Doctor and activist


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Category: International

Anglo Democracies- What a Mess. We need a New Constitution

7 June 2024

If a mob stormed Parliament, overcoming the security system, causing great fear, killing one person and injuring others, we would regard that country with suspicion; South American tin pot democracy?  If a few of the rioters were charged, but the instigator was not charged 4 years later, we would regard that as a farce. If the instigator then got a fine for irregularity in the bookkeeping of his election funds 4 years later and got a fine that was a tiny fraction of his election budget, he might as well have had a parking ticket. If the instigator then with total impunity stood again for election we would say that the tin pot nature of a quasi-dictatorship was confirmed.  Yet this is exactly what has happened in the USA, where Trump will get a non-custodial sentence, i.e. a fine or some charitable work.  Photo-op in a soup kitchen perhaps?

The Republicans will win if Biden becomes unpopular because the economy turns down, or he supports Israel too much because of the power of the Jewish lobby, or if the scare campaign on his age is successful enough.  This is because there are only two options, Democrat and Republican.  The leaders in the Republican party do not want to criticise Trump because if he succeeds their fortunes will suffer and if he fails, they want to run in 4 years.  In a Big Party, it is all about climbing up their hierarchy- tough luck about the country’s welfare. Even Nikki Haley, who criticised Trump in a desperate effort in the Republican primaries has endorsed him. So we have a President who is too old and should step down standing against Trump who has a criminal record and for some reason cannot be brought to book within 4 years; his past failures, ignorance and appalling policies almost irrelevant in the scheme of things.

In Britain, with First-Past-the-Post voting, the electoral system is similarly distorted to favour only two parties and the inequities are such that you can almost draw a line across the country. Conservative Blue in the South, Labour Red in the North. Other parties and opinions are a dot here and there, they get far more votes than seats.  Post-Brexit the economy has tanked, which is what one might have expected since most their trade was with the EU.  The Conservatives will get a caning, putting in the lack- lustre Labour party, the only alternative, of course.

Back, in Australia, Labor is criticised for doing so little and being Liberal-lite.  They had agreed not to raise taxes and even to give tax cuts because Shorten had been defeated by scare tactics in 2019, so having no policies was a safer, small target option.  The Conservatives rule from beyond the grave.

The problem is that the people have handed the power to a two party system.  When Churchill wrote the post-WW2 German constitution he wrote it so that no party would ever get an absolute majority. There would have to be negotiation about forming government and about each piece of legislation; no ‘winner takes all’.  The Swiss constitution has 3 levels of government, all but 7 politicians are part-time and limited to 2 terms, with their jobs protected so that when they leave they go back to them full time. This means there are no party hierarchies to climb up and no jobs for the boys and girls at the end. Also there are quarterly referenda where if citizens get enough signatures they can overthrow even Federal government decisions.  This is what Australia did not copy when our constitution was written in 1900 (though it was considered). Our 1901 constitution was a heroic effort to stitch 6 squabbling colonies into a nation. It was not all wisdom for all time.

Anglo countries may have been early in creating democracy from autocratic kingdoms, but better things are now known and we need to move up and on.

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Cheaper EVs?

20 April 2024

Here is an article praising China’s Electric Vehicle industry and noting that Apple gave up trying to do EVs and China has successfully taken up the slack.

It also boasts that Chinese EV technology is excellent and that they have not lowered prices, and it warns that trade tariffs to stop Chinese exports will be counterproductive.

More conventional views are that China has a glut of EVs and a coming economic crisis due to their property bubble.

Australia has no tariffs on EVs and is currently paying too much for them.  Despite the tone of this article, China must want to dump EVs somewhere.

I am still not sure that EVs are good for the environment in that the carbon footprint from mining and processing their components is much greater than the simpler components of internal combustion engines, and the factories that manufacture them are mainly powered by coal-generated power.  It takes many km of petrol saved to overcome this initial deficit. Hopefully this situation will gradually improve in time, but in the shorter term, will Chinese EVs be cheaper here?

What does China’s electric vehicle rise mean for the global market?

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Gaza- Where Next?

10 April 2024

The world has watched in horror and amazement as Israel has systematically bombed Gaza.

Gaza was an open-air prison in the sense that its people could not move without permission, could not trade, except via Israel so had no industry and even their food supply was controlled.  This led to the rise of Hamas, which was seen as at least willing to stand up to Israel rather than being the patsies of the Palestinian Authority (more on that later).  Hamas was a result of the situation, not the cause.

 

As I  have posted before, Israel was making friends with most of the countries around it. Jordan was too weak to stand up to it, as was Egypt. Qatar and UAE were mainly interested in trade, and Saudi Arabia, despite being strongly Sunni Muslims were about to sign a treaty.  Netanyahu was captive of his religious Right and talking about a ‘Regional Solution’ for the Palestinians.  This was probably code for them ‘going elsewhere’.

 

The State of Israel was ‘declared’ by Ben Gurion in 1948. The slogan had been ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’.  Palestine had been a colonial state, part of the Ottoman Empire and then, after WW1, a British Protectorate and. But this did not mean that it did not have people occupying it.  The state of Israel set about populating it by putting ‘settlers’ on the West Bank. The myth was that this land was not owned, which was only legally correct because Israel did not recognise land title prior to the declaration of the State of Israel. So Palestinians did not ‘own’ the land that they had occupied for decades.  The ‘settlers’ were given land on the hilltops that the Palestinians were driven off, and the Israeli defence force guaranteed them support if the Palestinians, now defined as terrorists, attacked. A network of roads was built so that the army could come quickly to quell any Palestinian ‘aggression’.  Many of the settlers came from Eastern Europe and had been marginalised in their previous countries so defending their Jewish status and new homes was not a huge conceptual step.

 

This went on for years with unsuccessful negotiations for a ‘two state’ solution with Yasser Arafat. The Palestinians were portrayed as terrorists while Israel gradually made the two state solution impossible on the ground. The settlers were educated principally in Hebrew which reinforced their Jewishness, but also limited their information input and their options to go elsewhere.  There are now about 750,000 of them, so the West Bank is effectively ‘occupied’ and the settlers will not move any more than the Palestinians want to.

 

Israel also created Ramullah as the so-called capital of the supposedly-coming Palestinian state.  The international aid agencies moved there, naturally wanting good premises for their staff to live and work and the price of rents and real estate there meant that the Palestinians, on minimal income, had trouble living there. The Palestinian Authority, now actually having a place to rule, could approve land developments, a handy source of income and also of corruption. So the Palestinian Authority was no longer seen as the legitimate rulers, but as compromised by Israel, which is why Hamas won the Gaza elections.  Palestinians are generally not a particularly religious people.

 

The Palestinains are forced out of their accommodation in Jerusalem by the fact that increasingly Israelis use imported labour from Sri Lanka to do the menial jobs that the Palestinians used to do. So they had no work and could not pay the rents. If they left the house, under Israeli law an unoccupied house belongs to the State and can be gifted to a settler, so there has been a constant house by house clearing of Palestinians from Jerusalem, both the old walled (holy) city and the new part where traditionally Palestinians have lived on the East Side. So the Palesitinaisn were gradually getting to a situation where they had no land and no jobs. They were portrayed as terrorists and there was no negotiation towards any sort of lasting settlement.

 

Hamas probably launched the October 7 attack because if it did not do so, the Palestinian people had no future.

 

Israel, with Netanyahu having to stay in power at a personal level because of corruption charges and hostage to the religious Right first bombed the north of Gaza, and now, 35,000 or more deaths later, is intending to invade the last part where 1 million refugees have gathered.  It may be that the religious Right simply want all the Palestinians dead. In Biblical times whole cities were massacred,so it is hard to know their frame of reference.  It seems quite probable that the Israelis assumed that the border would be opened, the Palestinians would flee to a refugee area in the Sinai and they would never be allowed to return, creating a ‘refugee crisis’ which would be a UN rather than an Israeli problem. Israel would have solved its problem, and the precedent would let the West Bank Palestinains follow the Gazans. Unpopular in the short-term, but a ‘regional solution’.

 

The Israelis were keen to maximise harm to the Gazans, not allowing food trucks in, and the West talked about building ports to get food to Gazans rather than try to stop the Israeli blockade.  It is hard to believe that the food trucks that were negotiating directly with the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) were hit accidentally; rather it was part of the overall strategy to discourage the aid, stop the Gazans getting fed, worsen their plight and get them to go elsewhere.

 

The idea that hunting Hamas militants is a serious strategy must be dismissed as nonsense. This will not be won as a military campaign. The hate sown by this action will last for generations. But why should Israel be believed when it says that this is its strategy?  They took the West Bank by stealth as they claimed that they wanted to negotiate peace. It  was simply a lie. They have worked for 40 years to make a ‘two state solution’ impossible. Now, amazingly even the Australian government thinks this can be achieved.  There are $750,000 settlers making it impossible.  Jeff Halper, an American Jewish anthropologist who moved to Israel wrote an excellent book in 2010, ‘An Israeli in Palestine’ in which he advocated a ‘One State solution’ on the assumption that the apartheid situation that exists has to be undone as it was in South Africa. This looks a very dismal prospect now. When I visited in 2012 the average Israeli was in a state of denial about what was happening, regarding it as the army and the police’s job to keep the peace so that they could continue ‘normal life’.  It was strikingly similar to the situation when I had visited apartheid South Africa in 1985.  Now the Israeli population is very scared and arming themselves. It will end up like the US with a large number of gun-related deaths and the problems ongoing. In the end a society has to be built on consensus and a degree of trust between individuals and strangers.

 

So what of the Gaza war? I have drifted off topic.  The actual fighting has had very little attention. Do the Israelis merely bomb the city systematically and then walk in over the rubble with few casualties? Is Hamas actually fighting? There seems to be no attention to this in the mainstream press. And what of the Israelis?  A million people are demonstrating for a change of government, but it seems unclear what they want. Their hostages back?  A cease fire? A reasonable long term peace?  On what terms?

 

Netanyahu has said that a date is set to invade the rest of Gaza. Does this mean even more casualties than before to force the world to take the Gazans as there is nowhere else for them to go? It looks that way.

 

Even if the world stops supplying weapons, will the Israelis have enough stockpiled to complete the job?

 

And if the Israelis stop, either now or after even more carnage, how will Gaza be rebuilt or there be any sort of just solution for the Palestinians?

 

The world sees Israel as the last and most brutal of the colonial powers, simply taking a land and killing inhabitants who resist. The developed West with all its talk of international law is seen in the global South as hypocrites, unwilling even to condemn a more recent colonial aggressor.  It is hard not to see their point. Countries are judged by what their governments do, not by what their people may think. Australia’s late foray into arms manufacture with the Israeli partnership can be seen for the stupidity it was. We are all losers here. Recognition of a Palestinian state will at least elevate the status of any Palestinian  negotiators. It is too little too late, but what are the alternatives?

 

https://theconversation.com/penny-wong-floats-recognising-palestine-ahead-of-two-state-solution-to-help-path-to-peace-227456

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AUKUS- time to make a RUcKUS

6 February 2024

The decision to buy Australia nuclear submarines was one of the worst military decisions ever taken in Australia, not to mention the opportunity cost of $360 billion in terms of the useful things it could do to improve Australian society.

Nick Deane of the Marrickville Peace Group punches well above his weight because of the dire state of peace activism in Australia. He writes excellent material in a very understudied area.

He makes the point that a few submarines cannot defend Australia if it were in danger of a serious attack. But of course that much money could buy a lot of other military material, so we are actually a lot weaker for having the subs.

The other reason given is ‘deterrence’. Presumably this relates to China, but given the huge arsenal the US already has, whether a few submarines are Australian-flagged or US-flagged will not change their thinking one iota.  China is a power that is going to rise whether we like it or not, their current economic problems notwithstanding. Anwar Ibrahim, the excellent Malaysian Prime Minister has pointed this out at the ASEAN meeting in Melbourne.

We are not going to stop China’s rise and we should try to get the US to accommodate this as they will not be able to stop it either. We should simply deal with China as a trading partner, not sell them our strategic assets and get a fair price for our wares.  Their interest in the Eurasian continental mass will be far greater than invading a farm and a quarry of far less economic significance.

My own view is that it quite dubious whether a nuclear submarine will be of any use in any case. The battleships that fought in WW1 were rendered totally obsolete by their vulnerability to seaplane attacks in WW2. Submarines can currently hide because changes in water temperature make them hard to detect.  Conventional submarines get found when they come up for air, but nuclear submarines can stay submerged for very long periods. But nuclear submarines produce a lot of hot water from their reactors, which they cannot turn off. If they stay in the same place quite a plume of hot water goes up from them.  It is hard to believe that satellites will not be able to notice this temperature difference.  The Russian Black Sea fleet is being sunk by numerous relatively cheap drones, and it is difficult to believe that a pattern of surface drones guided by a satellite would not be able to locate and then destroy a submarine twenty years hence.

The UK wants to sell us submarines and wants to lock us in on their side in a confrontation with China. But the  US has other objectives. Apart from selling us submarines at vast profit, we will have to have a base capable of supporting them. Then they will be able to use that base, presumably at minimal cost, so we are locked into having US nuclear warships in our ports at our cost and becoming targets for China in the confrontation.

The pro-nuclear lobby has also pointed out that Australia will also have to hugely expand our nuclear knowledge capability with at least another reactor larger than our modest one at Lucas Heights. We cannot just have submarines and not be able to operate and maintain them.

The defence procurement has been an a mess for years, one suspects because some of our strategic planners want us to ‘operate seamlessly’ with the US, which assumes that our military policy is in total lockstep with theirs, and other planners want an independent Australian capability, fearing the US under Trump  might go into isolationism as it did just before both world wars. What do you procure if you have not solved this internal wrangle?

So along comes Morrison whose popularity is sagging just before an election and makes a big decision that allows him to pretend he is a big statesman with a US President and a UK Prime Minister. Photo op a bargain at $360 billion!

Labor, ever-fearful of being criticised by the Liberals for being ‘weak on defence’ (or border security or tax cuts) has just gone along with this. And of course decades of dithering for the reasons above have meant that there is no properly thought out and costed alternative.

We need to recognise that the US will always act in its own interest as it did in delaying its entry to WW1 and WW2 and in selling arms now. We need our own defence policy and to recognise that the US may help us, but only if it has the resources available at the time and there are not other priorities. Once we have a defence policy, we can  fix the muddled thinking and get a defence procurement strategy.  But we will have to make enough noise to get rid of the AUKUS deal, which will tie up so much money that nothing else will get a look in.

Here is Nick Deane’s article from John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations:

 

How did Australia get seduced by AUKUS?

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The Law is a Dangerous Ass

3 March 2024
For some inexplicable reason, people seem to think that the legal systems in the Anglosphere are good or at least adequate. They have huge delays, cost a fortune and quite often come to absurd conclusions. I will leave the last point for the moment and just consider one of its most significant current delays.

Four years ago, the unsuccessful Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, did not accept the election result and encouraged his supporters to invade the Congress. People were killed.
Most people would call this a ‘Coup Attempt’.

Yet years later the legal system now has the US Supreme Court, some of whom were appointed by Trump, deciding whether an ex-President can be charged for encouraging a coup or can pardon himself if he is re-elected. The Supreme Court is not expected to be able to come to a conclusion by November, so 4 years after the attempted coup, Trump will get another go.

Would any non-Anglo country tolerate such absurd delays? If it happened in a South American country our media would lampoon their system. The headline would be ‘Coup Leader Walks Free’ or similar.

You may have seen the 4 Corners of 26 February where a reporter tracked down an alleged Rwandan genocider living in Brisbane and wondered about his extradition and the Australian legal system’s response. Part of that program was a discussion of how the Rwandans had used a form of community discussion justice to punish the genociders, give them sentences and achieve a national reconciliation between the tribes. It was food for thought.

We all say the ‘The law must take its course’ or ‘Due process must be followed’. It is time someone said, ‘Processes that take more than 4 years to call a revolutionary coup leader to account are not satisfactory’, or ‘Exaggerated respect for this unsuccessful legal system may give the whole Western world the leader that destroys it’, and actually did something about it.

Here is an article in today’s Sun Herald pointing out that Trump is still likely to be able to stand in the elections. It is pretty wordy.

Anyone who hopes to see Trump in prison soon will be disappointed

The Economist- in Sun Herald 3 March 2024
The flimsiest of the cases is set to go first, and all face delays or uncertain penalties.
The prosecutors trying to convict Donald Trump face a highly unusual deadline. Retaking the presidency would offer Trump his best escape from jeopardy: once back in the White House, he would be able to squelch or pause the four criminal cases lodged against him. Hence prosecutors’ urgency – and a public interest – in concluding those trials before November. Miss that opportunity and he may never be held accountable in a court of law for his alleged crimes.
The 91 felony charges against Trump are both serious and picaresque. The weightiest are related to his role in the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. His attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election was the most shocking and serious assault on the constitution in decades, if not since the civil war; whether a jury would see Trump as guilty or innocent has obvious salience as voters prepare to decide whether to return him to the presidency. There are additional allegations about election interference in Georgia and the mishandling of state secrets. And, there is also a plot involving a payment to a porn star.
Trump insists he has done nothing wrong in any of the cases discussed in this article, and has so far incorporated all of them deftly into his restoration narrative of victimhood and revenge seeking. The fact that two of the criminal indictments were brought by district attorneys elected to their offices as Democrats has provided ballast for his claims that he is being targeted by political enemies.
Still, he will frequently appear before judges as an accused felon over the remaining eight months of the campaign. Indeed, Americans are already growing accustomed to a splitscreen of scowling courtroom appearances and Make America Great Again rallies that has no precedent in past presidential elections.
Yet, Democrats who wish to see him locked up by election day will be disappointed. It seems probable that at most one or two trials will conclude before voting starts, and even if the former president is convicted of one or more felonies, he is likely to avoid or at least delay a prison term until after the election is decided.
A trial in the January 6 case could take place in the US summer or early autumn, depending on how Trump’s appeals unfold. If it does go forward during the campaign, wall-to-wall news coverage will refresh memories of how Trump’s Big Lie and his attempt to stop Congress from certifying the vote led hundreds of his supporters to storm the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the attack and more than 150 police officers were injured.
However, instead of a trial-of-thecentury about an event of plain historical significance, the flimsiest of the four cases may go forward first. That trial is scheduled for March 25 in Manhattan.
Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who is the borough’s elected district attorney, brought an indictment that does not lack ambition. Trump stands accused of 34 felonies for falsifying business records to hide hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, a porn actress, before the 2016 election. Prosecutors allege that Trump ordered his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to buy Daniels’s silence for $US130,000. After he won the election he reimbursed Cohen and marked those payments as legal expenses.
FIRST BUT NOT FOREMOST
The case is convoluted. Normally, the charge would be a misdemeanour. To elevate it to a felony, prosecutors must prove the records were falsified with intent to commit another crime. Bragg has alluded to several other offences in legal filings. He could say the payments violated federal campaign finance laws since they were not declared as contributions, or that taxes were not paid on them.
Bragg’s case falls in a legal grey area. Federal election law pre-empts state prosecutors from bringing cases about federal races. By pursuing an untested legal theory, Bragg has bolstered Trump’s claim that he is the target of a partisan prosecution, says Jed Shugerman of Boston University School of Law.
There are other problems with Bragg’s case. The star witness, Cohen, lacks credibility, having lied to Congress and a federal judge. The carnivalesque nature of the trial – a former tabloid publisher and a former Playboy model will probably testify will play to Trump’s advantage, making the case seem like reality TV, a format in which he is highly practised. Even if Trump is convicted, there seems to be little chance that the judge would sentence him to prison on such novel charges involving the manipulation of records.
A BIG QUESTION MARK
The January 6 case was lodged in federal court in Washington DC by Jack Smith, a special counsel in the Department of Justice (DOJ). Smith charged Trump with four crimes, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and to deny voters their rights by using lies, ‘‘fake’’ electors and other schemes to thwart the lawful certification of the electoral-college vote by Congress on January 6. The indictment was tight, conservative and designed to move quickly, says Ryan Goodman of New York University School of Law. Though it lists six alleged co-conspirators, only Trump was charged. (The others may be later.) No count relates directly to the violence of the Capitol riot. That would have been a heavier lift for prosecutors.
A charge of insurrection or seditious conspiracy – used to convict a number of far-right militia leaders who stormed the Capitol – would have required proof that Trump knew the protests that day would turn violent. Incitement would have elicited a potentially strong First Amendment defence. Still, Smith will need to show criminal intent. Trump’s lawyers contend that he genuinely believed he won and that advisers said his pressure tactics were legal. That may not be a winning defence: plenty of people repeatedly told him he had lost. But it is a viable one. Rebecca Roiphe of New York Law School cautions against calling the case rock-solid.
The biggest question mark is the trial’s timing. Initially, the presiding judge, Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee, moved the case along quickly. But in mid-December she froze trial preparation so that Trump could argue in a federal appeals court that the case should be thrown out on presidential-immunity grounds. A three-judge appellate panel unanimously rejected his request earlier this month. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case this week, adding a delay of perhaps months.
By July at the latest, Judge Chutkan should have a green light from the Supreme Court to unfreeze the proceedings. (Hardly anyone expects the justices to side with Trump on immunity.) Several weeks of preparation will need to be recouped before the trial actually gets under way. Then the trial itself will take about two to three months. That gives decent odds of a verdict by election day.
If Trump is convicted, sentencing will be up to Judge Chutkan. She has required prison time for every convicted Capitol rioter whose trial she has overseen. But that seems highly unlikely for a former president. A more plausible scenario would be a fine, probation or house arrest. In any event, he would remain free while he appealed against the conviction.
THE GEORGIA AFFAIR
If Smith’s federal indictment over election interference is a targeted harpoon, its state counterpart in Fulton County, Georgia, is a giant trawl net. Both rely in essence on the same facts and witnesses. The big difference is that Fani Willis, a Democrat who is the elected district attorney in Fulton County, named 18 co-defendants alongside Trump, whom she charged with 13 felonies. All were indicted under an anti-racketeering statute first used against the mafia. A conviction can result in prison time of five years or longer. Willis says she wants the trial to start in August and, given the number of co-defendants, expects it to run into 2025. Three have pleaded guilty so far.
But the case has been derailed by revelations of an affair between Willis and a lawyer she hired onto her team. The defendants want her disqualified, prompting a mini-trial about the nature of the relationship. They argue that Willis has a personal stake in prosecuting them, to see her paramour enriched – he made $US728,000 on the job, and paid for at least a share of the couple’s holidays together. Willis denies any impropriety and delivered combative testimony in her own defence at a hearing on February 15.
If the judge, Scott McAfee, disqualifies her, a state agency will appoint a new prosecutor, which could take a year or more. Her replacement could alter or even dismiss the charges. Even if Judge McAfee lets her stay, he will probably allow the defendants to appeal against his decision and pause the case. Don’t bank on a trial before the election, in other words.
STRAIGHTFORWARD BUT SLOW
On the face of it, the case brought by Smith involving Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents is the most straightforward. But the judge randomly assigned to the case, Aileen Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Trump, has moved slowly, and there appears to be little chance that it will reach trial before November.
Here the facts and the law are uncomplicated. Federal prosecutors charged Trump with 40 felonies over his alleged wilful retention of national defence papers and his refusal to give them back. According to prosecutors, after Trump left the White House, he ordered aides to hide dozens of classified documents from the FBI. They were caught on video shuffling boxes.
Trump appears to have misled his own lawyers, who certified to investigators that everything had been handed over. It took a raid on Mara-Lago, his Florida estate, to get them back. Some dealt with America’s nuclear arsenal. Trump is said to have twice shown documents to visitors and acknowledged that they contained secrets.
What makes the case thorny has less to do with its merits than with procedural hold-ups. In national security prosecutions the government tries its best to withhold classified evidence from the defence, not to mention jurors. The judge decides what material has to be disclosed and to whom; those decisions are contentious and can be appealed against. The backand-forth means delays.
Whenever the trial does start, it will be held in Trump’s backyard in Florida and could draw a sympathetic jury. A single holdout juror can block criminal convictions, which require unanimity in America. Even if he is convicted, sentencing will be up to Judge Cannon. In normal circumstances someone found guilty of the alleged crimes would risk going to prison for a few years. But again that seems unlikely in this instance.
I BEG MY PARDON?
Say Trump wins in November and gets convicted and sentenced in any of the four cases before taking office: what then? If he is convicted in either of the two federal cases, he will appeal. After the inauguration he might try to pardon himself, or better yet issue a blanket prospective self-pardon. (His attempt to pardon himself would not help him in either of the state cases, since presidential pardons do not cover state crimes.) No president has ever attempted that. When Richard Nixon contemplated it during the Watergate scandal, the DOJ said it was improper and he was let off by his successor, Gerald Ford. In any event, the Supreme Court would have the last word.
A surer bet would be for Trump to appeal against his conviction, and then, while the case was winding through higher courts, order his attorney-general to drop it. Again, that trick would not work in Georgia or New York, since state cases sit outside the Justice Department’s purview. Yet DOJ policy says a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, and while the advisory opinion is unclear about state matters, it seems likely that all of Trump’s criminal cases would be paused while he held the presidency. Prosecutions might resume in 2029 when he leaves the White House. At that point, he would be 82.
Trump is partly right about the charges he faces. They are political – not in the sense that the cases are partisan attacks, but because of how they may or may not change America’s political trajectory. Over the next eight months the American justice system will be tested by Trump’s defiance and delay. How that system performs will provide a measure of its own integrity and resilience.
It will also determine whether a candidate who sneers at the rule of law is able to manoeuvre his way past the charges against him long enough to win in November and become a law unto himself.
The Economist

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Gaza: The Final Solution?

15 February 2024

As the Israeli army threatens to invade the last part of Gaza, Australia, Canada, NZ, the UN and most of the world ask them to stop.  The citizens of Gaza were already crowded into a very small area. Then they were moved to the South, then into ever smaller areas.  Now military action will kill large numbers who have nowhere to shelter. It is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Netanyahu says that he wants to destroy Hamas and that the hostages must be there somewhere.  Presumably as he has not found them in the areas he is already occupying.

He is still trying to defeat Hamas militarily and always has intelligence that they are hiding in the civilian population.

The idea that Hamas is separate from the population it governs is absurd. It may have a military wing, but it is a political party that was voted in. The reason that they were voted in was because the Palestinian Authority were seen as patsies for the Israeli government, corrupt and concerned with land rezoning kickbacks in the putative capital of the West Bank Palestinian state, Ramallah.

But even if the Israelis killed everyone associated with Hamas, their actions have guaranteed generations of hatred for the Israelis. The ‘war on terror’ was a silly slogan, as terror is a means of fighting that underdogs use, not a religion, a cause or a people.

Which begs the final question; what is Israel doing?  Netanyahu is under a great deal of pressure personally in that he is facing corruption changes and he has actually passed legislation to disempower the courts. This was a cause of many demonstrations before the Hamas raids on 7 October that triggered the current war. He is also dependent for power on far-Right Zionist parties for the survival of his government.  In a way he needs the war.

But I wonder if this final stage is actually the final solution of the ‘Palestinian problem’.  Israel has pretended that there would be a ‘two state solution’ as it pushed Palestinians off their land and out of their Jerusalem houses, gave their jobs to immigrant guest workers so that they had no means of support, and kept them in a gated city, Gaza.  Having deliberately made a two state solution impossible, they then made peace with adjoining countries and talked about a ‘regional solution’, which sounded very like ‘you take the Palestinians’.  Now, they may be saying to the rest of the world, ‘Are you going to open the border and let these people escape to the Sinai or will we kill them all?’  Of course if they go to the Sinai they will be a huge refugee problem, but it will not be Israel’s problem, it will be the world’s problem- a ‘regional solution’, as Israel will not take them back.

Israel is already a pariah. It has nowhere to put the Palestinians and would have to rebuild Gaza, which it will not want to do. It cannot integrate them as is being attempted in post-Apartheid South Africa, as the enmity is probably now worse than it was in South Africa. And Netanyahu’s far-right religious backers probably see this as an opportunity for a final solution. Do we really believe the stated reasons for their actions?  Who will blink first?

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Gaza Outcomes

4 February 2024

As Israel destroys all of Gaza and the refugees huddle on the beach one might ask what is the end point?

Israel claims it wants to destroy Hamas, because it is a ‘terrorist organisation’

But what does this mean? A terrorist is someone who uses attacks on civilians to create fear in a population to achieve a political end.  One could ask if that was what the Israeli occupation of the West Bank was doing already, failing to recognise land title, awarding Palestinian-occupied land to settlers and then sending the Army to defend the donated land for the ‘settlers’.

But leaving that aside, it is true that Hamas or groups associated with it used terrorist tactics on October 7th.  Terrorist tactics are almost always used by the weaker side for the simple reason that they cannot hope to win a more conventional conflict.

But Hamas were the elected government of Gaza, elected largely because the Palestinian Authority was seen to be corrupted by land development money and a patsy organisation for the Israelis.

Palestinians are actually quite an nonreligious people, but saw Hamas as at least on their side.

The Israelis response was at first called ‘self defence’ but the idea that killing 28,000 mostly civilians and flattening a whole city is an appropriate retaliation for 1,200 deaths seems totally unreasonable.

It is also unreasonable to think that Hamas can be defeated militarily. It is not a military problem.  Even if every last Hamas member were killed, their ideas will never be separated from the rest of the Gaza population. They have witnessed this unrestrained killing and destruction of their homes- it would be difficult to believe that in the long term they will not hate Israel.

So what is Israel’s objective? One could answer that it is the short-term survival of Netanyahu politically, but that is too simple.  Israel has pretended it wanted a two-state solution, which means giving the West Bank to the Palestinians. Yet it has systematically placed 750,00 settlers on all the high points of the West Bank, supported them and armed them to the teeth. It has deliberately made a two state solution impossible as a policy for the last 70 years.  As Netanyahu made good relations with Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, he started to speak about a ‘Regional Solution’ to the ‘Palestinian problem’.  This sounded very much like asking his Arab neighbours to take Palestinians as refugees/migrants.

Now the Gazans will have nowhere to go.  Their city is totally destroyed.  Who would pay for its rebuild?  Who will govern this wasteland?

It seems obvious that the Israelis want the Gazans to go into the Sinai desert in Egypt and then become a refugee problem for the UN and the whole world- i.e no longer a problem for Israel.  It has worked with the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Biden is talking about a two-state solution, and not having the Gazans go into Egypt. How realistic is this?

 

Fillipo Grandi was Commissioner -General of UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency) and visited Australia as a guest of the UN Association of Australia in 2012. He was Italian, a consummate diplomat and in charge of relief for Palestinian refugees. I chaired a meeting at the Sydney Peace Foundation at Sydney Uni where he was the guest speaker. He was extremely careful not to criticise Israel to the extent that I as a debater and politician marvelled at his skill as he fielded loaded questions from each side of the debate.

According to Wikipedia UNRWA now has 30,000 staff and employs a lot of Palestinian refugees to help administer their aid programme. This is hardly surprising.  There are few jobs for Palestinian refugees and the UN needs relatively cheap staff. Naturally they would use Palestinians to help their own people. It is therefore hardly surprising that with Hamas as the Gaza government, some UNRWA staff would be involved with them, and also unsurprising that some would be sympathetic to Hamas.

We might ask who discovered the connection between a dozen UNRWA workers and Hamas? Israeli security?  Now we see the US, Australia, the UK and others stopping funding to UNRWA.  The Gaza refugees are already starving.  Who does this aid cessation benefit?  Israel of course. The last hope of the Gaza refugees is taken away.

It seemed that the only two possibilities for a resolution of the Israeli/Palestine problem were either a two-state solution or a one state solution as advocated by Jeff Halper in his book ‘An Israeli in Palestine’ which was an Apartheid  reconciliation process similar to what happened in South Africa.  The chances of either of these solutions seems remote now, so the Israeli solution, of bombing and starving Palestinians out of Gaza and into Egypt initially and then anywhere else may be the only one.  In the West Bank, with their land taken and the menial jobs now being done by imported Sri Lankans, Filipinos and Indonesians rather than Palestinians, there will be pressure for them to follow their Gaza compatriots into exile.

I hope that I am quite wrong about this, but I doubt it.

Here is a new word for irreconcilably taking someone’s home, Domicide, in an article in The Guardian.

 

www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2024/jan/30/how-war-destroyed-gazas-neighbourhoods-visual-investigation?CMP=share_btn_link

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Power: the 50-25-25 rule

16 December 2023

When I was in Parliament someone said to me that big business had 50% of the power, all governments together 25%, and every other power group 25%.

It seemed a strange concept at first, but on reflection, I think it is about right.

Only after revolutions does it change much and historians argue over for how long.

Senator David Pocock, the Canberra independent, spent a lot of time trying to get the Government to release documents between Santos and themselves about the Barossa gas development in the Timor Sea.

THe reason for this was the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) bill 2023.

Santos is the front partner and 50% owner of the Barossa gas field with SK E&S, a Korean company having 35% and JERA, a Japanese company, 15%. They wanted to develop the largest fossil fuel project in Australia, (natural gas), just when Australia is supposedly getting towards net zero carbon dioxide. Quite apart from the fact that methane burns to carbon dioxide, natural gas, having been formed from the decay of carbon products, is usually found with large amounts of carbon dioxide in with the methane. The Barossa gas is worse than usual at 16-20% carbon dioxide. Santos therefore wanted a permit to separate the carbon dioxide, capture it and store it.

Jennifer Rayner of the Climate Council is one of the many environmentalists who point out that CCS, Carbon Capture and Storage has never been done successfully and is just a fudge to continue fossil fuel use. But it gets worse. When the carbon dioxide is supposedly all captured, it is to be piped to a supposedly exhausted gas field, Bayu-Undan, in East Timor 100 km away and injected into the wells there. What could possibly go wrong? East Timor is not a signatory to the Paris Climate agreement. And if that were not enough, the pipeline to East Timor will not be finished until 5 years after the methane is being shipped, so 5 years worth of carbon dioxide waste is simply to be exhausted to the atmosphere.

All thai was pointed out in Parliament by Pocock and the Greens. There is a carbon offset scheme, where Australian Carbon Offset Units (ACCUs) could be bought, but estimates have been that not enough of these could possibly be created to offset the amount of gas produced by projects currently in the pipeline and the price of ACCUs would rise. The Sea Dumping bill was passed with support from the Coalition. The Greens and Pocock held out, unsuccessfully.

The government resisted releasing the Santos correspondence until after the bill was passed and the correspondence said that Santos’ decisions had already been made and considerable investments undertaken and it would upset the Korean and the Japanese investors if the project were stopped or delayed. It seems that the Koreans and Japanese pressured Penny Wong and the Foreign Affairs Ministry and overcame Chris Bowen and the Environment Ministry. .


All this happened at the same time as the COP28 (28th Conference of the Parties of the 1992 Agreement)in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). UAE is the second largest economy in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and exports 3 million barrels of oil a day. The president of the COP meeting was Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is also Minister of Industry of the UAE and head of the Abi Dhabi National Oil Company. How anyone could have expected a resolution to phase out fossil fuels to come from a meeting so constituted defies understanding. The whole setting seemed beyond satire. The final text, which seems very hard to get actually agrees to phase down fossil fuels but gives no timetable and allows gas as a transition fuel, which is effectively a loophole to increase gas production.

Environment Minister Chris Bowen said that it was ‘no small thing’ to agree to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels. But what is all this worth with no timetable and no commitment to phase them out?

Pocock is an ex-Rugby player. My local rugby club has the motto ‘Facta non Verba’= ‘Deeds not Words’ and Pocock is true to the breed.

He said ‘As a country we’ve got to make the choice. Do we put our futures and the ..future..ahead of the short-term profits of a handful of companies like Santos?’

The answer it seems is ‘Yes’. Santos tells the Labor government what to do, and the Labor government does it. The Liberals opposed initially as they usually oppose everything, but when they found out about what Santos and the Japanese and Koreans wanted they quickly came on board.

The rule about 50-25-25 seems to hold good. 50% quickly became 75%, then 100%.

It is very hot today, and summer is not yet here. It would be nice to think that next year will be better, but it won’t, maybe ever…

Here is the story in The Saturday Paper. You might wonder why it is not in the other papers.


www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/environment/2023/12/16/emails-reveal-labor-caved-santos#mtr

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What is Israel’s End-Game?

25 November 2023

It is hard to see an end to the Palestinian conflict.

Zionists believe that God gave the Jews the historic land of Palestine, and this idea has been supported by some Christians who took the Old Testament literally.

After WW2, the Zionists did terrorist attacks on the war-weary British who let them return to Palestine. In 1948 they ‘Declared the State of Israel’ when they were about a third of the population, killed a village of Palestinians, which made the others flee. They then said that no land title prior to the State of Israel existed and all land titles had to be re-registered and all unoccupied land belonged to the State.  They have then declined to register Palestinian-owned land, so they can give away farms in the West Bank or even unoccupied houses in Jerusalem. Settlers, especially from Eastern Europe, are willing to fight to retain land that they are given on the West Bank.

In Jerusalem, the Palestinians had the menial jobs, which made it hard to pay the high rents there, and more recently Sri Lankans or others are given the jobs, so the Palestinians have to go to Ramullah to find work, which does not pay as well, so they have trouble paying their Jerusalem rent. If they move out or do not visit much, as checked up on by their electricity, water or phone location records, their houses are ‘unoccupied’ and given away. The bottom line of all this is the Palestinians being gradually squeezed out of the West Bank and Jerusalem. If they ever leave Israel they may not be permitted to return.

The settlements on the West Bank are now in a pattern on the high ground linked by roads so that the Israeli military can support any settlers troubled by the Palestinian farmers, now defined as terrorists, who try to defend their land. In Jerusalem, Jews own the West side and now take houses in Palestinian East Jerusalem, house by house.

As all this has gone on incrementally for years, Israel has pretended that it has a ‘two state’ solution, as it put the 700,000 settlers in the area that could or would have been Palestine. In other words it was happy to pretend that there was a ‘two state solution’ as they systematically made it impossible.

Hamas recognised that this was a nonsense. They won the elections in Gaza because the Palestinian Authority was corrupted by land deals.  Israel bullied Jordan and Egypt into compliance then started making wider friendships with Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia and started to talk about ‘regional solutions’ to the Palestinian problem. It looked like the ‘solution’ for them was to go as refugees to anywhere but Israel.  This is why Hamas struck. Naturally everyone is upset about this, but no one suggests what they might have done as an alternative. Perhaps just attack an Israeli military base?

Now Israel has struck back. It is hard to see that flattening Gaza is a rational response.  Netanyahu, being personally corrupt, has retained power by sharing it with evermore dodgy coalition partners, from the fanatical Zionists to the fanatical Right wing. He has also tried to undermine the judiciary to avoid personal corruption charges. Now the much-vaunted Israeli spy network has been caught off guard, probably because they relied on AI tracking of Palestinian communications networks, which Hamas, sensibly enough, decided not to use.  Netanyahu, who was in trouble already and will now be blamed for the Hamas success has hit back to be the strong man.  But simply flattening a city with all its civilians may be revenge, but it is not a solution. He has flattened the Northern half of Gaza, while telling the citizens to move to the South, but cut off all food, water and medical supplies. Now he is bombing the South as well.

Where to from here? Israel seems more bent on revenge than having any rational policy. The other possibility is that they will make Gaza unlivable, and force the US and UIN to allow the Gazans into Egypt as refugees, which will start as temporary and become permanent as Israel does not rebuild Gaza, or let them return to Israel.  Israel will be pariahs, but they are already, and the refugees will be someone else’s problem. Numerically there are as many Palestinians as Jews and even if the Gaza population were moved, the West Bank Palestinians would remain.

The other alternatives are:

  1. The ‘Two State solution, with Israel either moving its 700,000 settlers from the West Bank, or getting them to live with the Palestinians sharing the land that they once owned or
  2. Israel grants equal rights to Palestinians within Israel, admits it was an apartheid state and has a reconciliation process based on the South African model.

In that the ‘Two State Solution’ and the ‘Apartheid reconciliation’ model both look absolutely impossible with the bloodshed, killing and bitterness that has been rekindled as never before, it is very hard to see a solution.  Yet there are still those who want Israel forced into a ‘Two State solution’ by sanctions, as seen below:

 

Two solutions for the “Question of Palestine”

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Argentinian Populist Wins Election

25 November 2023

I visited Argentina, Uruguay and Chile  for 4 weeks over Christmas 2018-9.

Argentina was a pleasant, orderly, developed country. The people were friendly, and you could sit in cafes in town squares where flamenco dancers performed, supported by tips from the enthusiastic locals and tourists.  The main part of Buenos Aires had been built, modelled on Paris around 1900, when Argentina was relatively rich because of beef prices. As commodities fell in price relative to manufactured goods, their economy has suffered. But the fine buildings in the centre of the city remain.  They have alternated between leftist governments that nationalise and take resources from the foreigners and right wing governments, usually supported by the US, who privatise and encourage foreign investment, then use repression to control the people.

The government, when we were there was middle of the road, but having trouble controlling inflation, which was at around 40%.  From a visitors point of view, things were cheap, a meal for two with wine less than half what it would have been in a Sydney pub. We did not feel unsafe.

Because of the concerns with the inflation problem, there were worries about democracy in the future, given the history of right-wing coups in many South American countries.

There had been a military coup in 1975, which seems to have been US-facilitated and the military junta had been in power from 1976 to 1983. Approximately 30,000 people who had been arrested ‘disappeared’.  They were part of a wider ‘Operation Condor’ to persecute and eliminate political, social, trade-union and student activists from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil by the right-wing governments in those countries.  The US CIA provided the database so was well aware of what was happening.

Even now, every Thursday at 1pm the mothers and sisters of ‘The Disappeared’ dress in white and walk in pairs around a statue in Plaza de Mayo outside the Parliament.  The women had started protesting in 1977, but anything more than two people walking together was termed a crowd’ and thus illegal. Of those who perpetrated this atrocity only one soldier actually told the tale of what happened. Some of the disappeared had simply been shot in mass graves, but others went to the Naval training headquarters in Buenos Aires where they were kept in the attic and tortured in the basement. Some  were released, but others were drugged with thiopentone, loaded into trucks, then planes and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean.  Some were made to call their families with a gun at their heads and say that they could not talk, but they were happy  in a new life in Paris or some other unlikely tale.

Survivors described how they had a hood over their head at all times and could only see their feet. They described the steps and the colour of the walls, and where the phone was that they had to speak on and the lift next to the phone.  Later, the government came, took out the lift and the phone and painted the walls of the Naval training centre a different colour, so that the building would not match the descriptions of the inmates. Naturally there were no plans of the building changes available. The area was a museum when we were there and there was a small research area, still trying to identify individuals and what had happened to them. They were worried that the government would defund them and close their museum.

Now a far-Right populist, Javier Milei, has won the election, promising to abolish the Central Bank, change the currency to the US dollar, privatise everything and make guns freely available.  He denies climate change and the crimes of the previous military junta.  He has been congratulated by Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, the recently defeated populist from Brazil. He also wants to re-take the Malvinas aka the Falklands.  There is little hope of this simplistic nonsense improving anything in Argentina.  The worry is not only that the ‘Museum to the Disappeared’ will disappear, but that it will all happen again.

www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/20/argentina-presidential-election-far-right-libertarian-javier-milei-wins-after-rival-concedes

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