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Money, money, money. It’s a rich man’s world.

The headline conveys a tale of acquisition, narcissism, and unimaginable wealth. The world is overflowing with money inherited, earned honestly or obtained through corrupt means. Nevertheless, little is acquired through equal opportunities. It is a world where the rich have a significant advantage. It is a rich man’s world.

Let’s begin our investigation with some sobering statistics.

Last year, before legislation to fix the problem, research by the Australia Institute showed that:

“… the cost to the federal budget of generous superannuation tax concessions was on par with the cost of the entire aged pension and more significant than the total cost of the NDIS as a whole in 2022-2023.”

And Oxfam’s latest report, “Inequality Inc.,” said that the income of Australia’s 47 billionaires doubled in the last two years to $255 million.”

If you are amazed by those numbers, you are not alone. I am, too. Never before have the wealthy been so well taken care of.

Tax avoidance through family trusts is also an industry unto itself.

“Earnings can be allocated to family members with low income from other sources so that the taxable income attracts the lowest tax rate possible.

In some circumstances it is possible to reduce the tax bill to almost zero.”

As if that’s not enough:

“The rich also get rewarded with tax concessions to employ armies of lawyers, financial consultants, and accountants to arrange their tax affaires to avoid tax.”

While Australians face a cost-of-living crisis, billionaires have been raking it in. One report said that 897 self-managed super funds produced $1 million or more in income.

We now have “more wealth in the hands of 47 people than around 7.7 million Australians,” – just absurd.

And the wealth of:

“… the three wealthiest Australians, Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest and Harry Triguboff, has more than doubled since 2020 at a staggering $1.5 million per hour.”

That inequality of such magnitude should exist in a wealthy country like Australia should open our thinking toward a wealth tax.

SOS Australia rightly points out that:

“… the rest of the community bears the “cost of these tax concessions. It siphons off revenue that would be better used to fund schools, TAFE and universities, as well as other services such as health care, mental health, public housing, unemployment benefits and so on. As the economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have observed, tax avoidance is ‘the triumph of injustice.”

They add that:

“To compound the injustice, the wealthiest families in Australia also benefit from over $1 billion a year in government funding for the elite private schools they send their kids to. Figures published on My School show that 126 of the wealthiest schools in Australia received $1.25 billion in government funding in 2020. Not only do the rich avoid paying taxes, but they get massive subsidies from the taxes paid by the rest of the community. The sheer scale of the avarice is gobsmacking.”

The Australia Institute also points out that tax concessions for super items “such as medical benefits are $31.3 billion, and assistance to the states for hospitals is $26.6 billion.”

You have to wonder how individuals accumulate large sums in superannuation while receiving such generous tax benefits, not to mention negative gearing, franking credits, and CGT (capital gains) discounts.

When you stop to consider it, the situation is quite scandalous. How did we get here? Is it the result of consecutive conservative governments being too generous while in power? Or is it due to the Labor government’s reluctance to take action? Once you’ve given something, it’s tough to take it back.

I wanted to understand why significant wealth inequality exists in our society. I wondered why both conservative and left-leaning governments tend to reward those who already have a lot of money rather than support those with less. It seems counterintuitive that this pattern persists across different political ideologies.

A conservative philosophy might suggest they should, but it doesn’t say it should be unfair. Conversely, Labor philosophy unequivocally supports the less well-off.

I typed into my search engine, “Why do the rich in Australia receive so many tax breaks?” Google provided a multitude of headlines to peruse.

As I wrote this, news hit the airwaves that the stage three tax alterations would advance more equitably. The Opposition is now up in arms, of course, but logic has won over politics. They will shout broken promises, but Labor can hardly go against its philosophy and still maintain respect with its supporters.

The Australian started its salvo with six stories on its front page about the tax cuts the day after the announcement – none with equality in mind.

Distinguishing a change of mind from a broken promise is often precarious, particularly in politics. It takes courage to change your mind for the greater good.

Another article I read was by Aimee Picchi, from December 17, 2020, for MoneyWatch. Although it wasn’t Australian and a little dated, it contained a thread to what I sought. Picchi wrote that:

“The new paper, by David Hope of the London School of Economics and Julian Limberg of King’s College London, examines 18 developed countries – from Australia to the United States – over 50 years from 1965 to 2015. The study compared countries that passed tax cuts in a specific year, such as the U.S. in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan slashed taxes for the wealthy, with those that didn’t, and then examined their economic outcomes.”

The analysis discovered one significant change:

“The incomes of the rich grew much faster in countries such as the USA, where tax rates were lowered, but instead of trickling down to the middle class, the tax cuts for the rich accomplished much more. Reagan inadvertently or deliberately helped the rich become more wealthy and exacerbated income inequality.”

Although the report doesn’t cover the period of Trump’s Presidency, his tax cuts lifted the ultra-rich’s fortunes even further.

A piece by The Guardian’s Stephanie Convery from 2023 tells us that the:

“Australian data showed that a wealth tax of just 2% on the country’s millionaires with wealth over $7m, 3% on those with wealth over $67m, and 5% on billionaires would raise $29.1bn annually, enough to increase income support payments to the Henderson poverty line of $88 a day for 1.44 million people.”

We inhabit a system with flaws where the principles of capitalism do not guarantee an equitable distribution of economic resources. This leads to a small group of privileged individuals accumulating enormous wealth while most people grapple with poverty in some shape or form.

Tax reform is necessary to generate additional revenue for the government, which can then be used to reduce poverty and improve human services.

We need tax reform to help those struggling with poverty and improve access to essential human services. By generating additional government revenue, we can work towards creating a more compassionate society that supports and cares for all of its citizens.

My last Google search was surprising. I found it hard to believe that more than 250 ultra-wealthy individuals were urging politicians to increase their taxes. It happened at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 15-19, 2024.

“Our request is simple: we ask you to tax us, the very richest in society,” the wealthy people said in an open letter to world leaders. “This will not fundamentally alter our standard of living, deprive our children, or harm our nation’s economic growth. But it will turn extreme and unproductive private wealth into an investment for our common democratic future.”

Like I said: I was surprised.

My thought for the day

Is it feasible for incredibly wealthy individuals with many advantages to comprehend what it truly means to be in poverty? It’s difficult to say for sure, but some of them may have some understanding of the experience.

 

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Israel’s argument at The Hague: We are Incapable of Genocide

Israel’s relationship with the United Nations, international institutions and international law has at times bristled with suspicion and blatant hostility. In a famous cabinet meeting in 1955, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion famously knocked back the suggestion that the United Nations 1947 plan for partitioning Palestine had been instrumental in creating the State of Israel. “No, no, no!” he roared in demur. “Only the daring of the Jews created the state, and not any oom-shmoom resolution.”

In the shadow of the Holocaust, justifications for violence against foes mushroom multiply. Given that international law, notably in war, entails restraint and limits on the use of force, doctrines have been selectively pruned and shaped, landscaped to suit the needs of the Jewish state. When the strictures of convention have been ignored, the reasoning is clipped for consistency: defenders of international law and its institutions have been either missing in the discussion or subservient to Israel’s enemies. They were nowhere to be seen, for instance, when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser was preparing for war in the spring of 1967. Israel’s tenaciously talented statesman, Abba Eban, reflected in his autobiography about the weakness of the UN in withdrawing troops from the Sinai when pressured by Nasser to do so. It “destroyed the most central hopes and expectations on which we had relied on withdrawing from Sinai.”

These steely attitudes have seen international convention and practice, in the Israeli context, treated less as Dickensian ass as protean instruments, useful to deploy when convenient, best modified or ignored when nationally inconvenient. This is most evident regarding the Israel-Hamas war, which is now into its third month. Here, Israeli authorities are resolute in their calls that Islamic terrorism is the enemy, that its destruction is fundamental for civilisation, and that crushing measures are entirely proportionate. Palestinian civilian deaths might be regrettable but all routes of blame lead to Hamas and its resort to human shields.

These arguments have failed to convince a growing number of countries. One of them is South Africa. On December 29, the Republic filed an application in the International Court of Justice alleging “violations by Israel regarding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide […] in relation to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” Various “acts and omissions” by the Israeli government were alleged to be “genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent … to destroy the Palestinians in Gaza as part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.” What Pretoria is seeking is both a review of the merits of the case and the imposition of provisional measures that would essentially modify, if not halt, Israel’s Gaza operation.

Prior to its arguments made before the 15-judge panel on January 12, Israel rejected “with contempt the blood libel by South Africa in its application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).” The Israeli Foreign Ministry went so far as to suggest that the court was being exploited, while South Africa was, in essence, “collaborating with a terror group that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with demagogic rage, claimed that his country had witnessed “an upside-down world. Israel is accused of genocide while it is fighting against genocide.” The country was battling “murderous terrorists who carried out crimes against humanity.” Government spokesman Eylon Levy tried to make it all a matter of Hamas, nothing more, nothing less. “We have been clear in word and in deed that we are targeting the October 7th monsters and are innovating ways to uphold international law.”

In that innovation lies the problem. Whatever is meant by such statements as those of Israel Defence Forces spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, that “Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza”, the catastrophic civilian death toll, destruction, displacement and starvation would suggest the contrary. Innovation in war often entails carefree slaughter with a clear conscience.

On another level, the Israeli argument is more nuanced, going to the difficulties of proving genocidal intent. Amichai Cohen of Israel’s Ono Academic College and senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute admits that comments from right-wing Israeli ministers calling for the “emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza were not helpful. (They were certainly helpful to Pretoria’s case.) But he insists that the South African argument is based on “classic cherry-picking.” Cohen should know better than resort to the damnably obvious: all legal cases are, by definition, exercises of picking the finest cherries in the orchard.

The Israeli defence team’s oral submissions to the ICJ maintained a distinct air of unreality. Tal Becker, as legal advisor to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, tried to move judicial opinion in his address by drawing upon the man who minted genocide as a term of international law, Raphael Lemkin. Invariably, it was Becker’s purpose to again return to the Holocaust as “unspeakable” and uniquely linked to the fate of the Jews, implying that Jews would surely be incapable of committing those same acts. But here was South Africa, raining on the sacred flame, invoking “this term in the context of Israel’s conduct in a war it did not start and did not want. A war in which Israel is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations whose brutality knows no bounds.” Israel, pure; Israel vulnerable; Israel under attack.

In yet another jurisprudential innovation, Becker insisted that the Genocide Convention was not connected in any way to “address the brutal impact of intensive hostilities on the civilian population, even when the use of force raises ‘very serious issues of international law’ and involves ‘enormous suffering’ and ‘continuing loss of life’.” The Convention, rather, was meant “to address a malevolent crime of the most exceptional severity.”

The view is reiterated by another lawyer representing Israel. “The inevitable fatalities and human suffering of any conflict,” submitted Christopher Staker, “is not of itself a pattern of conduct that plausibly shows genocidal intent.” Butcheries on a massive scale would not, in of themselves, suggest such the requisite mental state to exterminate a race, ethnic or religious group.

As for South Africa’s insistence that provisional measures be granted, Staker was unwavering in repeating the familiar talking points. They “would stop Israel defending its citizens, more citizens could be attacked, raped and tortured [by Hamas], and provisional measures would prevent Israel doing anything.”

Legal tricks and casuistry were something of a blooming phenomenon in Israel’s submissions. South Africa had, according to Becker, submitted “a profoundly distorted factual and legal picture. The entirety of its case hinges on deliberately curated, decontextualised, and manipulative description of the reality of current hostilities.” Happy to also do a little bit of decontextualising, curating and manipulating himself, Becker trotted out the idea that, in accusing Israeli’s war methods as being genocidal, Pretoria was “delegitimizing Israel’s 75-year existence in its opening presentation.” It entailed erasing Jewish history and excising “any Palestinian agency or responsibility.” Such a ploy has been Israel’s rhetorical weapon for decades: all those who dare judge the state’s actions in a bad light also judge the legitimacy of the Jewish state to exist.

Malcom Shaw, a figure known for his expertise in the thorny realm of territorial disputes, did his little bit of legal curation. He took particular issue with South Africa’s use of history in suggesting that Israel had engaged in a prolonged dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians, effectively a remorseless, relentless Nakba lasting 75 years. The submission was curious for lacking any mooring in history, a fatal error to make when considering the Israel-Palestinian issue. It’s also palpably inaccurate, given the dozens of statements made by Israeli politicians over the decades acknowledging the brutal, ruthless and dispossessing tendencies of their own country. But legal practitioners love confines and walled off applications. The only thing that mattered here, argued Shaw, was the attack of October 7 by Hamas, a sole act of barbarity that could be read in terrifying isolation. That, he claimed was “the real genocide in this situation.”

Having tossed around his own idea about the real genocidaires (never Israel, remember?), Shaw then appealed to the sanctity of the term genocide, one so singular it would be inapplicable in most instances. Conflicts could still be brutal, and not be genocidal. “If claims of genocide were to become the common currency of our conflict … the essence of this crime would be diluted and lost.” Woe to the diluters.

Gilad Noam, in closing Israel’s defence, rejected the characterisation of Israel by South Africa as a lawless entity that regarded “itself as beyond and above the law”, whose population had become infatuated “with destroying an entire population.” In a sense, Noam makes a revealing point. What makes Israel’s conduct remarkable is that its government claims to operate within a world of laws, a form of hyper-legalisation just as horrible as a world without laws.

Ironically enough, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has been furiously pressing the International Criminal Court to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the crime of genocide, the siege and bombardment of Gaza “and the many expressions of genocidal intent, especially in his deleted tweet from 10/17/2023.” The tweet (or post) in question crudely and murderously declared that, “This is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.” If that does not reveal intent, little else will.

 

 

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Gaza

Is Israel committing genocide in Gaza? Palpably so. But have you bothered for even a second to step back and ask why it is happening? Probably not if faux outrage without historical underpinnings is your usual herd follower instinct.

I’m not going to fully fill you in on the history that has led to the current Gazan catastrophe. Maybe a few Google searches will ease your path out of your rigid stance, but probably not, because such an effort requires a questioning of both yourself and the automatic prejudices that you carry. Nobody voluntarily subjects themselves to such scrutiny, do they?

Read the history. Try to understand the ramifications of it. The christian church blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. The fact that the Romans did the actual deed is historically uncomfortable. Sure, vatican conclaves in the 400s AD tried to reverse the untruths but by then the damage was done and entrenched. Google it.

Ever since, over the last 1600 years, your christian west has subjected the Jewish people to an unending experience of pogrom, ethnic cleansing, and outright genocide. Think Venice in the medieval era, think England in the 16th cenury, think Russia in the 19th century, think the Nazis and their final solution. Uncomfortable thoughts that don’t fit in with the current zietgeist of being a lefty supporter of Palestine.

I’m proud to be a lefty. Doesn’t mean I left my brain and its capacity for critical thinking behind in the morass of the current sport of dumping on the Jews. You know, a while ago I published a little piece called The Gaza Sten-Gun Staccato, and people were that prejudicially entrenched they weren’t quick enough to understand that the piece outright pilloried both sides in the current conflict, it simply said that what both sides are doing is wrong. Well, that did not, for sure, appeal to the herd followers of either side.

I support the notion of a Palestinian State. The establishment of it is beyond due, and Israel will lose land to that new State. I support the notion of the Jewish People retaining a State of their own without the constant threat of outside interference.

I have no time for those who fail to read or comprehend the sharp bite of the history that informs the current actions of both the Palestinian and Jewish People.

 

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Futile and Dangerous: Bombing Yemen in the Name of Shipping

What a show. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was promoting a message of calm restraint and firm control in limiting the toxic fallout of Israel’s horrific campaign in Gaza, a decision was made by his government, the United Kingdom and a few other reticent collaborators to strike targets in Yemen, including the capital Sana’a. These were done, purportedly, as retribution for attacks on international commercial shipping in the Red Sea by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The wording in a White House media release mentions the operation’s purpose and the relevant participants. “In response to continued illegal, dangerous, and destabilizing Houthi attacks against vessels, including commercial shipping, transiting the Red Sea, the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom, with support from the Netherlands, Canada, Bahrain, and Australia, conducted joint strikes in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense.”

US Air Forces Central Command further revealed that the “multinational action targeted radar systems, defense systems, and storage and launch sites for one way attack unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.”

The rationale by the Houthis is that they are targeting shipping with a direct or ancillary Israeli connection, hoping to niggle them over the barbarities taking place in Gaza. As the Israeli Defence Forces are getting away with, quite literally, bloody murder, the task has fallen to other forces to draw attention to that fact. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdusalam’s post was adamant that “there was no threat to international navigation in the Red and Arabian Seas, and the targeting was and will continue to affect Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine.”

But that narrative has been less attractive to the supposedly law-minded types in Washington and London, always mindful that commerce trumps all. Preference has been given to such shibboleths as freedom of navigation, the interests of international shipping, all code for the protection of large shipping interests. No mention is made of the justification advanced by the Houthi rebels and the Palestinian plight, a topic currently featuring before the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Another feature of the strikes is the absence of a Security Council resolution from the United Nations, technically the sole body in the international system able to authorise the use of force under the UN Charter. A White House statement on January 11 attributes authority to the strikes much the same way the administration of George W. Bush did in justifying the warrantless, and illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (Ditto those on his same, limited bandwidth, Tony Blair of the UK and John Howard of Australia.) On that occasion, the disappointment and frustrations of weapons inspectors and rebukes from the UN about the conduct of Saddam Hussein, became vulnerable to hideous manipulation by the warring parties.

On this occasion, a “broad consensus as expressed by 44 countries around the world on December 19, 2023” and “the statement by the UN Security Council on December 1, 2023, condemning Houthi attacks against merchant and commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea” is meant to add ballast. Lip service is paid to the self-defence provisions of the UN Charter.

In a separate statement, Biden justified the attack on Houthi positions as necessary punishment for “unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea – including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history.” He also made much of the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian, “a coalition of more than 20 nations committed to defending international shipping and deterring Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.” No mention of the Israeli dimension here, at all.

In addition to the pregnant questions on the legality of such strikes in international law, the attacks, at least as far as US execution was concerned, was far from satisfactory to some members of Congress. Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashita Tlaib was irked that US lawmakers had not been consulted. “The American people are tired of endless war.” Californian Rep. Barbara Lee warned that, “Violence only begets more violence. We need a ceasefire now to prevent deadly, costly, catastrophic escalation of violence in the region.”

A number of Republicans also registered their approval of the stance taken by another Californian Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna, who expressed with certitude the view that Biden had “to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen and involving us in another middle eastern conflict.” Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah was in full agreement, as was West Virginia Republican Rep. Thomas Massie. “Only Congress has the power to declare war,” Massie affirmed.

Unfortunately for these devotees of Article I of the US Constitution, which vests Congress approval powers for making war, the War Powers Act, passed by Congress in November 1973, merely requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of military action, and the termination of such action within 60 days of commencement in the absence of a formal declaration of war by Congress or authorisation of military conflict. These days, clipping the wings of the executive when it comes to engaging in conflict is nigh impossible.

There was even less of a debate about the legality or wisdom of the Yemen strikes in Australia. Scandalously, and with a good deal of cowardice, the government preferred a deafening silence for hours in the aftermath of the operation. The only source confirming that personnel of the Australian Defence Forces were involved came from Biden, the commander-in-chief of another country. There had been no airing of the possibility of such involvement. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had, in not sending a warship from the Royal Australian Navy to join Operation Prosperity Guardian, previously insisted that diplomacy might be a better course of action. Evidently, that man is up for turning at a moment’s notice.

In a brief statement made at 4.38 pm on of January 12 (there was no press conference in sight, no opportunity to inquire), Albanese declared with poor conviction that, “Australia alongside other countries has supported the United States and the United Kingdom to conduct strikes to deal with this threat to global rules and commercial shipping.” He had waited for the best part of a day to confirm it to the citizenry of his country. He had done so without consulting Parliament.

Striking the Houthis would seem, on virtually all counts, to be a signal failure. Benjamin H. Friedman of Defense Priorities sees error piled upon error: “The strikes on the Houthis will not work. They are very unlikely to stop Houthi attacks on shipping. The strikes’ probable failure will invite escalation to more violent means that may also fail.” The result: policymakers will be left “looking feckless and thus tempted to up the ante to more pointless war to solve a problem better left to diplomatic means.” Best forget any assuring notions of taking the sting out of the expanding hostilities. All roads to a widening war continue to lead to Israel.

 

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Michelle Obama for President? Yes, she can!

By guest columnist Tess Lawrence

Michelle Obama for President?

Yes, of course. Is it even a thing? Absolutely.

It makes sense out of Donald Trump’s nonsensical but dangerous bid to reclaim his title of Heavyweight Champion Idiot of the Free World.

He’s turned Uncle Sam into Uncle Spam. Uncle Sham. And then there’s all that pussy-grabbing wham, bam, thank you ma’am stuff.

Let’s face it. Joe Biden’s election restored some sanity to the Oval Office along with the restoration of normal and bureaucratic, domestic doings of the White House.

Remember all those unoccupied offices when dicktator Trump was in power?

Who needs all those rooms when your entire staff comprises family, a la Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa dynasty?

Ivanka, Eric, Donald Jr – in their father’s White House, many mansions

In their father’s White House were many, many mansions for the likes of Ivanka, Eric, the very junior Donald Junior and the other Trumplets and their partners.

Biden steadied the ship and removed the floating shit. Sure, he had the advantage of being Veep to President Barack Obama, so the presidency was always in his vision and scope and certainly, within his grasp and capacity.

Now, there’s a hole in Biden’s bucket list

But now there’s a hole in the bucket list of Joseph Robinette Biden Junior, the 46th President of a very Disunited States. But hey, name me a country that isn’t suffering from an identity crisis on this very day, including our own.

There are legitimate concerns about Joe Biden’s capacity to win, let alone see out a second term, healthwise. President Biden is now 81 years old, but it’s not his age that’s the problem.

He seems to be suffering from some sort of condition, and the world has been watching when, on occasion, First Lady Dr Jill Biden, has ‘rescued’ him from his apparent vagueness and disorientations; rather like the courageous efforts of Nancy with Ronald Reagan.

Does Biden have dementia? Not a sin.

There is loud rumour that Biden may be exhibiting signs of dementia. That’s not a sin. But it is certainly worrying when you have to function as the President of the United States. You have to be ‘home’ 24/7. The world depends on it.

Biden’s campaign opening speech, delivered on the eve of January 6th, the third anniversary of the Trump induced storming of the Capitol was brilliant and coherent, well written and well delivered. He stutters. I get that. So do I. That’s not counted.

“…Today, we gather in a new year…just one day before January 6, a day forever seared in our memory because it was on that day that we nearly lost America, lost it all.

Today, we’re here to answer the most important of questions. Is democracy still America’s sacred cause? I mean it.

This is not rhetorical, academic or hypothetical. Whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause is the most urgent question of our time.

And it’s what the 2024 election is all about.

The choice is clear.”

 

Biden kicks off 2024 campaign in PA with speech marking three years since Jan. 6:

 

Biden calls out Trump’s megalomania and magalomania

Biden’s recounting of the insurrection and the awful destructive, cruel hubris fuelled by the megalomania and the magalomania of the gross narcissist Donald Trump must surely send a shiver down what is left of the collective spine of the world’s so-called democracies.

But if not Biden for president, who then?

To some, Vice-president Kamala Harris has failed to live up to early promise and whether by Camp Biden design or her own, she hasn’t really appeared to grow in the role in terms of her public profile, although latterly she’s been on more overseas missions.

This from The White House website:

On August 11, 2020, Vice President Harris accepted President Joe Biden’s invitation to become his running mate and help unite the nation. She is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice President, as was the case with other offices she has held. She is, however, determined not to be the last.”

As things stand. Or fall. She could still become president if Biden died, resigned or was found to be incapacitated. Once unshackled, Harris could surprise us all.

Could she beat Donald Trump? Probably not.

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman, Michelle Obama

Then suddenly but not entirely unexpected, a shaft of sunlight beams through the darkness.

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman; Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.

In her timely appearance on Jay Shetty’s madly popular award-winning health and wellbeing podcast, ON Purpose, Obama just happened to let slip that she was terrified at the possible outcome of the US 2024 presidential race.

What Michelle Obama said on ON Purpose was on purpose.

 

MICHELLE OBAMA Opens Up on Her 8 Years in The White House: “We Know Too Much.”

 

For commentators, it signaled what many Democrats and others alike had hoped for. Former First Lady, Michelle Obama was touting the possibility of entering the race for the presidency.

Two women could beat Trump: Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama

There are two women of colour who could take on Trump and win – Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. If Obama is serious, she would surely receive backing from Winfrey – and if so, watch out allegedly ex CEO Rupert Murdoch.

Something is going on in the engine room of the Obamas. Both have publicly expressed concern about the possible implications for America if Trump somehow slithers his way back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; although I don’t think either have mentioned him by name.

Michelle Robinson Obama might well seem like a lonesome Crusoe if she does campaign for preselection under the umbrella of the Democratic Party, but she won’t be the first African American woman to do so.

The making of a precedent Or two. Shirley Anita Chisolm

That title goes to the extraordinary and powerful orator, Shirley Anita Chisholm.

In 1972, with the telling campaign slogan ‘UNBOUGHT AND UNBOSSED’ Chisholm, who had already made her mark by being the first African America woman to be elected to Congress, where she was to serve for seven terms.

 

Shirley Chisholm: The first black woman to run for US president.

 

Although the former First Lady was the first African American to occupy that role, there is little doubt that her marriage to President Obama was a marriage of equals in that she was and remains an effective communicator and administrator who seriously champions a number of causes and projects. Then. And now.

Sometimes, given the crude political intrusion of the Trump years, that still contaminate global politics, the Obama years seem ethereal. Did it really happen that America once had a black President? I was doing a vox pop in Victoria’s Thornbury when Obama was elected – and some people were weeping with joy that such a thing could happen!

Can you imagine a black man being elected elected US President today? No. Can you imagine a black woman being elected President today? Yes, if that woman is Michelle Obama.

A poster for presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm from 1972. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gifted with pride from Ellen Brooks.

 

Yes, she can!

Michelle Obama will be sixty on Wednesday. She’s a bub compared with Biden. Again, it’s not the age that matters; it is the capacity to lead and all the depth and breadth that leadership entails. Can she do it? Yes, she can.

Clearly a profound thinker, writer and doer, clues lay in what the Obamas have been up to since they left The White House, both collectively and individually and at times the couple has come under scrutiny and copped some criticism.

The human obstacle to Obama’s ambition is Harris. Michelle Obama as running mate of the current Veep won’t cut it.

Michelle Obama, running mate Kamala Harris. Heir and spare

Would Harris stand aside and be prepared to be Obama’s vice presidential running mate? That’s a big ask for someone who’s already the current heir to the throne. Why would she agree to be relegated to a spare?

And yet, a Michelle Obama/Kamala Harris ticket is not only compelling, it may just save the Democrats and may yet save America from repugnant Trumpian Republicanism.

A presidential Trump loss would hopefully chasten the Grand Old Party and rejuvenate it. Force it to reform; shed its skin. It ain’t healthy to have a weak political opponent in Federal or state politics, let alone have weak governments as incumbents.

Can Michelle Obama defeat Donald Trump?

Yes, she can.

Tess Lawrence is Contributing editor-at-large for Independent Australia and her most recent article is The night Porter and allegation of rape.

 

 

 

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Peter Dutton And Albo’s Special Sort Of Weakness…

Interviewer: Tonight we have a spokesman for Peter Dutton because he wasn’t available so we have Noah Dear to explain what Mr Dutton meant when he complained about our decision not to send a ship to the Middle East and said that it took a “lot of effort and a special sort of weakness and incompetence for our Prime Minister to turn his back on our closest ally, a decision that could only be welcomed by Hamas (a listed terrorist organisation).” Good evening, Mr Dear.

Dear: Good evening. Yes, it’s a shameful decision and a weak decision. I mean we’ve never turned our backs on the United States. Whenever they’ve asked us to be involved in any war anywhere we’ve always done what we were told and anything less is, well, pretty weak, frankly.

Interviewer: But the government says that they’re more concerned about what’s going on in the Pacific. Shouldn’t that be our focus?

Dear: No, our focus should be whatever America tells us is our focus. As Mr Dutton said, it’s pretty weak when you don’t do what your greatest ally tells you to do.

Interviewer: So you’re suggesting that refusing to do what the USA tells him to do makes Mr Albanese weak?

Dear: Exactly. He’s not standing up to the people who think that we shouldn’t be sending a ship to Middle East.

Interviewer: And who are those people exactly?

Dear: The left of his party. I mean there’s never been a war that they supported… If it was up to them we’d have never gone to Vietnam to stop the communists from invading and we’d be overrun by Marxists.

Interviewer: Don’t some members of your party think that we have been overrun by Marxists?

Dear: Yes, so?

Interviewer: Doesn’t that suggest that going to Vietnam didn’t stop them and it was pretty much a waste of time?

Dear: Waste of time? That’s an insult to all the people who died protecting our freedom.

Interviewer: But by sending a ship to the Middle East aren’t we risking the lives of young Australians?

Dear: Yes, great, isn’t it? Give them a chance to die and preserve the legacy of people dying so that we can thank them and say that people died protecting our freedom so how dare you abuse their memory by saying something that we disagree with…

Interviewer: Why did he add the bit about the decision being welcomed by Hamas? After all, it’s the Hootsi pirates that the ship is meant to be warding off.

Dear: Well, they’re all on the same side, aren’t they? Hootsi, Hamas, Iran, university students, China, the ALP…

Interviewer: I see… Leaving that for the moment, I have information that certain people in Defence didn’t want the ship to be sent because of our limited capacity. For example, it would tie up more than one ship because we’d need to have another on its way to replace it and then we’d need a third one to replace that while the first one was returning home. Also the pirates in the Middle East are using drones and we have a limited capacity to protect ourselves against drone strikes.

Dear: Well, I don’t know if that’s true but if it is doesn’t that suggest that the Albanese government has been asleep at the wheel?

Interviewer: But your party was in power until last year.

Dear: Now you’re just spouting Labor Party talking points. I mean the idea that our current leadership team is responsible for anything is just nonsense. Peter Dutton wasn’t the PM, David Littleproud wasn’t the Deputy PM, Barnaby wasn’t paying attention, Sussan Ley was trying to solve the housing crisis by buying up more investment properties, Stuart Robobert was trying ensure that any debts that people owed were paid back whether they owed them or not … None of them are responsible…

Interviewer: So you’re saying that they’re all irresponsible?

Dear: Yes… No… Look, I’m saying that Labor are in power and it’s up to them to fix things and not to attempt to blame others for what they haven’t done.

Interviewer: So it’s Labor’s fault and they shouldn’t seek to shift the blame?

Dear: Exactly. We’ve never tried to shift the blame even though most of things that went wrong are the direct result of Tony Abbott’s inability to accept that he won the election and actually had to get on with governing, or Malcolm’s inability to lead because it was a condition of becoming PM that he promised not to move the party to the centre, or Scott Morrison’s inability to move at all because he was posing for a photo. We’ve just accepted that it’s time to move on and we don’t want to look back and talk about what we did or didn’t do. It’s time to forget the past unless we’re talking about how the Rudd/Gillard years are the worst government we’ve ever had apart from this one and the Whitlam one.

Interviewer: So you’re prepared to take some of the blame?

Dear: Only when it’s actually our fault in some way and, so far, it never has been.

Interviewer: I see. On another matter, in order to clean up all those nasty rumours swirling around on the Internet, why did Peter Dutton leave the police force?

Dear: Honestly, is there no level that you won’t stoop to? He left for personal reasons.

Interviewer: There was a story in one paper that it was because he’d had a car accident and he was afraid to drive.

Dear: Even if that were true, it’s terrible that you’d resort to a personal attack like that…

Interviewer: I was just giving you the opportunity to set the record straight.

Dear: It’s just typical of you lefties! You have nothing to offer so you attack the person. It’s pathetic! It’s weak, just like the PM is weak. You resort to name-calling like when Albanese said: “Sit down, Boofhead!” to Mr Dutton. I mean, he was terribly upset and it took great courage to sit down after that. Mr Dutton is a lovely man and insults hurt him…

Interviewer: Some might say that sounds weak?

Dear: That’s a terrible thing to say. Accusing the leader of political party of being weak is not appropriate…

Interviewer: I was just asking the questions and giving y…

Dear: Well, you should think long and hard about what you’re doing because if we were in power you’d…

Interviewer: Yes?

Dear: Never mind. It’s been a pleasure.

Interviewer: But I haven’t finished…

Dear: You will be once I ring your boss!

 

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Censoring Israeli Violence: Western Media Outlets Capitulate

The cathedral of censorship is a vast, airy one. In its embrace, texts are abridged, images removed, ideas scrubbed. Historical inconveniences are filed and rendered inaccessible. The only sermons tolerated will be those satisfying and serving the dictates of power.

The power Israel disproportionately wields here, notably across a number of Western democratic states, is staggering. It is manifested in moves to not publish material critical of the country’s assault on Gaza, and, in some cases, directly target journalists who dare violate such injunctions.

Censorship is a manifold beast. The conventional approach is that of the blanking redaction: the “nothing to see here” school of regulation. Another is that of imposing what is akin to a counterfeit balancing act: to mention the slaughter of thousands of Palestinian children must be, for instance, softened by mention of a dozen Israeli children who were killed, mutilated or kidnapped by barbaric Hamas fighters. Each message, dispatch and broadcast must be accordingly laden with such qualifications.

In some cases, certain matters are simply not mentioned, indexed for being too unsavoury, too challenging, too inconvenient. To also run them would risk careers and put reputations at risk. Moral cowardice is guaranteed to do the rest.

Examples abound in the field. In October, the German media behemoth, Axel Springer, took a dim view of 20-year-old news apprentice Kasem Raad for taking issue with the outlet’s crawlingly pro-Israeli line. He had asked questions of the management line regarding Israel’s military operations while also posting a video disputing parts of the Israeli narrative regarding the Hamas attacks on October 7. “It is one of my rights to ask questions. I wanted to stay at Axel Springer,” claimed Raad, who was fired for his alleged impertinence. “Unfortunately, I was taken in for questioning by senior management, who told me, ‘We are Germans and we need to do this’.”

In November, almost a dozen staffers at the Los Angeles Times signed an open letter condemning the Israeli operations in Gaza, arguing that such efforts alongside the media blockade “threatens newsgathering in unprecedented fashion.” In addition to noting the runaway death toll of Palestinians, the letter was also cognisant of the growing number of slain journalists. “As reporters, editors, photographers, producers, and other workers in newsrooms around the world, we are appalled at the slaughter of our colleagues and their families by the Israeli military and government.”

The letter also goes on to note the “dehumanizing rhetoric” being used by “Western newsrooms” that have “served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Double-standards, inaccuracies and fallacies abound in American publications and these have been well-documented.”

On November 18, Semafor reported that “staffers who signed the letter have been told by the paper’s management that they will not be allowed to cover the conflict in any way for at least three months.” That’s certainly one way of enforcing balance.

A favourite of news management in such cases is also the non-renewal of contracts. Veteran cartoonist Steve Bell received such treatment from The Guardian in October, ending a four-decade association. It involved a submitted cartoon, featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu performing surgery on his own stomach with two scalpels while wearing boxing gloves, revealing a flesh incision in the shape of the Gaza Strip. Internal complaints followed. The scolding line from management: “Jewish bloke; pound of flesh; anti-Semitic trope.” As Bell reflected, “It is getting pretty nigh impossible to draw this subject for the Guardian now without being accused of deploying ‘antisemitic tropes’.”

Had the incurious dunderheads at the paper bothered to do their research, they would have realised that Bell was not even referencing the famous Shakespearian remark by Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. It was inspired by the satirical work of cartoonist David Levine, a frequent New York Review of Books contributor who thought it appropriate to, in 1966, mock US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s posing for cameras to sport a scar left by gallbladder surgery. Levine’s little touch-up gave the scar the shape of Vietnam, a country that would come to define his presidency.

The Spectator’s editor, Fraser Nelson, appropriately remarked that this whole chapter potentially imperilled the glorious savagery of British satire itself, menaced by such forces as the social media juggernaut and doltish editors. To have depicted Netanyahu as an echo of LBJ seemed a “fair analogy: Netanyahu will be defined by what happens next in Gaza just as LBJ was by Vietnam.”

Even in the more rarified climes of academic discussion, the devil of censorship was doing its work behind the thin veneer of bogus integrity. In a November 18 meeting of the Harvard Law Review, editors (they number 104) voted by a majority to block the publication of a piece commissioned from human Palestinian human rights attorney and doctoral candidate, Rabea Eghbariah. The article asserted that the unfolding calamity in Gaza would satisfy the demanding threshold of genocide and that the Nakba, which involved the expulsion of Palestinians from their territories in 1948, deserved to be recognised as a crime.

Despite reviewing and checking the article for its factual content, the online chairs, Sabrina A. Ochoa and Tascha Shahriari-Parsa, were taken to task for, among other things, sidestepping standard editorial processes at the Law Review. This stiff and snotty reasoning suggests something else at play. It certainly did not impress some 125 law professors who signed an open letter raising matters of “censorship” and over 25 editors who, in a November 22 statement, found the decision threatening to “academic freedom and perpetuates the suppression of Palestinian voices.”

In The Harvard Crimson, the more revealing concerns of some editors who favoured preventing publication were noted. To publish the item would have put them at risk of a “public backlash or doxing” and that “these consequences would likely disproportionately fall on people of color at the Law Review.” Like censorship, a lack of courage is also manifold.

Within Israel itself, publications such as Haaretz are squarely within the government’s sights. Communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, drew up a proposal last month suggesting that official government notices would no longer be published in the paper. The proposal had not been vetted by the ministry’s legal advisor and would result in the halting of any payments to the paper from Israeli entities within his remit, including the cancellation of state employee subscriptions to the publication.

The reason was outlined in Karhi’s letter to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs: “Since the beginning of the war, I have received many complaints that Haaretz has taken an offensive line which undermines the war’s goals and disparages the military effort and its social fortitude. It is possible that some of the paper’s publications even cross the criminal standard set in those far-flung sections of the penal code reserved for wartime only.”

The Israeli journalists’ union was unimpressed, pointing out that Karhi had spent much of his time in office trying to close the public broadcasting corporation. “His new proposal to end all government business with Haaretz is a populistic proposal devoid of any feasibility or logic, and its entire purpose is to garner likes among his political base at the expense of dedicated journalists who are working night and day right now to cover the war.” Despite possessing some momentum at this point, we can only hope that Karhi, and his ilk, will eventually stall before the blood-drenched realities of this conflict. Some hard-headed, brave news coverage would also be welcome.

 

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The demise of social cohesion is what threatens us most, and the Coalition has thrived on it

Internal bickering between ingrained, imported, or cultivated groups can have the most ruinous consequences for a nation’s social cohesion, particularly those of a multicultural mix like Australia.

With its extensive mix of ethnicities, Australia is a prosperous multicultural country that has maintained peace and social cohesion.

We have prospered with this influx of folk from around the world, and I have been party to many grand arrivals in my lifetime. Of course, our early settlers came in the thousands from the overcrowded jails of England. Looking for a better future, the Irish and Scottish followed. Religious differences came with them, but we managed it.

All this in the backdrop of The White Australia Policy, which prevailed as our attitude to immigration, after Federation in 1901, and for the next 70 years. Was it racist? Of course, it was. It was aimed at stopping non-white people from coming to Australia.

Yet such diversity exists nowhere else. We are home to the “world’s oldest continuous cultures, and Australians identify with more than 270 ancestries.” Since 1945, millions of people have migrated to Australia.

In the main, we have maintained social cohesion despite the complexities these folk would inevitably bring. “Populate or perish was the catchcry” of the 1950s. It worked:

  • Nearly one-third of Aussies were born overseas
  • Half of Australians have an overseas-born parent
  • Almost one-quarter of Australians speak a language other than English at home.

It was this immigration that built the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. The richness of their different ethnicities merged into ours to produce a new Australia. It has, in the main, been harmonious. However, some have taken the opportunity to bring their problems with them and act them out on our soil.

Others of Australian heritage have sought to take advantage of these problems to stir up racial prejudice for their own political advantage.

However, some subjects, such as Israel, can be taboo, and the ABC’s decision to go ahead with Q&A without an audience two weeks ago illustrates how volatile some issues can be.

Our history of rejecting refugees is a case in point. John Howard, Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have a history of stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment and racism for political advantage and religious attachment.

As recently as the first question on the resumption of Parliament (November 14), the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, deliberately misquoted what Penny Wong had said in an interview with David Speers on the Insider program. The Opposition Leader Peter Dutton began Question Time by asking Mr Albanese whether it was the government’s position to call for an Israeli ceasefire.

He put to the Prime Minister that on Sunday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong had:

“… claimed Israel, in carrying out its defensive war against terror group Hamas, is breaching international law and should undertake a ceasefire.”

Here is the transcript of what she actually said:

Speers: So just on the ceasefire argument, as you mentioned, the French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he is calling for a ceasefire. You just said you would like to see the steps taken towards a ceasefire. Can I just invite you to tease out what sort of steps are you looking for?

Foreign Minister: Well, we need steps towards a ceasefire because we know that Hamas – it cannot be one‑sided – we know that Hamas is still holding hostages and we know that a ceasefire must be agreed between the parties.”

Nowhere in her answers can you find that Australia was committed to a ceasefire, yet Dutton’s sleazy question suggested otherwise. The Australian newspaper supported his assertion with this headline: “Albanese refuses to endorse Wong call for ceasefire” (firewalled) and started with this lie:

“Anthony Albanese has refused to back Penny Wong’s call for a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas, or her suggestion the Netanyahu government could be breaking international law.”

The point of all this, of course, is that while these two sides are fighting the most depraved acts of warfare, killing children, bombing hospitals and committing the most terrible crimes against each other. The Opposition Leader chooses to play dangerous politics with what is a war of far-reaching consequences.

On Wednesday, November 15, Dutton launched another attack, attempting to link criticisms of the government’s response to the Gaza conflict and the release of detainees from immigration detention. Albanese was having none of it. Visibly angry and upset, he accused Peter Dutton of “weaponising antisemitism.”

“To come in here and move this resolution and link antisemitism with the decision of the high court is beyond contempt.”

“I didn’t think that he could go this low as to link these two issues'” he said in response to Dutton’s motion.

But Dutton is not alone in these acts that create civil disobedience and threaten social cohesion. The Liberal Party and its leaders have never felt ill-disposed to stirring up racism.

Let’s test our memories for a moment.

Remember when Peter Dutton openly accused Sudanese teenagers of social disobedience by running amok in the streets of Melbourne. (Then) Prime Minister Turnbull followed him up with similar accusations that amounted to straight-out racism.

No one can forget the tensions that developed when John Howard said:

“But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

The Tampa Affair followed, and the phrase “Stop the boats” further antagonised people. Remember when Alan Jones incited hatred and the Cronulla riots began. Then there were Scott Morrison’s numerous offences as Immigration Minister, Social Services Minister, and Minister for everything.

To the point of boredom, Turnbull told us that we were the most successful multi-racial country in the world, yet at the same time, while Dutton was claiming that people were scared to leave their homes to eat out because of African gangs. Turnbull and Dutton were repudiated in a sensible fact-laden piece by Waleed Aly.

Turnbull seemed to be all over the shop:

“Australia will consider adding a ‘values test’ for those considering permanent residency in order to protect its ‘extraordinarily successful’ multicultural society.”

In London at the time, the Citizenship and Multicultural Minister Alan Tudge, in a speech to the Australia/UK Leadership Forum, suggested a “values” test to fend off “segregation”. Ever the hypocrite, Turnbull agreed.

“Segregation,” I thought to myself. I dislike the word intently for the images it places before one’s eyes. Still, nevertheless, it is something we have practised – especially on First Nations people – for as long as immigration has existed and is as natural as life itself. His speech was full of racial overtones calculated to incite further violence back home.

Propaganda aims to make you feel good about the wrongs being perpetrated on you.

Craig Emmerson noted that John Howard tried this tactic in 1988 with Asian immigration, adding:

“Who would have imagined Turnbull would try it again in 2018. The Liberals haven’t changed in 30 years. Very sad for our country.”

When the Italians came to Melbourne, they gathered together in Brunswick, the Greeks in Carlton, the Vietnamese in Springvale and the Chinese in Box Hill. And so on. Then, over time, they neatly integrated into general society.

We are now confronted with more odious loathing threatening our social cohesion. This time, it is between Jews and Middle Eastern Muslim groups, both of which can claim the moral ground. These vile events are attracting protesting groups in enormous numbers, threatening to escalate into full-on rioting. On social media, commentary of a xenophobic and anti-Semitic nature is just pathetic.

Any meaningful resolution to the problems in the Middle East can only be resolved with a transformation of the minds of men and consideration of the effect religion, any religion, has on people.

Australians have a long history of finding fault with things we don’t understand. The complexity of Middle Eastern politics and religion is so electric that they can flare up at any time, and any discussion on the subject is filled with danger.

In our mindless observation at various times, we have blamed communists, Jews, women, the devil, Indigenous people and witches, even God for all manner of things.

Sitting on the platform at Flinders Street Station and watching the passing parade of ethnicity, I can only admire a country I could never envisage from the same seat in the 1950s.

My thoughts for the day

It’s no secret that our differences can often lead to conflict and division. However, imagine what we could achieve if we all worked together despite our diverse backgrounds and opinions. By coming together harmoniously, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. So, let’s put aside our differences and work towards a common goal – a brighter future for all.

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Chaos and confusion are intentional weapons: Albanese must strengthen not weaken the misinformation bill

The Albanese government announced this week that it would weaken proposed disinformation-suppressing measures because the Coalition was implacably opposed to them. It is hardly surprising that Peter Dutton’s Opposition should fight the bill; it is disappointing that Labor should have so little commitment to protecting its own chances let alone the democratic project.

Dutton’s Coalition showed, over the referendum campaign, that engaging in culture war divorced from empirical truth is their chosen path to regaining power. Thus it is in Labor’s interest to enhance our democracy by reinforcing integrity in civic debate and politics with as much vigour as they possess.

There are many forces at work fostering chaos and confusion. Some of the problem is structural: social media monetisation driven by pandering to the id; old gatekeeper media organisations struggling to remain solvent in the face of the internet challenge; too much competition for our attention.

There are, however, forces determined to capitalise on that situation. There are many kinds of disinformation at work. Some of it is merely random trolling or malice at play. There is however much that stems from national actors, with such technology functioning as a military asset in hot or cold war situations. Cyber warfare forces are amongst the least expensive divisions and weapons at a government’s disposal, but we have seen repeatedly how powerful one facet, the digital versions of leaflet dropping over enemy lines, has become. Compared to traditional wartime propaganda, it is much harder to distinguish from reliable information.

The US has also used its giant tech firms to meddle in foreign countries’ politics: Google, for example, interfered in countries such as Syria, against Assad, for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many nations have such divisions with China, Iran and Israel divisions making news. Israel also spawns a number of troubling private “security” companies that deploy military expertise for profit or patriotic goals. It can, of course, be challenging to measure the integrity and intent of the reports and complaints made about these nations’ forays into disinformation.

Russia has been notorious in the field using Facebook to shove crowbars into the civic divides that pervade America. It has also been most effectively muddying opinion about its neoimperialist and traditional imperialist actions regarding nations in its region. As well as allegedly strategising against Israel, it has been working since the invasion of Ukraine to hide the truth. A factor as basic as motive has become fodder for endless debate.

This derives from the same information campaign skills that Russia developed over the Syrian civil war where, for example, the moral reputation of the White Helmets remains starkly divided, depending on the individual’s information source. Some believe them to be heroes who rescue the injured; others see them as a propaganda operation that supports terrorist groups. The latter opinion appears to be the result of a sustained Russian and Syrian government disinformation campaign. Publications such as The Grayzone seem thoroughly integrated into Russian information networking.

The situation is not aided by the old anti-war left becoming susceptible to Russian propaganda about Ukraine driven by long and justified disgust with Western neoimperial foreign policy. To see figures like Noam Chomsky spreading the new imperialist aggressor’s talking points is odd: there is room for villains all around. This is one facet of the new diagonalist politics where leftish figures end up working for the Right.

The same information chaos surrounds understanding the sustained Israeli bombardment of Gaza after Hamas’s gruesome attack on the 7th of October. Cyber strategies, including disinformation, have been important tools. There are many actors involved, including minor third parties.

The power of lobby groups to suppress discussion of information arising from the violence has been stark. Jewish peak bodies have Australian government and media so dedicated to avoiding charges of antisemitism that they can barely challenge action that is “perilously close to meeting the threshold” of genocide. Penny Wong’s long-delayed and tepid request to halt attacks on hospitals is depicted as supporting “false and harmful narratives,” a call that has the peak bodies “highly concerned.” Moreover it’s important for journalists (and Kmart) to distinguish between real Jewish community peak bodies and a disgraceful imitation. Disinformation augments misinformation natural in the chaos of warfare so that knowing where to find factual accounts is fraught.

News Corp is certainly one source to avoid. Rupert Murdoch’s investment, with Dick Cheney, in Genie Energy has prevented his media organisation being a reliable source on Israel and Palestine. Genie has had exclusive rights to explore for oil and gas in the contested Golan Heights since 2013. (Did Rupert Murdoch request Scott Morrison send peacekeeping forces to the Golan Heights in 2019?) The investment is also argued to be a substantial factor in News Corp’s climate denial propaganda.

This illustrates that private sector efforts to manipulate opinion can be just as critical as national efforts to achieve military goals. Climate denial and culture wars promoting ultraconservative social positions have long been tied to muddying the civic information space. The primary goal was overtly crippling public ability to commit to fighting for industry regulation.

The model was honed in the campaign to stop certainty taking hold about the gold standard science linking tobacco smoking and cancer. The cigarette, in 2013 considered “the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation,” was not regulated for decades because of the long PR war fought by the tobacco lobby. Many of the same people and scientists used the same strategies to stop the transition from carbon-based energy to renewables. The number of deaths to be caused by this 50-year delay will dwarf tobacco deaths in the decades ahead.

The bodies fighting industry regulation and taxes merged with ultraconservatives fighting the growing diversity of 20th century societies. Networks like the Council for National Policy and the Atlas Network were developed with the goal of destroying civic discourse in order to achieve the ultimate liberty of business combined with statist control of public morality. Much of the money funding this project comes from fossil fuel billionaires.

The strategies used include owning media bodies. Religious radio networks in the US, for example, proved powerful. It involved founding schools or funding chairs in universities intended to produce intellectual material to support their goals. Representatives and delegates continue to write columns for the newspapers, bolstered by big advertorial and advertising spending. Metastasising clusters of civil society organisations are still being established: some were intended to present as thinktanks, others to present as grass roots organisations. The fakery involved in these is captured in the strategy’s label “astroturfing.”

These interests work with full-service influence companies to manipulate the debate. The company that developed the model, Black, Manafort and Stone, became known as the Torturers’ Lobby. It was not just murderous autocrats that they whitewashed for Washington dollars, however. They perverted the information space and democracy for corporate and political clients too.

Australia spawned Crosby Textor, and New Zealand Topham Guerin, as offspring of that innovative forebear.

The Murdoch family was involved, alongside some of Australia’s best known mining magnates, in the founding of such “think” tanks in Australia. The Institute of Public Affairs, the Centre for Independent Studies and the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance are several of the Australian bodies that belong to the insidious international Atlas Network.

The Voice referendum campaign become another tool in the array of targets selected by these bodies. Dr Jeremy Walker and Anthony Klan’s investigations into the ways that Advance and Fair Australia are connected to the Atlas Network’s Australian affiliates also highlighted how the No campaign used the typical strategies to muddy the debate until clarity was impossible. The connections to fossil fuel are clear and follow a long history of Atlas affiliates attacking First People’s efforts to protect their land.

The slogan used by the No campaign, “If you don’t know, vote no,” was an embarrassing celebration of Australian ignorance. It was also peak fossil fuel disinformation. This command to abandon the search for truth and understanding is precisely what tobacco and fossil fuel interests sought to create and manipulate. The study of agnotology is, in part, a study of the deliberate fostering of this ignorance. They want us all to vote no to regulating or taxing industry because we just don’t know.

China and Russia are both amongst powers alleged to have powered an attack on information about the Voice, including the deployment of bots. The AEC’s efforts to check lies have been described as “like a man standing with a backyard hose, waving it at an inferno.”

In celebrating the defeat of the Voice, Jacinta Nampijinpa price signalled that her next target would be Queer Australians. Andrew Bolt highlighted again the link between the Voice and fighting climate action: slamming renewable energy with “Now let’s do Labor’s other mad crusade” (23/10).

Fighting disinformation about fossil fuels and similar controversial sectors, as well as inhibiting destructive culture war battles used to disguise the primary goals, has become the field of independents and minor parties like the Greens. Monique Ryan has introduced a bill to limit the toxic impact of lobbyists with her Clean Up Politics proposal. Zali Steggall has introduced her Voter Protections in Political Advertising bill. Sophie Scamps has tabled a bill to provide safeguards for public appointments. They are collectively fighting alongside the Greens to pressure Labor to make the misinformation bill strong and also extend it to cover the mainstream media.

The Liberal Party has arguably become the political arm of the various interests represented by the Atlas Network’s Australian affiliates. Their direct and broader interest lie in the information space being chaotic. In this light, their criticism that the misinformation bill attacks “freedom of speech” must be seen as the disingenuous nonsense that it is.

Australia can’t be a functioning democracy unless voters understand policy platforms on offer and the stakes. Unless we properly control dis- and misinformation in the civic space, we have little chance to vote well. Albanese must find a backbone for his own sake as well as the nation’s.

 

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The Strange Case Of Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price

Politics is a strange game…

Now, I realise a lot of people are going to tell me that it’s not a game and that political decisions have real and profound impacts on people and calling it a game is offensive… which is why I added the word strange.

I don’t want to use the words “Canberra bubble” because it suggests that it’s confined to one city and that it could be popped at any time by a simple prick. And if that last point were true then it would have been popped a long time ago, even before Scott Morrison became PM.

Part of the trouble is that people who focus on politics all the time start to resemble elite sports people and commentators where they forget that what they’re doing is only a game and that most people have more important things to do, even if they do check the results from time to time. While the player who missed that simple shot may feel a whole range of emotions and the people who analyse his miss may wonder about his fitness as a human being, most people – apart from the diehard fans – will shrug and say, “Well it’s not like he killed someone.” In fact, if he had killed someone the commentary around it may be less critical and certainly less sustained.

So when it comes to politics, there’s a tendency from some to burrow down and look deeply into various moments, completely overlooking the fact that the electorate is made up of millions of people who all have different reasons for why they voted the way they did… even when they vote for the same party. For example, I’ve often made the point that the infamous handshake where Mark Latham aggressively shook John Howard’s hand was explained by many as the moment that lost Labor the election. It makes for a convenient narrative, but it would also have worked as a narrative that this was the moment when the young bull shows that he has more strength than the old bull who is past his used by date. The only trouble with that is that Latham lost and Howard won. Has anyone ever heard anyone say that they were going to vote for Labor until that moment but that the handshake changed their mind?

And so, this week after the Voice Referendum we return to politics because the Voice shouldn’t have been about politics but apparently Labor made it about politics because they didn’t get a consensus from the Coalition who didn’t want them to have a successful referendum. Now, I am aware that there’s so much to unpack from what happened that I think it’ll take several pages of newsprint and lots of opinion pieces and I don’t want to say anything intelligent at this point because – in the interests of balance – if I do say anything like that, then some broadcaster will find it necessary to give someone’s nonsensical conspiracy theory equal time.

Of course, one of the criticisms made of Albanese by the Opposition is that he’s been obsessed with the Voice and done nothing about the cost-of-living pressures facing ordinary Australians… I don’t know why you have to be “ordinary” to get some attention from the Coalition. Ok, they don’t like elites if they come from the inner city but most of the time the Liberal Party are telling us that we should be “aspirational” or “successful” and if we’re not, then we should just “get a better job”, as Joe Hockey once told us.

So, it does seem strange to me that the week after the Voice was defeated that the Coalition should turn their attention to pushing for a Royal Commission and an audit of spending rather than talking about the cost-of-living issues. I mean, is this an attempt to keep the Labor government talking about Indigenous issues so that the Opposition can say that they should be talking about something else? Or is it just that they feel like there are more votes to be won from Pauline Hanson’s supporters? Or is Peter Dutton just as stupid as the person who asked if Jacinta Nampijinpa Price should run for PM?

To be clear here, I’m not suggesting that person who suggested that she run for PM is stupid because I disagree with her politics; I’m suggesting that there are several problems that are functional:

  • She’s a senator and would need to find a House of Representatives seat. (Not impossible but would take time.)
  • She’s a National Party member, so she’d have to switch to the Liberals. (Again not impossible but it would need to worked out so that the Nationals didn’t get upset.)
  • She’s a woman and she’d have problems in the Liberals with the Big Swinging Dicks club. (Although they may not be swinging as wildly now they’re in Opposition.)
  • And, of course, the obvious point that nobody “runs for PM”. They become leader of their party and – if their party gets enough House of Representative seats to form government, their party appoints the PM.

Now when it comes to her performance, we have a whole strange series of alternative facts here. While it may seem like just getting media attention is the name of the game when you’re not in power, the fact remains that Pauline has managed to get media attention since last century but she’s still a long way from forming government and some of the comments Senator Price have made don’t make your average voter think that she has a strong grip on what needs to be done. Her attacks on the AEC and her comments on how great colonisation was are the sort of things that make the daily news, but they don’t make most people immediately go: “Wow, there’s a future leader!” And it begs the question, “What’s wrong with the current Liberal talent that you have to go outside the party and outside the House of Reps to find a worthy candidate?”

So in answer to the question that a newspaper recently asked, “Should Jacinta Nampijinpa Price run for PM?”, I’d merely say: I don’t know, so I’ll say no.

 

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A farce only a monster could love

The ‘No’ campaign and the Trumpifaction of the tinpotato

It has been said that Donald Trump appealed to many millions of Americans because he gave them permission to be the very worst of what they always were. In a divided and acrimonious USA a scandal-weary public has become numbed to the orange Trumplethinskin’s outrages, while others have gleefully embraced them.

The botoxed, duck-lipped Fox News Barbies, the goateed ammosexuals, the evangelical god fodder, antisemites, trailer trash and white supremacists, the defiantly ignorant oicks, evolutionary dead-enders, low information, chuckleheaded moon units, the proto-nazi authoritarians and the kooks and goons admire his cruelty. They like the hideous aspects of his character. An increasingly desperate Trump may be headed to prison but Trumpism lives on in the GOP. He has normalised the nasty.

“MAGA voters won’t change. They’re in a statist, authoritarian cult driven by racial animus, lurid conspiracy twaddle, and a corrupt media-entertainment outrage complex that has conditioned them to constant outrage with a steady drip of agitprop.” (Rick Wilson – American political strategist and former member of the Republican Party).

Meanwhile here in Oz, Trumpism hasn’t just infiltrated the L/NP it has been embraced by them.

P. Duddy and the biggest collection of halfwits and felons to ever pollute the political discourse of this country have, through their successful sabotage of the Voice referendum, established the template for their future behaviour – imported American culture wars (“the woke agenda”, “the radical left”, undefined “elites”, whatever “other” scapegoat du jour comes in handy), outrage politics, manufactured grievance and the deployment of an overflowing Trumpian swill bucket of lies and distortions. And season that with some of Spud’s not so secret sauce – good ol’ Howardesque racism.

Pulling out all stops to destroy the Yes campaign for purely political purposes as they always intended and then blame Labor for its failure is Trumpian in its chutzpah – peeing through our letter box then ringing the doorbell to ask us how far it went¹. Coached by apparatchiks from the US Republican party with its capacity for excess and extremism the Spud has taken to GOP perfidy as a supplement to his natural FUD instincts and his ‘oppose everything’ Mad Abbott-redux mendacity. The Voice referendum saw Spud’s Trumpy play – field testing the efficacy of blatant falsehoods where truth becomes meaningless, his lies, one after another, his hole-in-the-bucket pretext for ever more details “flooding the zone with shit” and denying space for challenges to his deceit while directing resentment at some manufactured grievance all while going unchallenged by a lazy or complicit media.

To further his own base ambitions Herr Shickltuber has shown he will abandon truth as a foundational principle of a functional democracy. Remember, this guy is so appalling the Tories chose the fabulist Skiddy Morrison over him. He’s less popular than herpes but as with the American’s Tangerine Man he’s now tapped into the worst in us via his Voice duplicity, one element of which is the anti-elitist from the Chairman’s Lounge and the Tories’s tame aborigine who gave the racists permission to openly piss into the hand generously offered by indigenous Australians. “A weaponised conservative woman who can say things out loud that white conservatives haven’t dared to say since the early 1960s²” Jacinta Nampijinpa Price gave Spud his “some of my best friends are Aborigines” cover for kicking our First Peoples when they are down.

While we in Oz have our share of the comfortably dumb, window lickers, frank spankers and people whose faces are too small for their heads are we not immune to the American’s port-a-loo in a cyclone Trumpism? We flatter ourselves that we’re more egalitarian, we’re the land of the fair go, we’re fair dinkum rugged individuals who can think for ourselves and who look after our mates. As the ‘Yes’ option in the Voice referendum got torched we were rudely awakened to what a load of old flannel that self-image is. Could it be that instead we’re a nation of timorous Chicken Littles who in 1999 declined the opportunity to put our big boy pants on and become a republic? Frightened, nay-saying, gullible, gormless dullards, wilfully ignorant, selfish, compliant sooks lacking in imagination and ambition?

There is some comfort that many millions of us supported the Voice, and that the systemic disadvantage of indigenous lives has been brought to the fore so that even the nasties must acknowledge its reality (while denying any accountability for enshrining it). But large swathes of the public who inhabit the trailing end of the decency bell curve have been gamed by a nasty campaign of racist tropes.

Not once did Spud, his pet dragon – the less than fully shevelled LeyZ Sussan or that feral fright wig in a pants suit the egregious Michaelia Cash call out any of this repugnant behaviour – the standard they all walked past. Instead there have been Trumpian attacks on our institutions including the courts, the AEC and government itself.

Trump: “The electon was rigged.

Spud: “…I don’t think we should have a process that’s rigged and that’s what the prime ministers tried to orchestrate from day one.”

The mere idea of Old Chum Dutton as PM is sticking a Grange label on a goon bag. He’s a physical palindrome – afflicted with Zachary’s disease he’s an arse whichever way you look at him. A visionless plodder who confuses bullying the powerless with strength, validating willful ignorance as a legitimate excuse for nastiness – “if you don’t know, vote no”. Tories prefer their electors to be uninformed and apathetic.

His bald-faced, opportunistic tarring of Albo with the Alan Joyce stigma – “hanging out with Alan Joyce, red carpet events and, you know, they’re besties having dinner together, all the rest of it”.

His risible claim that the rabidly anti-union, low wagers are the party of working Australians.

In government the Tories needed the parameters of common decency to be written down – perhaps not so much to provide guidance on what constitutes acceptable behaviour from adults but as a means of identifying loopholes. Spud has no core beliefs about anything. He makes it up as he goes along.

The Tories’ pals from Advance’s stated tactic of instructing its volunteers to use fear and doubt rather than facts to defeat the Voice.

The Tories have a shared ethos of the increasingly rabid right – neo-Nazis, cookers, Karens, heirs of the murderous squatters, the Christian Taliban, racists suddenly discovering they’re against racism. Given the success of the right-wing baggers’ carpet bombing of a polite invitation to progress reconciliation we will now see an orange-tinted potato amping up the lies and misinformation.

When tested do we manifest anger and hostility to defend an identity that is based on dominance? Are we susceptible to far-right ideology that attacks democracy and normalizes violence against progressive agendas and liberal values³? Post-Howard the Tories are a party of opposition and resentment playing on fears and prejudices defined by what they’re against. The Liberal Party of Robert Menzies has devolved into authoritarian demagoguery while the Nationals, as ever, just tag along for the free ride.

‘No’ voters have not only denied First Peoples a means to improve their systemically disadvantaged lives they have also endorsed Dutton’s Trumpification of Oz politics where truth, integrity and fidelity are entirely dispensable.

* * * * *

¹ Author Maureen Lipman

² Tony Wright, SMH

³ Trumpism, the extreme far-right ideologyopendemocracy.net

* * * * *

Good reading

Peter Dutton bids for the mantle of conspiracy-theorist-in-chief. Crikey.

“No” camp has been seeking to sell even our most venerable institutions down the river to gain political traction. There is no conservatism in that – it is Trumpian. The Monthly.

“Importing US approaches into Australia [during election campaigns] has rarely worked … but a referendum is very different,” said Axel Bruns, a professor in Queensland University of Technology’s digital media research centre. “The choice is more similar to US voting. You can run these polarising, polarised campaigns that are about two stark choices”. The Guardian.

The right’s No campaign is a Trojan horse. Crikey.

Mark Kenny | Could Opposition Leader Peter Dutton vacate the middle entirely? Canberra Times.

Peter rabid. Rachel Withers, The Monthly.

Stunt man. Rachel Withers, The Monthly.

Peter Dutton is the exploding fire hydrant of politics pushing his party to the angry fringes and electoral oblivion? The Guardian.

What are ‘Advance’ and ‘Fair Australia’, and why are they spearheading the ‘no’ campaign on the Voice? The Conversation.

“Compare that with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s latest op-ed in the Herald Sun, which is riddled with misleading statements and scaremongering. He continues to claim we do not have the detail about the Voice – we do – and that the High Court could give the Voice to Parliament undue power – it can’t. He says the constitution has been a source of stability for 122 years – in fact, Australians have voted to change it eight times. Dutton called the Voice “the most consequential change to our system in history”. In 1967 we quite literally voted to give the Commonwealth the power to make special laws for Indigenous people, and to count Indigenous people as people in the census (they were never covered under a flora and fauna act, however, as the ABC debunked) – rather more significant changes than an advisory body, one might think.” (Crikey).

“If the world’s post-truth era is just getting started, and if the Coalition is determined to take advantage of it, then the last few weeks will seem, in hindsight, quite mild. And in case you don’t think things can get worse, remember this: every time you’ve thought that in the past two decades, they did.” (Sean Kelly, SMH).

“Opposition Leader Peter Dutton always looks sincere. The trouble is that he says things that are objectively untrue, things he cannot possibly believe.” (Michael Bradley. Crikey).

This article was originally published on Grumpy Geezer.

 

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Fascism is unlikely: idiocy is the real threat

The fight against domestic fascism is as American as apple pie. Even though much of the modern mythology of the western world celebrates the USA as a bastion of democracy, providing a steady and unalloyed example of democratic virtue for the rest of the world, this is misleading. It ignores the actual history of the land.

Back in the real world The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump is certainly not the first case in which the forces of niceness in America have moved to prosecute a bunch of runaway fascists, and it is unlikely to be the last. So, it is comforting to note that while Trump and his clowncar full of fascists do garner an awful lot of attention, they are also incredibly incompetent. Whereas the last time a coup attempt by a bunch of fascists was thwarted by the Justice Department it involved a plot being overseen by competent individuals who were all acting in accord with a potentially viable and well thought out plan.

In the 1930s American Fascism was on a roll. It must be remembered that until the entry of the US into WWII, in December of 1941, the idea of fascism was perfectly respectable in the US. Great swathes of the American population were avid followers of political activists who were avowed and self-professed fascists.

At this time the polarisation of Europe was echoed by a domestic polarisation within the USA. The large and growing domestic socialist movement in the USA, that had existed prior to WWI, had been the target of a concerted domestic backlash both during and following the war, with groups such as the American Defense Society in concert with many federal government authorities leading the charge. A similar polarisation was evident inside the workers organisations in the US, with the revolution in Russia forcing a schism between more moderate forces and the radical Leninists.

All of this context is mentioned so as to stress that up until the commencement of WWII, the idea of fascism in the US was perfectly respectable. Not like being a nasty un-American commie, or a Unionist. Fascism was popular. It was a growing trend.

Throughout the late 1930s radical demagogues such as Father Coughlin were drawing huge radio audiences. This Hitler loving cleric talked directly to more than thirty million listeners every week, preaching an anti-Semitic, antidemocratic, racist ideology to a growing and ever more radicalised listenership. As Mark Twain has observed, while history might not repeat itself, it often rhymes. So, at this point it is helpful to once again broaden our focus to include Trump and his clowncar. This is because, regardless of the epoch, American fascism – as with fascism everywhere – always remains much the same. It hums an ‘us and them’ song. A populist, ultranationalist, ditty that preaches the need to return to the values of a glorious past – a far greater and more glorious past. An utterly mythical past. But the focus is always on the unpatriotic hordes.

The targets change but the song remains the same. Coughlin was anti-Jew, anti-Black, anti-Labor, anti-atheist. He sympathised with strong man regimes around the world. He quite deliberatively provoked hatred for those he deemed to be un-American. He praised Hitler, urged his followers to get involved in politics at every level, and demanded that they strive to rid the American political system of Jewish, Socialist, Communist, and Atheist sympathisers. By the late 1930s Coughlin led a broad populist movement that was spread right across the USA.

The targets change but the song remains the same. Trump rants that gay transgender druggie leftists are stealing America. That black criminals are stealing America. That refugees are stealing America. That welfare queens, unionists, students, feminists, the entertainment industry, Silicon Valley, teachers, fully stocked libraries, RINOS and Democrats – and the rest of ‘them’ – are all engaged in stealing America. As with all fascists, the list of those who are patently unpatriotic is endless.

Father Coughlins’ fascistic dreams culminated in 1939. In February the American Nazi’s held a rally at Madison Square Garden that was attended by more than 20,000 supporters. This caused the Attorney for the Southern District of New York to become concerned. His office publicly petitioned the Feds to take action. In response, in December of the same year, the FBI raided the offices of the Christian Front and so famously thwarted a well-funded, carefully organised and more than adequately armed insurrection plot, just two weeks away from launching a full-blown coup to take over the government of the USA.

Following the raid seventeen people were indicted. They were charged with conspiring ‘to overthrow, put down and destroy by force the Government of the United States and by force to take its property’, as well as the theft and stockpiling of ‘Federal munitions and property’. Then history intervened.

Late in 1941 the USA entered the war against Germany, and as the Naz’s were allied with the fascists, the fight against ‘fascism’ was a now national security priority. At once the national mood changed. Fascism was instantly uncool. The charges against all the Christian Front operatives were vacated in the first year of the war. It was deemed to be against the public interest to engage in a lengthy and somewhat embarrassing trial during wartime, especially as there were bigger fish to fry. The domestic fascist threat was suddenly a thing of the past.

Yet even though the Trumpian hordes sing a fascistic song, and his followers dance a fascistic jib, which is all directly comparable to that which was celebrated by millions during the 1930s in the USA, most media outlets in the land still refuse to label it ‘fascistic’. Or acknowledge we have seen it all before. Which is entirely understandable for those outlets that have declared a partisan political allegiance, but not the rest. Or the major political parties.

I feel this is largely down to category confusion. Many are critical of Trump but are nevertheless confused regarding what they are seeing occur. They are careful to avoid calling it a ‘fascist’ movement as they mistake this as being a reference to a political movement or idea. Which is simply a failure in comprehension more than anything. Fascism is expressed politically but it is not at all about politics. Fascism is all about populism and raw power, it is always both anti and non-political.

Which is to say, fascistic movements everywhere in the world have always derived their strength and support from drawing from all sides of an existing political spectrum. But more significantly, they are populist movements that serve to mobilise a large proportion of otherwise politically unengaged citizens. Consequently, one of the defining characteristics of both the movement in the 1930s, and the Trumpian horde, is that a large proportion of these people were previously politically unengaged and unaffiliated. These are voters who are largely new to any sort of political discourse or action and who commonly profess to be largely disaffected with all sides of the political process prior to their becoming fascistic supporters. Thus, these are people who are seeking a different message and solution to those that are being considered and offered by mainstream political parties. In simple terms, a fascistic movement is always characterised by simple, dangerously fantastical, ideas. The propositions of a mythical past might differ (be it a glorious Roman or American Republic), but the systemic denigration of minority groups remains the same. The targets change but the song remains the same.

Therefore, the principal threat that is posed by the rise of a fascistic dialogue (as is perfectly illustrated by the MAGA movement), is generally missed. It is unlikely that the fascists will take outright power. Yet the concerns and arguments that are pedalled by the fascists nevertheless do take a terrible toll on our social life and governmental institutions. This is because fascism is not politics, it is organised hating. Fascism is an ideology that hinges on the identification and civic defenestration of mythical enemies. It is undemocratic, but to dismiss it as being ‘unpatriotic’ simply leads to an ever more determined failure to focus on the imaginary world of American nationalism and the need to be careful and considered in our political speech. It only serves to further blur the line between mythic representations and reality. When we entertain or respond to ‘culture war’ idiocy in our media, policy discussion is thus slowly abandoned. It is far less interesting. It catches fewer eyeballs than any good culture war fight.

Thus, seamlessly and slowly, the possibility for any sort of rational and coherent policy discussion is largely obviated. Idiot propositions are normalised. All that is left in the commercial ‘mainstream’ is the proposition of nonsense and the countering of the nonsense; an ongoing, ever-expanding and ever more nonsensical culture war. Thus, in my opinion, the biggest threat from fascism in the modern age is that it serves to debase our pollical discourse. The real threat from the Trumpian discourse is not that a fascist government in the USA is a likely prospect. The real threat is the normalisation of idiocy.

The biggest threat is to allow people to spout overtly fascistic idiocy and false information in public, without this drawing hoots of derision and guffaws of astonished laughter. Without these idiots being laughed off the stage. The real threat is that large swathes of our media now actively indulge in fostering an ‘us and them’ fascistic worldview, where cultural uniformity and traditions, in accord with a (mythical) glorious past, are always privileged, regardless of the topic under consideration and usually instead of the topic under consideration.

In such a manner, fascistic thinking is caustic. It rots the brain by privileging the basest tribal instincts. A lot of time can be saved by simply identifying the one small segment of the American population that is ignored by the fascists. When considered from this vantage, it is very soon obvious that the only ‘real Americans’ in the USA – according to both Father Coughlin and Trump – are white, affluent, Christian and heterosexual. It is simple bigotry and runs counter to the intent of the founders of the American Republic and the plain text of the American constitution.

The battle is against the celebration and retailing of idiocy and bigotry. Not Trump. There are commercial forces in the media that have decided that they will dictate that the political dialogue of the whole world will be either Trumpian nonsense or the refutation of Trumpian nonsense, as this averts all eyes from much needed media and monopoly law reform, and for as long as we are thus engaged in arguing about nonsense, we suffer the crazy status quo.

So, while I expect that in the next few months we will see the long-awaited implosion of the current fascistic movement in the US, in much the same manner as it dissipated very quickly last time around, I suggest that it will take a very long time to repair the damage done to our media and political discourse. Which requires that we all refocus our attention on all of the boring yet actually consequential topics that the current political discourse seems to ruthlessly avoid.

(Funny thing that. Have a nice day.)

 

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Murdoch: King Lear or Citizen Kane?

By guest columnist Tess Lawrence

It may be premature to write Emeritus Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s epitaph now that he’s ostensibly handed the keys of his media empire to his favoured scion and heir, Lachlan.

Bubba Lachie, you will recall, is the infantile drongo recently forced to payout on a rather silly defamation action against our feisty independent cousin, Crikey.com.au, after daddy’s flagshit Fox News Network settled a defamation action brought against it by Dominion Voting Systems, opening yet another vein on the corporate corruption of (some) journalists and journalism within Murdoch’s bespoke empire.

Bubba Lachlan and Naughty Crikey

Dominion’s victory also conveniently proved the legal case for Crikey.

In a deliriously audacious and courageous flourish, Crikey took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times challenging Lachlan Murdoch to make good his threat to sue over an alleged defamation. Bubba took the bait. Silly sad boy, Bubba.

Dominian proved case for Crikey

Basically, Dominion proved a bunch of Trumpian Fox News stooges masquerading as journalists, commentators, experts and news executives, promulgated lies about Dominion’s role in the 2020 presidential election.

Ultimately, Murdoch and Fox News were hoisted by the one petard. Dominion did us all a favour. Into the public domain and courtroom was tipped a container load of Murdoch/Fox News documents and data from their countless devices that proved unequivocally they were guilty as hell.

The Murdoch machine had to shut down the case. They settled. They paid up. But hey, not before the squalid and unethical behaviour of these entitled dudes was writ large upon the internet’s skies sans frontieres.

At US$797.5 million, It was a helluva payout, even though it was only half of what Dominion sought for injury caused to its reputation and business by Fox.

Uncle Sam became Uncle Spam

At the time, the unelected President Donald Trump might well have been the network’s prime anchor, such was his Fox profile. Fox morphed into the Zombie Trump News network. It was like, Trump 24/7.

Too much Trump was never enough. The endemic mantra it churned was that the election was rigged and that really, Americans had unanimously re-elected Trump. Uncle Sam became Uncle Spam.

Trump: Clickbait for Fox advertisers

But even before that, whilst Trump was still president, any appearance or call-in by the big guy was advertiser clickbait for Fox and friends. Ratings mean advertisers. The talking heads were vying with each other to get Trump on their shows and incessantly talked about him and interviewed experts and others who talked about him to get a ratings uptick.

While they were at it, they spread even more conspiracies and lies. With impunity. As the records now show, they knew their boss, ever the dirty digger, felt no shame in them clothing the butt naked truth in a transparent cloak made from immoral fibres threaded with lies.

Mother Fucker Carlson, Yawn Hannity, Laura Ingraham frontline pit bulls and bitches

Fox’s frontline pit bulls and bitches like the man they call ‘Mother Fucker Carlson’ (aka Tucker Carlson), Yawn Hannity (aka Sean Hannity) and Laura Ingraham, whose sobriquet I do not know, were three heavy hitters who were let off the corporate leash.

All three were indisputable propagandists for Brand Trump. You would be forgiven for thinking they were on his payroll and certainly via the ratings, he was contributing to theirs. There were others.

One thing is certain. Fox News Network and its journalistic mercenaries, still have a case to answer over their collective role in the attempted political coup and insurrection on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Fox: Flesh-eating ravings maul truth and democracy

Their on-air flesh-eating ravings contributed to the savage maulings of democracy, truth and journalism itself along with the unforgivable betrayal of the people by bearing false witness to the truth and the bleeding obvious.

If the Proud Boys were Trump’s Pretorian Guards, then Fox News, under the tutelage and watchful eye, we now know, of Commandant-in-Chief, Rupert Murdoch, provided the pussy grabber with a propaganda unit of which Joseph Goebbels would have been proud, such was its effectiveness in building upon nationalistic white supremacist fervor fueled by hate and fear, lies and more lies and fake news. Surely it/they, were the equivalent of a journalistic Squadrismo.

For the Fox juggernaut, raking in the money from advertisers and the pursuit of even more power and influence was the coveted prize. The Murdoch Machine collected the former whilst Murdoch pocketed the other. For him, power is a bottomless pit. Can’t get enough. Perhaps it’s what gets his rocks off. Perhaps he even covets power more than money.

Murdoch needed Trump. Trump needed Murdoch. Who was/is the neediest of them all? This is unfinished business. There is history yet to be writ.

Hannity goes gaga on Trump’s MAGA stage

Who can forget Hannity being summoned onstage by Trump at a Make America Great Again (MAGA) rally? Supporting causes is one thing, supporting messianic Trump, quite another. Supporting the Republican Party is one thing; endorsing Trump and exploiting his dangerous buffoonery and more, inflating Trump’s public persona to deific status, all served to turn America into Nation Trump. For a moment, Trump was America. And an America far removed from the nation that elected the likes of Barack Obama as its president.

In these dystopian times, such is the stuff of nightmares. Where was the American Dream on the day of the seige upon the bulwark of American democracy, once held up like Liberty’s lamp, as a beacon to the world? It was a warning to us all.

Murdoch’s journalism takes road most travelled

In all of this, are the globally wandering hands of an arch power monger: Rupert Murdoch. His kind of journalism invariably takes the road most traveled. How often he has sat back and commanded, encouraged, nurtured others to do his bidding.

Hannity’s odious master-servant relationship with Rupert Murdoch, emblematic of many, but certainly not all, of Rupert’s frontline journalistic mercenaries, especially those in the United States, Australia, as we here know only too well, and in the disunited kingdom, Britain, the off-shore home of our own meddling monarch, Charles.

This CNN video shows you that despite Hannity’s denials, his onstage appearance with Trump was clearly pre-ordained and for all we know, Trump wizened, puppeteer Rupert Murdoch himself, may have ordered this sickening display of media sycophancy and blatant ratings chase.

 

 

Fox News ratings smashed competitors, once beating those of CNN and MSNBC combined.

Trump’s ego ballooned even further. Like orange ectoplasm, it continues to ooze from every orifice, conflated and inflated by Fox News.

In October 2008, the Donald trumpeted the boast that Fox’s prime time ratings of 2.8 million total viewers was because they “… treat me fairly.”

 

 

Little wonder that Fox News abandoned its hollow motto “Fair and Balanced.”

It ain’t over for Fox yet. Another company, Smartmatic is going to take on Fox News.

They’re mad as hell too. They’ve even prepared a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to tell us why.

Murdoch: King Lear or Citizen Kane?

In the farcical self-aggrandising memo penned to his workers, Murdoch’s personal tragedy warrants scrutiny.

With breathtaking hypocrisy, his reflections reveal a brilliant and shrewd journalist who nontheless remains a deft proponent of industrial strength fake news, gross journalistic misconduct and Trumpian-like delusion on how he is perceived. Is he more King Lear than Citizen Kane?

The memo

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to let you all know that I have decided to transition to the role of Chairman Emeritus at Fox and News. For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change. But the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams and a passionate, principled leader in Lachlan who will become sole Chairman of both companies.

Neither excessive pride nor false humility are admirable qualities. But I am truly proud of what we have achieved collectively through the decades, and I owe much to my colleagues, whose contributions to our success have sometimes been unseen outside the company but are deeply appreciated by me. Whether the truck drivers distributing our papers, the cleaners who toil when we have left the office, the assistants who support us or the skilled operators behind the cameras or the computer code, we would be less successful and have less positive impact on society without your day-after-day dedication.

Our companies are in robust health, as am I. Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.

My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause. Self- serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.

In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas. Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.

I look forward to seeing you wherever you work and whatever your responsibility. And I urge you to make the most of this great opportunity to improve the world we live in.

Murdoch’s obsession with father, Sir Keith

Keith Murdoch in war correspondent mode Photo: Wikipedia

The memo reveals Murdoch’s well-known obsession with his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, on whose media foundations, Murdoch the younger built his monopolistic empire. In fact, Keith Rupert Murdoch was named for his father and seems to have spent his life endeavouring to prove himself as his father’s equal and more, to his much-loved mother and matriarch of the clan Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.

The beautiful, redoubtable and indefatigable Dame Elisabeth, a noted philanthropist and tireless community entrepeneur, she lived a life of enduring public service. She founded and/or supported so many community initiatives and was still involved up to the time of her death at 103 in 2012.

Indeed, she bequeathed the family home, Cruden Farm, with its famed gardens designed by Edna Walling, to the people. Cruden was where Rupert and his three sisters spent their childhood.

Elisabeth Joy Greene was a mere slip of a 19-year-old who caused a minor scandal when she married the handsome ambitious Keith, because he was 23 years older than she.

It is said that serial matrimonialist Rupert’s penchant for much younger brides, is due in part to the loving relationship and dynamism between his parents.

Dame Elisabeth adored the lauded journalist Sir Keith, of Gallipoli Letter fame and practically deified him after he died. Rupert’s endeavours could never match let alone eclipse that of her beloved husband. She disapproved of his salacious newspapers and the gratuitous Page 3 girls. And she certainly disapproved of Wendi Deng.

Dame Elisabeth gives Rupert Bollocking over turfing Anna for Wendi

An insider told me Dame Elisabeth gave Rupert a right bollocking about the way he discarded and divorced his second wife, Glasgow born Anna Torv, for Deng.

Anna Murdoch’s business acumen contributed to Murdoch’s empire building.

“As well as being beautiful, she has brains, she’s savvy, bright and clever, really sharp. She’s also very warm and has that ability to put people at ease. She’s a wonderful hostess and had no trouble adapting to New York’s high society, such as it was. She reeked old money rather than new. She has a grace about her. But she’s tough as tungsten, a bit like her mother-in law, or should I say her ex mother in law, who was very angry with Rupert. Rupert was a bastard, the way that he treated her at the end. She’s also well read, witty and very funny.

When Wendi Deng had an affair with Blair, I thought to myself, right, Rupert you bastard, now you know what it feels like.”

Deng Murdoched in cold blood

Wendi Deng, you will recall, was rather fond of Tony Blair’s “butt.” The publicly cuckolded Rupert expedited a speedy divorce. As usual. Deng, who has two daughters with the tichoon, was Murdoched in cold blood.

Blair has denied any liaisons with Deng, dangereuses or otherwise. But then, he lied about the Iraq War.

A Catholic, Anna Murdoch bore three of Rupert Murdoch’s six children by three mothers. Lachlan, James and Elisabeth just happen to be the key media players in the family.

In a world exclusive with David Leser in the then Kerry Packer owned Australian Women’s Weekly the usually discreet second wife, married to Murdoch for 31 years, told it like it was.

This from a wrap by Christopher Zinn in the UK Independent in July, 2001:

… She described her state of shock at the divorce, her wish not to appear as a victim and her feeling of “coming out of a deep mental illness”. She also detailed the way that, despite reports of an amicable separation, she was unceremoniously dumped as a non-executive director of News Corp. Of her once-admired partner, who she helped to secure a papal knighthood in 1998, she said: “I began to think the Rupert Murdoch that I loved died a long time ago. Perhaps I was in love with the idea of still being in love with him. But the Rupert I fell in love with could not have behaved this way.”

The since remarried and renamed Anna Murdoch Mann, was brutally honest and one can sense her pain and injury at that time.

… “I think that Rupert’s affair with Wendi Deng – it’s not an original plot – was the end of the marriage. His determination to continue with that. I thought we had a wonderful, happy marriage. Obviously, we didn’t.” She went on: “I don’t want to get too personal about this… but [he] was extremely hard, ruthless and determined that he was going to go through with this, no matter what I wanted or what I was trying to do to save the marriage. He had no interest in that whatsoever.”

She also revealed she’d been forced off the Board of News Corp on which she sat, alongside Lachlan. She wasn’t given a choice, she told Leser.

Perhaps to prove he is his own man and truly owns his chairmanship, Bubba Lachie might reconsider a role for the now Anna dePeyser.

 

 

In 1998, Rupert Murdoch joined dozens of prominent Southern California Catholics who were awarded a papal knighthood.

Murdoch, who was thought to have converted to Catholicism, stated a while back, he wasn’t baptised in the faith, but would accompany Anna to Mass.

His donations of large sums of money to local Catholic churches was rewarded with the Order of Knight Commander of St Gregory the Great, conferred in 1998. It works in much the same way as donating monies to political parties, perhaps not so effective. Dame Anna also received the same papal award, although that fact received less attention.

It’s said that Anna leaned on Cardinal Roger Mahony who in turn, leaned on the Pope to secure their Honours.

The camel, eye of the needle and rich man Rupert

Because of the phone hacking and Dominion scandals, there have since been calls for Murdoch to be stripped of his papal knighthood.

Here’s Anna Murdoch’s clever quip after the ceremony, that had Rupert chortling:

Rupert: “I thought it was very spiritual and very moving. I was very impressed by what the cardinal said.”

Anna: “I think it was very humbling.

We’re both trying to get through the eye of the needle. Perhaps this is the beginning.”

Some of you will recognize Anna Murdoch’s wry and telling alluding to the words of New Testament gospeller Matthew (verse 19.24) reporter-at-large for Jesus, quoted as saying:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

* Some scholars contend the translation of the word ‘camel’ should be ‘rope‘ but hey, let’s not get into the fake news bizzo.

Note Anna’s use of the word ‘humbling.’ Years later, after appearing before the UK’s House of Commons Committee investigating Murdoch’s News of the World phone hacking scandal in July, 2011, he referred to it as “the most humble day of my life.” Not only did he eat humble pie, but it was also the day he had a cream pie thrown at him, the security breach bravely thwarted by his then wife Wendi Deng. Talk about having the cake and eating it too.

 

 

Murdoch’s memo: He’s still on Planet Fox!

Murdoch’s memo wasn’t only to his minions. It was also a press release to the world and no doubt he hopes that obituary writers in due course, will quote the noble sentiments he espouses.

His words also reflect the pathos and reflection of those of us who hover closer to death than life. In his carnal pursuit for power, Rupert Murdoch has strayed far from the rebellious swashbuckling disrupter he once was. There is self-pity in his reckoning words, is there not? Truisms as well:

… But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense…

No mention of the fact that time and again such freedoms have been savagely mauled by he and his media outlets, News of the World, Fox News Network et al.

Then there is this:

… My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause…

Here’s an apt cliché whilst I get a fresh vomitbag. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Bubba Lachie is so committed to the cause of freedom, that one of his first grown up actions as chairman of daddy’s empire, was to nominate none other than a man renowned for his suppressive rigid right-wing politics and views, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the board of Fox Corporation.

Who better than the bloke who scurried out of Parliament to avoid voting in the same sex marriage debate?

News.com.au’s Liz Burke fingered Abbott this way:

“… But when it came time to vote – and he could have voted against it = he made a gutless lurch for the door.

Mr Abbott’s weak act didn’t have anything to do with democracy, it was a protest against it. And history won’t forget that.”

There’s a litany of testimonials about Abbott’s attempts to curtail, even abolish freedoms of all kinds, so I guess that makes him a perfect candidate.

Surely, disgraced ex Qantas Chief Alan Joyce, will be next.

 

 

Murdoch speaks of ethics, denounces elites

Perhaps the more egregious calumny embedded in Murdoch’s memo is this paragraph:

…Self- serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.

Such abject hypocrisy. Such pathos. It smacks of Murdoch’s perennial interference with the truth; nothing more than a press release from which he hopes obituaries writers will quote. Nothing else to see here. No 13-year-old murdered Milly Parker phone to hack today. Don’t mention the war on truth.

Milly Dowler and her family were/are no elites. The cruel violation of their grief and family privacy was as an inside joke to the then News of the World.

Can you imagine a News journalist hacking Dame Elisabeth’s phone messages after she died? It wouldn’t be right. But Murdoch journalists and agents thought it was alright for little Milly.

How dare Murdoch give us a lecture on freedom and ethics. Both are beggars in the Murdoch millieu.

His words are from a man closer to death than to life, like many of us. What happened to that reforming swashbuckling disrupter of the media who lived and breathed journalism. At what point was journalism cast asunder for the power and the glory?

When I read Murdoch’s memo, the words about the elites rang a bell. Sure enough, Murdoch, who I’m told, has written his own obituary for publication throughout his media outlets, both electronic and print, must keep it in the second drawer on the right.
Cop this 2015 tweet (X):

 

 

Murdoch, she wrote

Some years ago, I published an article in Independent Australia about Murdoch.

Certain people were alarmed that I’d discussed Murdoch use of SawPalmetto used, among other things for sexual dysfunction. He couldn’t get it up. No shame in that.

He had a wife 37 years his junior. Then again, age doesn’t matter when one is in love. Right?

Moreover, I’d seen and verified correspondence and the physician concerned also verified it to me in person. I was told that Murdoch was furious at the revelation – and comments I made in relation to his father Sir Keith. Sacred ground.

I thought of the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal and the obscene, cruel and brutal invasion of that murdered little 13-year-old schoolgirl’s forever grieving family and the gross moral turpitude of the News of the World and I thought this is a man who can dish it out but can’t take it.

 

Milly Dowler, with her dad, Bob. Photo: Daily Mail

 

Imagine if a News of the World journalist/agent hacked Dame Elisabeth’s phone messages before or after she died.

We are publishing the article in full because it contains pertinent matters hardly discussed in the hagiography written about Rupert Murdoch’s abdication as Chairman.

Murdoch most foul

(Originally published on Independent Australia)

DOES it really matter if Rupert used Saw Palmetto to increase his libido to service his young wife?

Does it really matter that despite industrial strength botox and other wrinkle spakfillers Rupert Murdoch still looks like a pantomime Dame and decades older than his Mother?

You can’t blame him for wanting to be Peter Pan for his Wendi.

Here’s the headline. Came to me in a flash. “Linga Longa Denga” Gotcha!

Does it really matter that the late Professor John Avieson, who wrote a still unpublished and not entirely flattering biography of Sir Keith Murdoch, was warned by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at a social gathering that the book would never see the light of day as long as she lived?

Does it really matter if Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal in 2007 as marital insurance for his ‘China Doll’ (a more polite employee nickname than Chairman’s Mao) to call her own in the event of his premature death or ejaculation as Chairman or in the event of clan ructions or corporate infarction?

Well yes, brothers and sisters. It matters. And it matters mightily.

Okay, the WSJ might not be the Taj Mahal, but it’s up there in media mogul terms of journalistic prestige. Or was. Maybe now it will get its mojo back.

Of course, Rupert might have bought it for the former Deng Wen Ge (thank you Eric Ellis) to get back at the Bancroft family who’d owned it for 100 years, because just seven years earlier, the Journal published an article about Wendi he didn’t like.

You know, like the obverse of the famous ad – he hated the company so much he bought it.

He has a reputation as a man who cradles grudges and who never forgets a slight.

But intercorporate rutting is a boardroom artform. I believe the Bancroft family is still represented on the Board.

This stuff is right up the rectal columns of stabloids like The Sun and The News of the World and the Murdoch media in general. Why shouldn’t it be? What’s good for the goose is good for the propaganda.

It is news and it’s fit to print. But whilst you’ll read such things about celebrities and we of the great unwashed, you won’t read it about Big Daddy.

You won’t read about it in his newspapers. And you won’t read about it in other papers that he might as well own by default and by virtue of an extended coterie of power and influence.

We forget that the rebirth of The News of the World under Murdoch was baptised in murder and mystery just as in the wake of its death throes, there is great sorrow and mystery at how the courageous whistleblower of the phone hacking scandal, journalist Sean Hoare was found dead in his Watford home on Monday.

Writing about him in yesterday’s Guardian, investigative journalist Nick Davies, described Sean as “a lovely man”.

Explaining why he had spoken out, he [Sean] told me:

“I want to right a wrong, lift the lid on it, the whole culture. I know, we all know, that the hacking and other stuff is endemic. Because there is so much intimidation. In the newsroom, you have people being fired, breaking down in tears, hitting the bottle.”

“He knew this very well, because he was himself a victim of the News of the World. As a show-business reporter, he had lived what he was happy to call a privileged life. But the reality had ruined his physical health:

“I was paid to go out and take drugs with rock stars – get drunk with them, take pills with them, take cocaine with them. It was so competitive. You are going to go beyond the call of duty. You are going to do things that no sane man would do. You’re in a machine.”

Nick Davies, it should be said, must rank among the more courageous of journalists in his relentless work to uncover and publish the truth about the News of the World Hacking Scandal.

 

 

I doubt that anyone in Australia would have easily published it here. And that is an indictment of the moral cowardice of our profession. Perhaps we will find greater courage now that the beast is wounded.

When one contemplates the blind and steadfast courage of the likes of Sean Hoare and lost lives of citizen journalists and correspondents in the frontline of war and terrorism, our comfortable and flaccid obeisance to a media tsar is a betrayal of all that we should hold dear and worthy.

I think of young journalists I know, who in the Bosnian war, daily risked their lives to keep radio stations and communications open for foreign reporters.

I think of Libya, of Egypt, of Pakistan, of Afghanistan and Somalia and Sudan and the wholesale slaughter of journalists in the Philippines and elsewhere.

I think of Iran. I think of revolutions perfumed with jasmine and blood and the stench of fear.

And I think of how easily we here and in Britain and the States, squander our freedoms. And how easily our silence is purchased.

And how often we do unto others that which we would never want done to ourselves.

And of how the Fourth Estate is so often barren ground. Of how truth and justice and compassion are spent seed upon its harsh surface.

It seems that Sean Hoare had a not untroubled life. But still he found in his heart and in his conscience a shared humanity that compelled him to knowingly jeopardise his life and most certainly his career to expose the truth to The New York Times and fine journalists like Nick Davies.

I am alarmed at how, almost immediately, police reports were filtering out stating there were no suspicious circumstances over Sean Hoare’s death.

Given the indecent alliances between the police, News Corporation and politicians, asking us to have faith in anything any one of these groups does at the moment is too big an ask.

Like most, Sean had his demons, but even they could not mar his sense of justice. At least he exorcised one by telling us the truth and he has undoubtedly altered the global media landscape in doing so.

If you read Nick’s full article here, you will get a better picture of both Sean and Nick.

Writing in Sunday’s Independent, journalist Jonathan Owen backgrounded some unsavoury connections between the NOTW, private investigators and some interesting information about Rebekah of sunny Brooks animal farm.

Two former senior News of the World editors wanted for questioning by police

Detectives investigating phone-hacking allegations at the News of the World are keen to question two former senior journalists at the newspaper. Scotland Yard officers have been told the two, former executive editor Alex Marunchak and deputy news editor Greg Miskiw, were both key figures linked to the use of private investigators to access confidential information.

Rebekah Brooks appointed Mr Miskiw as the News of the World’s assistant editor in charge of news, and it was he who employed Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal.

… After examining documents taken from Mulcaire’s home, police are anxious to question Mr Miskiw, who is living in Florida. His also featured in documents obtained by police following a raid on the Hampshire home of private detective Steve Whittamore, who was used by a large number of journalists to obtain information about public figures. Whittamore was later convicted under the Data Protection Act in 2005 at Blackfriars Crown Court of obtaining and disclosing information after passing information obtained from the police national database to customers.

Whittamore’s network was investigated and broken up by the Information Commissioner, who discovered he was accessing sensitive information from the Police National Computer, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, British Telecom and a number of mobile phone companies.

The investigation, called Operation Motorman, showed 23 journalists from the News of the World hired Whittamore more than 200 times. The names include Rebekah Brooks, who allegedly commissioned access to confidential data from a mobile phone company.

Mr Miskiw is known to be a close friend of Mr Marunchak, a former crime reporter and senior executive at the NOTW. The two reportedly had mutual business arrangements including the importation of vodka from Ukraine. Mr Marunchak, who left the newspaper in 2006, claims to have been appointed as a special adviser to Ukraine’s UK embassy in 1999.

Mr Marunchak is said to be a friend of a private investigator called Jonathan Rees who was employed by the NOTW to help provide reporters with illegally obtained confidential information. Rees was later jailed for falsely planting cocaine in an innocent woman’s car but was re-employed by the NOTW’s editor Andy Coulson after he served his sentence. [My emphasis]

Detectives also suspected Rees of bribing corrupt officers to supply information to the media. A surveillance operation was carried out on Rees including a bug being placed in his office. It was later revealed that among the hours of taped conversations were many between Mr Marunchak and Rees discussing transactions involving thousands of pounds for work carried out for the newspaper.

[Click here to read the Independent‘s powerful larger story.]

The gutless self-censorship in this country about Rupert Murdoch and his various media dealings is disgusting. We have yet to address our own media cankers.

How many Australian or UK newspapers have ever retold the undoubtedly bizarre and ripping yarn of the tragic story of Muriel McKay, who was mistakenly kidnapped instead of Rupert’s then wife, Anna, a few days after Christmas Day in December 1969 – the same year Murdoch bought The News of the World?

The hapless Muriel, wife of Alick McKay, then Deputy Chairman of News of the World (he wasn’t made a Lord until 1976) was actually driving the Murdoch’s Rolls Royce whilst the Murdochs were in Australia.

Alick McKay returned to his Wimbledon home to find the doors forced and Muriel missing.

In a saga that belongs on the ‘tall tales but true’ shelf, it transpired that two brothers, Arthur and Nizamodeen Hosein, who were living beyond their means on a country estate and vainly trying to insinuate their way into a disdainful British establishment, apparently saw Rupert Murdoch being interviewed by David Frost and thought it would be a good idea to kidnap Anna for a ransom that would put an end to their financial woes.

The Jamaican-born brothers were subsequently caught and charged with kidnapping, murder and blackmail. Both were given life sentences. I understand that Nizamodeen Hosein is now back in Jamaica and have unconfirmed reports that Arthur Hosein is now out of prison and lives in England.

If ever there was a cold case begging to be re-examined, this is it; given the advances in forensic science and if there’s anyone left at Scotland Yard.

Tragically, Muriel McKay’s body still hasn’t been found. It is said that her body was dismembered and fed to the pigs.

Lucky that the sub editor who wrote the infamous headline ‘FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER’ was not on duty that day.

© Tess Lawrence

Tess Lawrence is Contributing editor-at-large for Independent Australia and her most recent article is The night Porter and allegation of rape.

 

 

 

 

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AUSMIN and Assange: The Great Vassal Smackdown

It was there for all to see. Embarrassing, cloying, and bound make you cough up the remnants of your summit lunch, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III stopped by one of the vassal states to make sure that the meal and military service was orderly, the troops well behaved, and the weapons working as they should. On the occasion of 2023 AUSMIN meetings, the questions asked were mild and generally unprovocative; answers were naturally tailored.

Seeing that Australia is now rapidly moving into the US orbit of client status – its minerals will be designated a US domestic resource in due course – and given that its land, sea and air are to be more available than ever for the US armed forces, nuclear and conventional, nothing will interrupt this inexorable extinguishing of sovereignty.

One vestige of Australian sovereignty might have evinced itself, notably in how Canberra might push for the release, or at the very least better terms, for the Australian national and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. The publisher faces 18 counts, all but one of them pertaining to the Espionage Act of 1917, an archaic, wartime act with a dark record of punishing free speech and contrarians. The Albanese government, eschewing “the hailer” approach in favour of “quiet diplomacy” and not offending Washington, has conspicuously failed to make any impression.

In April, an open letter to the US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, featuring 48 Australian MPs and Senators, including 13 from the governing Labor Party, argued that the Assange prosecution “would set a dangerous precedent for all global citizens, journalists, publishers, media organizations and the freedom of the press. It would also be needlessly damaging for the US as a world leader on freedom of expression and the rule of law.”

Despite such concerns bubbling away in Parliament, Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong was in no danger of upsetting their guests. “[W]e have made clear our view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged for too long, and our desire it be brought to a conclusion, and we’ve said that publicly and you would anticipate that that reflects also the positive we articulate in private.” But, as ever, “there are limits until Mr. Assange’s legal processes have concluded.” The assumption, laid bare, is that Australia will only push for terms once the US secures its treasured quarry.

Blinken parroted staged, withered lines, politely dismissing Wong’s statements while pouring acid on the Assange plea. “I really do understand and certainly confirm what Penny said about the fact that this matter was raised with us, as it has been in the past, and I understand the sensitivities, I understand the concerns and view of Australians.” He thought it “important”, as if it mattered “that our friends here understand our concerns about this matter.”

Those friends were made to understand that matter in no uncertain terms. Assange had been “charged with very serious criminal conduct in the United States in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country. The actions that he has alleged to have committed risked very serious harm to our national security, to the benefit of our adversaries, and put named sources at grave risk – grave risk – of physical harm, and grave risk of detention.”

Such excremental, false reasoning was galling, and went unchallenged by the all too pliant Senator Wong and the Australian Defence Minister, Richard Marles. This, despite the cool findings by Blinken’s own colleagues at the Pentagon that the WikiLeaks disclosures never posed a risk to any valued source in the service of the US imperium, and the fact that other outlets have also published these purportedly “named sources” without having their collars fingered by the US Department of Justice. The double standard is gold in Washington.

The same babbling nonsense was evident during the extradition trial proceedings of Assange that were held at London’s Central Criminal Court in 2020. There, the prosecution, representing a number of clumsy, clownish and impressively ignorant representatives from Freedom Land, proved unable to produce a single instance of actual compromise or harm to a single informant of the US imperium. They also showed, with idiotic facility, an ignorance of the court martial that the US military had subjected Chelsea Manning to when she faced charges for revealing classified national security information to WikiLeaks.

Wong, as part of her buttoned-up brief dictated by Washington’s suits, either did not know nor care to correct Blinken who, for all we know, is equally ignorant of his brief on the subject. If the prosecutors in London in 2020 had no idea, why should the US secretary of state, let alone the Australian foreign minister?

As a terrible omen for the Australians, four defence personnel seem to have perished in waters near Hamilton Island through an accident with their MRH-90 Taipan helicopter as part of the Talisman Sabre war games. The US overlords were paternal and benevolent; their Australian counterparts were grateful for the interest. Blinken soppily suggested how the sacrifice was appreciated. “They have been on our minds throughout today; they remain very much on our minds right now.” But the message was clear: Australia, you are now less a state than a protectorate, territory to exploit, a resource basket to appropriate. Why not just make it official?

 

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Lazy language damages our present and risks our future

Labels have power. They shape the way we know the world. They allow people to see actions with greater clarity or distort our understanding to make things unrecognisable.

When war involves “collateral damage,” the label strips the incident of shredded flesh and wailing orphans. By labelling the near elimination of abortion access a Pro Life position, conservatives elide the dramatic and deadly impact on lives caused by the denial of reproductive justice. Calling it a “state sanctioned forced birth” position recasts the nature of women’s experience in Republican America.

When Scott Morrison demanded that refugees exercising their legal right to seek asylum were relabelled “illegal maritime arrivals,” it became easier to persecute people fleeing hell without public horror.

By depicting welfare recipients as fraudsters, Alan Tudge escalated the war on those who experience periods of struggle. And Robodebt showed how labels can even hide things from us. The Saturday Paper’s special podcast series “Inside Robodebt” illustrates that one of the key factors delayed recognition of the scandal emerging is that the illegal debt averaging process didn’t have a name.

“Inside Robodebt” also highlights that it was not journalists, by and large, who detected the program’s criminal disgrace. It was a loose group including a lecturer and Twitter commentators. No wonder the Coalition’s friends love to apply disparaging labels to their Twitter critics, conflating commentators’ valid critiques of a scandalous decade with the troll army’s vile bullying.

Right wing politicians and commentators have an additional label in their arsenal at the moment to discredit every person or idea that doesn’t suit their agenda. By calling something “woke,” it ceases to be a matter of morality or compassion or sound policy or good manners. It becomes something – or someone – to be derided and despised.

We deny ourselves the ability to choose our present circumstances and shape our future if we allow the lazy application of labels.

Mainstream journalists were supine in their acceptance and repetition of the politicians’ disgraceful mislabelling of vulnerable people during the Coalition decade. The public absorbed the idea that people could be “illegal,” that fake debts made ordinary Australians into criminals. Sometimes journalists were rushed and forced to fill pages with tweaked press releases. Sometimes, however, journalists were cynics ensuring access and front page leaks by playing the politicians’ games.

The most likely news source to counter the government’s narrative was the ABC, but that has been abused largely into complicity. Any ABC efforts to challenge and expose malfeasance continues to be discredited by the wholesale framing of the organisation as “woke” or “socialist” by the Coalition and the corporate media. Any exposé coming from it is thus made irrelevant.

Some on the Labor side had accepted the Coalition’s labels as valid and echoed the framing. Others gave up trying to frame the debate more accurately and tried to fight the battle along lines drawn up by the power players of the narrative.

Journalists have been the gatekeepers by which we understand the civic space. Their lazy acceptance of labels helps perpetuate distortions that damage individuals and society. We need journalists who understand that they share the blame with politicians and public servants for making the Coalition’s decade of shame possible. Without critical thinking skills, journalists betray the muckraking and investigative stars of their profession’s history; otherwise they can be much better paid as the spin doctors many seem content to ape.

The news media has struggled to describe the events of this era. Part of the problem is that they fail to appreciate the degree to which the Right is radicalising, bogged down in normalcy bias. Part is that the news sector bends excessively towards being balanced between positions: when the Right’s position is so extreme that to describe it aptly sounds like a judgement, the decision-makers struggle to cope with the new reality.

We need to understand our political labels at a moment when the Right is embracing ever more oppressive political ploys internationally. Robert Reich noted that American newspapers are finally beginning to label presidential contender Trump’s messaging as “authoritarian.” He spells out clearly, however, that it is technically better understood as “fascist.” Trump’s Republican Party is a ghoulish parody of its grand old past.

None of this is accidental. The cynical Americanised ultra free market Right does not believe in government’s role. It is funded and galvanised by the needs of the plutocrats: low tax and ever fewer protections – labelled “regulation”- to stifle their ultimate freedom to exploit. The same kind of cynicism has driven the Right in America to fight, since the Civil Rights era, to reverse the progress that withdrew the barriers to equality for persecuted and disempowered groups. The strategies to undo America’s democratic structures have been in construction at least as long.

Much of the plutocrats’ Dark Money has gone to strategists and spin doctors. The same ethics-free intent to achieve their goals at any cost pervades their political representatives. Robodebt’s egregious fraud perpetrated against citizens is the most striking Australian example; media advisor Rachelle Miller has revealed Alan Tudge’s spin strategies. When Scott Morrison took over immigration, he employed 66 spin doctors compared to PM Tony Abbott’s 39: “on water” secrecy and propaganda was costing us $8 million a year.

Journalists have been far too ready not to question their role in spreading this strategic toxic spin. In fact, they use that spread as the basis for further stories about artificial “controversies.”

Structural politics is illustrative of these orchestrated drifts. It only takes a brief look at the names of Australia’s two major parties to see how political labels can ossify, representing the history rather than the ideology of a party. Labor does not represent the labour movement that was its original constituency. The Liberal Party is not liberal, but neither is it conservative. The Liberal politicians who merited those labels have largely left in disgust at what the party has become. The rump is a radicalised Right mimicking the extremists dominating the Republican Party.

Parties represent a loose coalition of ideologies and goals aiming to contain personalities, priorities and the tactical decisions that might achieve them. Since John Howard’s era, Australians have seen how much these can change a party. Dragging the label “conservative” with them, the Right now depicts centrist policy as “woke” and “socialist” in a long Americanisation of the more worker-friendly Australian social contract.

The linear continuum by which we have attempted to understand our politics – from Left to Right – has always been an artificial construct too.

The rightly contested horseshoe theory shallowly suggests that the political extremes of communism and fascism are closer to each other than to liberalism. Kathleen Belew replaces that with the metaphor of a circle. She described the “crunchy to alt-right pipeline” where, since the 1970s, hippies and white supremacists bonded over such anti-government fights as the fluoridation of water.

The Red Brown alliance is a late soviet description of a much older phenomenon – the rough cooperation of communists and fascists in joint, nationalist loathing of liberal elites. Third Reich Nazis were often both “green” and yoga lovers.

These connections do not reflect true sympathies, but they do underscore the fact that we all have different concerns activated at key moments.

In the era of permacrisis, however, even the old approximations are crumbling.

Over covid, the far right exercised its usual cunning in coopting the conspiracy theorists emerging around an internet joke: QAnon. It also drew on the deep resentment that came from policies poorly explained or executed that harmed the precariat while the billionaires reaped massive profit. Belew’s “crunchies” (hippies) were absorbed over again into the White supremacist sphere in their antagonism to Big Pharma and a fear of government’s oppressive tendencies. In Australia, our Pastel QAnon yoga influencers and antivaxx mums joined the far right in their Convoy to Canberra in a complicated conspiracy smoothie.

QAnon has now seeped into the radicalised right space intermingled with Pentecostal cultish beliefs. These underly the application of the term “groomer” to anyone defending LGBTQIA+ existence on social media as a side note to the exterminationist rhetoric.

Online, influential men considered to be of the Left drifted towards the Right, often driven by resentment towards the age of consequences, more commonly labelled Cancel Culture. Their preeminence as mostly White men has been challenged by the demands that they share the microphone with minority voices. Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, for example, suddenly started finding a better home on Fox News than subversive left-leaning platforms. The dirtbag Left and the Alt-Right (a label meant to elide the movement’s white supremacist core) share an ironic and provocative aesthetic that has helped draw these figures together in shared disdain for the prissy judgement of the bougie “woke.”

Younger American “conservatives” – many of them on the lucrative gravy train where Dark Money donations fund their early career – have turned old Soviet Nazbol politics into the new Nat Con movement. National Conservatism feigns support for the battler in a way that looks vaguely leftist while continuing the persecution of the most vulnerable combined with a “traditionalist” persecution of minorities for “patriotic” redemption. These elite youth frame an anti-American “elite” as an existential threat: their prestigious university education is not the same as the university education that they define as “woke” poison.

Presidential contender Robert Kennedy uses similar faux-egalitarian talking points to signal himself as meriting the destiny of a “Kennedy” while actively working with his tech bro plutocrat funders and spreading disinformation, labelling it “free speech.” He has now said that the Covid19 virus was ethnically targeted to protect Jewish and Chinese people.

These shifts in allegiance make pinning down “Left” or “Right,” “centrist” or “conservative” outrageously challenging. Journalists of integrity can be forgiven for missing the seriousness of the trajectory.

Such mislabelling normalises the dragging of “conservative” politics ever further towards fascist politics; it serves the far right by presenting their grotesque policies as a facet of business as usual rather than a radical change. Ignoring the trajectory outside their information bubble meant that most Americans missed the indicators leading to insurrectionist attack on the Capitol on 6 Jan 2021. Normalcy bias means journalists continued to quote Republican politicians reframing it as a normal tourist visit.

Climate scientists have struggled for decades to frame their messaging of the looming – potentially existential – crisis. Scientific communication that always conveys the possibility of new discoveries has been exaggerated to imply doubt about predictions. The profession of creating doubt to prevent regulation of industry was deployed by tobacco sector: the same strategies, and even the same people, translated into the fossil fuel sector’s destruction of our sense of a shared knowledge base.

At the end of the Obama era, those watching knew how fragile America’s democratic structure was, but few imagined the brink towards which the Republican Party could drive their nation in a single presidential term. It took one shameless conman to achieve it.

Australia’s Coalition is similarly disdainful of their opposition’s right to govern. They too showed that they had ceased to believe in the validity of the democratic contest over the last decade.

Australia is at risk of the Coalition finding that charismatic conman who will allow it to destroy the reign of the despised “woke” urban electorates. Just as so much of their agenda and strategy is defined by the Republican machine, their policy will likely come after the rights and freedoms that their mentors are destroying in the USA.

If journalists can’t label the moment in its true seriousness, we can’t expect the distracted public to recognise it.

 

A much shorter version of this was published in Pearls and Irritations as An American system of “state sanctioned forced births”?

 

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