Doctor and activist


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Category: International

The Arms Industry Distorts US and the World’s Priorities

31 March 2023

The word ‘defence’ seems innocuous enough, and discussion about is generally starts with a diatribe about the threat of Russia or China.

But just as the tobacco industry was responsible for the smoking epidemic, so the Arms industry is responsible for military spending and the consequent need to have wars to justify that expenditure.

The US has had continuous wars for many years; when one ends, another starts. The wars are not because of a threat to the US, but represent the US exerting global influence, and selling weapons to itself and others. 

US foreign policy is hugely affected by its military and a perceived need for global hegemony.  There is pressure on countries that seem susceptible (like Australia) to buy weapons systems (like AUKUS) to fit into this hegemonic world view.  How long this can be afforded by US taxpayers is a key question; the Roman Empire imploded when its tax base could not pay for the mercenary armies that guarded its frontiers. 

A list of some of the wars is; The Cold War 1945-1989, Korean War 1950-55, Vietnam 1955-75, Lebanon 1982-84, Libya 1986, Panama invasion 1989-90, 1st Gulf War 1990-91, Somalia 1992-95 and 2007, Bosnia and Croatia 1992-95, Kosovo 1998-99, Iraq War 2003-2010, Afghan war 2001-2021, North West Pakistan 2004-2018, Libya 2011 and 2015-19, Iraq intervention against ISIL 2014-2021, and now Ukraine 2022-.

Obviously one can argue about the merits of any of these wars, but the success rate of them is not good from a US foreign policy perspective. The returns to the arms industry, however, are always positive.

But the opportunity cost of these wars in terms of the possibility of diplomatic settlement or the use of monies to address the problems in the warring parties is considerable.  The loss of social services and infrastructure to the US population is probably the most critical part from a political level.  Inequality and polarisation in the US are increasing with consequent social disharmony.

The arms industry has to be reined in. Its subsidies to the Australian War Memorial have tended to make this a temple of militarism rather than a place for regret and remembrance.

There was a book, ‘The Secret State- Australia’s Spy Industry’, by Richard Hall which came out in 1978 and compared the reports of the intelligence agencies of 25 years previously with the current affairs commentaries of the major daily newspapers of the same time.  (The 25 years was the time for the release of the spy agency documents).  The rants of the intelligence agencies and their fear-mongering were almost comic and the predictions of the major newspaper editorials were largely proved correct. 

It seems that as ‘Security studies’ replace ‘History ‘ in university courses likely to result in graduates getting jobs, the people who teach world events are changing their perspectives, and not for the better.  Our current policies with AUKUS would seem to derive from a believing a current spy’s paranoid world view. The Arms Industry is to be feared and opposed in Australia as well as the US.

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UN Security Council Rejects an Investigation into Nordstream Pipeline Sabotage

29 March 2023

On 27 March the UN Security Council rejected a Russian motion to have a UN investigation into the sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines on 22 September 2022.

Interestingly there were 3 votes in favour, Brazil, Russia and China and 12 Abstentions.  No votes against!  The abstentions were from the US, UK, France, Gabon, Switzerland, Ghana, Ecuador, Malta, Japan, Albania and the United Arab Emirates. The reason mostly given for the abstentions was that there are already investigations going on by Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

China’s representative pointed out that the UN investigation could encompass and cooperate with all these, and that blocking the Council from launching and investigation only raises suspicions that ‘something is being hidden’.  He tactfully did not say that any national investigation would have to be filtered through that country’s foreign policy considerations.

Of course, the elephant in the room was the report published on February 8 by renowned journalist Seymour Hersh which claims that U.S. President Joe Biden and his senior White House staff ordered the Pentagon to take out the natural gas pipeline that runs along the Baltic Sea bed from Russia to Germany.

https://press.un.org/en/2023/sc15243.doc.htm
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Keating Attacks the AUKUS Submarine Deal at the National Press Club

15 March 2023

Paul Keating attacked the AUKUS submarine deal at a conference at the National Press Club today.  He was at his scathing best, and put together the arguments well, as he always does.

In essence he said that a scare campaign had demonised China with a lot of Cold War rhetoric from the ‘spooks’ and convinced Morrison, who was always happy for a headline to get some publicity for his flailing government. 

Labor was scared to losing the election by being ‘soft on defence’ so went along with whatever the Liberals wanted. So Labor has been conned by the spooks and the Liberals as well.

Keating says we have a defence policy, rather than a foreign policy, and Senator Wong running around the Pacific ‘handing out money with a lei around her neck’ is not a foreign policy.

The US wants bases here, to lock Australia into their side in the confrontation with China and to sell expensive submarines.  As Keating points out, at the circus in San Diego, only one country was actually paying- Australia.

He also ridiculed Australia for involving Britain, pointing out that in 1942 they left Singapore and in 1968 announced an ‘East of Suez’ policy that meant that they would not do much here. They then joined the EU, leaving the Commonwealth to its economic fate, and would have stayed with the EU, but for the mistake of Brexit, created by Boris Johnson et al who had silly dreams of bygone Empires. Since the UK has left the EU they are trying to have a ‘global strategy’, but they do not have much choice. But this is not economic relevance, and Australia is just being silly to go back to there for its military security.

As far as the submarines are concerned, he points out that the cost of 9 nuclear submarines would  pay for about 45 conventional ones.  If one about 1 in 3 can be at sea at the same time, which is what most navies manage, that means 3 nuclear at sea rather than 15 conventional  ones. And even if the 15 have to surface, this is only about every 3 days if they are cruising, and there are 15 for an enemy to worry about.  The nuclear subs are 8,000 tonnes as opposed to 4,000 tons, so are likely to be able to be found almost as easily as the conventional ones as detection technology evolves. They will also only carry the same torpedoes as the conventional ones, so their strike power will be 3 v 15.

Some years ago, I read an excellent book, ‘The Secret State’ by Richard Hall published in 1978 which looked at the reports from the spy agencies during the Cold War in the 1950 and 1960s and contrasted these with the conventional media editorials and opinion pieces of the time. The spy analyses were full of paranoia and worries about the Russian threat if we did not immediately spend a lot of money on defence.  The major newspapers looked at what was happening and made more sanguine comments about economic and trade relations.  Years later, things had panned out much as was expected in the major media.  The spy scare stories were almost absurdly laughable.  It seems that in this case the spies have convinced Morrison, who has taken the Liberals, now Labor down this absurd path that we and our children will pay for.   

The Liberals have said that they will be bi-partisan as Labor makes budget cuts to pay for it.  What will go? Stage 3 tax cuts?  Jobseeker pay rises?  Pensions?  Medicare? NDIS?  Subsidies to private schools or private health insurance?  Tax exemptions to religious organisations or Super contributions?  The Liberals were happy to cut all social welfare, but no doubt having made the initial commitment to bipartisanship will still criticise any actual cuts as they come along.

The Chinese, presumably will now continue to make our trade difficult. They are a rising power that is unlikely to invade us, and we should work within this framework.  It is called realism.

Here is an article on SBS:  ww.sbs.com.au/news/article/former-colonial-master-paul-keating-launches-astonishing-attack-on-labor-aukus-deal/we38qsi9s

Here is the interview on youtube:

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An End to the War in Ukraine?

3 March 2023

There is a still a cheerful assumption that Russia can be driven out of Ukraine, and this is accompanied by copious rhetoric about Putin’s unprovoked aggression, the need to fight for democracy, and a dismissal of his claim that it is an existential issue for Russia.

It is also hopefully assumed that the war will end when Putin falls, but that fall is extremely unlike.

Putin sees the war as an existential issue for Russia. Whether this is right or wrong, it is certainly an existential issue for him, and he needs either a victory or a settlement that saves face.

It must be noted in terms of strength that Russia has more than three times the population of Ukraine (146 v 41 million) and the per capita income in 2021 of Russia was almost three times that of Ukraine ($US12,259 v $4,594- UN figures). The casualty figures available are decidedly (and no doubt deliberately) vague.

The Chinese have a 12 point plan that, strangely, has not been seriously discussed in the Australian mass media. It was hard even to find the plan, though there was plenty of commentary that it was vague in detail, paid only lip service to territorial integrity and did not condemn Russia.   A copy of it is at [1] or [2].  This is at least a starting point. 

An article by Jeffery Sachs arguing for peace is below some of my comments.

Some background issues:

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and James Baker, the then US Secretary of State is said to have promised Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand to the east if Russia accepted German reunification.   Russia also agreed to independence for Ukraine, despite the fact that its base was in Crimea. 

After the Soviet collapse the East European countries flocked to join NATO, which accepted them. The list is extensive: the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania; from old Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia.  Even Albania, which had been the most hard-line communist country in Europe, joined NATO. 

Georgia was invaded by Russia in 2008 easily when its government tried to assert its authority over the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were demanding autonomy and were recognised by Russia.  The Russian invasion went beyond those provinces but did not occupy the capital, Tbilisi[3].  Western reaction was muted, which is said to be the reason that Putin was so emboldened and regarded the West as decadent.  Georgia was Western-oriented and had applied to join NATO.

Ukraine wanted to join NATO and since the invasion, Finland and Sweden have also applied.

From a Russian perspective, NATO had been encroaching east.  There had been a pro-Russian government in Ukraine up to 2014 under President Viktor Yanukovych but when he did not sign a treaty between Ukraine and the EU there was the Maidan revolution in February 2014, probably helped by the CIA.   Petro Poroshenko was elected President. 

The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, collectively called the Donbas, and Transnistra in Moldova are significantly Russian oriented, and Russia supports their requests for autonomy and their separatist movements.  Russian troops are ‘peacekeeping’ in Moldova as they were in the Georgian provinces.    Whether these provinces want to be part of Ukraine or part of Russian is hard to determine, particularly  now, but one might suspect that there is considerable division of views and that they would prefer local autonomy to the highest degree possible rather than a distant government of either flavour.  A number of polls in 2014 came to different conclusions[4].  A 2020 poll showed primary concern was for local issues and fear of war[5].  Ukraine was having trouble dealing with the separatist movements before Russia invaded, so there are parallels with Georgia there.  Perhaps because of the Ukrainian military’s reluctance to fight Ukrainians, the Azov Brigade[6], a right-wing privately funded paramilitary group initially did most of the fighting against the Russian –backed separatists, which allowed Russia to claim it was fighting Nazis who had killed pro-Russian Ukrainians.  The actions of the Azov brigade were not popular, yet they were somewhat controversially absorbed into the Ukrainian army[7].

After the Crimean invasion, separatists seized control in Luhansk and Donetsk and declared their independence in May 2014. There was a civil war there, which led to the Minsk agreements in September 2014 and February 2015 that led to a ceasefire with the separatists having control of about a third of the provinces, with the objective to return the region to Ukraine but with significant local autonomy[8].   Russia recognised the independence of the breakaway regions in February 2022, just before it invaded.  

The Russians invaded Crimea in 2014 in response to the change of government in  Kiev.  The provincial Parliament in Crimea was pro-Russian, and initially Putin claimed that the invasion there was from Crimea itself.  There was little voting in Donetsk and Luhansk as the Kiev government did not have good control there.   While ‘territorial integrity’ is taken to mean existing borders, Kiev’s demand for this means that Russia would have to agree to its naval base being isolated, and Kiev having another attempt at suppressing the pro-Russian separatist provinces on Russia’s border.

Russia currently occupies about 20% of Ukraine’s territory and now has a land corridor in the south west of the country that links it to its key naval base in Crimea.  The only other link it had was via the 19km Kersh Strait Bridge, which is 19km long.  The bridge was planned after the 2014 Ukrainian coup and was completed in 2018.   Clearly if the government in Ukraine is hostile to Russia, it does not want to have its major warm water naval base only accessible by a bridge, and would never concede Crimea. 

The US arms industry, which is immensely influential in US foreign policy, is the chief beneficiary of the war, and President Biden has pledged support for as long as it takes. The Republicans, however control the Senate, and have an increasing isolationist voice.  The US President has quite a lot of discretion in waging wars, but if the US economy goes into recession there is a significant chance that the Republicans may win the 2024 Presidential election.   That is quite soon in terms of Russian war thinking.

For Americans, war is an inconvenience, fought overseas.  Russians have quite a different history.  In WW2 Russia lost far more people than the Germans and all the Allies in Europe combined, 26 million, or 13.7% of the population[9]. Russians see WW2 as one between themselves and Germany and were very critical of the rest of Allies for not helping them earlier. The long siege of Stalingrad ended in February 1943 and the Russian armies were advancing for 16 months before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944.  So if Putin can convince Russians that it is an existential issue their expectations of what has to be sacrificed will be quite different to the US.

Volodymyr Zelensky was a comedian whose show ‘Servant of the People’ had him as a history teacher who accidentally became Prime Minister because a student filmed his rant about corruption and it went viral.  He was honest and the satire on corruption was a huge hit because Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries. He was elected with his party having the same name as his comedy show.  He is well intentioned, and not a US puppet as some in the leftist media has portrayed him, but it is unlikely that he can end a nation’s entrenched corrupt traditions.  But recent US articles have said that US arms are getting to the frontline, which was a concern early in the war[10].  He wants the territorial integrity of Ukraine and a total victory over Russia.  The question is whether he is realistic, and to what extent the West will support him if the war drags on.

If one is to explore the lofty rhetoric of democracies deterring unprovoked aggression, one would have to concede that the US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya could be called the same. If one is to draw historic parallels with Chamberlain conceding Czechoslovakia to Germany, one could say that the difference is that Putin would know that even if he moves the border a bit to provinces that already had a Russian speaking and Russian-orientated population, he would have steep and organised resistance to any further moves in Ukraine or elsewhere.

Listening to a Chinese peace proposal sounds like a good idea.


[1] www:peoplesworld.org/article/china-calls-for-ukraine-ceasefire-and-issues-12-point-peace-plan

[2] www:johnmenadue.com/china-releases-12-point-plan-for-peace-in-ukraine

[3] www:warontherocks.com/2018/08/the-august-war-ten-years-on-a-retrospective-on-the-russo-georgian-war

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Donbas_status_referendums

[5] https://dif.org.ua/en/article/results-of-regional-public-opinion-poll-in-donetsk-and-luhansk-regions

[6] www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/1/who-are-the-azov-regiment

[7] www.ukrinform.net/rubric-ato/3659853-azov-becomes-separate-assault-brigade-with-armys-ground-forces.html

[8] www.thequint.com/explainers/ukraine-separatism-donetsk-luhansk-donbas-russia-independent)

[9] Russia: military deaths 10.6 million, civilian deaths 16 million, 13.7% of population. Germany military 5.0 million, Civilian 7.2 million 8.2%; France military 210,000, civilian 390,000 1.4%. UK military 0.6 million, 67,000, civilian, 1%. Australia military 31,700, civilian 700, 0.58%, USA 407,000 military, 12,100 civilian, 0.3% of population. Wikipedia accessed 3/3/23

[10] https://www.defenseone.com/policy/2023/02/dod-inspector-sees-no-signs-ukraine-diverting-weapons-promises-more-scrutiny/383449/

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Outrageous Nonsense on China and Defence

8 March 2023

I confess I was flabbergasted at the SMH front page yesterday (7 March), which blazed ‘Red Alert: War Risk Exposed’ with an illustration of many aircraft taking off from China.   On pages 4-6, there was more tub-thumping. 

Today’s SMH has a front page ‘Conflict over Taiwan could reach our shores’; and pages 4-5 continue the story.

It might be noted that the Government in a foolish but bi-partisan (i.e. Liberal + Labor) decision will announce the AUKUS nuclear submarine delivery shortly.

Perhaps this silly story is to mute any criticism of the AUKUS decision.

To make a few relevant comments:

There is sadly not a Peace voice that is consulted. To be blunt the activist groups have not structured themselves effectively.

China is now a rising world power and will overtake the US, which like many declining powers is spending too much on arms, largely because the privatised US arms industry needs markets. China does not need to be belligerent.  Its expansion to the Belt and Road initiative is to take it all the way across Asia and Europe by land, and merely relies on people wanted to trade with it. It is effectively the biggest market in the world.  China has fortified some islands in the South China Sea, but it is the US that has bases close to China, not China to the US.  No Chinese warships sail around the Caribbean.

China will eventually reach an accommodation with Taiwan, whether the world likes it or not.  The US may want to delay this as the Taiwanese have the world’s best microchip technology and they do not want this to fall into Chinese hands, but most technological secrets leak eventually.  The US has accepted a ‘One China’ policy for years so it can import Chinese goods.  It is concerned about the ‘democratic rights’ of the Taiwanese, but the US has been very selective about whose democratic rights they support or don’t.  If they seek to have a war ‘sooner rather than later’, this would seem to be a bad long-term strategy.  Germany continued to rise after its WW1 defeat because its economic fundamentals were right.  Militarily Taiwan does not have the manpower to hold out against China in a military conflict, 24 million v. 1.4 billion says it all.  The US has aircraft carriers, but hypersonic missiles will sink them as soon as their guidance systems improve, so the carriers are soon likely to be as obsolete as battleships were in WW2.

As far as Australia is concerned, we can be a quarry, a food bowl and manufacture as we are able in the world economic system, and we should retain control of our resources and bargain intelligently with our customers.  China, however powerful, is likely to accept this situation.

The AUKUS submarines are a very expensive step into nuclear confrontation.  We are buying submarines at top dollar with an uncertain delivery date and huge opportunity cost for other projects, defence and civil.  We will have to have a base that services them, and no doubt the US will want to use that base for its nuclear fleet.  So we are being sold subs that we do not need and being locked into a US confrontation that benefits no one but the US arms industry.  Since China is unlikely to attack us, and our subs would not be decisive in any highly improbable direct conflict with the Chinese, they are merely a needless insult and a decisive move into the American camp in a polarised paradigm.

It is probably true that our defence has been neglected for a decade; the decadent Liberal government had precious little coherent policy on anything, but that is not an argument for AUKUS submarines.

The Herald has been extremely disappointing.  Paul Keating has said some sensible stuff. Will no one in power speak some realistic truth?

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Flaws in Constitutions

3 January 2023

The US Constitution has many flaws. The most conspicuous being the ‘right to bear arms’ which is taken as the right for every citizen to carry guns around the place, with predictable consequences. There is also state controlled voting rights, which get fiddled and the right of elected governments to draw the electoral boundaries, a sure-fire recipe for dodgy electoral system.  It seems the US Supreme Court has managed to give itself a privileged position and now precedent cements this.

Of course the major problem is that the US Constitution  was made to be almost impossible to change so all these flaws are perpetuated, the latest problem being that Presidents can appoint Supreme Court judges for life and these judges now override the legislatures by saying the law is against the Constitution, as in the case of abortion.

How the US will fix this is not of academic interest. The Australian Constitution was not some document of all wisdom for all time; it was made with the overriding imperative to get the 6 colonies into one country.  All the power except marriage, tax and foreign policy was given to the States.  Looking at how Australia works in practice, one would not even guess this. We have uniform laws only because the state Ministers work out ‘template legislation’ and all State Parliaments pass it unamended.  About a third of all State legislation and certainly the most important stuff it this, with the States Parliaments serving as very expensive rubber stamps.

Now we have major constitutional changes suggested, a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal people and removing the English monarch of head of State and creation of a Republic.

It would be better if there were some other changes also.  My favourite would be to move towards proportional representation and to allow citizens referenda to override Parliaments, and to limit the terms of Parliament so that political party hierarchies could not have such significance. This would be a move to more of Swiss-style constitution, as was suggested but discarded as it was not Anglo in 1899 at the Constitutional discussions then. The German constitution, which was written by Winston Churchill to ensure that no single party could ever have a majority, or even the changes in the NZ voting system which made it unlikely could, also be considered.  We have to recognise that we have the same problem as the USA, a fossilised constitution that needs significant change. It is ridiculous that we do not have the confidence even to talk about this. Change is not easy, but that is hardly the point.  Are we inferior to our great- or great-great-grandfathers that we cannot plan our future?   

US Constitution’s flaws on show

Nick Bryant SMH Columnist, 3 January 2023

A plan by the probable next US House Speaker to read the Constitution aloud could have unforeseen consequences.

For more than a quarter of a century, American politics has doubled as a civics lesson from hell. The Clinton years introduced us to the impeachment process, something not witnessed since the mid-19th century. The disputed 2000 election reminded us of the vagaries of the Electoral College and revealed how the Supreme Court could intervene to determine the outcome of a presidential election – who knew? The January 6 hearings, which culminated in the first-ever referral of a former president to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, served both as a primetime crime drama and a tutorial in constitutional law.

To mark the opening of the 118th Congress today, the Republican Party intends to conduct its own teachable moment. If he wins the House Speakership – a contest that looks like it will provide a lesson in the chaotic state of the modern-day GOP – the Republican leader Kevin McCarthy intends to read in its entirety the US Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives.

This ritual will border on the liturgical. The Constitution, despite Donald Trump’s recent threat to terminate it, has taken on a near Biblical status. Its framers are regarded as patron saints. Yet Americans who listen in may well be shocked to hear these portions of scripture take on a different meaning when placed in their rightful context.

No passage has been more misappropriated than the Second Amendment, which notes that ‘‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’’. As people will hear, however, the primary focus of the founding fathers was the creation of a ‘‘well-regulated militia’’ rather than the firearms they would carry. The intention was to guard against a standing army, which in post-revolutionary America was seen as a tyrannical throwback to the days of British rule.

For almost 200 years, then, the Second Amendment was often referred to as the ‘‘lost amendment’’ because in an America that ended up creating a professional fighting force, the US military, it was considered obsolete. Not until 2008, following a decades-long propaganda campaign by the National Rifle Association to twist and falsify its meaning, did the conservative-leaning Supreme Court make the Second Amendment the constitutional basis for individual gun ownership.

Those who listen in might be surprised to hear how little the Constitution says about the Supreme Court, despite its omnipresence in modern politics. Nowhere does it state that the court should be the final arbiter of whether laws passed by Congress are legal. Judicial review, the ability to declare an act of Congress or presidential executive action unconstitutional, is a power that the Supreme Court granted itself in the early 19th century.

The irony is that the court’s hardline conservative justices are driven by a philosophy of jurisprudence known as originalism, which determines controversial rulings, such as the overturning of Roe v Wade, based on their interpretation of the original intent of the Constitution. Yet the founding fathers never intended the Supreme Court to hold such sway. ‘‘The judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power,’’ wrote Alexander Hamilton. Thus this right-wing philosophy falls at the first historical hurdle. Originalism is the enemy of originalism.

Defenders of American democracy may also be disappointed by what they hear, for nowhere in the Constitution is there a positive assertion of the right to vote. The original intent of the founding fathers was that only white men of property should be enfranchised, although they left it for the states to decide.

Over the years, as the electorate expanded, voting rights came to be framed in a negative way. The 15th Amendment, which was ratified in 1870 after the Civil War, stated voting rights ‘‘shall not be denied’’ on account of ‘‘race, colour, or previous condition of servitude’’.

In the 1930s, the 19th Amendment finally decreed that women ‘‘shall not be denied’’ the vote. But voting has sometimes been called ‘‘the missing right’’ because the Constitution does not explicitly and positively spell it out.

‘‘We the People,’’ the rousing words in the preamble of the Constitution, were certainly never intended as a statement of great participatory or populist intent. Indeed, the whole point of the Constitution was to guard against the tyranny of the majority and what its aristocratic authors called an ‘‘excess of democracy’’.

Following the American Revolution, the Constitution was designed to be a counterrevolutionary text; what the Harvard historian Jill Lepore has called ‘‘a check on the revolution, a halt to its radicalism’’. Maybe that explains why Kevin McCarthy is so keen to read it out. The Republicans are a minority party increasingly reliant on the founding fathers’ minoritarian model of democracy.

They have lost the nationwide vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections, but the Electoral College gives them a shot at the White House. The power granted by the framers to small states, which were allotted just as many senators as the most populous states, artificially inflates the Republican Party’s influence in the Senate. The original decision to allow states to determine voting qualifications has enabled Republican-controlled state legislatures to suppress the vote.

Hopefully, the reading of the Constitution will remind citizens of its flaws and how this American gospel is in desperate need of revision. But therein lies the constitutional catch-22. The founding fathers made it fiendishly difficult to amend.

Dr Nick Bryant is the author of When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present. Peter Hartcher is on leave.

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China Relaxes COVID Zero Policy

11 December 2022

President Xi Jinping has relaxed China’s Zero Covid policy.

One is reminded of King Canute, who wished to show his flatterers that there were limits to his power, so he took them to the seaside, planted his throne on the sand and commanded the tide to come in no further.  Naturally it came in and his legs got wet.

President Xi Jinping recently made himself the most powerful man in China since Mao Zedong, but has also insisted on the Zero Covid policy.

As viruses evolve, they usually change to strains that are less lethal but more infectious, which helps them to spread.  So trying to go back to zero was almost certainly impossible and the attempt was obviously disrupting Chinese society a lot.  It may have been that while Xi was impregnable within the People’s Congress, if his Covid policies totally lost him support in the population change would still occur.

Relaxing the policy is likely to cause a big spike in infections.  This will cause a lot of problems as older Chinese are less vaccinated- perhaps only two thirds, though 90% of younger people are.  Older folk are therefore more likely to die, particularly as the Chinese vaccines are not quite as good as the Western ones.

From an Australian perspective the improvement in the Chinese economy is likely to help us. We rode through the last global recession, with the Government congratulating itself on our resilience and their wisdom, but the point was that our trade was principally with China, which was not having a recession. If China starts growing again, it may help us a lot.  Hopefully this time, if things go well, we will take an opportunity, rather than just handing out tax cuts to the rich.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/china-relaxes-covid-restrictions-braces-for-wave-of-infections
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The US is in Trouble and we with it.

24 November 2022

The re-election of Biden and the much-hyped failure of the ‘Red Wave’ at the US mid-term elections has given rise to the perception that although the US is deeply divided, it will be OK.

Sadly, this is probably not the case. In the Anglo world, people do not really win elections, they lose them and the alternative gets in. The quality of the alternative is often not considered.  Trump was generally seen as a narcissistic psychopath, who did nothing but criticise and create fantasies. He lost the election, but continued the fantasy that he was robbed, despite the fact that the US electoral system  is quite corrupt with the politicians setting their own electoral boundaries and changing the voter registration  rules to rort the system and actually hugely favours the Republicans.

President Biden got in, but inflation has hugely increased, leaving the US, with its very poor welfare system in real trouble.  Traditionally the ‘mid-term’ elections decimates the party in power.  So the Democrats were supposed to be decimated by a ‘Red wave’, (red being the colour of the Republicans remarkably enough).  Because of the memory of Trump’s incompetence and the poor quality of the Republican candidates, the Democrats retained control of the Senate, but narrowly lost control of the House of Representatives.

So things may appear to be stable. But the US is a deeply divided country, quietly sinking as a world power, and though the Republican majority is slim, they will be able to frustrate any action that Biden and the Democrats try to take to improve the situation. And if nothing improves, the government i.e. the Democrats will be blamed next election.

So who are the Rebublicans who are likely to choose?  Front-runner for Republican Presidential candidates is Florida governor, Rick  DeSantis.  Sadly, he is almost Trumpian in his simplicity and wants to lump all progressive policies together as ‘woke’ (a word that is really extending and working overtime).  So the tried and true formula of not being ‘for’ something, but being against ‘woke’ or ‘marxism’ (hey, what’s the difference) will be used to turn against any progressive ideas and look after the big end of town.  This could be called fascism, but perhaps we should avoid name-calling at this stage.

How any of this will fix the huge problems in the US is beyond my ken, but when the US becomes dysfunctional the ramifications for the world, including us are likely to be significant, particularly if we continue to follow their policies like lapdogs.

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Albanese seeks to meet Chinese President, Xi Jinping

12 November 2022

Anthony Albanese has made no secret of his desire to meet the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, or the Premier, Li Keqiang at the current pair of Summits in Cambodia and Indonesia.

There is an ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh. Australia is not a member of ASEAN, but there is also an East Asian Summit at the same time with major world leaders. President Biden is there, with Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol as well as Ukrainain Foreigh Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov and others.

The G20 Conference in Bali immediately after Cambodia will have both Biden and Xi Jinping.

Albanese wants to get the Chinese to lift sanctions on Australian products. He will have some work to do. Going for him is the fact that he is not Morrison and presumably would not have been so inept as to demand the UN investigate China’s early handling of the COVID crisis that caused such needless offence to the Chinese, but he has stuck with the silly AUKUS submarine deal, which just seemed to be Morrison finding a foreign distraction for his own ineptitude. Albanese has also allowed the US to put B52 bombers in Darwin- surely another silly and needless provocation that he is responsible for.

Here is an excellent analysis of what is wrong with the submarine deal.
www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2022/11/12/the-definitive-case-against-nuclear-subs#mtr

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