undoubtedly supported by Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, continue to refuse asylum to this family.

Why is this so?

And why are the mainstream media apparently uninterested in the family’s fate?

Since this article was first published this background piece on the Stride family was run by the ABC.

This article was first published at Independent Australia and republished on No Place For Sheep.

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The new “weapon of choice”

The internet, or to be more exact, social media on the internet is now the weapon of choice for political control … saturation propaganda or the more subtle persuasions of individual messaging via subliminal texts are becoming the norm of political leafleting throughout Western countries …

Where once “speaker’s corners” told the interested public from soap-box or dais what the politician personally would try to deliver to his constituents, to an age of pamphleteering to jingles and television advertisements and now through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts … and other well-used methods of connection – like Skype – social media has the capacity to deliver right up to a person’s eyes and ears that message sublime of political persuasion.

And if such and such a policy is yet not well enough explained to oneself, or there is doubt, there is the internet search that will deliver so much more information on any subject under the sun.

The adage of “I’ll just ask Mr. Google” has replaced that old boomer sarcasm of “Go look it up in the Funk ‘n’ Wagnalls” (from the US comedy Laugh In in the sixties).

I hear this very day that there have been several social media sites set up as fake union addresses so as to presumably undermine authentic union noticing and policy. Of course, false pamphleting is nothing new to politics … forged letterheads and fake policy is an old trick of electioneering … but now it has gone to a new level, helped along by a modern phenomenon of isolationism between citizen and citizen, with the most common communication tool used for interpersonal relations seemingly being the smart-phone … one’s “friends” need no longer be in the same suburb or state … they can be in another country yet as close as your digital allowance can afford …

Along with the technology to transplant a false or misconstrued statement right onto the lips of a manipulated high-tech video image of any political opponent, gives advantage to any who have access to such high-tech systems to manipulate political chicanery.

We, ourselves, whether we are aware of it or not, have grown with this new “weapon” to become more astute in our posting on blogs or Twitter … the restricted length of words that will be read or even absorbed by a passing reader persuades us to use brevity alongside alacrity to lure the reader to “stay awhile and browse” our message. Longer articles on serious political blogs demand an even more subtle allure to hold such whimsical readers on-page, on-subject … for just the slightest slip of language … of a loose word in the text will provide for that “aha!” moment and the reader will stop right there and proceed in haste to the comments section and rail incessantly against your “outrageous misrepresentation of …“ and you know you have lost the debate and the rest of the read to the modern self-righteous indignation of the culpable and guilty.

Heaven knows where such manipulations will end.

But with the slipping away of face-to-face communication, and the slippery wording of many posters manipulating conversations on blog or Twitter feed, the ability of many … particularly the younger, who are much, much too trustworthy of fake news and false intent of a twisted language, to turn the conversation to one’s advantage …
Again, we have this age of only two dimensional communication giving hope and promises to the … in many cases … gullible and naive … and going by examples seen on blogs and Twitter-stream … being too easily taken in a truth and wisdom.

This is where the use of social media will be perfected … in the art of persuasion … the ancient skills of the rhetorician may yet be resurrected by tech-savvy politicians to swing that small percentage of “no ideals/no ideas” swinging voters to their favour. After all, if millions of “views” can be gleaned by the most trite and childish presenters of the most silly and fatuous fashions or product gimmickry … then for the very astute political lobbyists … the likes of Crosby-Textor, they ought to be a pushover!

The time has arrived when any “self-respecting” terrorist group, in wanting to persuade, promote or claim ownership of their actions will make social media their first port of call. The hard-copy newspapers are well and truly finished; you can see the daily “remainder stack” there, unwanted even as a give-away at the check-out counter of the local store. Their influence and their reach is now minuscule. Their once revered journalists ridiculed and mocked in Tweet and blog … Instant news, instant views are now at the point of a click away, and with transport to and from so many casual work-sites taking so much time, the main object held for entertainment is the smart-phone …

So … C’mon internet! … tell me: What’s happening today?

Truly has Cicero lost his relevance.

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