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Category Archives: AIM Extra

Masquerading Reforms: The Tricks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The surgical dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi has sent the military establishments of several countries into a tizz. Arms manufacturers are wondering whether this is an inconvenient blip, a ruffling moral reminder about what they are dealing with. Autocratic regimes indifferent to the lives of journalists are wondering whether the fuss taken about all this is merely the fuss endured, till the next bloody suppression. But importantly, those states notionally constituting the West may have to reconsider the duping strategy that the House of Saud has executed with the deft efficiency of the dedicated axeman.

The ranks are closing in around the Saudi royals, notably the purportedly suspicious son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose status has been given an undue measure of inflation from various powers happy to see reform in the air. The measures taken by MBS have been modest and hardly worth a sigh: the cutting of subsidies, permitting women to drive, and restructuring the economy. But like a fake article of purchase at an inordinately expensive auction, the prince’s counterfeit credentials are starting to peer through the canvas.

The Crown Prince has been happy to provide a train of examples to suggest to his Western audience that the roots of a liberal Saudi Arabian past are very much in evidence. To Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the beguiling royal explained that, “Before 1979 there were societal guardianship customs, but no guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia.”

The tactic is clear: speak of a yesteryear that was jolly and a touch tender, and promise that a current era seemingly harder can emulate it. Goldberg was good enough to make the observation that the Crown Prince had gotten one thing right from the perspective of his sponsors in Europe, the Middle East and the United States: “He has made all the right enemies.”

In the aftermath of Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mohammed was keen to get a word in to the Trump administration before any firm conclusions could be drawn. His first port of call was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton. According to The Washington Post, the call featured one theme of justification: Khashoggi was a dangerous, destabilising Islamist, and any tears shed would be premature.

Publicly, the Crown Prince played along with the conceit that the death of Khashoggi had been “very painful for all Saudis”, being unjustifiable. Khalid bin Salman, Riyadh’s ambassador in Washington, insisted that the slain journalist had been a friend of the Kingdom, “dedicating a great portion of his life to serve his country.”

The powers, regional and beyond, have taken to douching the image of the Crown Prince, hoping to minimise prospects for any rash action. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu might well concede that was happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month “was horrendous and should be duly dealt with”, but the broader strategic interests topped anything connected with a mere journalist’s life. When a figure corrupted by power reasons with violently inflicted death, he is bound to embrace that word that forgives and justifies all: stability. “At the same time, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Minor appendages of US power such as Australia also find themselves in a tangle about how best to approach the revelations and claimed royal involvement. Shrouded in history, the officials of distant Canberra also remain gulled, confused, and happy to be led. The Australian defence sector has been placed in the dim light of deals with the Kingdom. As legal advocate Kellie Tanter notes, documents obtained via Freedom of Information laws confirm that, between January 1 2016 to December 31, 2017, sixteen military licenses were procured for export of military equipment from Australia to Saudi Arabia. As is traditional with such freedom of information laws, permit holders, permit numbers and approved goods, consignees, end-users and approved destinations were redacted.

Under questioning from Labor Senator Alex Gallacher last month in a Senate estimates hearing, the Australian Department of Defence was not forthcoming about the nature of the exports to Riyadh. Official Tom Hamilton refused to disclose their value, citing weak “commercial-in-confidence” reasons.

The pickle Australian policy makers find themselves in lies in the obligations of the Arms Trade Treaty, which insists on a ban on exports of weapons to countries where evidence can be shown of use against civilians. The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against the Houthis, featuring a true orgy of civilian-targeted destruction, qualifies. But Yemen hardly qualifies as a humanitarian disaster in Australian political discourse (distant places have a certain ethical irrelevance to the plodders in Canberra). To make sure her bases are covered, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, in reference not to the war in Yemen but the killing of Khashoggi, suggested that, “All options are on the table”. It is already clear what option Canberra prefers: ignore the complicity of the House of Saud, and keep the procession of defence contracts going.

Khashoggi himself was clear enough about the nature of the Crown Prince: the royal was entirely self-centred, and any reform would take place in a contrived way. Concepts of reform within the Saudi royal court can, at best, only be a limited affair, and have nothing to do with deeper social considerations. Saudi intellectuals, activists and journalists languished in prison even as MBS was being praised for his openness; such projects as the futuristic city of Neom were doomed examples of extravagance rather than forward thinking.

“He has no interest in political reform,” comes Khashoggi, a voice from the grave. “He thinks he can do it alone, and he doesn’t want really any counter opinion or anyone to share those changes in Saudi Arabia with him.” Hardly revelatory, and something bound to do little to turn the ladies and men of the security establishments of the West.

Extreme distraction

By Tony Andrews

A revolution has occurred while we’ve been watching the telly, dreaming of a new car, dishwasher or holiday, and trying our best not to offend anyone.

No tanks have rolled through suburban Australia, no massed forces have seized the factories and farms, instead they’ve been relocated overseas or sold off, radically and completely changing the game.

Actually, ‘game’ is not the right word: our lives, our rights, our ability to work hard and be paid accordingly, our chance to get above debt and enjoy a comfortable life that allows more than just the illusion of freedom and independence. That is what’s been taken. It is no game.

This should be a reasonable and achievable goal for everyone, and from the 1950s up until the mid 1990s, it was. However, it isn’t anymore and never will be again for the majority of us, without a counter revolution.

We’ve been fooled into believing in nonsense concepts, like karma and good things come to those who wait. Work hard and be rewarded, good triumphs over evil… that the extra money generated by tax cuts for business will trickle down to the rest of us. But it’s all rubbish.

The reality created by this revolution doesn’t allow us all to become rich, doesn’t allow us all to have that one good idea that can put an entrepreneur into the world of the super wealthy.

That’s just how it is.

Almost all of us are destined to see out our days worrying about our rent or mortgage and paying just for the privilege of our existence.

Paying all we earn for our need for comfort and security. For our necessities and our most modest dreams.

Paying all we earn for our electricity, our phone, our car, our big screen televisions with Foxtel and internet, ensuring we can feed and clothe our children, send them to school, and dreaming that, hopefully, they can have a better life than us.

But they almost certainly won’t.

Life for all of us is full of good days and bad, regardless of our level of wealth. The difference between the haves and have nots though, is what they can do to ease the bad days and extend the good.

Most of us can only imagine never needing to worry about providing the basic needs of existence for ourselves and those we love.

Never worrying about where the money will come from to pay for the car registration or the utility bills. It’s a luxury not afforded to many Australians or indeed, most of the world’s people.

Worrying about unexpected illness or injury and the affects that it can have on our quality of life and finances has been eased a little for Australians without accumulated wealth, but the attacks on Medicare since its inception, and escalating rapidly, has given us long-term causes for concern. But, like everything that is taken away from us, it’s downplayed or dismissed as scaremongering from the radically conservative members of society… our revolutionary masters.

How to stay employed and have enough money to retire comfortably after our working days are over.

These worries take up a lot of the average person’s thoughts, just like finding enough work to feed themselves and their families possessed the thoughts of our great grandparents during the Depression.

Today, the radically conservative influenced governments and the media make sure that the rest of our thinking time is filled with distraction, not just entertaining programming, sports and reality shows but also news that’s tailor made to suit their needs. Preying on our fears and manipulating our emotions with one sided statistics and an agenda focused coverage of local and world events.

Advertising that forces us all to be avid, materialistic, consumers, spending more than we can afford.

This distraction allows them to further stretch the gap between those who have and those who have not, often without really meaning to. They are mostly just reasonably normal people. People that have been trained to see the world one way and have been given free reign by our apathy and life’s distractions to build the world to reflect their beliefs, often with unintended and unseen consequences. ‘It’s not personal, it’s just business’, is a phrase we’ve all heard way too often.

It’s not their fault really. How many people actually read a book that they aren’t required to?

How many people continue to educate themselves informally after their schooling is complete? Not many, and who can blame them?

It’s much easier and less stressful to drift with the tide.

Most people see glimpses of the truth at times, but the saying, “ignorance is bliss” is truly based in fact, so that when we see a politician or political commentator discussing the merits of this policy or that, the effects on our daily lives purposely obscured by lengthy, convoluted dialogue, we switch off, find another distraction and leave it up to those that we assume, know best.

One of the main focuses of distraction by boredom is the economy.

When you listen to our elected representatives in government and their spin doctors, the lobbyists, and our corporate masters, you get the idea that the economy is a fragile thing, that any negative affect to shareholder value and trade will cause untold damage to our way of life. And it’s mostly true. They have structured it that way.

They will wring every cent out of us that they can because the corporations no longer have any choice. Their programming has been designed to deliver certain results, not to think about social consequences.

They must expand and maximise profit, devouring smaller enterprises because if they don’t, they too will be taken over by other corporations.

Surplus profit has to be put to work to create more profit or else the whole concept of corporate capitalism will fail, but it’s very nature will also be our undoing.

Hardly anybody is prepared to make decisions anymore because it may affect their own position in the corporate world or jeopardise their climb up the ladder.

The ones that do decide on the future direction of the corporation that employs them are rarely given all the facts related to the decisions they are required to make. Only the information that is beneficial to the stock price appears to be calculated and taken into account, for reasons of ‘plausible deniability’ those in charge often don’t want to know all the facts.

Those below them in the corporate structure, will also quite willingly throw someone else under a bus to maintain their own progression and livelihood. Decisions which involve personal financial risk are avoided because the modern business has purposely removed the protections once afforded to its employees.

No one wants to be the negative voice that stands in the way of profit. Altruism and a social conscience have no place in the boardrooms of the corporate world. They have a multitude of think tanks and spin doctors compiling oaths, company creeds and internal policies that would have the outside world believe otherwise, but unless there’s a financial benefit to behaving ethically or for the good of humanity and the planet, it just doesn’t happen… well, sometimes it does actually, but it’s more of a by-product of progress rather than purposeful humanitarianism.

The world is changing though, like ‘terminators’ that have become self-aware, massed humanity is awakening slowly to reality. The only way the machine can continue to generate profit for profits sake, well into the future, is by distracting the masses with the same old tricks. By giving the monsters from the past enough air to distract us all from creating real change that may negatively affect the corporate bottom line.

Today, that distraction is ‘privilege’, ‘equality’ and ‘over-population’. Tomorrow, unless we’re very careful, the only solutions offered to us will be ‘fascism’ or ‘communism’.

Extremes never fail to keep us occupied.

White privilege is a fact, but it’s also a fairly broad term that misses the point. It seems to encompass all white people, and, to a certain extent, it does. Except that, for the majority of white people, it doesn’t mean very much.

Sure, we don’t generally have police checking our identification before we are allowed to buy alcohol, as is a frequent occurrence for Australian First Nations people, or are not baselessly accused of being ‘terrorists’ because of our olive skin, beards and belief in a certain religion, but overall, the majority of white people are not exactly given the red carpet treatment by society either.

Once upon a time it was definitely ‘trueish.’

White people did control commerce and write the versions of history that our western societies still mostly assume to be true. This is changing of course, but the belief of ‘white superiority’ will linger in the minds and ambitions of some for a long time to come. As will the concept of ‘racial superiority’ in the minds of people with a different melatonal composition, but if the ordinary Irish, Scot, English, or Frenchmen, from centuries past, could still speak, I doubt they would ever have considered themselves privileged above others.

It’s just another slogan that separates us all into factions and divides humanity, allowing the revolution to continue in the background.

An emotive branding that simplifies a complex issue, providing a focal point for the historically oppressed that covers a section of our global community with a blanket that would seem to define colonialism and atrocity purely on skin colour.

Or, if you’re white skinned, a rallying cry to draw those with an obvious genetic legacy into allegiance with those that wish to use our massed alliance to pursue their own agenda. It ignores the real truth, that individuals within the collective global society, with skins of many hues and varying degrees of size and strength, have no real power. We have no voice that isn’t just an extension of someone else’s philosophical or political belief. Our emotions are easy prey for our present and potential future, revolutionary leaders. Men and women that are trained to capitalise on our frustrations and voicelessness.

After watching a ten-minute adformercial about the latest and greatest can opener or toaster, who doesn’t want to own one themselves? If every couple of days we’re told we’re being discriminated against because we’re white, black, too short, too tall, disabled, unskilled, too skilled, male or female, genderless even, it’s hard to resist the impulse to agree, especially when we are barely treading water. Even the most successful humans (in monetary terms) of our societies are prone to the suggestion of discrimination against themselves. ‘Class warfare’ is their rallying cry, isolated by their wealth and despised by those that are not so well off. The unfortunate victims of ‘the politics of envy’.

We are all malleable to suggestion.

We are unconsciously drawn to anything that appears to improve our present circumstances. We buy lotto tickets hoping for a better life, knowing that we don’t have a hope in hell of winning. We grasp at any straw that’s offered to us because we know that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Am I saying that discrimination based on human traits doesn’t occur or the lingering effects of historical oppression are blown out of proportion… no, I’m not.

An interesting fact is that men between 6’ and 6’ 3” are the most highly paid and are disproportionately represented in the higher levels of the corporate and political world. Is this their fault?

Are they smarter than those of less impressive stature?

No more or less than any other group within society, it’s just that height commands a kind of instant respect and is considered a ‘leadership quality’… unless they are too tall of course, over 6’ 5” and we consider them to be freaks.

Is this bias towards a certain male height an example of what they call ‘reverse discrimination,’ because I’m not sure what that term means exactly, but it’s obvious that we are not only malleable to suggestion, we are all guilty of stereotyping as well. Which goes a long way towards creating the world’s winners and losers.

Even the terms we use most to describe admiration and respect reflect this bias. We “look up” to someone and “look down” on those that we don’t respect. We ‘size people up’ to appraise their worth.

Men of less impressive stature that question this ‘natural’ order, apparently have a well known syndrome…

Humanity it seems, deserves the future that has been written for us.

We all need community, people that we feel akin to, that we consider are the same as ourselves. It’s natural and human. It’s just that it’s no longer sustainable for these feelings of tribal connectivity to be localised or based on common features, cultures or easily definable traits. If we want human life to continue to exist, we have to evolve, not regress. Race. Religion. Nationality. All redundant. All just a form of special effects used to distract us from the present revolt.

Blaming individuals or groups within society for our disconnect from modern life and the lack of individual advancement, regardless of effort, is pointless and self-defeating. Collectively, we are achieving nothing except another drift into catastrophic global conflict, but there is hope.

Slowly and, in most cases, without actually meaning to, individuals on our planet are educating themselves, all of them.

We have access to the accumulated knowledge of the entire world. Our children can access historical information that their grandparents, unless specifically trained, would’ve refused to believe could be true.

They were not stupid, not at all, unfortunately, ignorance is now commonly regarded as meaning the same thing, but ignorant just means unaware.

Our grandparents were generally ‘unaware’ of what was happening outside their own borders or interests. Which is why they were susceptible to ‘the call to arms.’ Why the people of the past appeared so willing to allow themselves to be treated like cattle and herded in whichever direction their political leaders required. Now, we want more than a strong hand to guide us or a romanticised ideal. We know there’s no Utopian paradise awaiting us after the war, any war is won… the truths of history are now in the public domain and easy to find if you look or accidentally stumble upon when ‘net surfing. However, before enough of us wake up a ‘strong hand to guide us’ is a distinct possibility for our future.

The drift away from our major political party’s is a reflection of the dissatisfaction and doubt in the ability of our leadership to improve our individual lives. Which is why voters are choosing to elect people that they believe share their outlook or are prepared to ‘shake things up’. Trump, a billionaire salesman. Clive Palmer, a billionaire mining magnate. Pauline Hanson, a fish n chip shop owner.

‘Class’ is not the issue for most voters, they don’t care about your background anymore, they just want things to be different.

Trump is a good example of this indifference to class war by the general public. He is a salesman, pure and simple. Trained from birth to ‘make the deal’, he is not affected by attacks on his intelligence or diplomatic skills by political pundits or his rivals, it runs like water off a duck’s back because he knows who his target market is. He knows who’s buying what he’s selling. It isn’t the intelligentsia or political elite, it’s the average, disillusioned punter.

These voters are not confined to any particular class, they are from all levels of society. That’s what makes him scary to the existing political establishment and exemplifies how easy it is to drift toward fascism. Not ideological based fascism as we know it, but a different kind. The people know he’s bullshitting to them, but it’s ‘honest’, car salesman style bullshit. He’s promising them a better can opener, a better toaster, and just like insomniacs tele-surfing at midnight, the voters have got their credit cards ready.

Those that wish to continue the present revolution are getting desperate to maintain the illusion of division rooted in different skin colours and cultural backgrounds. Between left and right, god and the devil, between anything that they can think of really, to keep us from collectively changing the world to one that benefits all of mankind, instead of just those that have inherited the earth and its riches as we know it. The modern beneficiary however, is not a person or small group of powerful individuals, they’ve now been incorporated. The multinational is now in control of our destiny, and it’s a runaway train. A Titanic in search of an iceberg.

The individuals at the helm however, are still under the delusion that they are in control and will fight to the death (your death and your children’s, not theirs of course) to maintain the status quo. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that their fortunes are tied so closely to the stock price and not their brains. The influential proponents of the ‘free market’ and its revolutionary leaders are not immune to the negative effects of its progression, unfortunately though, their cognitive dissonance and fear of a future created by the disgruntled masses continue to perpetuate the current revolution…

They feel they have no choice.

War and economic collapse are almost inevitable because the real division in society is dawning in the minds of ordinary, working people. Those that are in power, as well as those that seek control, are starting to strategise. Some have even re-emerged from history’s closet, to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs… before it’s too late.

Before enough of us understand that philosophical ideals and adherence to strict ideological doctrines are the reason we are where we are today, and that almost all of them are a con.

The world seems unable to stop the rapid rise of inequality. The yawning chasm between the haves and the have nots is ever widening, yet the ‘solution spinners’, the political and intellectual elite of our world (both from the left, the right, and all spaces in between) apparently have no ideas or set directions to follow that aren’t based on ideological and/or philosophical notions from the last and previous centuries. Notions that widen the chasm even further by encouraging hatred and revenge. That promise to satisfy their followers, yet only offer further division of our already fragmented humanity.

The agenda driven, manufactured versions of division, the ones based on religious beliefs or melatonal composition are designed to distract us, but the ones underlying those, the ones that until now, have been easy to defeat for those with the money, are not so easily hidden.

When the obvious disparity between the wealthy and the wage earner is more and more pronounced every day and the access to factual information regarding wealth inequality is within the reach of almost anyone with access to the internet and an inquiring mind, those that hold all the cards need to reshuffle the deck.

Until recently, the aces hiding up their sleeve haven’t been needed, but the age of distraction, the game of smoke and mirrors is almost over. It’s time for the manipulators to bring out their big guns, and this is why…

All the distractions of the modern world are failing to numb the minds of wage earners and their children. Normal, everyday people, that are developing, through education and intimate knowledge, an awareness of the real causes of the stress created by providing a living for themselves and those that depend on them.

The ability and means to understand that something is wrong with the way the world is run and that no matter how hard they work, they only ever seem to barely, and not always, stay ahead of their financial commitments. Seeing a future where retirement is not going to provide security or comfort. Where their children are at the mercy of an untouchable system that still doesn’t care if they survive or not.

That doesn’t care about addressing past wrongs or future internationally significant issues. Paying lip service to change, instead of actually changing to advance the interests of all mankind…

OK, I meant man and womankind… umm, maybe I mean all genderkind. Forgive me, it’s difficult to keep up with the divisive distractions that seem so vital to address and cause us all to walk on eggshells every time we open our mouths or write down our thoughts, but actually create more division that hides the real barriers to collective unity.

Concluded tomorrow with Part 2

“This country belongs to whoever shows up”

Imagine what sort of government we would get if only older people voted.

Well that’s practically what happened in the USA, where only 46.1 per cent of people 18-29 years old voted in the 2016 Presidential election, and 58.7 per cent of people aged 18-29 voted. That’s not a good return, is it?

The older cohorts, however, stampeded to the polling booths. Of the 45-64 age group 66.6 per cent voted, while 70.9 per cent of those aged 65 and older ticked the box.

Remember, of course, that voting is not compulsory in the United States.

Donald Trump can thank those older people who turned up to the booths, and can thank those younger people who didn’t.

Of the 65 and older voters, 52 per cent voted for Trump, while Clinton received 45 per cent. The figures weren’t much different among the 45-64 cohort.

Voting habits haven’t changed a lot since 1980, and with Americans voting in the mid-terms on November 6, one can safely assume that the trend will continue.

Why am I mentioning all this, you might ask.

A satirical election ad (created by NAIL Communications) is going viral in America begging the young to again stay away from the booths in the mid-terms. It is titled “This country belongs to whoever shows up, and do you know who shows up for every election? Old people.”

If only the older people turnout, then it’s an endorsement for Trump, and the Democrats lose all hope of controlling the House of Representatives, let alone the Senate. That’s the way older voters – who are happy with Trump – want it. If the young discard their apathy, then the much anticipated Blue Wave is real.

The short ad is too good not to share with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you pass it on to a young Australian who – you guessed it – doesn’t bother to vote.

If any ad is going to get them to a polling booth … this one will.

Closing Loopholes: Taxing the Digital Giants

The treasurers of various countries seem to be stumbling over each other in the effort, but taxing the digital behemoths has become something of an obsession, the gold standard for those wishing to add revenue to state coffers. Back in May, when Australia’s then treasurer Scott Morrison oversaw the purse strings of the country, it was declared that, “The new economy shouldn’t be some sort of tax-free environment.” (Low tax environment was not be confused with a no-tax one.) He had his eye on the $7 billion in annual Australian sales recorded by Google, eBay, Uber, Linked-In, and Twitter.

As always, such statements must be seen for all their populist worth. A treasurer keen to secure more revenue but happy to compress the company tax base must be regarded with generous suspicion. Trickle-down economics, with its fanciful notions of job creative punch, still does the rounds in certain government circles, and Morrison, both as treasurer and now as Australian prime minister, is obsessed with the idea of reducing, let alone imposing company tax. But the Australian Tax Office has not been left entirely out of pocket: the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL) and Diverted Profits Tax have both done something to draw in some revenue from the likes of Facebook and Google.

What is lacking in approaches to the digital company environment is consensus. At the specialist level, there has been no end of chatter about how to rein in cash from the earnings of the digital world. But action has been tardy, inconsistent and contradictory. The OECD-G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Plan (2015), the product of 12,000 pages of comments, 1400 contributions from interested parties, 23 drafts and working documents and two years of deliberation, is one such imperfect effort.

According to the OECD, “Under the inclusive effort framework, over 100 countries and jurisdictions are collaborating to implement the BEPS measures and tackle BEPS.” Their enemy is a phenomenon described as “tax avoidance strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in the tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax situations.”

The tech giants, however, remain examples of singular slipperiness. The idea of a digital tax, undertaken in the absence of international understanding will, it has been said, be not merely problematic but dangerous. The European Commission, for one, has also considered the prospect of a 3 percent tax on the turnover off digital revenue, estimated to yield some 5 billion euros.

In making the March announcement, the Commission conceded that the growth of social media companies, digital businesses and “collaborative platforms and online content providers, has made a great contribution to economic growth in the EU.” The tax regime, however, was obsolete, creakingly incapable of covering “those companies that are global, virtual or have little or no physical presence.” Profits derived from the sale of user-generated data and content fell outside current tax regulations.

A two-pronged approach was suggested: the first, aiming to “reform corporate tax rules so that profits are registered and taxed where businesses have significant interaction with users through digital channels”; the second, a response “to calls from several Member States for an interim tax which covers the main digital activities that currently escape tax altogether in the EU.”

When the plan surfaced, opponents closed ranks. Ministers from Luxembourg and Malta expressed their displeasure at a meeting of EU ministers in Sofia in April.  German finance minister, Olaf Scholz, was obviously cognisant of the disagreements and confined his remarks to claiming that digital companies had to pay more tax as part of a “moral question”. His proposed answer, however, remained vague. The pro-taxing grouping was hedging.

Two prongs essentially became one: the interim measure might be implemented in the absence of a global strategy, one featuring a temporary levy on corporate turnover. Companies would merely be charged on their profits but no tax in their absence. (This remains the great loophole of company tax: where there are losses, there can be no tax revenue.) “The idea,” claimed economy minister Ramon Escolano, “is to introduce it as soon as possible and for it to take effect from 2019 onwards.”

Unilateral tax approaches have been considered the enemy in this debate. Not aligning the system with those of other states might, for instance, stir US anxiety and trigger a trade war.  But we live in an age of vibrant, aggressive unilateralism, exemplified by that man of bullied deals, US President Donald J. Trump.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, is one who has gotten impatient with the foot-dragging over an international agreement on how best to cope with tax avoidance on the part of the digital giants. A “narrowly targeted tax”, coming into force in April 2020, is intended to raise more than £400 million a year for the public purse. The Office for Budget Responsibility is less optimistic even on that projection, suggesting, in all likelihood, that the figure is more likely to be a mere £30 million. This will provide little cheer to the campaign and research group Tax Watch, which has argued that the digital giants deprive the exchequer of some £1 billion annually.

All taxes are pot-holed matters, fabulously effective on initial inspection, but worn on a closer inspection. Hammond’s digital services tax is aimed at online advertising revenue generated from Twitter, Google and Facebook. Direct sales (the likes of Amazon, in this regard) are not the subject of the measure. As Martin Vander Weyer of the conservative Spectator noted, “I doubt it will make a jot of difference to the ragtag rearguard of bricks-and-mortar shopkeepers.”

Nor do the digital tax giants, given the versatile tax avoidance strategies they have proven more than adept at deploying. Tax avoidance remains the forgiven misdemeanour, the dirty dispensation. As if to prove this finest of points, Facebook has appointed a previous Liberal Democrat leader, former deputy-prime minister and pro-tax figure, the now knighted Nick Clegg, chief of its global policy and communications. Brazenly cunning, but expected.

Losing Users: Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Problems

His detractors and enemies have been waiting some time for this, but it must have given them moments of mild cheer. Facebook, the all-gazing, accumulating system of personal profiles and information, poster child, in fact, of surveillance capitalism, is losing users. At the very least, it is falling to that mild phenomenon in business speak called “flat-lining”, a deceptively benign term suggesting that the fizz is going out of the product.

This week, Mark Zuckerberg has been more humble than usual. The latest figures show that 1.49 billion users hop on the platform daily; monthly active users come in at 2.27 billion. While both figures are increases from previous metrics, these fall shy of those bubbly estimates Facebook loves forecasting: 1.51 billion in the former; 2.29 billion in the latter. “We’re well behind YouTube”, he observed; in “developed countries”, Zuckerberg conceded that his company was probably reaching saturation. While security features of Facebook had improved, there was at least another twelve months before the standard was, in his view, up to scratch.

The user market in North America is flat, while in Europe, FB has experienced a loss of 3 million daily active users. The process was already underway after 2015. The moment your grandparents start using a communications product with teenage enthusiasm, it’s time for a swift, contrarian change. But social media, as with other forms of communication, is a matter of demographics and class.

YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat have been beating down doors and making off with users. A May study from the Pew Research Centre found that half of US teens between the ages of 13 and 17 claim to use Facebook. But YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are bullishly ahead with usage figures of 85, 72 and 69 per cent respectively. To locus of this move is as much in the type of technology being used as behavioural change, with 95 per cent of teens claiming to have access to a smartphone. A mind slushing statistic stands out: of those, 45 percent are online constantly in numb inducing ecstasy.

The company, in an effort to plug various deficiencies in the operating systems, has been busy hiring content moderators, a point that has not gone unnoticed by users. This, in of itself, is a flawed exercise, and one imposed upon the company in an effort of moralised policing. Various legislatures and parliaments have gotten itchy in passing legislation obligating Facebook and similar content sharers to remove hate speech, extremist subject matter and state-sponsored propaganda. (Where, pray, is that line ever drawn?)

This raises a jurisdictional tangle suggesting that local parliaments and courts are getting ahead of themselves in gnawing away at the extra-territorial nature of tech giants. This year, a German law was passed requiring social media companies to remove illegal, racist or slanderous content within 24 hours after being flagged by users or face fines to the tune of $57 million. Such legislation, while localised in terms of jurisdiction, has international consequences. Content otherwise permitted by the US First Amendment will have to be removed for offending regulations in another country.

This is a far from academic speculation. Canada’s Supreme Court in June last year ruled that Google had to remove search results pertaining to certain pirated products. The natural consequence of this was a universal one. “The internet has no borders – its natural habitat is global,” claimed the trite observation from the majority. “The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates – globally.”

This precipitated a legal spat that proceeded to involve a Californian decision handed down by Judge Edward J. Davila, who turned his nose up at the Canadian judiciary’s grant of the interlocutory injunction. To expect companies such as Google to remove links to third-party material menaced “free speech on the global internet.” The emergence of a “splinternet” – one where online content is permissible in one country and not another – has been given a dramatic shove. Police, in other words, or be damned.

By the end of September, an army of some 33,000 labouring souls were retained by Facebook for the onerous task of sifting, assessing and removing errant content. But this whole task has come with its own pitfalls, a preoccupation of danger and emotional disturbance. Those recruited have become content warriors with a need for a strong constitution, a point that has presented Zuckerberg with yet another problem.

Former moderator Selena Scola, who worked at Facebook from June 2017 till March this year, has gone so far as to sue the company for post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing content depicting graphic violence “from her cubicle in Facebook’s Silicon Valley offices”. Scola, through her legal counsel, claims that the company did not create a safe environment, instead working upon the practice of having a “revolving door of contractors”. Moderators, according to the legal suit, are “bombarded” with “thousands of videos, images and livestreamed broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide and murder.”

Facebook ushered in a remarkable form of dysfunction between users, and the actual platform of communication. This is very much in the spirit of a concept that lends itself to a hollowed variant of friendship, one based on appropriation, marketing and a somewhat voyeuristic format. If you can’t make friends in the flesh, as Zuckerberg struggled to do, create facsimiles of friendship, their ersatz equivalents. And most of all, place the incentive of generating revenue and profiles upon them. Facebook is not merely there for those who use it but for those who feel free to be used. This point is all too readily missed by the political classes.

Facebook makes everyone a practitioner, and creator, of surveillance, and anybody with a rudimentary understanding of totalitarian societies would know what that does to trust. Split personalities and hived forms of conduct manifest themselves. Unhealthily, then, the number of users globally is still increasing, even if it is dropping in specific parts of the world. Much like the Catholic Church, reliance is placed upon the developing world to supply new pools of converts.

Zuckerberg’s company faces investigations from the European Union, the FBI, the FTC, the SEC and the US Department of Justice. Such moves are not necessarily initiated out of altruism; there is the prevailing fear that such a platform is all too readily susceptible to manipulation (the horror, it seems, of misinformation, as if this was ever a new issue). Fake ads can still be readily purchased; campaigns economic with the facts can still be run and organised on its pages. But to attribute blame to Facebook for a tendency as ancient as politics is another distortion. Not even Zuckerberg can be blamed for that.

War, religion, and a half billion dollars

By Henry Johnston

When you do the maths, you realise almost a half billion of your dollars has been set aside by the Morrison Government to redevelop the Australian War Memorial. Add to this $100 million spent on the Monash Centre in Villers-Bretonneux. Now add almost $13 million to document the official histories of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. Then add the $40 million dollars lavished on the refurbishment of Sydney’s ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park.

So far I’ve tallied almost $653,000,000. I am innumerate, so this figure might be off the mark, but you get my drift. I do not know how much money has been set aside on war memorials or their equivalents in other states of the Commonwealth, but the tally might approach three quarters of a trillion dollars.

So, what is going on? The 100th anniversary of the Armistice of World War 1 comes and goes on November 11 2018, but the question is, does this sad anniversary justify this massive expenditure?

Social media is taking the pulse of Scott Morrison’s largesse, and the indirect beneficiary of this near half billion dollar grant, the Australian War Memorial’s Director and failed Liberal leader, Dr Brendan Nelson. All I detect is a general consensus suggesting the dough be spent on the health and well-being of men and women injured in Australia’s most recent conflicts.

As a writer I’ve woven the effects of war into my novels and short stories. I am of a generation directly affected by World War 2. My father worked in war industry and before him long-dead nameless great uncles survived the horrors of World War 1.

My first reaction is ANZAC Day and war memorials large and small in Australian towns, villages and cities, serve as a substitute for a national religion. The Dawn Service held at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th each year, is a rite of passage for thousands of young Australians. These rituals are not uncommon. Young European men and women tread the path of Camino de Santiago in Spain, or complete the five routes to achieve Ireland’s Pilgrim’s Passport.

Religion and war freely borrow one another’s iconography to snare this youthful optimism and I reckon the half billion dollars earmarked for the decade-long redevelopment of the national war memorial, continues this tradition.

I doubt the Labor Opposition will criticise the expenditure because there is no political mileage in so doing. Indeed, former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appointed Dr Brendan Nelson Director of the Australian War Memorial, and the good doctor will now be comfortably remunerated until he retires.

So on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of World War 1, it is worth considering two examples of religious iconography deployed by propagandists, during that awful period of our history.

The first is the Angels of Mons. The second the Miracle of the Sun, known among pious Christians as the Miracle of Fatima, a village in Portugal. Both occurrences are inextricably linked with the actual apocalypse.

The Angels of Mons occurred shortly after Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914. A mere 19 days later on August 23rd, the British Expeditionary Force clashed with the German Army. After the shock and awe of battle, the BEF somehow managed an orderly retreat, and staved off a major defeat.

An account of events in Mons, written by journalist Arthur Machen, described heavenly bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt shielding the retreating British forces. Machen’s item became a cause celebre among home front spiritualists. His story eventually morphed into the myth of the Angels of Mons, and was deployed to boost morale. The Angels of Mons fantasy is documented by the Australian War Memorial, but not so the Miracle of the Sun, or Fatima. The latter is probably ignored because Portugal’s involvement in World War 1 focused principally on its imperial possessions in Africa. However, the date of the Miracle of Fatima 13 October 1917, is significant. The Russian Czar is in custody. The Bolsheviks in power, and with Russia out of the war, the redeployment of German divisions to the Western Front means defeat. Three of Fatima’s children describe visions of the Virgin Mary. The sun dances in the sky as an accompaniment to the miracle, which remained a powerful example of Marian piety until the reign of Pope John Paul the Second. In reality the Miracle of Fatima was used by the Vatican in its campaign against Communism.

And so to our own great myth; the debacle of the landing at the Dardanelles where 8,709 Australians died. By the end of the obscenity of World War 1, 61,522 Australians perished.

I do not belittle those who take spiritual nourishment from the story of Gallipoli or the Angels of Mons, or the Miracle of Fatima, but I hope a tiny portion of the half billion dollars will be set aside by the Australian Government to valorise the memory of young Aboriginal men and women, killed in battle to defend their Australian home lands. I doubt this will happen because as of now those frontier wars do not fit our view of who we are, and how we became Australians.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

Moving Right in Brazil: The Rise of Jair Bolsonaro

Moving left has been a Brazilian political tendency for some time, a tendency affirmed through the 1990s and 2000s with the presidential administrations of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But this is the same country also famed for its share of murderous military dictatorships and political convulsions. The worm would eventually turn.

Between 1964 and 1985, the military privileged itself with direct interventions in civilian and political life, ensuring a line of generals for president in the name of protective emergency. The trumping of civilian rule in 1964 had come in response to the centre-left reformist government of the Brazilian Labor Party’s João Goulart. The brutal reaction became an inspirational blueprint for Latin American governments to follow: right wing governments obsessed with corporatist principles and suspicious of civil liberties.

That particular model, and precedent, offers lessons in the coming to power of former army parachutist Jair Messias Bolsonaro. At the 2016 impeachment vote held in the Lower House of the Brazilian Congress against President Dilma Rousseff (notably cast by a chamber half-filled by members facing various criminal investigations), Bolsonaro recalled 1964, the year when the country was supposedly rescued from the relentless approach of godless communism. His own ballot, as Perry Anderson reminds us, was dedicated to the conscientious torturer-in-chief, Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ustra.

Colonel Ustra was adamant before a Truth Commission hearing in May 2013: “I fought terrorism.” Like Bolsonaro, he saw no moderation in any left-wing platform, a scourge that needed to be tortured into oblivion. “Their aim was to depose the military and implement communism in Brazil.  That was written in their programmes.” In 2016, Bolsonaro aired views drawn straight from the Ustra school of simple thinking: torture was appropriate, the right to vote should be questioned and the National Congress needed to be opposed.

The overthrow of Goulart had been premised on the military’s harnessing of opposition from large landowners, the interests of big business and corporations, the Catholic Church and elements of the middleclass. The forces that threaten the legacy of leftist reforms (30 million lifted out of poverty between 2002 and 2014), tarnished by the lingering stains of corruption linked to the state oil firm Petrobras and the Odebrecht construction firm, are similar. These are, however, marked by a fundamental difference: the very same middle class boosted in numbers by progressive governments are now falling for personalities of reaction.

In the considered opinion of sociologist Atilio A. Boron, “They see those that declare an inferior economic position a threat, and therefore they are prone to have discriminatory, aggressive and offensive positions to the popular sectors.” Poverty, as the ultimate, dangerous crime.

Despite every major Brazilian political party being implicated in the orgiastic exercise of graft exposed in the economic downturn following 2013, Bolsonaro proved savvy enough to distance himself, and members of his own Social Liberal Party, from the filled trough. The Workers Party (PT) was left holding the can of guilt, while the far-right movement courted a troubled angst-ridden middle class.

Bolsonaro’s approach to the period of military presidents is to avoid using the term altogether. (Another point of resentment towards Rousseff was her establishment of a truth commission to investigate the human rights abuses and disappearances perpetrated at the time.) He merely concedes to “excesses, because during wars innocents die”. This is the fundamental law of survival: to keep a society safe, a few skulls have to be shattered. He is keen to keep his friends close and the military even closer, promising to place the Ministry of Defence within purview of military, rather than civilian personnel, and involving members of the Armed Forces in his government.

Bolsonaro has similarly modelled his campaign, and accompanying promises, on a Trump-style agenda of making Brazil great again, a coarser programme of self-inflation that contrasts with the previous Rousseff platform of “Larger Brazil”. His trip to the United States in October last year was a mission of instruction.

He, like Trump, has his own variant of the message of draining the fetid swamp of political corruption, though, like his source of inspiration, remains reticent on what to fill it with. He, like Trump, has a certain liking for the “law and order” message that emphasises muscle and arms over the logic and sober restraint of gun control. “It won’t be any better,” he argues about the policy of reducing gun ownership as a means of reducing violence. “If there were three or four armed people here now,” he speculated on the television channel Record, “I’d be certain that some nutter wouldn’t be able to come in through that door and do something bad.”

Bolsonaro’s vision – nutters meeting nutters – features jungle retributions and protections, the state’s tactical outsourcing of violence in favour of privatised security. “Why can’t a truck driver have the right to carry a gun? Just think about it; put yourself in the shoes of a truck driver. He nods off at the petrol station … and when he wakes up the next day his spare tyre has gone.” Not that the state is entirely absent from this savage equation: where police killings (autos de resistência) increase, he surmises, “violence goes down in the region where they took place.”

The current political move in Latin America is to the right. Conservative governments now hold sway in Chile and Colombia. The historical dislike for the keen meddling of Washington has, temporarily, taken second place. Arms of approval are being extended. Bolsonaro, to make that point, has already made his position on what regional foreign policy will look like. “Trump is an example to me … I plan to get closer to him for the good of both Brazil and the United States. We can take his examples from here back to Brazil.”

Angela Merkel’s Last Days

Cultural compilations such as James Frazer’s The Golden Bough are rich with these accounts: the high priest or leader of a tribe, whose lengthy tenure is wearing thin, is set for the sacrifice, either through ritual or being overthrown by another member. The crops have failed; a drought is taking place. The period of rule has ended; the time for transition and new blood replacements have come. Since 2005, Angela Merkel’s Chancellorship has been one of the most stable and puzzling, a political stayer ruthless in durability and calculating in survival.

Swords and daggers are being readied. The Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD), bound by a tense partnership, have been getting a battering in Germany’s state elections.  Poor showings in Bavaria and Hesse are proving omens of oracular force. The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) now finds itself with a presence in all 16 regional parliaments. The Greens have been polling strongly, while the Left Party and Free Democrats have doggedly maintained their presence. The day after the poor showing in Hesse, Merkel announced that she would not be seeking re-election as leader of the Christian Democrats in December. Nor would she be running again as Chancellor in 2021.

Other European states will view her with the sort of respect that is afforded the German national football team: dislike and fear in a jumble with respect and admiration. At times, she let various cabinet members get ahead of themselves – Herr Schwarze Null, the darkly obsessive figure of balanced budgets and punitive financial measures, Wolfgang Schäuble, for too long coloured the age of austerity.

For such figures, including Merkel, thrift became dogma and mission, a goal of its own separate from social goals and cute notions of sovereignty. The vile god of monetary union needed to be propitiated; Greece needed to be sacrificed, its autonomy outsourced to external financial institutions. Making states seek bailouts while repaying crushing debts, many of them the result of unwise lending practices to begin with, seemed much like requiring the chronic asthmatic to do a hundred metre dash without a loss of breath. As a result of such policies, the European Union has edged ever closer to the precipice.

Throughout her chancellorship, abrupt changes featured. Having convinced the Bundestag that phasing out nuclear energy born from the Red-Green coalition of 2001 was bad (an extension of operating times by eight to fourteen years was proposed), Merkel proceeded to, in the aftermath of Fukushima, order the closure of eight of the country’s seventeen nuclear plants with a despot’s urgency. This became the prelude to the policy of Energiewende, the energy transition envisaging the phasing out of all nuclear power plants by 2022 and a sharp shift to decarbonise the economy.

For sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, she is “a postmodern politician with a premodern, Machiavellian contempt for both causes and people.” Educated in the old East Germany (DDR), she mastered the art, claimed biographer and Der Spiegel deputy editor-in-chief Dirk Kurbjuweit, of governing by silence, being cautious, and at times insufferably vague, with her words. “She waits and sees where the train is going and then she jumps on the train.”

In 2003, she pushed her party into the choppy waters of deregulation and neo-liberal economics, a move that almost lost her the election to Gerhard Schröder, that other market “reformer” who arguably fertilised the ground she then thrived in. After becoming chancellor, she proceeded to, with the assistance of the Grand Coalition comprising the remains of the Social Democratic Party, clean the party stables of neoliberals and become a new social democrat.

Merkel the shifter and shape changer was again on show during the crisis which is being seen as the last, albeit lengthy straw of the camel’s back. With refugees pouring into Europe, Merkel initially showed enthusiasm in 2015, ignoring both German and EU law mandating registration in the first country of entry into the EU before seeking resettlement within the zone. Refugees gathered in Budapest were invited into Germany as part of “showing a friendly face in an emergency”; it was a move that might also serve useful moral and humanitarian purposes, not to mention leverage against other, seemingly less compassionate European states.

A riot characterised by rampant sexual assault at Cologne Central Station on New Year’s Eve in 2015, a good deal of it captured on smartphones, served to harden her approach to the new arrivals. She promised more deportations and reining in family reunification rules. Wir schaffen das – we can do it – has since become something of a hefty millstone. “The German government did a good job reacting to the refugee crisis,” observed Karl-Georg Wellmann of the Christian Democrats. “But repeating ‘we can do it’ over and over again sends out the wrong message.” The far-right AfD duly pounced, reaping electoral rewards.

Her enemies have amassed, though the line between groomed successor and opportunistic Brutus is not always clear. Critics long cured by a vengeful smoke – the likes of Friedrich Merz, who once led Merkel’s parliamentary caucus only to be edged out, and Roland Koch, formerly minister president of Hesse – have been directing salvos of accusation. Within hours of Merkel’s announcement of eventual political retirement, Merz, who never had much time for grand coalition antics, returned fire with a promise to bid for the party leadership.

The caravan of potential replacements features the likes of “mini-Merkel” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, currently the Christian Democrats party secretary-general and the calculatingly anti-Merkel and youthful Jens Spahn, health minister who has bruised his way to prominence attacking the 2015 refugee policy. Occupying the middle ground, and risking falling between two stools, is the more conciliatory Armin Laschet.

The current grand coalition is neither looking grand nor much of a coalition, and the party operatives from the CDU and SPD are attempting to wriggle out, though neither Merkel nor SPD counterpart Andrea Nahles wishes to dissolve the union yet.

Like Merkel’s mentor, Helmut Kohl, staying power is never eternal. Kohl tasted eight years of power as chancellor of West Germany before leading a united Germany for another eight. “Fatty’s got to go” was the prevailing sentiment in the dying days of his rule, and it transpired that, in time, power had done its bit to corrupt the hulking politician in his twilight days. A million marks in donations had found their way into a reward scheme for cronies and friends instead of going to his party. Kohl attempted to keep mum on the whole matter.

It is worth recalling who it was who laid the final, cleansing blow to this holy of holies: a certain Angela Merkel’s December 1999 contribution to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung calling for her former patron’s resignation and necessary banishment. “I bought my killer,” reflected a rueful Kohl. “I put the snake on my arm.”

Julian Assange, Ecuador and the Dangers of Farce

This is the next stage of the Julian Assange chronicles: from the summit of information disclosures and meddlesome revelations on classified state matters, the Australian rabblerouser now finds himself the subject of a new round of jokes and ribbing. WikiLeaks, in short, must be wary of the dangers posed by a new campaign of farce.

Satire, humour and ad hominem attacks can have the effect of wounding and deflating. When directed against dissidents from the vantage point of tradition, the effect can be calculating and delegitimising. For Chelsea Manning, a querulous attitude to the US military, a confused matter of gender and lingering resentment were furnished as weapons against her role as a genuine whistleblower. Whistleblowers, or so goes this line of reasoning, cannot suffer “delusions of grandeur”. They must be calm, focused, and scrupulously clean.

Assange, as with others associated with the vocation of exposing the asymmetrical nature of power and its impacts, has found himself repeatedly depicted in fashions that supposedly undermine the rationale for transparency politics. He is an enemy of conventional forms of stratified power, and must duly account for dirtying that sty in advancing an approach that insists upon transnational networks “which function,” writes Raffi Khatchadourian, “outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries.”

Joan Smith, chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Panel, provided an exemplary demonstration of how an attempted diminution of a legacy can work. In a graceless attack on Assange in 2016, she showed a damnable political immaturity. Her clumsily fashioned assault dismissed international protections against arbitrary detention or matters of political prosecution; none of these, she suggested, applied to Assange.

No mention of Cablegate, or any other expansive document release, features; Assange was merely a molesting ego-maniac who needed to front legal processes as others who had been accused of assault, “including the comedian Bill Cosby who has just been told that prosecutors in the US can proceed with a sexual assault charge dating back to 2004.” Assange was “a fugitive from justice, a man with such an inflated ego that he believes himself beyond the law.”

The restoration of basic entitlements to Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy (modest, restricted internet access being one of them), where he remains a troublesome tenant, has provided another round for comic skewering. Now, the razors of satire have been deployed in various measures that seek as much to render his historical contributions to whistleblowing and journalism a matter of mirth rather than worth. In one sense, this returns Assange to a time immemorial function of palace politics: to be the jester, is to reveal the truth.

It all began with the new “house rules” of the Ecuadorean embassy, which restore conditional access to the Internet. Not following these newly minted conditions “could lead to the termination of the diplomatic asylum granted by the Ecuadorean state”.

While such injunctions might be sensible for many citizens, they grate with the publisher who has made it both his hobby and work to disrupt international relations and rubbish the façade of diplomatic decency. In an act of substantive neutering in that regard, he had to avoid any activity, according to the Ecuadorian government memorandum, “considered as political or interfering with the internal affairs of other states.”

The memorandum also made it clear that the embassy was going to target “unauthorised equipment”, reserving “the right to authorise security personnel to seize equipment” or request British authorities to enter the premises to do so.

This was not all. In the language of an irritable nurse, the memorandum urged Assange to observe basic levels of hygiene (cleaning his own bathroom, including after himself and his guests), a behavioural requirement rich with imputation, and could not hope for embassy payments towards his food, laundry or other costs for his stay from December 1, 2018 onwards. Quarterly medical check-ups would cease being covered.

He also had to ensure continued adequate care for his feline companion, one whose name has altered over time in the name, ostensibly, public relations. “When Castro died,” explained Assange, “we started calling it Cat-stro.” (Currently, the name Michi seems to be preferred.)

Where this instagrammed, tweeted creature came from is unclear, though it invariably supplies his observers with salivating prospects for speculation. One story run for tabloid consumption is that the cat was a gift from his children; another, told to Khatchadourian, was that the tale was a handy concoction designed to gull. The embassy is, however, clear. He had to take care of the cat’s “well-being, food and hygiene”. Not doing so risked having to surrender the animal to care.

It is precisely such antics – and for Assange, being in a restricted abode for six years should entitle him some measure of frivolity – that provide morsels for distraction. Information wars can reach the high summit of austere seriousness in exposing state mendacity, or they can plummet into depictions of distracting farce.

Farce and the staged absurd is something that is bound to shadow Assange in this latest bout, even if a certain tart historical legacy is assured. Having now launched a lawsuit against Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on claimed violations of constitutional rights, Assange is being mocked for being unable to understand the appointed translator. “According to the English-speaking Assange,” goes an acerbic Seamus Bellamy, “his self-righteous blather differs from what the rest of the English-speaking world gets along with.” Judge Karina Martinez conceded that the court had erred in appointing a translator not adept in picking up the Australian accent which, for Assange, was sufficiently thick to warrant consideration. This is vintage Assange: amidst the undergrowth of seriousness comes an element of the absurd with a good twist of truth.

The Arms Behind the Invictus Games

The origins of the Invictus Games (“For our Wounded Warriors,” goes the slogan) lies in war. Wars that crippled and caused depression and despair. The games became a project of grand distraction and worth, a form of emotional bread for servicemen and women. Do not let wounds, mental or physical, deter you. Move to the spirit of William Ernest Henley, an amputee who, during convalescence, penned those lines which speak to a Victorian stubbornness before adversity: “I am the masters of my fate;/I am the captain of my soul.”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, was supposedly inspired by a trip to the United States in 2013 by how, as the Invictus Games Foundation explains, “sport can help physically, psychologically and socially those suffering from injuries and illness.” The games came into being next year, embodying “the fighting spirit of wounded, injured and sick Service personnel and personifies what these tenacious men and women and achieve post injury.”

As they opened in Sydney, something rather troubling lurked in the undergrowth of those keen to promote the games. This was an occasion for the sponsors to hop on in numbers, to insist on that piffle called values. “We are excited,” goes the organisers’ statement, “to be on the journey to our Games with the fantastic support of our family of Invictus Games partners. Their support not only helps us deliver a great Games, but also builds initiatives that inspire connected, healthy and active lifestyles for those facing mental health and physical challenges.”

Names like Saab, Leidos, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are prominent corporate entities that stud the show, a sort of murderous family of patrons. (You were victims of our products; we are thinking of you.)

Company statements attempt to link the Invictus show to the myth of company values and mutual benefit, a point bound to leave those aware of any nexus between arms production and casualty celebration queasy: the company produces the murderous hardware – war is business and stock value after all – but it also brings back the injured into the fold.

Jaguar Land Rover, for instance, notes “a commitment to furthering their legacy of support to the armed forces by helping former military personnel transition into civilian careers through job opportunities.” The company was proud in recruiting “over 700 ex-service men and women since 2013, creating opportunities to employees globally seeking bright futures in the automotive industry.”

Boeing, for its part, cheers “these warrior-competitors, honour their families, and help educate Australians about the contributions and sacrifices of military personnel here in Australia and around the world.” As it backs the Invictus Games, the company’s own website smoothly advertises its role in serving “the US Air Force, US Navy, the Marines and many US allies by producing and integrating precise, long-range and focused munitions.”

There are always various moments the promoters could look to in terms of how these warrior competitors perform. What mattered was turning up, and providing a good show of heart string pulling and tear jerking reaction.

During the Sydney Invictus games, several opportunities presented themselves. There was the wheelchair tennis player Paul Guest, whose PTSD was triggered by the whirring of an overheard helicopter. Dutch veteran Edwin Vermetten, a fellow competitor, was on hand to comfort him as paralysis took over, offering support by singing Let it Go from the movie Frozen. “We saw what mateship really looks like,” reflected the Duke of Sussex at his closing speech.

Prior to its opening, Nick Deane, writing in New Matilda, was troubled by the games’ throbbing sub-text, its colosseum air and undertone of manipulation. “There is a whiff of triumphalism in this (it is in the name of the games). Their spirit may be unconquered but they have, without exception, been severely beaten. Giving them a special name does not alter that.”

Servicemen and women for Australia, in particularly, were being celebrated, but had suffered in wars that lacked the backbone of necessity, lending a heavily tragic air to the proceedings. “In an objective assessment of them,” Deane notes, “no service personnel [participating] can legitimately claim to have been wounded in the defence of Australia.”

That entire spirit goes to those who promote the games: the very companies who prove indispensable to the military industrial complex that creates its global casualties. It is they who are also unconquerable, forever leaving behind the broken in their wake, they who place those in, to remember the words of William Ernest Henley, “a place of wrath and tears” where “the Horror of the shade” looms.

Through the looking glass darkly

By Henry Johnston

October 2019. The Australian Labor Party is the government of Australia holding a whopping majority in the lower house, but it must deal with a pesky senate.

Bill Shorten’s government develops into an effective technocracy. The Federation of Australian States is positive about the carve-up of the GST. Victoria and New South Wales are in the Labor fold. House prices continue to tumble. A stimulus package is mooted courtesy of a fulsome budget crafted by Treasurer Chris Bowen. Wages rise.

Kevin Rudd is short odds to be the next Secretary General of the United Nations. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is gravely ill. Rupert Murdoch is dead. Brexit negotiations continue. Elizabeth Warren announces she will contest the 2020 U.S. elections for the Democrats and Elon Musk reveals a breakthrough in cheap, hydrogen energy.

Back home Prime Minister Shorten enlists Paul Keating as spokesperson for the looming referendum on an Australian Republic. Julia Gillard is the firm favourite to be the nation’s first president. Royalists are outraged. Alan Jones collapses on-air from apoplexy on the day Anthony Albanese turns the first sod on a national very fast rail service.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hosts high-level talks with Foreign Minister Penny Wong. It seems there are ructions about some of the refugees resettled in New Zealand. Peter Hartcher opines in the Western Sydney Morning Herald it has something to do with the large number of Kiwis deported to New Zealand from Australia.

The drought worsens. Oil prices fluctuate. Wall Street is about to crash. Global warming continues.

Parliamentary debate, especially Question Time, is quiet, almost cordial. A large cohort of independents sit in the lower house.

A split looms in the Liberal Party. At the behest of the former Member for Warringah Tony Abbott, Gerard Henderson joins John Roskam writing A Manifesto for Renewal. Meanwhile Malcolm Turnbull enlists Peter van Onselen to craft A Conservative Dialectic: Finding Menzies’ Forgotten People.

Paul Kelly writes a two-volume history of The United Australia Party, and a descendant of Archie Galbraith Cameron becomes leader of the National Party, now arguing to maintain its status as a legitimate political entity.

Near Mt Isa a geologist-cum prospector uncovers an enormous seam of scandium and yttrium also known as Rare Earth Elements. Clive Palmer lodges an Intent-to-Mine document with the Queensland Government. The Australian Financial Review describes the discovery as ‘the next great mining boom of the north,’ and predicts domestic high-tech industries will expand.

Elon Musk meets with Prime Minister Shorten who kicks off a national debate about reviving the Australian car industry by building Tesla electric cars in South Australia and Victoria. China lodges a protest with the World Trade Organisation.

Barnaby Joyce threatens to retire as the Member for New England if a local Aboriginal land council continues to lobby to change the name of his Federal seat to Anaiwan.

Senator Pat Dodson is set to chair a national discussion in Old Parliament House Canberra to define Australia’s first Makarrata.

Sky News announces the Liberal split is underway.

Footnote: An incomplete snapshot of political party splits. The United Australia Party (UAP) forms as a new conservative alliance in 1931 with Labor defector Joseph Lyons, its leader. In 1939 Robert Menzies becomes prime minister as war looms. Menzies resigns as leader of a minority World War II government, amidst an unworkable parliamentary majority. The UAP led by Billy Hughes, disintegrates after defeat in the 1943 election. Menzies calls a conference of conservative parties and other groups, opposed to the Australian Labor Party. From 1942 onwards, Menzies maintains his public profile via an ABC radio series entitled, The Forgotten People.

During the 1954 federal election, Labor receives more than half the popular vote and wins 57 seats to the Coalition’s 64. Two key political players emerge; B.A. Santamaria and H.V. Evatt. In the subsequent election, the newly formed Democratic Labor Party directs its supporters to give their electoral preferences to the Liberals, ahead of the ALP. In 1961 and 1969 Labor wins a majority of the two-party vote, but DLP preferences result in Labor coming up short of the Coalition’s hold on government. The DLP still exists.

Tony Abbott describes B.A. Santamaria as his formative political hero. Herbert Vere ‘Doc’ or Bert Evatt serves as the third president of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949 and helps draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain and at Forty South Publishing.

Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes” (President Andrew Jackson, Washington, July 10, 1832).

They are three players, all problematic in their own way. They are the creatures of inconvenient chaos. Donald Trump was born into the role, a misfit of misrule who found his baffling way to the White House on a grievance. Wall Street, with its various agglomerations of vice and ambition constitute the spear of global instability while the US Federal Reserve, long seen as a gentlemanly symbol of stability, has done its fair share to avoid its remit to right unstable ships, a power in its own right.

The Federal Reserve, despite assuming the role of Apollonian stabiliser, remained blind and indifferent through the Clinton era under the stewardship of Alan Greenspan. The creatures of Dionysus played, and Greenspan was happy to watch. While he is credited with having contained the shock of the 1987 stock-market crash, he proceeded to push a period of manically low interest rates and minimal financial regulation through the hot growth of the 1990s and early 2000s. Rather than condemning “Ninja loans” and other such bank exotica, he celebrated them as creations of speculative genius.

The mood at the Fed these days might seems chastened. They are the monkish wowsers and party poopers, those who lock down the bar and tell the merrily sauced to head home. The sense there is that the market, boosted and inflated, needs correction after years of keeping interest rates at floor levels. Unemployment levels are at 3.7 per cent; inflation levels are close to 2 per cent. “If the strong growth in income and jobs continues,” reasoned Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell in August, “further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate.”

Cooling through an increase in interest rates was deemed necessary in light of a consumer binge induced by Trump’s tax cuts, and no one knows when it will stop. “What’s not yet clear,” observes Timothy Moore, “is how far rates will have to rise to reach a level that the Fed considers neutral – where rates neither bolster nor restrain the pace of growth – because rates already have risen so much.” To three rises in the federal-funds rate that have already taken place could be added another in December and in 2019.

Powell is now facing attacks by President Trump, a self-described “low interest rate person,” in a manner not unlike the assault on the Second Bank of the United States by President Andrew Jackson. Trump’s adolescent indignation is akin to the person whose balloons have been pinched. In July, he was “not thrilled” with that round of rate hikes and said as much. “Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again.” Markets, playing their side of the disruptive bargain, reacted, with the dollar, stocks and treasury yields falling.

This month, the same story repeated itself. When the markets go up, Trump, invariably, sees his hand in it; when they go down, someone else foots the blame. Now, according to the president, the Federal Reserve has “gone crazy” and “wild” in various measures. “I’d like our Fed not to be so aggressive, because I think they’re making a big mistake.” To Fox News’s Shannon Bream, Trump insisted that, “The Fed is going loco and there’s no reason for them to do it.” White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow found himself defending his boss “as a successful businessman and investor” informed about such matters.

The history between the Fed and the White House has been punctuated by occasional bouts of surliness. Paul Volcker’s time as chairman saw an irate, desperate James Baker, when President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, attempt to gain an assurance that interest rates would not rise. He failed. By and by, however, the Fed has remained something of a holy cow, a point Trump cares little about.

But it was Jackson’s loathing of banks that proved not only effectual but the stuff of legend. He found much suspicion in the whole notion of credit. He had also previously suffered at the hands of a land transaction involving the use of valueless paper notes. Only specie – silver and gold – deserved his commanding trust.

The very idea of a central bank running rough shod over state rights presented the hero of the Battle of New Orleans with a perfect target. His vision of frontiersman expansionism was being foiled. Such acrimony, according to Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s The Age of Jackson, was a case of socio-economic falling out. Elites were attempting to monopolise financial power; Jackson, if in somewhat exaggerated fashion (though less so than Trump) spoke of common-man values against big business.

John M. McFaul, on the other hand, sees it somewhat differently. “Jacksonian banking policy was the result of neither an ideological timetable of entrepreneurial design nor radical hard-money purposes.” Political expedience came first. The truth lies tantalisingly in between: the ideologue and the opportunist sharing the same body of a man.

From 1823 to 1836, Nicholas Biddle served as president of the Second Bank. While he was deemed within pro-banking advocates competent and assured, his values were those of a system that had entitled him. He dispensed favours to his friends with aristocratic grace; he resisted regulatory efforts. His move to limit credit and insist on calling in loans was intended to corner Jackson, forcing his hand to add more government funds to the bank deposits.

Jackson called his bluff, and his 1832 veto not to renew the bank’s charter remained, an effective freeze on supplying federal funds. “Is there,” he rhetorically posed to the Senate in his veto message, “no danger to our liberty and independence in a bank that in its nature has so little to bind it to our country?” Eventually, Congress was won over, leaving the Second Bank defunct on the expiry of its charter in 1836. Jackson did his own bit of chaotic undermining by draining the bank coffers in a way that would subsequently be deemed an abuse of executive power.

The stock gurus and economic wizards are waving wands and gazing at crystal balls, but the markets are simply engaging in the usual frenetic activity that accompanies remarks made by figures of power. Behind the scenes, the speculators get busy and anticipate the next flurry. Creative – or perhaps not so creative destruction – is currently unfolding, much of it an illusion. Trump’s America remains, much like Jackson’s discredited paper notes, of questionable value. But unlike the Second Bank, the Federal Reserve is very much intact in the face of institutional mocking. Thankfully for its board and Powell, its charter is not coming up for renewal, nor is Powell going to prove to be another Biddle.

What is it with Heaven and Millennials?

The promise of an afterlife – to meet departed family and friends – appeals to many;
but especially for younger Australians. Why do they dismiss the evidence of physics?

Against all odds, it seems the concept of going to heaven holds far greater significance for the young than for those who are closer – numerically – to death!  We need to confront “the D word” itself, but let’s first get a handle on why the idea of paradise has gripped contemporary youth – more so than pensioners!

A national Essential poll shows 40% of all Australians believe in heaven.  But the crucial figure is that a staggering 51% of those aged 18-34 hold such a belief!  This compares to just 29% of the public who are over 55 years old.  The young are almost twice as fixated with an afterlife than those closer to pension age! Why is that?

Is it insecurity or religiosity?  One suggestion points to the fact that 40% of secondary students now attend private religious schools – a rate far higher than all other Western nations.  There has been an exponential growth in government funding for private Catholic and Anglican schools since the 1960s – from a base of almost zero.

Others suggest that a similar rise in Special Religious Instruction (SRI) and chaplains in public schools has led to the Christianisation of education across the nation.  These government-funded programs are run by evangelical Christian organisations in each state – with Catholic and Anglican private schools proselytising their own religions.  And do millennials then stay at home too long, with a childhood faith, instead of getting out into the real world?

Since colonisation, Christianity instilled belief in an afterlife.  It’s reflected on a daily basis in mainstream media, in film and on television – and in our obsession with sport.  No game passes without players pointing skyward when scoring a goal, or honouring a deceased team or family member with hands reaching towards heaven.

But the biggest problem is that we don’t talk about death!

Society needs to get over this end-of-life taboo – to discuss and challenge the sugar-coated religious myth that claims we will all meet up with our loved ones (and pets) when we die and go to heaven.  Before confronting the concrete scientific evidence (below) – and how we can better handle the emotional aspects of death – just dwell on this thought for one moment.

Isn’t paradise already just a little crowded?  Think about who those you would meet – not only the entire cohort of your departed relatives, your friends and ancestors – but all the people you have detested; and those who gave you so much grief during your lifetime.

Then there’s the rest – every human who died!  Research shows that, by 2050, an estimated 113 billion people will have lived and died on planet Earth; so heaven is already a seething mass of ‘souls’.  For eternity!

The average punter has great difficulty conceptualising ‘eternity’.  Most can’t even grasp the fact of our universe being 13.8 billion years old – or Earth a mere 4.5 billion!  The concept is starkly illustrated in a fascinating book, “A History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters.”  While fictional, it focuses the mind on a serious problem with infinity.

Chapter 10 sees our hero arrive in heaven, choosing to spend all his time eating luxurious food, having endless sex, and playing golf.  After several thousand years he’s sick of food and sex, and on each heavenly golf course, he hits holes-in-one on every par 3.  He pleads to be released from this endless “perfect existence” and asks if others finally yearn to be free; to actually “die”.  With a short pause for effect, the answer was plain. “Everyone!”

Books on near-death experiences and visits to heaven are legion.  A recent bestseller was “Proof of Heaven” by Dr Eben Alexander – a neurosurgeon, no less.  Alexander sold more than 2 million copies before his claims were debunked.  Among those who contested his story was Professor Sean Carroll, a particle physicist and high-profile science communicator.  Carroll said there could only be two possibilities for Alexander’s spiritual encounter:

(1) Either some ill-defined metaphysical substance, not subject to the known laws of physics, interacted with the atoms of his brain in ways that have eluded every controlled experiment ever performed in the history of science.  OR… (2) People hallucinate when they are nearly dead.

Professor Carroll’s detailed explanation of Physics and Immortality spells out precisely why an immaterial “soul” does not exist.  The physics are graphically demonstrated in his video address (at 20:00).  Carroll worked with the team that discovered the Higgs Boson at Geneva’s Large Hadron Collider.  He could not be more explicit;

“if there are other waves, particles or forces sufficient to externally influence the brain, then we would know about them … Within Quantum Field Theory, there can’t be a new collection of “spirit particles” and “spirit forces” that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments … You would have to demonstrate evidence of a completely new realm of reality, obeying very different rules than everything we know about physics.”
(The 3 links above are needed to fully understand why there is no “soul”.)

But science does not devalue the need for compassion and empathy in the face of raw emotions that come with our personal experiences of death.  It is necessary to face up to reality – but there are alternatives to religion in coping with end of life crises. Discussing death openly and honestly – and publicly through the media – is a first step in helping to ease the extreme distress that many suffer with their own fear of death.

The ‘Golden Age of Athens’ pre-dates Christianity by four centuries – it led to a crucial period of new philosophical thought about life and death, about government and democracy, and how ordinary people could live a more fulfilled and contented life.

The philosophical principles of stoicism remain popular today.  It’s based on three central themes. “Perception”, how we choose to view events; “Action”, how we deal with events we can control (and those we can’t); and then there’s “Will” – training ourselves to deal honestly and ethically with events in our own lives.  Following the full regime of stoicism may seem daunting; but filtering the basic principles it becomes somewhat easier to apply.

The stoic approach to dealing with death – of family, friends, or oneself – is particularly relevant.  Initially, it may appear morbid to periodically remind ourselves of one’s mortality.  But if we consider this approach to death deeply enough, we soon come to realise the benefits of a greatly improved mental state.

The stark alternative for most people is to ignore the inevitable and to be completely consumed by grief when family or friends die unexpectedly.  Religion holds its privileged status based on fear – fear of not believing in God, fear of the unknown, and especially the fear of death.  It’s a cruel deception that society needs to overcome.

By sugar-coating mortality with the myth of everlasting heaven, religion simply deprives us all of the ways and means to better cope with the end of life.  While stoicism may not be the complete solution for all, it is clear that the basic principles of “philosophical ethics” – honesty, reason, compassion, and love – would be a far better alternative than teaching schoolchildren obedience to God and religious ritual.

Future generations would avoid the trap of today’s millennials who continue to shun science and instead cling to religious concepts of an afterlife.  A ‘soul’ that miraculously ascends to heaven, only to reunite with 113 billion other souls – for the whole of eternity! Just like our golfing hero, that sounds more like purgatory!

Brian Morris is author of ‘Sacred to Secular’ and specialises in secular politics.  He is a former journalist, and is director of www.plainreason.org which promotes science, reason and critical thinking.

Australian Complicity: Nauru and Silencing Journalism

Journalism is getting something of a battering in Australia.  At the parliamentary level, laws have passed that would be inimical to any tradition versed in the bill of rights. (Australia, not having such a restraining instrument on political zeal, can only rely on the bumbling wisdom of its representatives.) At the executive level, deals have been brokered between Canberra and various regional states to ensure minimum coverage over the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.  Secrecy is all fashion.

Adding to this is the triumph of a certain breed of lazy, compliant journalist.  The image of the ragtag journo long lost in the speculative tripe of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop has been replaced by a tedious, technocratic lout who should, time permitting, be put out to a distant pasture.  We are now dealing with compromised dispatches, press releases that yoke the reasoning and analysis that would barely pass muster in the lower grades of a half-credible primary. The investigative journalist has, for the most part, disappeared, leaving a few brave scribblers to toil in the wilderness.

The corporate angle on this is fairly unremitting: wedged between the Murdoch behemoth (populist, ragged Herald Sun, or the screaming ideological The Australian) and the Fairfax machine (given a progressive tag), the options for the enterprising press writers are narrow.  From the perspective of covering the brutal refugee policy Australia insists on pursuing, the Murdoch press tends to earn the medals of the island authorities in Manus and Nauru.  Fairfax shuffles along in the background with the occasional note of condemnation.

The restrictions placed on covering the policy of the Australian government and those paid subsidiaries on Nauru and Manus remain on par with the secrecy protocols of the Cold War.  Since its inception, the Australian policy towards boat arrivals ultimately sent to those isolated island reaches has smacked of colonial patronage, with the regulations to boot.

Elevated to the levels of high secrecy under the term Operation Sovereign Borders, “operational details” in dealing with boat arrivals, as they are termed, have been a matter of clandestine value. The degrees of control have also extended to covering camp conditions, a matter policed by such brutish little laws such as the Australian Border Force Act 2015 (Cth).  Under that bit of legislative nastiness, those who obtain “protected information” in the course of their employment in the border force apparatus can be punished for two years for disclosing such information except to authorised personnel.

Prior to the passage of the ABFA, the Australian government made it its business to hound a number of Save the Children employees working in the Nauru Regional Processing centre. Their sin had been to disclose information on the lamentable conditions in the centre.

The levels of media management regarding reporting on the conditions in Nauru has been extreme.  Amnesty International has called this a veritable “wall of secrecy”, designed to conceal “a system of deliberate abuse”.  The Nauru government has periodically limited access by journalists to the island, a process made craftier by the hefty visa application fee.  In 2014, the non-refundable fee of $200 jumped to $8000.

Over the last few years, the small island state has insisted on controlling the journalistic pool.  A conspicuous target here has been the ABC itself, which was banned from entering the country to cover the Pacific Islands Forum in September.  In a government statement posted in July, “It should be noted that no representative from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will be granted a visa to enter Nauru under any circumstances.”

This decision had been occasioned by “this organisation’s blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics prior to the 2016 election, harassment of and lack of respect towards our President in Australia, false and defamatory allegations against members of our government, and continued biased and false reporting about our country.” Other outlets, such as the more palatable A Current Affair, The Australian and Sky News, have received no such accusations.

Sky News journalist Laura Jayes even had the high visa application fee waived by the Nauru government when seeking entry in 2016.  She also revealed who the main targets of such a ruinously costly regime were: “Nauru officials would openly admit the fee was to deter the ABC and Guardian.”

The thin-skinned disposition of those authorities was not condemned by the then Turnbull government, a point unsurprising given the close media management being conducted between Australia and Nauru. What has since transpired is that suggestions by officials in Canberra that Australia’s role in the affair is minimal must be taken with a pinch of coarse salt.

A document tendered to federal court as part of a Nauruan medical transfer case is enlightening. “The governments of Australia and Nauru,” it goes, “will agree to media and visitor access policy and conditions of entry, taking into consideration the requirements of section 13 of the Asylum Seekers (Regional Processing Centre) Act 2012.”  Those “seeking access to a Centre will be required to obtain permission from the Secretary of Justice and to sign a media access agreement.” Nothing, it seems, must be left to chance in letting Australians know what is taking place in those outposts of torment and misery.

Words can fly and words can bite

By George Theodoridis 

Exhibit 1: Justin Milne to Guthrie (via email): “…I just think it’s simple. Get rid of her. My view is we need to save the corporation, not Emma…” Milne says these comments were taken out of context.

Exhibit 2:  PM Morrison to journalist Cassidy: “I expect the ABC Board to do better and if they don’t, well, they can expect a bit more attention from me.”
http://www.abc.net.au/insiders/sunday-30-september-full-program/10322604

Exhibit 3:  Odysseus to Agamemnon, wrathfully: “Son of Atreus!  What words have escaped the barrier of your teeth!” – Iliad 4, 350. 

That’s Homer for you: “Our teeth are much like the topless towers of Troy the Greeks had to face: a barrier to hold back unruly or recalcitrant words,” he tells us. “Don’t let false words, fake words escape that barrier.” Homer also used the formulaic phrase, Ἔπεα πτερόεντα” (“Winged words”), throughout his two giant epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

If he were a modern-day Aussie, he’d put it in these words: “Words are like mozzies, mate: They fly and they can bite you on the bum. Take care what words you let fly out of your mouth!”

And there are two types of words, those uttered and those written. Here’s Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus addressing the Roman Senate: “Verba Volant, Scripta Manent,” he warned the good senators which, in English parlance it means “(Uttered) Words fly, written ones remain.”

All the words uttered in the Australian Parliament are written; so are those in the ABC act. They remain. They are immortal and they are there even after they are erased by some usurper of our Democracy, and they are still there even if nobody takes notice of them.

Emails or hard copy, words said in a pub, a boardroom or from a pulpit, words that mean nothing and words that change worlds, words of every hue and of every tone can fly forever. Unlike chocolate, they have no use-by date.

Laws and important notices in Ancient Greece were chiselled into stone or wooden pillars called “Stelae” and these were placed throughout the city, a practice which gave strength and legitimacy to Aristotle’s view that “all men are political beings.” All men (yes, women were excluded officially from the political process) were an active part of a polis and so they were all responsible for its health -social, moral, economic. They were, in other words, politicians and that’s the real meaning of the word. Solon’s laws were engraved on these Stelae and there they remained and thus they were easy to check and point to when matters became complex or ambivalent. They were there to remain all its citizens that they were politicians.

Words are great. They change their form from abstract, when they’re in one’s head, to sensate when they are written or uttered. They are great to make one happy, great to make one sad, great at praising someone and great at destroying someone. Most importantly, they are great when we try to express even our most subtle emotions:

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.”
Wrote Elizabeth Browning.

Words can be sweet and they can be bitter. The power of the pen does not rest upon its nib or the colour of the ink it uses but upon the words, it writes. And whilst words are certainly not the only means of communication and we well know what the gesture of a finger thrust hard into the air or a thumb bitten aggressively convey, words have the ability to communicate the most complex of issues in the most subtle way. 

The Spartans communicated using the shortest possible sentences, a type of speech called laconic speech. For example, you would hear soldiers daring their enemies with  “μολὼν λαβέ”  (“Come and get it if you dare!”) or a mother telling her son as she hands him his shield on his way to war:ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς” (“Return either carrying it as a victor or upon it, killed on the battlefield.”  

Their cousins, the Athenians across the isthmus, on the other hand, loved using lengthy orations even to describe the simplest of things, because nothing in the minds of the philosophical Athenians was ever simple. Consequently, Thucydides’ prediction was true and we now have little of what the Spartans have said and a great deal of what the Athenians did, from Literature to philosophy, to theatre, to law and to History. Almost all of the stuff he have now about Sparta and the Spartans was written by non-Spartans.

Both, written and uttered words should be freely expressed.

On the eve of his invasion to Greece, in 480 BC the Persian emperor, Xerxes once asked his Greek counsellor, Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king, if the Greeks will stay to fight an army as enormous as his.

Demaratus nervously, fearfully asked the great King if he would like to hear the truth or whatever would please his ears and heart. Xerxes answered that he wanted to know the truth. Still, Demaratus was afraid to speak it. To tell him the truth.

Demaratus did tell the Great King the truth about the nature of the Greek soldier but the King refused to believe him, which is another trait of a despot, to ignore the truth. Demaratus followed him against his countrymen and the invasion ended in an abject failure for the King.

Herodotus’ whole work, his Histories is an effort to show that societies whose people are free are better than those whose people labour under autocrats and tyrants. Fear and intimidation will almost always conceal or distort the truth. Freedom of speech was at the very core of being a Greek while its opposite, the fear of speaking it was at the very core of a tyrannical despot, ones like Xerxes and his father Darius. Demaratus had left Greece where he was able to speak his mind freely and ended up in Persia where doing so could cost him his life. 

A fair and just society is made up of fair and just citizens, the blood and soul of which are words that are the true reflections of the thoughts of its citizens and their expression is pure and undefiled by any interference by anyone.  No society can be fair and just if its citizens can’t do that. 

If we are to rightfully boast that we are a Democracy, then we ought to have another forum, another platform from that of the Parliament, a platform where the speech of our people, the true demos, can be uttered freely. That forum should be the media and the media should comprise journalists whose only concern is the pursuit of news and its true dissemination, again, free from any interference. The truth should reign free.

The ABC, we all thought foolishly, was a media platform where these vested interests were kept at bay; that this taxpayer-funded body was protected by legislation and that it worked free of manipulation and of agendas belonging to particular interests and not to its funders, the Australian demos. Recently we found out that this was not the case and that the ABC was in fact, run by a board put there by political interests and that these political interests were ruthlessly directing the trajectory of its work.

We know this because the words used by the chairman of its board, Justin Milne, demanding that one of its best-known journalist should be sacked, rose to the surface of public scrutiny, much like the sewage of a badly maintained plumbing complex.

The ABC, which though, I suggest might not always have given us a “no punches pulled” account of the facts, was and certainly is vital to us if we are to understand ourselves, as well as others and to respect the two most crucial elements of a humane society, truth and justice. This body must not brook any interference from anyone and to pursue, as its charter suggests, truth at any cost.

A society is not served at all well if its journalists are so afraid, to tell the truth, that they become silenced hostages of the powerful – effectively nothing more than palace eunuchs.

As I write, I am watching the President of the USA mocking in the most loathsome way, a woman who dared speak out about a sexual assault she suffered by someone who is after one of the most important jobs in America –it is a job for the rest of his life- in the most important field in the running of the American society, that of the country’s Supreme Court.

President Trump was mocking Dr Christine Blasey Ford who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by the Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

And this is while the Senate is trying to assess Kavanaugh’s suitability to a seat in the Supreme Court. His words, Trump’s words, are a belligerent, bellowing cascade of bitterness, of hatred and of poison that has indeed, escaped the barrier of his teeth. They are nothing short of a vulgar, unabashed interference in the process of seeking the truth. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/02/trump-mocks-christine-blasey-ford-at-mississippi-rally)

Interference by powerful, vested interests. An aggressive attack on a person with little power other than that invested in the truth, an attack aimed at shutting down any other person who holds the truth but who is not powerful enough to utter it.

The ABC, like the ancient Greek stage, is the platform where the truth comes to see the light and breathe the clear air. This light and this air must not be subverted in any way. It must not be turned into a “truth maybe” or a “truth but.”

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