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Category: USA

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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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A Legal Test Case on Freedom of Speech

10 November 2023


Freedom of speech is much-praised, but with the rise of social media, which allows unusual or non-mainstream opinion holders to meet and amplify their voices, there have been discussions of the need for censorship of opinions likely to be detrimental to society as a whole.


This censorship voice was amplified by some significant events:


The FBI alleges that the Russians interfered in the 2016 US election via social media to sabotage Hilary Clinton and helped Donald Trump to win.


The myth that the 2020 US election was stolen and that Trump won was perpetuated by some, even by Fox News, which was scared of losing its audience (and the ad revenue it derived from them) if it did not give credence to the theory. This helped the assault on the Capitol, which made the US look like a tin-pot dictatorship.


The COVID epidemic, which initially had no cure, led to a number of conspiracy theories, largely spread by social media which significantly reduced acceptance of the vaccines, particularly in the USA.


This has led to calls for social media to be responsible for the posts that they transmit.  Algorithms were devised to shut down certain opinions and there are groups tasked to do this.  One such group is Newsguard, which tried to stop articles on Ukraine from a left-oriented alternative news site, Consortium News. If a news organisation is classified as fake news, its credibility is undermined and it is not transmitted by media platforms. Its circulation and revenue suffers accordingly.


Consortium News is small and its chief editor is a very experienced ex-Wall St News journalist, Joe Lauria. They sued Newsguard for defamation, then discovered that Newsguard had a contract with the US government to shut down sites that were not conducive to its interest. Effectively the US government had a privatised censorship agent working for it.


Ironically it is the US Democrats who are mainly in favour of censorship, largely because of the events described above, whereas the right-wing Republicans are more for freedom of speech, never mind the consequences.  So most of the support for the left-wing Consortium News is coming from the right-wing Republicans.  There is quite a lot of interest in the case, as it will determine how censorship is done.


It might be noted that Newsguard also put a warning label on Wikileaks.


Consortium News Sues NewsGuard, US Government For Alleged Defamation

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China’s Technology

The much hyped launch of the Apple iPhone 15 was presumed to announce the latest technology in phones. This presupposed that it would have the world’s best microchips, which are currently assumed to come  from TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company).

But China’s Huawei, which is supposedly hampered by western sanctions on high-end chips has just produced a phone which seems as good or better than the Apple one.

It was commented that the Huawei phone has not had much attention in the Western mainstream media, but some reviews have said that it is actually better. Other writers have wondered (?hopefully) that the small, sold-out production run was because they did not have enough high-end chips to make more phones.

Stephen Bartholomeusz in the SMH also mentions China’s dominance in EVs(Electric Vehicles). European and American car companies are unsure how to respond since they have major EV factories in China, so any tariffs will hurt them. They have moved their jobs offshore and the United Auto Workers strike in the US has the problem that there is a transfer from internal combustion engined (ICE) vehicles to EVs, as well as their wages being higher than the Chinese factories that they are competing against. It is a global world, so there are huge economic forces equalising wages across the world and favouring capital over labour.

And we had also better get used to the idea that China is going to be a world power, and any delays in achieving this will merely annoy them.  We need to accept their power, respect and trade with them and avoid any US dreams of fighting the inevitable.

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Power in America

11 August 2023

A provocative article argues that the US is abandoning its tradition Blue (Democrat) v. Red (Republican), and instead voting on economic lines, with the Red which were traditionally seen as the party of the rich actually getting the poor vote.

The polling shows that the Republicans are ahead in the poorer states, and the Demicrats in the wealthier and better educated states.  This is against what was assumed to be the normal situation.

Why could this be. The Democrats are in control and supported the status quo, when they rigged their last candidate, making sure that Bernie Sanders lost preselection- twice. He would almost certainly have beaten Hilary Clinton and then probably Trump, as he called for change in the same way that Trump did. He may then have beaten Biden, but the Democrat establishment put up Biden, who was effectively the status quo.

Trump’s policies, if they can be called such, seemed mainly to tell the Establishment to go to hell and promise to send it there. It was populist nonsense in that no serious policies underwrote it in terms of real benefits to poorer people.  But if you think that governments are voted out, rather than oppositions being voted in, Trump’s demagoguery has a certain logic.

Trump is, to many people inside and outside the USA, a proven crook, and many US Democrats hope that the legal process will make him ineligible to stand again, assuming he wins the Republican nomination, which looks likely. One might even wonder if there would be revolutionary forces who might try to rescue him from goal. If they can storm Congress, why not a gaol?

The fact that the Republicans can have a majority in poorer areas, despite having an anti-welfare agenda seems to show the pre-eminence of populism, the Democrats being the Established Order. The fact that Biden is the figurehead, and the Democrats seem unable to find anyone to replace him is a worry. The Republicans will target his health if he stands again. The Democrats will say that he is very healthy, and the rest of us will cross our fingers and hope his cerebral arteries last until the election at least.

The middle class is hollowed out and it is the 1% v the 99%. This is what Marx predicted, but more this is the logic of every Monopoly game- in an unregulated market the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  We have been playing Monopoly since the end of WW2 and small government and deregulation has been the dominant neo-liberal paradigm.

What happens in the US will hugely affect the world, both directly, but also in the way it sets trends. It is not even a new trend. Populist right wing governments are rising in many countries, Poland, Italy, Hungary, India and Turkey. France and Germany have seen a strengthening of the Right. Military dictators have seized power in a number of African states.  There does not seem much evidence that these populist strong men have made much progress in solving the problems that led to their rise to power, but having a real argument about this statement would require a lot of research.

But the US is in real trouble, and the lack of discussion of the rising inequality and what is to be done about it may well be at the core of the problem.

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Private Schools- part of entrenching inequality

31 May 2023

In the 1960s State Aid for Church schools was initiated in NSW. Then there became an emphasis on ‘choice’ of school and subsidies for children to catch a bus away from where the child lived to the school that they wanted to go to.

Governments, particularly conservative ones want more children in private schools as this lessens total government expenditure, though private schools have successfully demanded closer to the amount of money per student that the public schools get.  The subsidies also favour their conservative voters.

Private school parents, seeking advantage for their students pay high fees so the government funding seems to be spent along with the other money on swimming pools and ‘luxury items’. 

Meanwhile Australia is slipping down the world education ratings, because public schools are neglected. The sociology also needs to be considered. The ‘choice’ is only for some.  The parents who do not have the financial means for a private school, nor the grades to get into a selective school have to take what they can get.  I visited a school in a disadvantaged area in Sydney, and looked at the school photos in the foyer. There was not a white face in the last 15 years- all the students were either of Pacific Islander or Middle Eastern origin.  The Principal said to me that she just wished she had a few Anglo students to model what the majority of Australians do.  There had been a stabbing in the playground about 30 years ago, and this had led to ‘white flight’.  There were also a considerable number of children with disabilities, which may be related to marriages within ethnic family or religious groups.  With poorer facilities, disadvantaged students  a lack of role models and teachers with lower pay, the Principal said it was very difficult to get her graduates good results and able to compete for jobs. 

I live in a relatively good suburb near a place where buses can turn around.  Each day 8 busses leave from close to me to go to 8 different private schools, 4 single sex male, and 4 single sex female. I think of them as Apartheid busses. The buses are all branded and new.  The students getting on board can go in relative luxury from the civilised suburb to the well-endowed schools. They need have no contact with poorer folk, even on public transport.  These advantaged students will go to universities, into top jobs and make decisions for us all.

I am reminded that in the US in the Johnson era there was ‘bussing’ which took more wealthy students to schools in poorer areas to make richer students aware of how the poorer student lived and to increase equality of opportunity. Australia, supposedly the land of the ‘fair go’, is now quite the opposite, subsidising inequality as we become the country with the most privatised (and unequal) education systems in the world. Now, just to emphasis the point, ‘for profit’ schools are coming in. ‘Hey, what is wrong with making a profit?’ we hear them cry.

When I went to school in Port Kembla, half the school were children of post-WW2 migrants from Europe, ‘displaced persons’, or what we would now call refugees. Half the children arrived at kindergarten unable to speak a word of English.  There were 46 in my class. All this was ‘normal’.  There was no anti-discrimination legislation.  But the over-riding unifying factors were that all the kids in the school had the same experience, all the parents had jobs and the Housing Commission was building whole suburbs of houses as fast as they could to settle the new migrants.  By the end of 3rd class there was really no difference between migrants and Anglo-born. It was equality of opportunity, a ‘fair go’. This is what is being lost. We see the example of the US where the gap between rich and poor keeps growing and we are subsidising the same process!

We forgot about the first Gonski report on educational inequality as the politicans did not want to offend the middle class by lessening their education subsidies. Gonski was pressured to do a weaker second report and inequality of opportunity keeps growing.

The politicians tell us that their education funding has never been higher. Perhaps this is so, but while the money is spent on luxuries for some and there is not enough financially or sociologically to help disadvantaged areas, Australia will continue to slide down the international education rankings and the entrenched disadvantage that continues from generation to generation will continue.

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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.
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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:

Here is the interview on youtube:

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