Doctor and activist


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Category: Accountability

Loneliness and its solutions

25 February 2022


I sometimes watch Foreign Correspondent on ABC TV and by chance on 15/2/21 I came across this excellent programme on loneliness in Japan.


The ABC correspondent there looks at loneliness in the Japanese population from older folk dying alone, to younger people simply withdrawing from society.


Some of the older ones had no family or jobs. Some of the younger ones were so pressured to succeed and felt that they had failed, so simply withdrew from society. It seems that the pressure on kids all to be CEOs is an absurd and unachievable objective.


I am not sure that the situation in Australia is as bad, but I thought about some of my patients and could think of half a dozen immediately. With some of them , I am one of the only two or three people in the world they have any contact with, their relationships are tenuous.


None of them started with mental health problems. Here are some examples:


A 60 year old man worked for a security company looking after an insurance company. He was doing surveillance for them, but it took over his life as he was contacted 24 hours a day for various crises. Case management employees having conscience over what they were doing had to be rescued from self-harm in the toilets. Enraged claimants with refused claims threatened to blow up the company offices with cans of petrol. He saw staff high-fiveing as some claimant got a derisory settlement when they deserved and needed a lot more. It went on like this for years. When he said that he could not do this anymore he was treated as badly as any of the people he had dealt with. He told me this story, and I had hoped that with his considerable management skills and experience, he could be put into a less stressful position. But he deteriorated. Everything reminds him of the corruption of the world. He is estranged from his wife and they communicate with post-it notes on the frig. He goes for a walk at 11 at night so he will not have to speak to people in the street. One son has stuck by him and visits daily, and will build him a self-contained unit in his new home.


Another patient is a 62 year old ethnic taxi driver who was so badly bashed 11 years ago by a gang stealing his takings that he lost an eye, has never worked again and never recovered mentally or physically. He was divorced; lives alone and sometimes will not even answer the phone.


One is a 42 year old foreign student who came to study theology, wanting to become a pastor. Her English is not great. She is a trifle unworldly, and thought that the world is basically kind and people look after each other. She had a casual job in a motel and her boss asked her to move a bed down the stairs between floors. She said it was too heavy and she could not, but he threatened to sack her. She did it and got an injury to two discs in her back. She was frightened to have surgery, so was in agony for a couple of years and eventually agreed. She had minimal surgery, which was not successful. The insurer decided that she was not complying with what they wanted so refused to pay her. She was effectively broke and homeless, so an old lady from her church offered her a bed and food. But she lives a long way away and up a drive that is hard for my patient to walk up. She was effectively trapped. As a foreign person she did not even have Medicare for the minimal psychological help it offers (6 visits a year). Her mental health deteriorated and she shunned all outside contact, and would not even answer the phone. She has gone home to her family- I can only hope she improves there.


One is a 39 year old from a religious and teetotal family with a high sense of ethics. He was a top salesman of a computer company and became aware that they were ripping off some customers. He drew this to management’s attention, but they declined to do anything and he was labelled a whistleblower. Management supported him by putting out an email asking that he be supported for his mental health issues. He felt that this ostracisation was the end of his career, because he had asked them to behave ethically. He was certain that no one in his tight top group will now employ him, so he withdrew and started to drink to lessen the pain. His family then rejected him because of the drinking and his sales friends are estranged also. The psychologist gives him Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exercises and I try to get him to drink less and somewhat ironically counsel him that you cannot withdraw from the world merely because the baddies generally win. He lives alone, answers the phone and is just able to do his own shopping, but is not improving much.


These are just some examples that I know. Coasting home as GP at least keeps you in contact with life. The point is that many people have broken lives, but just keep living. None of these examples have done anything wrong themselves. Is a sense of ethics a mental illness?


As everyone has to ‘look after themselves’ in a consumer-oriented society, more people will fall through the cracks, especially as the gap between rich and poor is enlarged by pork barrelling which puts resources into areas that need them less, tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for private schools and private health insurance, derisory welfare payments, and insurers allowed simply to refuse to pay without penalty.


People need basic support with universal housing and universal health case. They need jobs or at least occupations and an adequate income to survive. And we need outreach and support services that can be called upon.
When people say, ‘There are not enough jobs’, they are taking nonsense. Anyone can think of many worthwhile things that need doing. And there are plenty of people who would be happy to do them. The problem is that in a world where nothing can be done that does not make a profit, a lot of things that need doing are not done. That is where the policy change are needed. We cannot simply look at the money and see to what level existing activities can be maintained. We need to look at what needs to be done, and then work out how to achieve it. We need to decide that everyone has a right to live and those who have a good life will live in a better society if everyone can share at least a basic quality of life. There has to be recognition that the ability to be profitable need not be the overwhelming criterion for what is done. Tax may go up, but if there is real re-think of priorities, it is not likely to be all that much.


The link to the ABC program that initiated this tirade is below.
https://iview.abc.net.au/show/foreign-correspondent/series/2022/video/NC2210H002S00

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Gun Manufacturer Remington Found Responsible for Sandy Hooks School Massacre

20 February 2022

For the first time ever, a gun manufacturer was found to be responsible for a massacre.

As everyone who is aware of US news knows, massacres are commonplace in the US, all carried out by guns being used exactly as they were designed to be used.  Oh yeah, but not used on those people…

Somehow the US gun manufacturers have had immunity from prosecution and the Sandy Hook legal team had to say that it was the irresponsible (and highly successful ) marketing that had caused the assault rifle to be used in the shooting.  So they got them for the marketing, not the product.

Given the political difficulties of doing anything about guns in the US political system, it is natural that people might turn to the legal system for some hope.  It is difficult, but not as hard to change as the political system.

I am reminded of the same debate in the tobacco war.  For years the tobacco industry gave money to the major parties in big amounts and the deal was something like, ‘Say what you like, but no restrictive legislation till after the next election, then the next, then the next etc’.  They denied knowing the health facts, but said that it was common knowledge that smoking was harmful. They had to not know so that they would not be liable, but everyone had to know because then the smokers were responsible for their own illnesses.  This was known as the ‘Tightrope policy’.  Of course they had done the research and knew very well, but hey, lies are common and part of many business models.

In 1983 a group in Northwest University in the US was trying to get enough money to run cases, because tobacco used exactly as intended was causing thousands of deaths every day.  The industry had been very keen to be forced to put ‘Smoking is a health hazard’ on the packs. This was because they could the say that the people who smoked had been warned and they were not responsible for the consequences of using their product.  They also wanted the government to tell them to put it there, so they could say that they did not know if tobacco caused cancer, but the government and health people thought so.  They fought every case, generally drawing it out so that the plaintiff either died or ran out of money or both.  When they were about to lose a lung cancer case in a librarian in Australia, they found out that she had had a child out of wedlock 40 years before, and said that this would be released if she did not stop the case.  Such was the shame of that fact that his person, weakened by cancer, withdrew her case and died.  Ruthless.

The US believed tobacco campaigners believed that their victory would come in the courts, not the parliaments, and this was true.  In Australia it was  a bit different as BUGA UP targeted the tobacco industry and made them such pariahs that they were politically weakened enough for advertising and sponsorship bans, plain paper packaging, rotating health warnings and eventually some-free indoor air.  The tobacco industry in Australia was relatively weaker than in the US, and the gun lobby is also, but it is very unwise to be complacent.

We in Australia need to be very vigilant to keep our gun laws strong, as the Shooters have expanded their base to become the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and have capitalised  on the weakness of the Nationals to get lower house seats.  They have used balance of power situation in NSW quite astutely under Bob Carr and continuing.   John Tingle, The Shooters MP  in NSW got Carr to enact that to have a shooters licence in NSW, one had to belong to a shooting club and shoot at least once a year. The shooting Club could then keep an eye out for crazies.  But of course the shooting clubs got a subsidy to maintain their records and database, and this is ideal for organising fundraising and troops on election day.  Running a political party is a significant expense- only one group is subsidised, though it must be conceded that the shooting clubs and the Sporting Shooters Association (the lobby group) are not the same entity as the Shooter, Fishers and Farmers party.

We need to watch the US legal efforts, and be vigilant. And of course lessening social inequality and having a place in society for everyone with jobs, income and housing helps lessen the probability of alienation, anger and despair.

www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-16/sandy-hook-families-settle-with-gun-maker/100833782

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Willoughby By-Election Update

17 February 2022

There has been a lot of excitement about how close Independent Larissa Penn has come to Liberal conservative Tim James in Willoughby. Presumably the excitement is because it was tacitly assumed that she had no real hope and the State Liberals are even more on the nose than was expected.

The current ‘Two Candidate Preferred is Penn 48.24% to James 51.72%. This is a margin of 3.51%, so half of this is needed to change to get Larissa Penn elected, i.e. 1.755% or 321 in 18,247 formal votes. The not-very-good website does not have the preferential count on it.

The fact that Larissa Penn has come from 32.15% to48.24% (up 16.09%), while James has only come from 43.38% to 51.75% (up 8.37%) shows that most voters of Willoughby have been filling in their preferences despite it being optional, which suggests a reasonably sophisticated electorate, which it is. But in that elections are often won or lost by small margins, it is still likely that Penn will lose and that difference will be the number of votes that exhaust because of the optional preferential system that the big parties put in. So they will be rewarded for their undemocratic ways. We will also be able to see how many Green voters exhaust and whether the lack of preferences has been critical. In that there is only 1.755%, it will be a close thing.

It might be noted that there were no ‘stooge independents’ in this election, that is to say ones that favour a major party and have just been put there to take a few (gullible) voters away from independents with a real agenda. Perhaps this is because the Libs were very confident.

I fear that a major party fiddle of the voting system, and bad HTVs from the Greens and possibly others will rob Larissa Penn of victory. I hope I am wrong.

We need to make the NSW voting system compulsory preferential, but getting the major parties to agree to this might be a hard ask.

https://results.elections.nsw.gov.au/SB2201/Willoughby/Parliamentary/CheckCountTCPReport.html

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AUKUS Protest Letter- Please sign

17 February 2022

The AUKUS submarine deal is bad for Australia on many fronts.

It is bad financially as the submarines are very expensive, so we will have a lot less of them. It is bad in that they will not be available for a long time, so we will be short in the meantime.

It is of course bad environmentally as if/when nuclear submarines are sunk there will be radio activity released at random locations around the world. Technologically nuclear submarines may be more vulnerable than at first thought. Because the nuclear reactors produce heat, they raise the water temperature, which can be detected by satellites. How vulnerable this makes them remains to be tested in practice.

These nuclear submarines are long-range attack submarines, which the US have to project power- read attack Chinese shipping. We do not want to attack China, so they are not appropriate for us. We need defence submarines to operate in our more local area.

Once we have the submarines, whenever that is, we will have to build a base for them, which the US will want to use. So we will be paying for a base that makes us a nuclear target principally for the Americans’ interest. We will be locked into the US global military system.

In reality, there are now two world powers. One is rising, and one is fading. Our major trading partner, China is rising, and the other, the US, is spending far too much on military hubris, neglecting its domestic problems and its wage structure has made its industries uncompetitive. Its military-industrial complex seems to want to create tensions to sell arms, which the US economy subsidises and now relies on. This is not a good economic model for the world. For Australia to hitch its fortunes to fantasies of bygone hegemony is foolish indeed.

China is extremely unlikely to ‘invade’ Australia. They are on the east end of the world’s greatest land mass and are building the belt and road initiative to get to the markets of both Asia and Europe. Australia is a quarry and a food source and provided we trade fairly they have no need for geographical expansion down here. If they were to attack us, the US would look at its options and decide whether it could possible defend us and at what cost, and that would happen in a global context, not due to some sentimental or historic tie. We should remember what happened in WW2 when we were threatened and appealed to Britain. They sent two token battleships which were promptly sunk by Japanese aircraft off Singapore, said they would take us back when they had beaten the Germans, and declined to give us back the troops that we had in North Africa. East Timor was invaded the week after the US Secretary of State had visited Jakarta. It is extremely unlikely that the US did not agree not to interfere; they were playing a global game as might have been expected. Sorry East Timor. Sorry Australia?

On the submarines, the US got a good deal. Australia signed up for inappropriate vessels at some future date at some yet unknown price, and will have to build a base that the US can use. The British had a little glimpse of being a world colonial power again, which must have delighted the fantasies of Boris Johnson, who thinks he is the reincarnation of Winston Churchill. Australia upset the French, upset the Chinese, upset the Indonesians, locked ourselves into a dangerous alliance against our major trading partner, signed a blank cheque, and hugely restricted our future policy options, but gave Mr Morrison a few good headlines when he was looking bad politically. It was another milestone in the triumph of hubris and lobbying over sensible policy.

Since Australia already has a bad reputation for tearing up submarine contracts, we might as well use this reputation to tear up the AUKUS one. The only hope is that Labor, having won the election by being hopelessly timid, might actually be brave enough to look at the situation afresh.

Please sign the petition below.

https://openletter.earth/aukus-for-war-or-australians-for-peace-e21f6607?fbclid=IwAR0698GDGSCUg2_Vt5vVslpEs8n4oDdNGGYXqxde-i89X5Yeag1p37TlF2Q

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NSW By-Elections:- Greens Hand Willoughby and NSW Parliament to the Libs

13 February 2022

There were 4 by-elections on Saturday. The Liberal vote fell, which is normal in by-elections, especially with a Federal government as hopeless as this one and the NSW pork-barreling reports, iCare incompetence and dodgy rail entities to dress up the books.


In Willoughby the Liberal primary vote fell 14.65%, from 57.03% to 42.38% (in the count so far). But what is interesting is that the Greens have given the seat to the Liberals by not allocating preferences. At the latest count, the Libs got 42.38%, Larissa Penn, a credible independent got 31.36% (up from 9.91% when she stood last time) and the Greens 11.64%.


Note the maths: Independent + Greens = 43.0%. Libs= 42.38%


Larissa Penn, the leading independent has stood before and would appear to be a considerable improvement on a right-wing Liberal who also ensures continuing Liberal dominance in the Parliament. A lot of votes are still not counted and it is not certain that she would have won even with Green preferences, but it certainly would have been a line ball. The other candidates who together got 14.62% may well have favoured a progressive independent over the status quo. William Bourke of Sustainable Australia got 3.44%, Penny Hackett of the Reason Party (previously called Voluntary Euthanasia Party) got 5.97% and even the LibDems at 2.67% may well have favoured an independent over a Lib. This is what preferential voting is for. I do know that a bigger cross bench makes for better legislation.


The major parties introduced optional preferential supposedly to make it easier for voters who didn’t know about those little parties and were in danger of voting informal. In reality they did it because if preferences exhaust it becomes ‘first past the post’ which favours those with big primaries. The big parties can (and have) put in a few dodgy independents to soak up the primaries of other independents and win even though a majority of people did not want them. Minor parties should stick together and allocate preferences. It is most irresponsible of the Greens not to do this. I wonder if they are scared of ‘like-minded independents’ and would rather have just the major parties and themselves than more diversity in Parliament Their long-term voting strategy of frequently exhausting their preferences rather than numbering all squares would support this proposition. In this case they numbered no squares themselves but put ‘VOTE 1’ then the lame recommendation ‘then number the other squares in order of your preferences’. Perhaps this was a sop from head office to the candidate, and perhaps the swing was bigger than anticipated and if they thought the Liberals were beatable they may have done differently. Perhaps, perhaps, but the Libs will keep a seat that may have changed hands, sent a big symbolic message and changed the parliament significantly. Silly Greens. The Libs should be very grateful to the Greens but will hope that no one will notice that the anti-democratic fiddle of optional preferential has really helped them this time.


In Bega the Liberals had a 13.46% swing against them (48.91 to 35.45%) and Labor picked up 11.93% (30.59 to 42.52%) and gained the seat. The Greens dropped 2% and the Shooters entered the fray and picked up 5.47%. We may have had a COVID and pork-barrel election up here, but down there where the bushfires wiped out whole towns and numbers of people were huddled on the beaches and rescued by the navy the government may have been in trouble for different reasons. But the swing was still very similar to Willoughby.


In Strathfield, Labor held on, but did not look too flash considering the mess the Liberals are in. Their primary vote fell from 44.30 to 40.07% (4.23%). The Liberal vote fell from 38.89 to 37.24% (only 1.65%). The combined major party vote fell from 83.19 to 77.28% (5.91%), and the Greens fell from 8.79 to 5.94% (2.85%). This was probably due to Elizabeth Farrelly, the well-known SMH journalist who is stridently in favour of better town planning and was sacked by the SMH when it was revealed that she was a member of the ALP. She stood as an independent, got 9.28% and did not direct preferences, giving her almost no chance. The Labor candidate Jason Sun-Yat Li is a good person, but did not live in the electorate, which is a bad look. He will, however, be an asset to the somewhat talent-poor NSW Labor Parliamentarians.


In Monaro, which the Nationals retained after the retirement of leader John Barilaro is likely to get little attention. The National’s primary vote fell from 52.31 to 45.48% (6.83%) which was similar to what Labor gained 27.16 to 33.04% (5.88%). The Shooters did not stand in the by-election adding their 7.78% to the pool, but an Independent who got 5.93% took up much of this and the combined major party votes only fell from 79.47 to 78.52% (0.95%).As the percentage of postal and early votes continues to rise the margin of error of these figures is increased but the sample size is large enough for the results to probably stand, (unlike in the Hunters Hill local elections where the pre-poll and postal vote varied significantly from the polling days votes, probably influenced by an anonymous defamatory leaflet which was miraculously delivered to the whole electorate on the Wednesday night, favouring the Liberals. The change in the voting pattern gave them the mayoral election.)


The NSW Parliament will have one less Liberal, so the numbers will be Liberals 33, Nationals 12 (=Coalition 45), Labor 37, Greens 3, Shooters 3 and Independents 5. With a total of 93, it takes 47 votes for a majority, but the Coalition 45 can still rely on two of the independents, John Sidoti and Gareth Ward as these two were elected as Liberals. They both resigned from the Liberal party but not the Parliament after allegations were made against them, Sidoti from ICAC re property development in Fivedock and Ward after allegations of sexual violence. It is interesting that both our Federal and NSW state governments rely on people who left their party for embarrassing reasons to survive.


Business as usual. Thanks Greens.

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Religious Discrimination Bill Dies- What about the Tax-Exemption?

10 February 2022

We note that the Morrison government despite a somewhat Pyrrhic victory in the lower house after an all-night session has sent the Religious Discrimination Bill to a Senate Committee, which will push it to after the election and kill it off.  This bill was promised by Morrison presumably to keep his religious right happy after the Marriage Equality bill was forced on the Liberals after the national referendum result.

There is no real evidence that religious people are discriminated against.  They have tax-exempt status and are hugely over-represented in Cabinet at both Federal and NSW State level.  (I do not know about the other States).  They seem to that they have the right to prosthetise in door to door situations and even if they are occasionally abused in these invasive situations think  the notion that they have the right be there persists, like tolerance for pesky door to door salespersons.

My own experience of being forced to go to religious ceremonies at boarding schools stuck with me. They knew that if it was voluntary the congregation would have declined by at least 95%, but they did not care.  In Parliament, proceedings opened with the Lord’s Prayer.  As an atheist since school I found this offensive and did not go in until it was over. Lee Rhiannon from the Greens was the same.  I assumed it had always been there but in fact Fred Nile had introduced it only a decade or so before.   So the idea that religion is in danger of being suppressed in Australia seems absurd to me.  They already have too much power. 

Far more significant is the historic tax exemption for religious organisations, however new or venal they may be.  As Jesus is quoted in Mark 17:12 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  It seems that his is one of those texts that are not acted on.

I cannot say it better than The Shovel.

www.theshovel.com.au/2022/02/10/discrimination-religious-groups-taxation/?fbclid=IwAR3dlW-c3ESEBlrRM-cOw5brJT8nmfR7ywItqsgpYJJPZMp54u1e_-75Zv4

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Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame at the National Press Club

February 10 2022

They were riveting watching on 9 February.

Brittany Higgins talked about a toxic culture in Parliament House with sexual harassment, and Grace Tame was careful to define her area of activism as action to stop paedophiles.  Grace was quite insistent that this was not a gender war as she said that most of the people she met until relatively late in her journey of discovery were men, as it seems that more males had come out to discuss their grooming process than females.  It is about the behaviour, not about gender, though she conceded that most perpetrators were male.  She noted that her perpetrator had a known history (covered up) of abusing students and she was only one of his many victims.  Grace made no secret of her view that Morrison had done as little as possible, but when a question from a Murdoch journalist tried to get her to support Labor against the Liberals she declined to be drawn.  She said that the existing power structures of the Parliament, the law and the media protected paedophiles.  She also said that when she criticised the Prime Minister there was an inquiry as to the funding of the Council that awarded the Australian of the Year honour.  She took this to be a hint that they had to find one who was not critical of the government. She also described a caller who was “asking for my word that I would not say anything damning about the Prime Minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year awards”.

“‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear,’ they said. What kind of fear, I asked myself?”

“And then I heard the words ‘with an election coming soon’.

“And it crystallised — a fear for himself and no-one else, a fear that he might lose his position or, more to the point, his power.”

Grace did not say who it was that called her, and declined to answer a question on the subject.  Now the Prime Minister himself wants to know.  Ho hum.  Obviously someone was trying to protect him.  Is this person to be hung out?

Brittany Higgins was unimpressed by the Parliamentary apology for the sexual harassment except as a first step and commented that the plan to deal with sexual harassment has a great statement of intentions, but these are so vague as to be able to be accepted by everyone, but not actually to specify any action, much less a time frame for such action. Another highly relevant comment she made in terms of the working of Parliament was the relationship between the minders and the public service, with a huge increase in the power of the minders despite their lack of worldly experience or knowledge and the corresponding downgrading of the influence of the public service, who of course should be a big reservoir of politically unbiased expertise.  She said that the public were unaware of the power relationships of minders and this was a problem. She was speaking more broadly than merely of sexual relationships.

As a person particularly interested in prevention, I think that the environment and pressures on individuals makes a huge difference to their decisions.  I first figured this out in boarding school where behaviour options were decidedly constrained, then observed it as people were pressured to take up smoking.  Social disadvantage and crime also stand out.

My state government minder gave me his opinion that if you went to Canberra it took about 18 months to lose all contact with real people and their issues as the Canberra bubble of politicians and the media were so isolated and both used each other as reality contact.  He went on to prove his own theory, as he went to Canberra to work with Meg Lees, Democrat leader, was there about 18 months and believed that she would beat Natasha Stott-Despoja in the leadership spill after Lees had enabled Howard to pass the GST.  Natasha won with 76% of the vote.  As an MP I went to a Young Democrats Conference in Canberra and was invited to a party that they were all going to with some of their friends who happened to be young Liberal staffers.  No one took much notice of the old guy in the corner, but I could not help but overhear the stories of their tactical victories over Labor.  Everything was entirely binary. The object was to win, which was to get ‘our’ agenda passed.  It was exciting, a chess game, and at no stage was there the slightest discussion of any policy or the need for discussion or compromise.  My overwhelming impression was that these folk had far too much power and far too little knowledge for the national good.  I think there are 3 stages of knowledge; those that know, those that don’t know, and those that don’t know that they don’t know; those kids were in a last stage.  (Later I added a 4th category, those who do not want to know and will actively resist knowing; this class being such as anti-vaxxers, religious folk and political ideologues).

I am also of the view that structure governs function.  If you wanted a Parliament that was out of touch, you would put it in a place isolated from the people (say Canberra), in a very secure building (say Parliament House) with excellent facilities in each room so that you did not need to meet anyone but your own. You would isolate them from their families, have unusual domestic arrangements, then have pressure situations where they worked long and emotionally exhausting hours so that they relied very much on their work colleagues.  Added to this there are male/female, age and power imbalances.  All this leads to a situation conducive to frenetic relationships with sexual harassment and marriage breakdowns.  Add a hierarchical binary system with winner takes all with a surfeit of powerful lobby groups and you get bad political decisions as well.

You may be able to fix one aspect of a dysfunctional system if you try very hard, but my view is that a Swiss-style democracy with multiple parties that have to compromise, part-time politicians limited to two terms so that they are not in a personal hierarchy and referenda where citizens can overrule the Parliament with plebiscites would seem to be likely to fix sexual harassment as well as a lot of other things.

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Will Russia Invade Ukraine?

6 February 2022

Probably not, but it is possible and they are likely to take some action.


The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was largely due to their economy being unable to compete with more efficient market-based ones. But US Secretary of State James Baker in 1990 promised Mikhail Gorbachev of Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards.


The Eastern European countries were effectively given independence. Their attitudes varied. The Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were very keen to have protection. Poland, which was abolished as a nation in WW2, simply being divided in half and incorporated into Russia and Germany by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 was also looking for protection.

NATO, led by the US has been joining up countries so that only the two closest to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have not joined. Now the US is now loudly proclaiming Ukraine’s ‘right’ to join NATO if it chooses. The US has a lot of hubris, a tin ear, an arms lobby that needs sales and a recent history of doing what it likes. It has also installed military facilities in some of the countries closet to Russia. Those with long memories may recall the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 when Russia tried to station missiles there and there was a major confrontation. The US has bases all over the world encircling its rivals. The Russians do not, and when they tried to these was a major confrontation. One can also note that there are no natural barriers to military advances in Europe. Napoleon and Hitler swept across Russia and Russia swept them back.


Ukraine, the former ‘breadbasket’ of the Soviet Union is the closest big country to Russia and also could control Russian access to the Black Sea so has special significance. Internally it has quite a varied attitude to Russia. Those in the Eastern part of the country are very pro-Russia, while those in the West would like more integration with Western Europe. There is a succession movement in Donbass, an eastern province, and Russia is accused of helping the separatists. The capital, Kiev, is on the Dnieper river, which bisects the country from north to south, just downstream of Chernobyl. In 2014 there was a coup which was shown to be CIA-supported. The Parliament was invaded, much like the US on 6 Jan 2021, but in Ukraine’s case the President fled and new government was installed, highly favourable to the US. Russia responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula, which has their key naval base in the Black Sea. It might be noted that in a plebiscite a huge majority of Crimeans supported Russia against Ukraine.


In an interview on 7.30 on 1/2/22 Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner pointed out the US hypocrisy on NATO membership. He also pointed out that Russia does not want to invade. There would be Western sanctions, but Russia would also be stuck with a guerrilla war situation having to suppress part of what they occupied perhaps indefinitely. They cannot count on being welcomed even into eastern Ukraine. Invading armies usually are not. They would lose a lot of face internationally and there would be trouble on side or another in selling their gas to Western Europe.


It might be overlooked with all the US statements on Ukraine that Germany, France and Italy, surely the heavyweights of Europe, have been very silent. Germany has decommissioned its nuclear plants, cut down on coal and now gets a third of its energy from Russian gas. It cannot replace that amount of energy in the short-term. They are very aware of what a war in Europe means. Europe is more economically integrated and in general, this is good thing.


Russia will be supported by China if the sanctions start to bite, and the US dollar is gradually becoming less important as a world currency, a trend that the Chinese are working hard to accelerate.Even the Ukrainian President is now on record saying that the US must take much of the blame for the current situation.


It seems that the US arms industry, which has spent decades having little wars to keep itself at the centre of that fading economy is lost in its own hubris. It sees this merely as an opportunity to sell arms to the Ukrainians. It is a market, and an economic game. The Russians have existential concerns, not to mention the loss of face. They are likely to take some action. Diplomacy needs to work and the US has to be restrained. Finland has lived on the Russian border for many years as a democracy that minded its Ps and Qs. The Ukraine should probably do the same.

Press stunned as Ukraine leader points finger at West

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Scam Crime and the Response

3 February 2022

It is no secret that computer and phone scamming are now hugely common crimes. A couple of years ago, I got  new landline as it was only a few extra dollars on my data plan. The number was not known to my friends and there are no phone books these days, so the only calls I got were surveys or scams or both.  I was nearly conned, but when ‘Telstra’ asked for my credit card to fix my line I woke up just in time. Others in the house were scammed. The government has a Scamwatch, but it is only interested if you actually lose money and it seems very desultory about taking action.

The Police are not interested. As criminals go from mugging and burglaries to scamming there is less violent crime, but prison numbers continue to rise at vast cost to the taxpayer and with minimal rehabilitation- the recidivism rate remains high, which is unsurprising in that there are few jobs, little housing and a stint in gaol getting different friends and new skills makes reoffending more likely.  Telling the Police or the government about scams seems to have no effect.

Some years ago as I collected more and more credit and loyalty cards they filled my wallet to bursting.  As I paid for a restaurant lunch in a small cafe I dropped quite a lot of the cards and picked them, apparently bar one.  I went back to work and a few hours later was called by the bank that asked if I had made a couple of big purchases in Sydney without signing and then flown to Melbourne, as someone had done this using my credit card.  I had not, and the bank did not charge me for whoever had.  That seemed good, but it is also an explanation for why credit card interest rates are so high.  Presumably the person who got the card also got away scot-free; an unreported crime.

Recently a friend asked me to befriend a Nigerian medical student who is apparently honest and does not scam, but has a lot of trouble to advance in his profession as influence-buying and connections are necessary and he does not have these.  I was informed that in Nigeria there are few jobs, the money goes overseas and scamming is the major source of income for a whole class of young people, particularly men.  Now as one gets a few scam calls each day and sometimes the phone even warns about this the whole situation is becoming ‘normalised’.  Some of us might hope that the government that is so ‘tough on crime’ that it locks so many people up, might actually recognise that the type of crime is changing and go after scammers and cyber criminals or even take some measures to prevent this. Surely taking advice in real time- calling the number, blocking them or listening to them to gain evidence for prosecution are all easily accessible remedies that could happen in a very short time-frame.

As the governments do very little, it seems that they want to push it to the banks, who, true to their form do not want to help.  A buck-passing exercise, in short.  Naturally the Australian Banking Association (ABA) said that Australia is ‘world-leading’ in all this.  Perhaps they learned this unconvincing line from the politicians.  The fact that normal transactions might be slowed by checks is one thing, but if we look at the amount of extra time  it takes to board an aeroplane due to fear of crime, we might see this in perspective.

Once again Consumers will have a make a large fuss to that our ‘leaders’ will eventually follow us.

Here is an article from the SMH on the subject:

Banks battle to dodge refunds

Charlotte Grieve 3 February 2022

Australia’s major banks are fighting a push from regulators to force them to refund billions of dollars lost in online scams, arguing requirements to bear the costs of internet fraud could create complacency among consumers and lead to more losses.

In a tranche of internal documents obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald under freedom of information laws, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) detailed ‘‘strong opposition’’ from the banks to proposals for new obligations ‘‘to prevent scams or reimburse customers for losses’’.

Financial scams have increased around the world during COVID-19, with consumers spending more money online during lockdowns and criminals exploiting security vulnerabilities. Australians lose about $2 billion annually to scams, according to estimates from the competition regulator, most of which go unreported.

ASIC is reviewing the ePayments code, a voluntary code of practice that contains consumer protections for electronic payments, in a process that has been plagued by delays.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair Delia Rickard wrote to ASIC in early 2020 calling for scams to be included in its review, but ASIC decided against this after fierce pushback from major banks.

In one document, ASIC noted banks claimed accepting liability for ‘‘preventing customers from falling victim to scams is problematic, as it raises moral hazard issues (there is a risk that customers take less care if they know they will always be backed by their ADI).’’

The UK regulator recently introduced a raft of new protections for consumers affected by scams, including increased liability on banks to reimburse customers who lose money and a ‘‘confirma‘‘confirmation of payee’’ (CoP) mechanism that forces banks to flag payments where the account name does not match BSB and account number.

Both the ACCC and the Consumers’ Federation of Australia (CFA) supported introduction of a name-checking tool in Australia, claiming it would address an increasingly prevalent style of scam known as business email compromise, in which hackers falsify invoices and request payment to fraudulent accounts using genuine business names.

In another document, in comments later deleted by ASIC, the banks claimed to ‘‘already help customers in various ways’’ and said blocking genuine transactions ‘‘is a highly sensitive issue that can lead to challenging interactions for frontline staff’’.

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) has consistently stressed the need for greater personal responsibility in preventing scam losses, which has led some groups to accuse it of ‘‘victim blaming’’.

In one email to ASIC from September last year, the cited ‘‘timing and cost’’ as the main reason for opposing the CoP mechanism while promoting greater consumer education.

An ABA spokesman said Australia was “world leading” in online payments security and pointed to existing initiatives including PayID.

The industry also argued namechecking would increase ‘‘friction’’ and ‘‘substantially delay’’ payments processing and warned of rising customer complaints if new regulations saw banks blocking payments because of minor typographical errors, according to the documents.

The CFA told ASIC that there had been ‘‘blame shifting’’ between banks ‘‘to reduce liability for scam losses’’ and criticised the ‘‘little or no recourse’’ for victims.

It added it would be increasingly ‘‘important to minimise mistaken payments through good system design, rather than relying on moves to get the money back afterwards’’.

Britain’s new regulations force banks to reimburse customers for scam losses if certain criteria are met, using a pool of funds contributed by the banking sector.

An early draft of ASIC’s review showed support for this approach.

However, ASIC became increasingly concerned members of the voluntary code would withdraw participation if new obligations to prevent scams required ‘‘significant investment’’ in new systems.

Rather than introducing regulations similar to the UK, ASIC sought to enhance existing onscreen warnings that inform customers about risks of entering incorrect details.

However, the documents show there was also ‘‘resistance to this suggestion from banks’’ because it would probably ‘‘be expensive and resource intensive’’.

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NSW By-Elections Happening on 12 February

3 February 2022

There has been very little publicity about the 4 NSW State by-elections on 12 February, which is only on Saturday week.

One might ask, ‘Why?’  The reason for the by-elections in all cases are politicians leaving early, which says quite a  lot about NSW politics generally.

Andrew Constance in Bega is leaving to seek a Federal Liberal seat, which is at least a reasonable reason.  He had a 48.9% primary vote and a 56.9% Two-Candidate Preferred (TCP). 

I normally do not like the TCP, which is usually called Two Party Preferred (TPP) which reinforces the binary nature of these figures. But it does tell you how much a candidate’s margin is if the same groups of candidate stand again.  At this time Progressive Independents may come in, particularly in Liberal seats and change the game, but this is more likely to be a feature of the next Federal election.  I do not have either the local knowledge or the polling to make any intelligent comment about these by-elections apart from noting the possibility.

In Monaro, John Barillaro’s National party seat, he had a 52.3% primary vote and a 61.6% TCP.  In theory that is a very safe seat for the current National candidate.

Willoughby is Gladys Berejeklin’s old seat, where she had a 57% primary vote and a 71% TCP.  The Libs may also retain a sympathy vote for her. The Voices of North Sydney Independent group were active in the local government elections and will be active Federally, but have not been active at the state level, so this seat is unlikely to change hands.  Labor is not even standing.

In Strathfield, Labor leader Jodi McKay left politics deposed and disillusioned. She was elected with 44.3% against the Libs 38.9%, also getting preferences from the Greens who got 8.8%. The TCP was 55%.  Labor this time has a good candidate in Jason Yat-Sen Li and Green preferences again.  A high  profile independent, Elizabeth Farrelly, who wrote on development issues in the Herald was sacked by Nine when it was revealed (by whom one might ask) that she was a member of the Labor party, is unlikely to get enough primary and preference votes to beat Labor.

If no seats actually change hands the result will be more a test of Perrottet’s popularity than anything else, so we can expect quite a lot of commentary on that, particularly with the fuss over Liberal Federal preselections and the toxic texts about Morrison’s character.  I do think there will be a considerable swing against the Liberals, but they are less on the nose than the Federal ones and voters historically are well aware of the difference.

I mention in passing that I am very disappointed that the Greens have given no preferences in Willoughby and preferences only to Labor in Bega, Monaro and Strathfield, then letting their votes exhaust.  Preferential voting is compulsory at a Federal level, but not at a State level, which tends to turn the contests into ‘first past the post’, which favours the major parties.  The Greens really should do better than this.  It makes them look like an appendage of Labor.

The other item of interest is that cash donations are limited to $100.  I wonder if this will make any difference.  It begs two questions, ‘How important is money in low-profile by-elections?’ and ‘How will donors and political parties get around it?’

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