Doctor and activist


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Author: Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

COVID19 Viral Shedding is unrelated to Symptom Severity

8 March 2022

A new, rather bold study involving health infected volunteers has shown that the severity of symptoms experienced is unrelated to how much virus is shed.  In other words, even someone with minimal symptoms can shed and spread the virus a lot.

The bottom line of this is that people should wear masks to stop them spreading the virus.

Here is a cut-down version of the Nature Medicine article in Australian Doctor.

COVID-19 symptom severity ‘no indication’ of viral shedding

A world-first study offers insight into a key public health question about transmission, researchers say

4th April 2022   By Reuters Health

The world’s first ‘human challenge’ trial in which volunteers were deliberately exposed to SARS-CoV-2 has found that symptoms have no effect on how likely an infected person is to pass the infection on to others.

The UK study showed that among the 18 participants who developed COVID-19, the severity of symptoms, or whether they displayed symptoms at all, had nothing to do with the viral load in their airways.

Viral load was measured by a focus-forming assay (FFA) and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) in the project led by Imperial College London and contract research company Open Orphan.

“There was no correlation between the amount of viral shedding by qPCR or FFA and symptom score,” the researchers said in Nature Medicine.

“Furthermore, our data clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 viral shedding occurs at high levels irrespective of symptom severity, thus explaining the high transmissibility of this infection and emphasising that symptom severity cannot be considered a surrogate for transmission risk in this disease.”

The trial exposed 36 healthy young adults without a history of infection or vaccination to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain of the virus and monitored them in a quarantined setting.

Since two volunteers were found to have had antibodies against the virus after all, they were excluded from the analysis. 

Slightly more than half of them contracted the virus.

No serious adverse events occurred and the human challenge study model was shown to be safe and well tolerated in healthy young adults, the research team had said earlier this year.

“With virus present at significantly higher titres in the nose than the throat, these data provide clear evidence that emphasises the critical importance of wearing face coverings over the nose as well as the mouth,” the study team wrote.

A key unresolved question for public health had been whether transmission was less likely to occur during asymptomatic or mild infection compared to more severe disease, the researchers said. 

More information: Nat Med 2022; 31 Mar.

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Bullshit Jobs

8 April 2022


The idea of bullshit jobs is not new. It comes from a book in 2018.

However, with employment supposedly doing well, largely because we have excluded guest workers due to Covid, it is worth looking at how many jobs are actually needed.

Everyone needs something to do and a reasonable income to live on. The status of having a job relates generally to its perceived income, though there is some ‘doing good’ status associated with jobs like nursing despite their being chronically underpaid.

But technology replacing people has not brought the expected benefits because there seems no plan to spread the benefits evenly, or look at whether what is being done has any social utility. Many jobs that need doing are not done. Many people who want to work cannot, yet much energy and money is spent doing useless things.

I waste about 80% of my time as I treat Workers Comp and CTP injuries. About 20% of my time is deciding what treatment is needed, and about 80% filling in paperwork or writing reports to try to get the treatments paid for. On the other side there are a phalanx of clerks trying not to pay and to transfer the costs elsewhere. (i.e. to Private Health Insurance, Medicare or the patient themselves). Many doctors and lawyers also strive mightily in this unproductive area. The bottom line is that while the overheads of Medicare are about 4.5%, the overheads of CTP are close to 50%,; i.e half the money goes in processing or disputing claims or in profits for the companies indulging in this nonsense. And since many patients often cannot get the treatment or suffer long delays because of their efforts, it is a really bad use of human energy.

Someone needs to look hard at what we do and where the benefits go. Assuming that ‘the market’ will fix it is about as sensible as saying that ‘God’ will fix it, and is usually espoused with the same uncritical zeal.

Here is Wikipedia summary of the book:

In Bullshit Jobs, American anthropologist David Graeber posits that the productivity benefits of automation have not led to a 15-hour workweek, as predicted by economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, but instead to “bullshit jobs”: “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”[1] While these jobs can offer good compensation and ample free time, Graeber holds that the pointlessness of the work grates at their humanity and creates a “profound psychological violence”.[1]

The author contends that more than half of societal work is pointless, both large parts of some jobs and, as he describes, five types of entirely pointless jobs:

flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters, makers of websites whose sites neglect ease of use and speed for looks;
goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists, community managers;
duct tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing bloated code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags do not arrive;
box tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, corporate compliance officers, quality service managers;
taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals.[2][1]

Graeber argues that these jobs are largely in the private sector despite the idea that market competition would root out such inefficiencies. In companies, he concludes that the rise of service sector jobs owes less to economic need than to “managerial feudalism”, in which employers need underlings in order to feel important and maintain competitive status and power.[1][2] In society, he credits the Puritan-capitalist work ethic for making the labor of capitalism into religious duty: that workers did not reap advances in productivity as a reduced workday because, as a societal norm, they believe that work determines their self-worth, even as they find that work pointless. Graeber describes this cycle as “profound psychological violence”[2] and “a scar across our collective soul”.[3] Graeber suggests that one of the challenges to confronting our feelings about bullshit jobs is a lack of a behavioral script in much the same way that people are unsure of how to feel if they are the object of unrequited love. In turn, rather than correcting this system, Graeber writes, individuals attack those whose jobs are innately fulfilling.[3]

Graeber holds that work as a source of virtue is a recent idea, that work was disdained by the aristocracy in classical times, but inverted as virtuous through then-radical philosophers like John Locke. The Puritan idea of virtue through suffering justified the toil of the working classes as noble.[2] And so, Graeber continues, bullshit jobs justify contemporary patterns of living: that the pains of dull work are suitable justification for the ability to fulfill consumer desires, and that fulfilling those desires is indeed the reward for suffering through pointless work. Accordingly, over time, the prosperity extracted from technological advances has been reinvested into industry and consumer growth for its own sake rather than the purchase of additional leisure time from work.[1] Bullshit jobs also serve political ends, in which political parties are more concerned about having jobs than whether the jobs are fulfilling. In addition, he contends, populations occupied with busy work have less time to revolt.[3]

As a potential solution, Graeber suggests universal basic income, a livable benefit paid to all, without qualification, which would let people work at their leisure.[2] The author credits a natural human work cycle of cramming and slacking as the most productive way to work, as farmers, fishers, warriors, and novelists vary in the rigor of work based on the need for productivity, not the standard working hours, which can appear arbitrary when compared to cycles of productivity. Graeber contends that time not spent pursuing pointless work could instead be spent pursuing creative activities.[1]

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Ukraine- what is the future?

7 April 2022

The media is trumpeting how successful the doughty Ukrainians have been against the Russian aggressors, and the war crimes of the Russians assassinating civilians and destroying civilian facilities.  There has been a lot of discussion about Russia’s lack of success; Putin’s surrounding himself by Yes-men and getting wrong information or having political insecurity or mental health problems.  This is all somewhat hopeful. Russia is still immensely more powerful than the Ukraine and is likely to get control of the skies, which will give them an even greater advantage.

The West seemed surprised initially by the Russian invasion as they had assumed that if everyone was involved in trade and had increasing national incomes that there would be no war.  Since 2000 Russia’s per capita income had risen much more rapidly than the European average since they had increased their fossil fuel exports.

The Social Democrats in Germany had been happy to buy Russian gas on the assumption of trade guaranteeing peace.  Germany was also building the Nordstream gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to make it easier to get Russian gas.  Currently Europe overall gets 40% of its gas, 27% of its oil and 46% of its coal from Russia. 

After the invasion, the West initially started sanctions in a very unified effort.  The rouble fell dramatically from about 13 US cents to 7, but as European countries continued to buy the gas the Russian economy was seen to be less damaged. So the rouble has recovered to about 11, either because the Russian economy is holding up due to the continued income, or that peace is likely to be negotiated soon.  Sadly, the former explanation is more likely. 

Europe will take some time to make the infrastructure changes to replace Russian gas with liquefied US gas, as the methane gas has to be frozen to minus 160 degrees at atmospheric pressure before it liquefies (or minus 83 at 45 atmospheres of pressure) and then transported by ship at high pressure to ports that can distribute it.  Europe currently takes 120 Billion cubic metres (Bcm) of Russian gas.  Also production cannot be ramped up quickly.  The US has said that it can produce and extra 15 Bcm by the end of the year and 50 by 2030.   Australia and Qatar, the other big exporters do not have much uncontracted gas.  Environmental limits on fracking have stopped Australia increasing production. Germany has cut its dependence on Russian gas from 55% to 40%, but major cuts would do a lot of harm to their economy. (SMH 28/3/22)

Russia will also try either to get control of Ukraine or to get some part of it, or demonstrate its power in other ways so that it can claim victory. There is a small eastern area of Moldova with a Russian separatist movement and there is a temptation for Russia to link them to Crimea by capturing Odessa and the Baltic coast of Ukraine.  The idea that they are defeated may be very premature.   

Here is a graph of the Rouble v. US dollar, which shows the Russian currency has largely recovered.

It is interesting that a recent (UK) Telegraph column by Ben Marlow quoted in the SMH 5/4/22 urges stronger sanctions are needed if they are to be successful.

Opinion

The West must wage total economic war against Putin

By Ben Marlow

April 4, 2022 — 11.02am

Russia’s pledge to reduce military activity around Kyiv, as part of what it calls “de-escalation”, has rightly been met with scepticism in the West, though sadly not nearly enough.

The move has prompted talk at the highest levels about whether sanctions should be lifted if Russia retreats and commits to peace. The possibility of sanctions removal was first raised by Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, a fortnight ago, on the basis that Vladimir Putin agreed to an “irreversible” withdrawal from Ukraine.

Then in an interview last weekend, Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss said the West could relent if Moscow withdraws and commits to “no further aggression”. This is naive in the extreme and suggests America, Europe and Britain have learnt nothing about Russia’s psychotic regime. Have they forgotten what two decades of appeasement achieved?

Putin played the West for fools right up until the invasion. Even now, Emmanuel Macron continues to pander to Russia’s warmongering leader with zero to show for nearly 20 phone conversations and a little tête-à-tête in Moscow.

Indeed there is a strong argument for doing the opposite – instead of lifting sanctions, the international community should be preparing to hit the Kremlin with a new round of even more punishing measures, not least because the current ones are clearly losing their effectiveness.

The sanctions that were imposed on Russia at the end of February were unlike anything seen before in terms of speed, scale and Western collaboration. But they certainly couldn’t be called exhaustive and the impact has clearly waned.

The Russian economy has not been crushed despite all the excitable predictions from analysts and commentators. It suffered something akin to a financial heart attack and though a full recovery will take some time, it hasn’t proved fatal and there are signs it is already on the mend thanks to the decisive action of highly regarded central bank governor, Elvira Nabiullina.

The Russian stock market has reopened after a month-long deep freeze.

A temporary stop on equity sales by non-residents, along with a short-selling ban and a short trading window, was introduced. Although there are obviously questions about how sustainable such interventionary measures are, a crash was averted.

Russia’s banking system has stabilised. Measures such as capital controls and freezes on foreign exchange deposits have helped to prevent a run on the country’s banks.

The West needs to leap into action, pressing home its advantage with a new round of sanctions that completely devastate the Russian economy, starting with a full energy embargo. Without that sanctions will ultimately fail.

Helped by a doubling of interest rates and a ban on residents transferring money out of Russia, the rouble has staged a strong rally. After slumping as much as 33 per cent against the US dollar the day after Russia’s invasion, it is now close to pre-war levels of 85 to the dollar. It might have been a nice soundbite but the rouble has not been “turned to rubble” as Joe Biden declared last week in Poland.

Much of the recovery is artificial but as long as oil and gas receipts continue to flood into the country, Russia can keep rebuilding its hard currency reserves and weather the storm.

“Self-sanctioning” in the shipping industry has been a resounding failure. Oil tankers continue to arrive in Russian ports. Traffic in March has been only slightly lower than it was a year ago, and is higher than it was during the same month in 2016 and 2015, according to research from the Institute for International Finance. Even when the discount on Russian crude is factored in, oil revenues are near record levels, the IIF says.

That’s not to say that sanctions have been toothless. Goldman Sachs is forecasting a 10 per cent downturn in Russia this year, while Barclays predicts a 12.4 per cent slump. But while Barclays expects another 3.5 per cent decline in 2023, Goldman thinks growth will have returned already with GDP expanding by 2.4 per cent and has pencilled in a record current account surplus of $US200 billion by the end of the year.

The West needs to leap into action, pressing home its advantage with a new round of sanctions that completely devastate the Russian economy, starting with a full energy embargo. Without that sanctions will ultimately fail.

Germany could withstand the shock. Robert Habeck, its own economic minister, has admitted that it would at least be able to make it through the summer. It is just too afraid to inflict further hardship on the German people, but if Lithuania and Poland are prepared to then why shouldn’t Europe’s biggest economy? They are even more dependent on the Kremlin’s oil and gas.

It may not come to that, of course, if Putin follows through with a threat to turn off the taps because the West refuses to meet Russian demands to pay for gas in roubles.

There also needs to be a widening of the ban on Russian banks using the Swift payments system. Just seven have been cut off from using it, and of the five biggest, Sberbank is the only one that has been shut out.

What else can be done? Wally Adeyemo, the US deputy Treasury secretary, has talked about additional export controls – some experts advocate for a full commodities ban or at least a broader raw materials embargo – and Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a trade and shipping blockade, something Adeyemo has refused to rule out. There should also be punishment for Western companies that continue to do business in Russia.

But as things stand, if the price Putin was meant to pay for his invasion was the crippling of Russia’s economy, then sanctions have undoubtedly failed.

Telegraph, London

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Vaping- the beginnings of a disease description

25/3/22

It seems that the tobacco industry has won the first major vaping battle.  They have succeeded in getting their new product legal, and now they do not have to prove it is safe, the medical world has to prove it unsafe. Progressive elements of the medical profession are describing the diseases caused by vaping.  Its progressive practitioners are also aware of the political aspects of vaping’s progress, though their power in this area is not great.

After my last article on vaping Anne Jones, who used to run ASH (Action on Smoking and Health,) sent me a significant lecture by Prof Andy Bush, from the Brompton Hospital.  (Brompton is probably the most prestigious hospital for respiratory diseases in Britain). 

The 45 minute lecture is quite medical/technical and as such quite hard going, but it is interesting in that it combines very detailed medical aspects with an astute analysis of the political and economic significance of vaping.  As a student I was subjected to endless lectures on the harm of tobacco without any consideration of the political aspects of its political cause or prevention.  As Prof Bush himself says, ‘Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me’.

He points out the similarities between smoking and vaping, but also the differences.  There is something of a nightmare of acronyms, so I will help where I can.

Currently vaping is being marketed using the same symbols of success as was used before tobacco had any restrictions  on it, freedom, rebellion and glamour.  The difference is that it now uses social media to market to CYPs (Children and Young People). BAT has spent a Billion pounds on social influencers.  Although vaping is supposedly allowed to help people get off tobacco, the marketing to kids is to those who do not smoke anyway, so clearly it either a gateway drug to smoking or an entirely separate habit to be fostered and developed. 

He points out that the tobacco industry has taken over the major vaping brands.  VUSE is owned by RJR, who were R.J.Reynolds Tobacco.  VYPE is owned by BAT, British-American Tobacco.  BLU is now owned by Imperial Tobacco, and JUUL is now significantly owned by Altria, the new name for Philip Morris.

If that were not enough, one brand Puffit2 is owned by a company called Discreet Vape Company and the vaping device looks like a Ventolin inhaler!  Philip Morris purchased Vectura, a British pharmaceutical company that manufactures respiratory drug delivery devices, in September 2021. 

ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) (= vaping devices) deliver chemicals.  Prof Bush points out these chemicals have no information publicly available about their nature and properties. 18 flavours have carcinogenic, tobacco-specific components and there are bacterial and fungal contaminants in a high percentage of vaping products.  These contaminants may have their own ability to generate allergic lung diseases, which are similar to emphysema.   In one case the nicotine was at 120% of the level stated on the pack.

Passive vaping is similar to passive smoking in that the non-vapers get similar levels of nicotine in their urine to passive smokers. 

Vaping is not a gateway to smoking cessation and may even be a gateway to smoking. A study which compared nicotine replacement therapy to vaping showed that while 9% of nicotine replacement patients were off cigarettes after 6 months as opposed to 18% of people using vaping, 80% of the people who had used vaping were still vaping a year later (Hajek et al, NEJM 2019).  If Buprion was used with nicotine replacement the quit rate was 25% at 6 months and 20% in a year.  Varenicycline achieved 27% (Borelli and O’Connor NEJM 2019).  Interestingly, if you pay people to quit, it is a better investment than the drugs!

Vaping has risen rapidly amongst American teens and is currently at 28% and the prevalence of smoking has stopped declining since the vaping rise started. 

Prof Bush’s lecture states that the acute toxicity of vaping is actually worse than cigarettes. Researchers always do an immense amount of work, and doctors struggle to keep abreast of it.  The effect has been measured on foetal lungs, levels of all kinds of proteins, cytokines, chemokines, enzymes, Cell functions, lung pathology, oxygenation levels and from many areas including broncho-alveolar lavage (BAL), (i.e. washing from lungs).  Rat models have also been used to look at emphysema (poor little guys).  It increases their alveolar (lung air sac) size and causes a fall in transcutaneous oxygen levels. This may be due to a lipoid pneumonia due to lipid (fats) being leached out of the lungs.  The negative effects of e-cigarette vapour condensate on macrophages (the cells that fight infection) were similar with or without nicotine in the condensate. The condensate was also more toxic than the e-Cigarette liquid!   (Scott, Thorax 2018).

Vaping has been shown to increase bacterial adherence to epithelial cells which increases susceptibility to infection.  It also considerably worsens the effect of COVID infection.

There are case histories of a 16 year old previously healthy boy who was admitted urgently to an Emergency Dept with a lung disease so serious that he ended up on ECMO (Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygen- the artificial lung).  He had only used OTC (Over the Counter) vaping products.

Prof Bush describes a new disease that has been called EVADI (E-cigarette Vaping Acute Lung Injury), though it would not be medicine if they were not arguing over the new name which some want to call EVALD (E-cigarette Vaping Acute Lung Disease).

Bush finally asks that the recommendations of FIRS, (Forum of International Respiratory Societies) be implemented:

  1. ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) should be considered as tobacco products and taxed and regulated as such.
  2. Sales to CYPs (Children and Young People = minors) must be prohibited and this must be enforced.
  3. All advertising and promotion should be regulated and made inaccessible to CYPs.
  4. Flavourings increase rates of youth initiation, so should be banned in ENDS
  5. Vaping should be prohibited in indoor locations, public parks, and places where children and youths are present.
  6. While their health risks are increasingly recognised, more research is needed
  7. Routine surveillance and surveys concerning combustible and electronic cigarette use should be carried out.

Prof Bush makes the point that they also need plain packaging and health warnings like tobacco products and says, ‘There is no chemical model that shows inhaling hot chemicals is a good idea.  You show me the proof that it is harmless.’

We all need to lobby on this.  Here is the video of the lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=yhdiIuz0ec4&fbclid=IwAR2ETBxTR8LD87Nmng54uo_w2xZ6vI7kRmYBqITPOv36R0

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Planning Minister Anthony Roberts scraps flood and fire checks in Planning Laws

March 24 2022

Almost unbelievably, NSW Planning Minister Andrew Roberts has scrapped requirement of his predecessor Rob Stokes that fire and flood risks be considered in planning approvals. This is only a week after the worst floods in history, and a few months after the worst bushfires.

His excuse was that he had a priority to act on affordable housing.  No doubt flood-prone land is cheaper.

One might think that It is almost impossible to explain such stupidity, but we might note that the Property Council and the Urban Taskforce supported the decision, with the usual disparagement of ‘red tape.’

We might also note that Minister Roberts started working in Parliamentary offices at the age of 22, worked for Flagship Communications as a PR person and was cited by journalist Chris Masters as the liaison person between Alan Jones and John Howard’s offices.  Flagship Communications was the PR company for the Orange Grove development, which set up a ‘factory outlet’ and turned it into a full blown shopping complex (until it was shut down by then-Premier Bob Carr after lobbying from Westfield).  He became an MP at the age of 33 as member for Lane Cove.

There has been quite a lot of negative reaction to his planning decision in the letters columns. 

Here is the SMH story:

NSW Planning Minister scraps order to consider flood, fire risks before building

By Julie Power  March 22, 2022

NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts scrapped a requirement to consider the risks of floods and fires before building new homes only two weeks after it came into effect and while the state was reeling from a deadly environmental disaster.

Mr Roberts last week revoked a ministerial directive by his predecessor Robert Stokes outlining nine principles for sustainable development, including managing the risks of climate change, a decision top architects have branded “short-sighted” and hard to understand.

But a spokesperson for Mr Roberts said the minister had been “given a clear set of priorities to deliver a pipeline of new housing supply and act on housing affordability” by Premier Dominic Perrottet.

The president of the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, Laura Cockburn, said the decision was difficult to understand “after the recent devastating floods and with bushfires still scorched in our memory”.

The revoked directives had sought to address “risk-management and resilience-building in the face of such disasters”, Ms Cockburn said.

“In the midst of our current flood and housing crises, why would a government choose to remove planning principles aimed at disaster resilience, and delivering affordable housing?” she said. “This is a short-sighted decision that could have enduring negative impacts.”

Mr Roberts’ spokesperson said: “The minister did not consider that the planning principles due to take effect on March 1 would assist in delivering his priorities so discontinued the principles and issued a new ministerial direction to that effect.”

Mr Roberts’ move coincides with expectations the government will also scrap or substantially change the new Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) under consideration for apartments and homes. The policy stresses sustainability, quality and liveability by requiring, for example, better ventilation.

Mr Stokes’ directive on sustainable development, issued on December 2 but in effect from March 1, was designed to simplify the planning system, cut red tape and put people first. It said housing should meet the needs of the present “without compromising those of the future”. It was scrapped on March 14.

These principles are also reflected in the new design policy developed by the office of the State Architect. It is being reviewed.

Mr Stokes directed the planning department, developers and councils to also consult Indigenous landowners, consider the risk of climate change, and provide the public with information about the risks of natural disasters where they developed, lived or worked.

“Land use should be compatible with the level of risk of an area, such as open space or playing fields in flood-prone locations,” Mr Stokes’ statement of principles said.

Many in the property industry expect Mr Roberts will abandon plans for the new Design and Place SEPP.

Luke Achterstraat, NSW executive director of the Property Council of Australia, supported Mr Roberts’ move. With NSW facing a shortage of about 100,000 dwellings, the council backed any measure that sought to reduce red tape and activity that would “unblock” the planning system.

“The added significance of why we support the Minister’s announcement is that he has doubled down on housing supply and affordability, and has recognised the industry has been in an elongated process of policy reform.”

He said the Property Council expected the new Design and Place SEPP would either be set aside or substantially changed. Mr Achterstraat said the government’s own modelling found they would cost an additional $2.3 billion.

The chief executive of Urban Taskforce Australia Tom Forrest also applauded Mr Roberts’ decision.

“Planners were confused. Lawyers were aghast. Developers were exasperated. It is great to see this unwelcome initiative abandoned,” Mr Forrest told The Urban Developer, which first reported Mr Roberts’ policy change.

Stephen Albin, an analyst and principal of consultants Urbanised, advised Mr Stokes on the scotched principles.

He was disappointed to see Mr Stokes’ principles abandoned when NSW’s planning system needed reform. “The definition of stupidity is doing something again and again, and expecting another result,” he said. “We wanted a modern planning system that was inclusive.”

Ms Cockburn said she hoped the latest change by Mr Roberts would not impede the significant efforts to design places to meet the needs of their communities in the Design and Place SEPP.

Architects across Australia are also campaigning for new planning policies that ensure clearer standards and codes to protect consumers from worsening impacts of climate change, including new controls for building in floodplains.

A recently released research report by Climate Valuation found a million homes nationwide will be “at high risk of devastating riverine flooding by 2030 without investment in adaptation and mitigation”.

The future of building on floodplains will also form part of the inquiry into the NSW disaster that has left nine people dead and thousands with damaged homes.

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China may get a naval base less than 2,000km from Australia

24 March 2022

This is a worry!  Here is the article from the SMH

China set to sign first security deal in the Pacific on Australia’s doorstep

By Eryk Bagshaw  March 24, 2022 — 7.33pm

Singapore: China and Solomon Islands are set to sign off on a security deal that will see Chinese warships based in the Pacific and shift the balance of power in Australia’s region.

The agreement will give China the power to use its military to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands and give Beijing a base for its navy less than 2000 kilometres off Australia’s coast. The base would be the first time Australia has had a strategic adversary within striking distance of its coastline since World War II.

 “China may, according to its own needs and with the consent of Solomon Islands, make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in and have stopover and transition in the Solomon Islands,” the draft framework agreement states.

“Solomon Islands may, according to its own needs, request China to send police, armed police, military personnel and other law enforcement and armed forces to Solomon Islands to assist in maintaining social order, protecting people’s lives and property.”

The draft, released online on Thursday afternoon and verified by the Australian government, is a sharp escalation in the relationship between the two governments after protests, riots and looting gripped the island nation in November.

The conflict was driven by COVID-19 measures, ethnic tensions and regional tensions between Honiara, the capital, and its most populous province, Malaita, but it was also linked to allegations of corruption involving Chinese infrastructure deals and Honiara’s decision to switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

The draft states Beijing and Honiara will enter into the agreement with the view of “strengthening security co-operation, mutual respect for sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit”.

Anna Powles, a senior lecturer in international security and a Pacific diplomacy expert at New Zealand’s Massey University, said the draft agreement was “very significant”.

“The security agreement is one of the first of its kind in the Pacific; its scope is broad and suitably vague and its provisions range from maintaining public order through to protecting Chinese citizens and assets, and providing humanitarian and disaster relief,” Powles said.

“The agreement also contains several ambiguous and potentially ambitious provisions with geopolitical implications including that China is seeking logistical supply capabilities and material assets located in Solomon Islands to support ship visits.”

Powles said the agreement suggests logistics and supplies will be available in the Solomons to support the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

“If it comes under force, the agreement also contains references to China’s ‘own needs’, which could refer to China’s strategic interests; China’s pursuit of its strategic interests in the Pacific is of direct concern to Australia and its allies and partners.”

Australia also sent troops and federal police to the Solomon Islands after a request for assistance from its Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, in November. The request was made under a 2017 treaty between Australia and Solomon Islands to request help from Australian armed forces and the Australian Federal Police in the event of civil unrest, but that agreement would be put under a cloud if the deal with Beijing goes through.

Solomon’s opposition MP Peter Kenilorea told the ABC he was deeply concerned by the development. “This has implications for the Pacific islands region, including Australia,” he said.

China has been courting Pacific island nations to establish a military presence in the area, but the Solomons deal would be the first time the Chinese navy has an operational presence in the region beyond the South China Sea.

In 2018 China approached Vanuatu about building a permanent military presence in the South Pacific, triggering urgent discussions at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington. Thursday afternoon’s draft document, first released by a Solomons’ opposition adviser, sent officials in Canberra scrambling to verify its authenticity. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age confirmed on Thursday evening that the Australian government believes the document is genuine, deepening concerns about China’s intentions in the Pacific.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton were contacted for comment.

The base will increase the risk of confrontation between the US and China as Beijing ramps up its competition with Washington, threatens Taiwan’s airspace and refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra was contacted for comment.

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The Smoke Screen Recurs.

20 March 2022

An article in the Good Weekend 19 March notes that screening services such as Netflix have a lot of smoking in their movies.

There was a lot of placement of smoking in movies for many years and in the 1920s and 30s there was more smoking in movies than in real life, which was probably not a coincidence.

Steve McQueen smoked in ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ and like Yul Brunner, Humphrey Bogart, Betty Grable, Paul Newman, and John Wayne was in the many Hollywood stars to die of lung cancer. 

In the 1950s and 60s tobacco companies sponsored many TV programs, such as the ‘Jack Benny Show’ (comedy) and ‘Gunsmoke’. Walt Disney, Larry King, Moe Howard (3 Stooges), Larry Hagman (Dallas), Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) and Ed Sullivan were some of the TV stars to die of smoking-caused cancers.  Some musicians to die were Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Duke Ellington, George Harrison and Sammy Davis Jr.

The heath activists managed to get rid of tobacco advertising in Australia in 1976, but sponsorship, which was cheaper than actual advertising and got much more coverage lasted until after 2000. In the US activists drew attention to product placement in movies where brands were displayed or whole characters written to publicise smoking and fund movies.  Product placement by tobacco was banned in Australia in 1992 and in the US in 1998, unless historical figures were known to smoke.  

But now smoking in movies is rising again, and it seems to be worse in streaming services like Netflix.  Smoking does not seem to be increasing yet, but with vaping acting as a new gateway to smoking, the battle ain’t over yet.

From the ashes: Smoking’s curious comeback on the silver screen

Once the epitome of Hollywood glamour, cigarettes were all but snuffed out in films and TV shows by the turn of the millennium. Now they’re making a comeback. Plot-driven or something more sinister?

By Tim Elliott  Good Weekend   March 18, 2022

Smoking has made a furtive, and somewhat puzzling, comeback in recent years, something one US veteran anti-tobacco activist says is not random: “Nothing in Hollywood happens by chance.” 

When news broke, in mid-2021, that the cult turn of the millennium TV series Sex and the City was to return, the world’s entertainment media suffered a brief bout of tachycardia, the kind of hand-flapping hysteria that could reasonably be expected to herald the return of another well-known cult figure. The excitement was understandable. The new series, called And Just Like That, promised contemporary viewers everything that had made the original show so effortlessly watchable; cheeky humour, exceptional shoes and a non-threatening dose of prime-time friendly transgressiveness.

Yet there was one facet of And Just Like That which got special attention: one of the lead characters, Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), was smoking again. “Why, decades after she quit the habit, would Carrie return to it?” asked W magazine. A headline in New York magazine read: “And Just Like That … Carrie Is Smoking Again.” “Carrie’s smoking again!” the Daily Mail yelped.

Such head-shaking suggested not just disapproval but bewilderment. The common consensus was that, thanks to decades of pressure from anti-tobacco groups, smoking in TV and films had all but disappeared. In fact, smoking has made a furtive, and somewhat puzzling, comeback in recent years. Agent Smith lights up in The Matrix Resurrections; Kate Winslet vapes in Mare of Easttown; and Christina Applegate’s character Jen sparks up in the woman buddy show, Dead to Me. There’s plenty of smoking in the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy and in Orange is the New Black, and also in Modern Family and Law & Order: SVU.

Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw resumed her smoking habit in the latest Sex and the City series, And Just Like That.

The fug that all but envelops The Queen’s Gambit, which is set in the mid-1950s and ’60s in the US, could plausibly be excused: after all, in 1954 a full 45 per cent of Americans smoked, that country’s highest level. (Australia reached its peak – also 45 per cent – in 1960). But smoking is also popping up in contemporary films, and especially those aimed at kids: a 2019 report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of times tobacco use appeared on-screen in PG-13 films jumped 120 per cent between 2010 and 2018.

So what’s going on? “It’s not totally clear, but we’ve got a few ideas,” says Professor Stanton Glantz, a veteran anti-tobacco activist and founder of Smoke Free Media at the University of California, San Francisco, which tracks the incidences of smoking in movies and video. “One thing for sure is, these are not random creative decisions. Nothing in Hollywood happens by chance.”

Cigarettes and movies have been inextricably linked for generations. Ever since the advent of the talkies, tobacco companies have understood the power of film to shape cultural norms. In the 1930s and ’40s, tobacco companies paid Hollywood stars to appear in cigarette ads and smoke on screen. In return, the studios received funding for film advertising. Some actors, including Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard, appeared smoking in posters that promoted both the film and the brand of cigarette.

In the 1950s and ’60s, tobacco companies shifted their focus to television, spending hundreds of millions of dollars sponsoring popular programs such as The Jack Benny Program and Gunsmoke. Steve McQueen smoked in Wanted: Dead or Alive. Peter Gunn smoked. Even the Flintstones smoked. In 1962, the American television network CBS assured tobacco companies that the TV set “is the greatest cigarette vending machine ever devised”.

In the early 1970s, however, regulators in the US and Australia began banning cigarette advertising on TV and radio, prompting the tobacco companies to turn their attention once more to the movies. Product placement became rife, with Big Tobacco paying millions to have its brands on screen.

In 1982, Superman II featured a classic fight scene in which Superman is thrown into a Marlboro truck by General Zod. In 1989, Philip Morris paid $US350,000 ($472,000) to have its Lark brand featured in the James Bond film Licence to Kill.

Some companies were literally throwing cigarettes at actors: in 1984, American Tobacco supplied more than $US5000 worth of cigarettes to the set of Beverly Hills Cop. “I do feel heartened at the increasing number of occasions when I go to a movie and see a pack of cigarettes in the hands of the leading lady,” Hamish Maxwell, then president of Philip Morris, told a marketing meeting in 1983, adding, “We must continue to exploit new opportunities to get cigarettes on screen and into the hands of smokers.”

Such marketing has been phenomenally powerful, not only at creating new smokers but at manipulating reality. “You often hear these days that, ‘Oh everyone smoked in the 1920s and 1930s,’ ” says Glantz. “But it turns out that people back then smoked less than they did 10 years ago. The reason people now think people smoked so much then is that the movies back then had so many people smoking.”

Paying for on-screen product placement was banned in Australia in 1992, and in 1998 in the US. By 2007, according to the CDC, smoking on screen was at an all-time low: virtually the only people you saw puffing away were historical figures whose persona was inseparable from their habit: Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro or King George VI in the 2010 film The King’s Speech, in which he’s frequently depicted lighting up as he struggles with his speech impediment.

But smoking soon rose from the ashes. According to the CDC, tobacco use in top-grossing movies jumped 57 per cent from 2010 to 2018. Meanwhile, in the real world, smoking rates in the US were going in the opposite direction, from 19.3 per cent in 2010 to 13.7 per cent in 2018. The CDC didn’t attempt to explain why there was more smoking in films, but it would be naive to think that Big Tobacco had simply walked away from the movies.

“If you see a pack of Marlboros on screen, someone would have had to approve that,” says Glantz. “It doesn’t get in there by accident. How exactly it gets there, we don’t really know at this stage. There are still product placement companies, but they all deny they work with Big Tobacco. But if you see smoke, there is a fire.” (A spokesman for Philip Morris in Australia said the company does not engage in product placement in movies or on television.)

Streaming services aren’t bound by regulatory agreements, which is how shows like The Umbrella Academy managed to include cigarettes in every scene of its latest season.

Streaming is a big part of the problem, according to Glantz. Every year the tobacco companies must certify to the US Federal Trade Commission that they haven’t paid for their product to be placed in movies, TV shows or video games. But the agreement doesn’t cover streaming content, the enormous quantity of which makes it all but impossible for anti-tobacco groups and regulators to monitor.

“The cynic in me says that tobacco ads have been so curtailed globally that the tobacco industry must have a role in it,” says Becky Freeman, associate professor of public health at the University of Sydney.

“But then, given how many productions are involved and the sheer number of people, it seems unlikely there would be big money changing hands without someone leaking about it.” Freeman believes it’s more likely that streaming services are using smoking “to stand out from the big budget movies, and to appear more ‘indie’.”

Some streaming services are more “indie” than others. Despite a pledge to limit smoking on screen, Netflix remains the worst offender. (According to the Truth Initiative, an American anti-smoking group, scenes involving smoking tripled in the latest season of its superhero series The Umbrella Academy, which managed to include tobacco in every scene.)

The major studios also have policies that aim to restrict the amount of on-screen smoking. The strictest is Disney, which banned it in 2007. Thus its 2021 film, Cruella, which features the ghoulish De Vil without her signature cigarette. But all of the studios – even Disney – make allowances for creative licence and historical accuracy.

Kate Winslet as Detective Sergeant Mare Sheehan vapes in the crime drama, Mare of Easttown.

“Smoking was so widespread in the 20th century that it would be inauthentic not to show it in a drama set in that period,” says novelist and screenwriter John Collee. Collee, whose credits include Master and Commander, Happy Feet and Hotel Mumbai, is writing an adaptation of Trent Dalton’s bestselling book, Boy Swallows Universe, which is set in Brisbane in the early 1980s among working-class criminals and journalists. As it happens, the movie will include a historical figure called Slim Halliday, who was a member of the Brisbane underworld and an enthusiastic smoker. (Spoiler alert: in the film, Halliday dies of lung cancer.)

The problem for groups like the Truth Initiative and Smoke Free Media is that smoking in movies often signifies recklessness, and being reckless is cool.

History aside, smoking holds a strong stylistic appeal in cinema, which, says Collee, uses a “Freudian kind of dream language, where some things signify other things”. In Mad Men, the popular series about hard-living advertising executives in 1960s New York, smoking stands in as moral commentary, a metaphor for lead character Don Draper’s shadowy past and heedless chauvinism.

In the 1999 movie, Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character, a poisonously disillusioned soap salesman named Tyler Durden, smokes so greedily it’s as if he’s eating the cigarette. “His smoking is like saying, ‘Here is a guy who doesn’t much care for his own survival,’ ” Collee says.

In Mad Men, smoking stands in as moral commentary, a metaphor for lead character Don Draper’s shadowy past and heedless chauvinism.

The problem for groups like the Truth Initiative and Smoke Free Media is that smoking in movies often signifies recklessness, and being reckless is cool. The bottom line, says Collee, who worked as a doctor before becoming a writer, “is that, unlike a public health announcement, a drama is essentially non-didactic. To a certain extent, you have to trust your audience to discriminate between a good thing and a bad thing.”


In the 2012 Judd Apatow film, This is 40, the lead female character, Debbie (played by Leslie Mann), has a sneaky smoking habit, puffing away near the bins out the back of her house. When her teenage daughter Sadie discovers her, Debbie is aghast and promises to give up. Like Debbie, today’s filmmakers have been busted smoking. Like Debbie, they have promised to give up. Like Debbie, their heart’s not in it.

Everyone has different ideas about how to fix the problem. India tried to ban all smoking scenes in Bollywood movies in 2005, but failed thanks in part to opposition from the creative community, which argued that it would curb artistic freedom. Instead, all scenes involving smoking are now accompanied by a caption at the bottom of the screen warning viewers that “Smoking is injurious to health”. In Thailand, meanwhile, the act of smoking and cigarette packs are pixelated.

Stan Glantz has long advocated, unsuccessfully, to have all movies with smoking scenes rated R. But prominent Australian anti-tobacco campaigner Simon Chapman believes this would be a mistake, not only because it’s unfeasible (would a minor character smoking one cigarette trigger an R-rating? What about scenes that depict smoking negatively? And what 15-year-old kid takes notice of movie ratings anyway?), but also because having health advocates dictate the content of movies is a really bad idea. “This kind of approach just seems a bit North Korea to me,” he says.

Some of the most memorable anti-smoking messages have come from within the film industry itself. In 1985, the actor Yul Brynner, who had been a smoker since the age of 12 and was then dying of lung cancer, appeared on Good Morning America, imploring the viewers: “Whatever you, just don’t smoke.”

Some of the smoking scenes in The Queen’s Gambit may not have had quite the effect Big Tobacco was hoping for.

 Then there is the hit series The Queen’s Gambit, in which sassy chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) rises up the chess world while battling booze and drugs. In one scene, Harmon, hitting rock bottom, stumbles around her house, hopelessly hungover, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She heads to the fridge and grabs a beer, then dances around the kitchen to Shocking Blue’s Venus.

As the song hits full stride – “A goddess on a mountain top, was burning like a silver flame” – Harmon twirls, cigarette in hand, smoke in her hair, and promptly pukes in the sink. Not quite the product placement Big Tobacco might have hoped for.

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Vaping is Now Endemic

18 March 2022

It gives me no pleasure to say that vaping is endemic, or that I told you so.

I spent 20 years more or less full time trying to get smoke-free air, which equated to fighting the tobacco industry, who were dedicated to selling as much tobacco as was possible with no regards for its health effects.

As I attended endless conferences at my own expense, there were parallel better funded conferences on the Quit issue, where a second tier of anti-smoking professionals went to conferences on nicotine replacement strategies. 

Some of them ran Quit clinics on the model that people would come to them saying “I have a tobacco addiction problem, please help me wean off nicotine”.  The Health Dept. set up and funded quite a number of these clinics. The tobacco industry did not object as they made little difference to the number of people who smoked or the ubiquitousness of the habit, and allowed the government to say that it was doing something, avoid doing something more useful and continue to get the tobacco industry’s political donations.  As an enthusiastic smoking activist, I visited these clinics.  I was always warmly welcomed by the health promotion staff running them who were always up to date on the latest tobacco control literature and happy to talk.  It took me a while and some direct questioning to realise that the model was flawed; very few people came to the clinics and the staff were well read because they did not have much else to do.  Eventually the government stopped funding them.

When the activists had reduced the credibility of the tobacco industry to laughing stock, and the deliberately long contracts of the sponsored sports and other apologists had run out, we managed to get rid of the advertising sponsorships and get smoke free air (with a generous definition of ‘outdoors’ to allow smoking in poker machine areas in pubs to keep the money engine ticking over). This was in 2000.

The vaping technology was being improved as part of this parallel Quit universe, and its medical protagonists were grateful that there was less tobacco use and hoped that the world would perceive their Quit efforts as the last stage in mopping up the smokers remaining, and they could take more of the limelight.  Seeing the whole world from a Quit smoking perspective and possibly having attended a few well-funded conferences, they concluded that vaping would be good for quitting, and because it was much less harmful than burning leaves, it was a step in the right direction.  The assumption that the only use of vaping was to get smokers to quit was naïve in the extreme.  Some of the vape makers are the same companies that were happy to sell cigarettes, and now there are as many people starting smoking from vaping as leaving smoking for vaping.

But the key to vaping is that it is a new consumer product, with the potential to do immense public heath harm and to make massive profits.  The economic engine is in place, the government apathy continues helped by the naïve abovementioned Quit doctors.

In the fight against tobacco, the fact that the ubiquitous ads affected children was self-evident, but like everything in the tobacco wars had to be proved, so a study was done which showed that the brand preference of kids was not the same as adults, but the brands chosen by kids were the ones most advertised.

But now marketing is much more sophisticated. Social media allows targeting by age, gender, location and even personal opinions and preferences.  So kids can be reached without adults even being aware, and this is what has happened.  Vaping has become ubiquitous, just as we were achieving a smoke-free generation.  Now vaping will have to be shown to be harmful, rather than have to be shown to be safe.  So the research will take years, be denied by its industry protagonists, and be subject to the venal indolence of the political process. Inhaling solvents with random additives is likely to be harmful, but this of course is not ‘proof’.  The industry should have had to prove it was safe before it being released, but because the Quit people allowed tobacco to be the bar that it had to beat, it became legal without scrutiny, and now has become ubiquitous without being noticed.

I was therefore not happy but not surprised to read a schoolkid talking about vaping, and sadly he was also realistic enough to assume that the government was not likely to be of much help. Here is his article.

Vaping, a constant craving for too many of my school friends

Ari Katz, High school student

March 15, 2022, Sydney Morning Herald p19

It started as a novelty, a bit of harmless fun. The snap, crackle and pop of each nicotine-fuelled hit was exciting, enticing. The headspin was a new experience. We felt rebellious, revolutionary, cool. Vapes then started appearing at parties, the beach, the cinema.

But when friends started vaping regularly in the bathrooms at school, it became clear this device – resembling a coloured pen, bright and slim (concealing the fusion of wires, batteries and chemical compounds) – was here to stay.

During assessment-intensive periods at school, vapes act as a coping mechanism, a seemingly indispensable form of stress relief. Is this really the way we want our youth to be dealing with the challenges life throws at them?

The highly addictive, flavour-filled substances in vapes are engineered by profit-hungry foreign manufacturers who, I fear, pay little attention to the long-term health implications of their product.

What began as youthful self-discovery and experimentation has descended into a state of unfettered addiction among the adolescents – boys and girls – I know, some as young as 12. This is because vapes are too accessible, too easy. For me, having seen this obsessive relationship with vaping in all types of peers, including those who excel in sport or academic work, the extent of the issue becomes overwhelmingly clear. Vape addiction does not discriminate – everyone is susceptible.

So why should you care?

A Victorian father is warning parents about the dangers of having vapes near children after his son was hospitalised with what are believed to be the effects of smoking one.

The full negative health implications of vaping are as yet unknown. But the concern is that the recurrent inhalation of chemicals will do significant damage to the underdeveloped lungs and brains of teen vapers. However, from my perspective, far worse is the impact that this dependency and incessant craving has on the mental and social wellbeing of my peers. Teen brains aren’t prepared for the burden of addiction.

We know adults are largely oblivious to the scale of the problem, so how can we ask for help when we know the first reaction of the unprepared parent is likely to be a reprimand rather than a helping hand?

The cognitive dissonance of knowing vaping is harmful, while not being able to stop, is taxing on the mental wellbeing of adolescents. We have little experience of addiction and are not taught to deal with it. We know it’s harmful, we know it’s toxic, but we can’t stop.

Vaping is no longer a fad; the fun has been over for months now. From what I can see in my circle, few people who vape actually want to vape.

Government education campaigns will be largely impotent against the vape culture because addiction, by nature, does not just end by the push of a button. It takes personalised support, resources and encouragement to curb the dependency. Where is all this when we need it?

Vulnerable, developing brains are suffering at the hands of an insidious device, yet this challenge is only now starting to receive attention.

Seeing friends and peers suffer is shattering. This is Australia’s future we are talking about.

Ari Katz is a high school student in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs

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Ukraine- a Perspective

6 March 2022

Putin had said that he would not invade, so clearly he was lying.

It may be true that Russia wants buffer states between it and Western Europe and this is why it demanded from the US that Ukraine never be allowed into NATO. 

It is also true that the US promised Russia as its empire collapsed in 1990 that the newly independent countries would not be allowed to join NATO and that NATO would not move eastward.

Of course the countries that had just escaped from the Soviet Union wanted a security guarantee by to joining NATO.   NATO did not have to approach them, and may have appeared cowardly not to offer them the protection that they sought.  Whether NATO could defend Estonia against a Russian land-based approach is another question.  It is likely that NATO would not have let Ukraine join, as being surrounded by Russia on three sides, it might have been considered indefensible.

From a Russian point of view, the presence of close US bases is very disturbing and they are now in Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan.  One of Russia’s major demands was that there be a buffer zone between it and the West.  The history is relevant.  Russia has had the armies of Napoleon and Hitler sweep across their land where there are no natural barriers. By the same token, they swept the Germans back in WW2 and retained part of Germany and all of Poland Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Czechoslavakia and the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They kept them, dropping the ‘Iron Curtain’ and engaging in the ‘Cold War’ until the inefficiency of their communist economy made it crumble, leading to the collapse of the USSR, Russia’s empire.

The Russian economy is now the 11th in the world with GDP of $1.6 trillion, only two places ahead of Australia on $1.4, (with Spain in between).   They have however, the legacy of the immense military power and high military and space technology, and the memories of Empire that must be very important to Putin, the Cold War warrior who used to head the KGB.  Whether Putin is motivated by fear of the West, dreams of recreating the Russian Empire, difficulties in domestic politics or deluded foreign intelligence reports seems hard to say.  It is unlikely that just promising that the Ukraine would not be in NATO would probably not have stopped the invasion, but Russia was treated with a contempt that must have rankled.  The Eastern European Countries joined NATO, which must have seemed in danger of irrelevance if peace had reigned.   Russia’s worries about encirclement were ignored, presumably because it was assumed that there was nothing that they could do about it and they were economically weak.

It is interesting to look at Western assumptions since WW2. Because both world wars were over access to markets, the pressure at the Bretton Wood conference in 1944 was to have free markets so that if countries traded well they would rise, and if poorly they would fall, but either way, there was no world war. Germany and Japan rose in this system.  The US, which was responsible for 40% of world GDP in 1960 has been quietly sinking and is now only 24%. Much of their manufacturing has gone offshore so the arms industry has greater significance.  The US have had ownership of major companies, but as these have become global they are not under control or fully taxed by any country.  The US has been the only superpower since the collapse of the Soviet Union and has had an assumed superiority, which is helped by the fact that as the US Dollar is the world’s currency and since the Gold standard was abolished in 1980, they can simply print more money.

The key Western assumption after Bretton Woods was that major powers would trade and hence territorial wars would be unnecessary.  Just as the medieval folk assumed that God would fix everything, the West largely assumed that having the world a market would fix things.  Unsurprisingly this has proved too simplistic.  Unfair trade, national and corporate predatory behaviour and the ability of some to set prices better than others has led to some countries becoming poorer as their assets are stripped, like the losers in a Monopoly game that never ends.  The assumption that no countries wanted empires stood in ironic contrast to the behaviour of the US, which has had many little wars to further its interests, not to mention Russia and China.

Germany is worthy of mention here.  It was punished by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WW1 and the resentment and economic hardship led to the rise of Hitler and WW2. After WW2 the Allies had learned their lesson and the US aid of the Marshall Plan poured in to stop communism.  Germany was rebuilt and joined its traditional enemy France to form the EU, which it then dominated.  Internal EU trade made war extremely unlikely, though there is a still significant friction in the Balkans. Germany went one step further, getting gas from Russia, which creates a mutual inter-dependency, which was assumed to make war less likely.

But when Russia collapsed in 1990 due to uncompetitive nature of its industries and it consequent foreign trade problems, it received no sympathy, and no aid. Predatory capitalism bought assets at rock bottom prices from those within the power structure who had power to sell them, and organised crime was significant.  Putin, an ex-KGB chief took the trouble to become personally rich, but moved in to control the oligarchs, lessen corruption, get foreign capital and industries and develop oil and gas.  His deal with the oligarchs was basically to control them somewhat, but let them keep their money as long as they did not get into politics.  Per capita GDP in Russia has risen 385% since 2000 as against the EU’s 162%, helped by high oil and gas prices in the early years. But Russian per capital income is still $US28,219 a year as opposed to the EU average of $US41, 539.  Russia has also had an inflation rate almost double the EU, which has somewhat taken the gloss off the wage rise.

Putin himself is still a Cold War warrior, who resents Russia’s loss of power.  He has eliminated dissident voices in his immediate circle, and so the advice he gets may be quite distorted.  There were stories from the Communist period that Russian intelligence was skewed to favour a Kremlin faction who might reward the source of the intelligence.  The pro-Russian nature of the Donbas region provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk and of Crimea may have led Putin to believe that Ukrainians either wanted to join Russia, or would accept it relatively easily if it happened.   He had marched into Georgia, taken the countryside easily and the people had given little resistance.  The referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk in May 2021, which were highly controversial in their legitimacy and execution because of both separatist and Ukrainian army violence, may have also given him reason for his belief.

Russia has 146 million people Ukraine 44 million, so taking over the country and occupying it will be extremely difficult even if military victory is achieved.  Bombarding residential areas was done by the Russian in Syria and achieved victory there, but the Russians left the local Dictator, Assad, to deal with the consequences.  Assad’s humanitarian record is appalling, and there has been little publicity about the outcome.  But the Ukrainians are the same ethnic stock as Russia and such a traumatic victory is very unlikely to achieve a stable transition of government if Russia chooses to stay. 

The role of the US has been criticised. They have been keen for NATO to take a hard line, broke their word in NATO’s eastward extension, put bases in Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan and dismissed Putin’s request for a promise not to offer Ukraine membership, saying it was a Ukrainian decision.  A harder line from NATO will help US arms sales, a disruption of oil and gas will favour their own industries, and after all they are separated from any problems by the Atlantic Ocean.

The Germans are having a major re-think on their priorities, as they rely on Russian gas for 15% of their generation. They were phasing out nuclear power since Fukushima in 2011, and like many other countries are a little delayed in the difficult switch to renewable power.  A power shortage is likely to affect their industrial competitiveness and they are now signing up to the US demand for 2% of national income to be spent on arms.

China is likely to help Russia as it can turn it into a vassal state.  The Chinese economy is $17 trillion, which is roughly ten times the Russian one, so the cost of bailing them out by buying their energy and wheat is really only small change. They will take a bit of criticism from the rest of the world, but it will be worth it.  They will continue to work with the Russians to lessen the power of the US dollar as the world’s currency.  They will see how much Russia has suffered financially and in reputation from the invasion, and may then ease up on Taiwan- after all they only have to wait until a pro-Beijing government gets power there, and if that takes 30 years, so be it- they can afford to wait.  They harbour historical resentments against the West as Russia does, so with an economy ten times the size of Russia and growing have a capacity that Russia lacks.  This remains a problem.  They have consolidated Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and are expanding the area they control in the South China Sea.  What they will conclude from Putin’s Ukraine adventure remains in the realm of speculation.

The rise in gas prices should help Australian producers, but it will take a long time to scale up to meet the demand, and shipping is a problem. The other problem that the Australian gas industry has is that they sold gas on the assumption that could frack large parts of Australia, and resistance from groups concerned about the effect of this on the water table and farming has made this gas less available, so they have already have trouble meeting their contracted obligations. 

So what are the effects of the Ukraine invasion likely to be?

Putin will be very reluctant to stop and is likely to kill a lot of civilians in his efforts to save face and win.  This is tragic for the people of Ukraine and will result in a lot of refugees.  If he tries to hold Ukraine against a widely supported insurgency there will be a large number of Russian casualties continuing.  The Afghan war led to the fall of the then Russian government and many believe that even with the worst repression Putin will not survive this folly, particularly as he has created a Europe much more united against him and sanctions that will be significant for the Russian people.  An assumption is that he cannot reactivate the Gulag system of Stalin in this day and age, but a number of our other assumptions seem to have been wrong.

As stated above Russian and China will become closer and China will redouble its efforts to undermine the US dollar as the world’s currency.  This will succeed eventually, but will be gradual and not necessarily a problem for us.

In the short-term we need to help the Ukrainians as much as reasonably possible.

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