Doctor and activist


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Category: International

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Dutch Cabinet Resigns over Welfare Debt Scandal. Australian Cabinet Does Not! 16/1/21

The entire Dutch Cabinet resigned over a scandal where welfare recipients were unjustly accused of welfare fraud.

At about the same time, the Australian Federal government had the Robodebt scandal where welfare recipients were assessed by a computer algorithm, accused of fraud and made to pay back monies that they should not have had to and could not afford. Money was deducted from their already inadequate welfare payments and quite a lot committed suicide. The Australian government ‘toughed it out’, i.e arrogantly refused to be held accountable. They settled a class action, which did not even cover what they had taken.

They have pork-barreled to win elections at both a State and Federal level, but have no intention of resigning.

The key lesson here is that there is no mechanism for dealing with the malfeasance of those in power. Trump may be impeached, but that would be an exceptional ‘one off’. In general there is no power that makes governments obey the laws the rest of us have to obey, or to follow the dictates of moral behaviour.


The only solution that I can see is to have the power returned to the people and the country run by regular referenda, once every 3 months at local, State and Federal level where anyone can put up a proposition and if it gets enough signatures it is balloted. If it wins, it becomes law. Federal government laws can be overturned and policies, such as not going into wars, are binding. This is the Swiss system, and their politician are part-time, only allowed two terms and their superannuation system is that their job has to remain open for them. This ensures that the politicians interests cannot differ from the people’s interests.

We have probably never had real power over politicians apart from the ballot box, and now they no longer resign, there is no sanction. They are not willing to take on the powerful, so we have 2 standards of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor. Things are worsening. Barry O’Farrell resigned as Premier of NSW because he forgot he had been given a bottle of wine. That simply does not happen now.

People are talking about changing the constitution for many reasons. It is 120 years old. It was not the absolute wisdom for all time; it was a minimalist document to get the 6 colonies to become States and form a nation under the Queen. We need to go boldly and get a new document. Incidentally the Swiss change their constitution also, just needing a bigger majority in the referendum.

It is about trusting the people, who in general are more principled than the politicians, and after all, have the right to decide.


www.smh.com.au/world/europe/the-buck-stops-here-dutch-pm-cabinet-resign-over-welfare-debt-scandal-20210116-p56ula.html

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Congress Impeaches Trump- What is Next? 14/1/21

Congress, the lower house of the US Parliament has quickly voted to impeach Trump for false claims of election fraud and his part in inciting the storming of the US Congress. That is today.

Tomorrow in 50 State Capitals there will be demonstrations by Trump supporters carrying guns.  This vote will not make them happy.  It is hard to believe that there will not be violence somewhere and that there will not be deaths.  I would not like to be a policemen in the front line of controlling these armed demonstrators.

After the demonstrations the Senate, the upper house, which has even numbers of Democrats and Republicans with only the casting vote of the Democrat speaker will consider the impeachment.  My understanding is that to stop Trump standing again, a two-thirds majority is needed, so a third of Senate Republicans would have to support the motion.  If the demonstrations turn ugly, will they?

The other question is whether the Democrats will bring it on immediately.  The inauguration of the new President Biden is in 6 days, on 20/1/21.  The nature of this ceremony was likely to be hugely modified by COVID, but now there is a new security dimension.  Biden will also want to have his legislative agenda pushed forward, as there is a huge demand for action in many areas, and impeaching a soon-to-be-ex-President, or an actual ex- President may seem an act of petty revenge, particularly if it is delayed.  Biden needs to be seen to be bringing the US together and getting on with the job, but he is unlikely to let the issue go.

The next few days will be interesting, even by 2020 standards.

www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/10-house-republicans-voted-to-impeach-trump-heres-what-they-said

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US Election Aftermath 8/1/21

All the commentators are saying that Trump has no case and that the US election was properly run and the result is correct.  No doubt they are right as far as they go.

But we might ask why people are so upset that they will storm the Capitol and make the US look like a tin pot third world rabble, where police line up to stop raging demonstrators and shoot a few.

Many years as a young child I went to the first version of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ with my mother.   There is scene in that with a huge rally with banners, shouting, festivities and people squirting each other with hoses.  I asked my Mom, ‘What are they doing?’.  She replied, ‘They are having an election, son’.  I said, ‘That is not how you have elections’.  She said. ‘It’s how they do it over there’.

It has always stuck on my mind.  She regarded the US as not actually a civilised country.  At that time we watched Westerns where they had shoot outs and wars with the baddies a.k.a Indians.  Later she explained that they carried guns and had no health system for poor people.  When my parents retired they went on a trip to the USA and were held up at gunpoint at their motel in Los Angeles by men who needed money for drugs, which tended to prove her point.

This morning on  Radio National singer/songwriter Tori Amos told of how as an aspiring artist she played in bars and heard how the powers behind the throne arranged judicial appointments such that there was a court decision to allow unlimited money into political donations without the source of it being clear. 

Looking at the choices of president facing the US electors last time, there was Trump, the anti-Establishment TV reality host v. Hillary Clinton, an existing Establishment figure. The progressive voice of Bernie Sanders had been eliminated. This time there was Trump with his failed rhetoric and COVID non-policies against Biden, an existing Establishment figure.  Sanders had again been side-lined.  So, yes the count was correct, but how much use is this to the common person, whose job is no longer secure and whose income has not risen for decades? 

Inequality has been rising apace. Everyone may be aware of this, but some are more aware than others, some are much more affected than others, and some want to do much much more about it than others.

The vote count and procedures may be correct, but the system is not delivering a fair outcome.  Taking jobs from US workers to ones in China or elsewhere allows importers to make supernormal profits, and this process, which amounts to the undoing of colonialism where the raw materials came  from overseas and were processed in the First World will not be complete until all the world’s workers are equal.  In the meantime, the poor in the First World get a lot poorer and the rich, initially in the First World, but now elite as much by class as  by nationality, get richer (as Marx had predicted).

The Trump demonstrators are wrong about the election, but not so wrong if you talk about the system and their place in it.  Sanders may have had a solution, Trump never did.  The US elite have avoided confronting the issue so far, but it is still there, and will be ongoing.

Here is Bob Carr, ex-NSW Premier and ex- US Foreign Minister writing about how the problem will not go away.  He is less specific on why.

www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/capitol-chaos-is-just-the-first-act-the-republican-party-is-shattered-and-civility-is-not-coming-back-20210107-p56sdw.html

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Assange has Avoided Extradition to the USA for now. 5/1/21

But Judge Baraitser accepted most of the US government’s arguments that journalism could be espionage, that he would get a ‘fair trial’ in the USA. and that his extradition would have been legal, though political crimes are supposedly excluded from the extradition agreement. He has not actually been freed, and one might reasonably ask why he is being held at all, since the trumped up Swedish rape case is no longer being pursued. There is also a possible appeal from the US government, at a time when Trump is on his last legs and looking for publicity and a legacy.


Julian Assange is still in danger from COVID in Belmarsh prison. It is hard to see anything other than the British, US and Australian Establishments trying to destroy him, if not by COVID, then simply psychologically. One shudders to think what his mental state will be after being locked up for a decade with no substantial charge and having tried to do good. ‘All journalists beware!’ is the message.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56130.htm

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Veterans’ PTSD costs $241 million 3/1/21

Some time ago. I was driving through Western Sydney and saw a huge billboard for army recruitment.  An interesting and challenging job, training for a trade etc.  I then stopped in a supermarket and there was a much smaller ad for a charity that helped Veterans who were victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I wondered why they needed a charity when the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs has a much larger budget per patient than anyone else.

I asked a clinical psychologist friend of mine about this.  The psychologist had a good practice and admitted that a lot of work came from ex-Veterans, commenting nervously that almost all the Veterans had PTSD, but that it was a closely guarded military secret.  I was not surprised.  I had read ‘Exit Wounds- One Australian’s War on Terror’ by John Cantwell, the ex-commander of the Australian forces in Afghanistan.  He had PTSD and took himself off the short-list to be the chief of Australian defence to go into a psychiatric hospital for treatment.  He wrote in 2013 that the war in Afghanistan could never be won and that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  Troops are still there, presumably until the Americans all leave.

In 2019 I went to a pub dinner with a group I knew vaguely at a hotel in Kings Cross.  I had arrived late from work and as I moved to the end of our table, a man sitting alone on the next table moved his pack so that I could get in. I nodded thanks.  My group said a brief ‘hullo’ and went on with a conversation about people I did not know, so I remained a little detached.  After a while the man on the next table stood up and asked me in a broad Scottish accent if I would mind looking after his pack while got another beer.  He was unshaven and looked very dejected, perhaps in his early forties in age but his clothes were new.  I moved his pack so that it was more directly in my line of sight, and noticed that it was a state of art pack, perhaps a military one.  When he returned I asked him what part of Scotland he was from.  (This is always a good opening line for Scots as they hate being asked what part of England).  He said that he was a stonemason, who had lived with his single mother until she had become unwell with memory loss and needed institutional care. He wanted to get a ‘powder ticket’ so that he could have his own quarry. He could not afford this training so he had joined the British Army. Seemingly he learned his explosives quite well and was posted to Afghanistan. He had had to do ‘a job’ involving explosives and was praised by his commander as he had apparently done it well from a military point of view.

He did not elaborate much at this point as he choked back his tears, but he felt utterly worthless and had asked for an immediate discharge from the army. He had an elder brother in Australia from whom he had been estranged since his parents separated when he was young and he had in arrived in Australia this very morning to find his brother at the most recent address he had.  He had no phone number or email.  The brother had left the address, so he had stopped for a drink. He had no friends, no country and was very, very depressed. 

As his tale unfolded, I was increasingly wondering what I could do, but in this case luck was with us both.  One of the others on the table I was in theory still having dinner with had started to listen to our conversation.  She was a counsellor in the Kings Cross area and joined in. She took over and found him accommodation, promising to get him some PTSD counselling when she finished a morning appointment the next day, and quite subtly got him to promise reciprocally not to commit suicide overnight. 

I followed this up with the counsellor and she was apparently successful.  He went with an Australian PTSD sufferer to a farm in the Central West where rehab is done for ex-Afghanistan veterans. Hopefully it was successful longer term.

But this story is largely luck, and success is not assured.  Here was the real face of the foreign policy stupidity in the Middle East, and prevention is far better than any hoped-for cure. 

The Vietnam war may have been ‘lost’  on the TV screens of America, but it is highly dubious that it could have been won anyway.  Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan do not look like having any chance of the West winning. But since the Falklands war, journalists are embedded with the Army and so are on one side that gives them protection and restricts their information, so there is no peace movement of any political note to stop the foolish machinations of Australia in fawning to please the US in wars.

I am not sure that Veterans have ‘unlimited access’ to mental health services- if they did, why would there be charities appealing for support?  My experience is that all funding bodies including Veterans Affairs try to deny the existence of a problem.   It seems the concern of the article is the cost of the rehab. The answer of course is to stop the war. 

The Buttery mentioned was the one of very few live-in addiction rehab programs that I could find when I was in Parliament.  It was near Bangalow on the North Coast and had endless trouble getting funding.  If it is now exclusively used by Veterans others will be missing out.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/bill-for-veterans-mental-health-care-reaches-241m-with-20-000-in-rehab-20201030-p56a9w.html

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China and the Taiwan Question. 1/1/21

As China increasingly decides to assert its status as a World Power, Australia has been given the message fairly clearly.

Morrison foolishly, and perhaps encouraged by Trump in his pre-election hubris, criticised China’s management of the Coronavirus.  If China was looking for a middle-sized power to humiliate using its Trade power, Australia had stepped conveniently stepped into the role. This is still playing out. If China squeezes hard, we are likely to have a recession and Morrison will lose the election.  If not, probably not.

China is asserting its dominance over the South China Sea by building bases on the Spratly Islands, and the US and Australia are sailing through them to show that they still can, but this does not prove that the balance of power is not shifting quite dramatically China’s way.

China has asserted that it is not a democracy and that the Communist party will be dominant for the foreseeable future.  It did not tolerate independence in Tibet, nor with the Uighurs, and most recently with Hong Kong, moving to crush local democracy, lest anyone else in China get ideas.  The democracy activists in Hong Kong who tried to escape to Taiwan by speedboat were caught, tried and imprisoned (ABC News 30/12/20).

Taiwan, which had an indigenous population as Formosa, became Taiwan, when Chiang Kai-shek, the pro-US, Nationalist loser of the Chinese Revolution fled there with 2 million Chinese in 1949.  Their safety at that time was guaranteed by the US Navy and their economy benefitted mightily from the Korean War (1950-53), where they industrialised to manufacture goods for the US war effort.  The US has effectively guaranteed their separateness from China.  China has never accepted that Taiwan is a separate country, regarding it as a renegade province that will eventually return to China by negotiation.  Taiwan agreed that there was One China, as it intended to overthrow the Communists and re-establish their Nationalist government.  This has become increasingly unlikely and is now at the point of absurdity, but political parties that are pro-reunification with the mainland have been doing quite badly in Taiwanese democratic elections.  The Taiwanese population enjoy both democracy and relatively high incomes.  They are naturally concerned with events in Hong Kong, as they are the next domino. 

If China wanted a military victory and to assert its new Great Power status moving across a short strait into its own backyard would seem the logical step, and it is doubtful that the US would have the capacity to prevent this, even if it had the will.

Frankly, Australia has to accept the reality that China has arrived at great power status.  We cannot get involved in a war over Taiwan.  We should take a more neutral position between the US and China, and think in terms of more intelligent trade bargaining and not selling out our assets to foreign powers of any colour.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56111.htm

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The International Criminal Court has Declined to Prosecute Britain for War Crimes in Iraq. 1/1/21

Some have said that the ICC is where the big countries prosecute small dictators. The ICC has, in a 184 page document declined to prosecute British soldiers for war crimes in Iraq. They have also declined to say that the 2nd Iraq war was illegal. To do this they have quoted British rationale about the need to find Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMDs and ignored that fact that the weapons inspectors said that they have not found any, the Iraqis were cooperating better and that they wanted more time.

They use British names for Iraqi places, refer to the Iraqis as ‘insurgents’ in their own country and took refuge in the fact that the ICC does not have to investigate war crimes if the country that committed them is itself investigating. They then look at how the British investigations have gone, which is actually nowhere.

The author of this piece says he was a great fan of the ICC, but now concludes that it has no credibility. It is not a short piece, but this can be excused as it summarises the 184 pages of the ICC’s decision not to prosecute.

It is sad, but unsurprising that there is no credible enforcement of international law at an individual level, or in statements as to the actions of countries.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56113.htm

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Energy Storage is a large problem- the German Experience 13/12/20

Energy storage is a worse problem in Germany because they have longer cold periods with less sun than Australia. It seems that pumped hydro storage is our best option, but this article is correct that it requires a lot of energy alternatives for when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.


Demand management is also important, which means shifting things like off peak hot water to when the sun shines, but also paying people to switch off. If there is only a peak demand for a few hours a year, it is cheaper to pay people to turn off than to have a power source that is only used a few hours a year.

But articles about the problems in the German grid have been around for a long time and lessons need to be learned.

Those of us who want to move to renewable energy need to be aware of the problems and to address them, or we just look like naive ideologues.

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