Category Archives: Government

Democracy has its downsides, but it’s the best system we have

Right now, the whole of the US seems to be obsessed with Donald Trump, someone who was never considered likely to be a challenger for the Republican nomination for this year’s general election.

In the process, the US has forgotten that it claims to be a democracy. Trump may not be the best person to be a candidate for the presidency but then in a democratic system, the people’s choice is meant to prevail.

After the so-called Super Tuesday primaries, it became apparent that Trump would be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. With every subsequent contest, he has solidified his position and now looks a near certainty.

The US has always had this problem with democracy; some years ago, elections were held in the occupied Palestinian territories and, unlike what was expected, the Islamic party, Hamas, gained a majority. The US was terribly unhappy with this, as it had tried its level best to ensure a win for the other faction, Fatah.

Like every political system, democracy has its downsides. But when one decides to give power to the people, one has to be willing to accept the outcome.

When George W. Bush lost the 2000 election to Al Gore, he launched a Supreme Court challenge and engineered a win. He had arranged to rig the polls in Florida by disenfranchising black voters. In 2004, he did something similar, this time in Ohio.

For the US, the “right” candidate mush be chosen, some establishment figure who will play by all the established rules in Washington. Trump is an oddity, a moron, an idiot, someone who shows a strong tendency to megalomania.

But remember, he is the choice of Republican voters. Making a noise about it and blackballing him means that those doing it don’t really subscribe to democracy.

If they did, they would shut up and accept the people’s choice.

Abbott ratchets up the fear factor to boost poll standings

When a prime minister has discovered that only one tactic — ratcheting up the fear factor — helps to boost his poll numbers, and his poll standing is desperately low, what does he do?

Tony Abbott has made a profession of demonising asylum-seekers and Muslims and pretending that the world faces an existential threat from the terrorist Islamic State group.

In recent times Abbott has gone back to similar tactics. First, he engineered a “request” from the US, for Australia to join in air strikes on Syria.

It was trumpeted as the US asking Australia to join. Not as it really happened.

This is a disgraceful thing to do, showing clearly that Abbott does not mind sacrificing young lives – the men and women of the armed forces – in order to prolong his political life.

And then the farce of the Australian Border Force informing all and sundry that it would be taking what amounts to Stasi tactics on the streets of Melbourne to detect visa evaders and violators added another dose of fear too.

Of course, Abbott denies he was involved in this exercise. So too does the immigration minister, Peter Dutton. The whole thing is put down to a badly written press release.

One needs to keep in mind that Abbott is on the record with an extremely reliable politician, Tony Windsor, as saying that he (Abbott) would do anything but sell his arse to become prime minister. This memorable quote was made to Windsor during the time when neither Labor nor the Coalition had the numbers to form government in 2010 and the support of three independents, Windsor among them, was desperately being sought.

If he was willing to do anything to gain the prime ministership, is it any wonder that Abbott is now trying anything and everything to avoid defeat in the next federal election?

Terror raids reprise one of the oldest games in politics

They call them anti-terror raids, though one has to ask seriously whether they are stopping anything at all. An idle conversation where a man who is worked up blurts out, “I would like to shove a bomb up his arse” can always be interpreted by an over-zealous, dumb police officer as a terror threat.

The timing of the raids in Brisbane and Sydney was very neat – it all happened very close to September 11, the day that all people in the West associate with terrorism. It’s a good time to stage such raids and raise the fear factor.

Politicians all over the world know the value of the politics of fear. Scare the bejesus out of the populace and the ratings of a president or prime minister generally tend to rise. And Tony Abbott has been in sore need of just such a rise in ratings ever since his treasurer, Joe Hockey, brought down an ideological budget that taxes the poor and makes the rich richer.

It is no coincidence that nobody is talking about the measures in the budget which have still to be passed – a fancy parental leave scheme that would benefit the rich, the changes to education that would again ensure that only people with money can acquire an university education, the changes to welfare payments that would deprive young people of the dole for the first six months they are eligible for it… it goes on.

It would appear from all the blather that Abbott and his ministers – particularly the attorney-general George “Metadata” Brandis – have been spouting that Australia is about to be subjected to numerous attacks by terrorists.

One account is that there was a plan to behead someone in public. You know, cut off the head of Mr Average Citizen. Another was to blow up Parliament House. And so on.

But the evidence for all these plots is hidden from public view – that’s a convenient smokescreen to make any and all allegations and make a gullible public scared enough to accept it.

Governments have been doing this kind of thing for centuries. Remember the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incidents which served to kick off the US involvement in Vietnam? Remember the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the weapons which still have not been sighted?

The tragedy in all this is that there are no journalists with the balls to question anything. They dumbly swallow all the tales trotted out and even magnify them to make the whole thing seem scarier. Before the whole charade was kicked off, Abbott announced a sum of $630 million for the security forces over four years – including the “spy” agency ASIO which has never caught a single spy – and, of course, they have repaid his munificence in spades.

Some years ago, the American journalist Matt Taibbi, when writing about the late Christopher Hitchens’ criticism of Michael Moore for his film Fahrenheit 9/11, defended Moore by saying that if one American scribe had shouted out “bullshit” when George W. Bush was ratcheting up the fear factor with his talk of WMD and trying to push an invasion of Iraq, then the whole thing might have just died a premature death. Taibbi made the point to emphasise that Moore’s film was doing just that and would have been unnecessary had the media done its role as the fourth estate.

This time, too, there is no-one to call out that one word, to be sceptical and raise questions about this whole terror play. It is a sad day for the media – and yet people wonder why newspapers are losing readers when they serve as another arm of government propaganda.

Welcome to Team Australia.

When the US bombed Al Jazeera, were journalists not prevented from doing their jobs?

The moment a Western journalist is treated in the Middle East in a manner that is deemed to be different to that in his own country, the West does tend to get rather heavy on the moralising and judgemental pronouncements.

Peter Greste, a journalist for Al Jazeera, the TV network that has revolutionised coverage of the Arab world, was given a sentence of seven years jail on what seems to be trumped up charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood came to power in elections in Egypt after the so-called Arab Spring had resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak who, at one stage, looked like having a permanent mortgage on leading the country, either on his own or through his descendants.

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood began to do what all governments do – govern for themselves – and discontent grew among people who believed all the propaganda that had been spouted in the run-up to the elections. Finally, the military, sensing the mood and knowing that their intervention would be welcome, took over and installed Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as the ruler. One thing has changed – the chief financier. In the days of Mubarak, it was the US; the Brotherhood had a money tap in Qatar and the military that toppled it owes its sustenance to Saudi Arabia which abhors the sight of an administration run by the Brotherhood. The Al Saud know that the day that fundamentalists take power in the Miuslim world, it will spell the end of their own reign and hence they do whatever they can to keep this brand of Islam in the cupboard as far as possible.

Greste has been caught up in the middle of this political snakepit. Egypt’s current administration wants to send a message to Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, and that is what this is all about.

But in the midst of all the Western raving about the seven-year sentence meted out to Greste, one fact has not been mentioned: when Al Jazeera was doing some pretty robust reporting on the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Americans had no hesitation about bombing the rooms in which the staff of the TV network were staying. One journalist was killed. There was no hubbub at the time about the Americans getting in the way of journalists who were just doing their job. Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair were in on this act.

Of course, this is not the first time, the US has attacked Al Jazeera.

That same US is now crying foul about the sentences meted out to Greste and two of his colleagues and claiming that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs! So who showed Egypt the way?

That the US has no influence in the Middle East has never been demonstrated in a starker manner. The secretary of state, John Kerry, did try to intervene, but was brushed aside. Why should Sisi listen to someone when he has a money spigot that leads to someone else? The Saudis have indicated that they will prop up any government that keeps the Islamists at bay and Sisi is perfectly happy to do just that.

Australia’s medical research fund is made up of funny money

AUSTRALIA normally does not keep talking about its annual federal budget much longer than a week or 10 days. The populace is inclined to look to its own selfish needs and is largely oblivious to the bigger picture.

But this year is different. The budget was presented to parliament on May 13 and nearly a month later, the government is still struggling to sell it to the public.

This is because there are cuts aplenty, largely for the poor and middle-class, and these have not gone down well. The fees in universities will go up due to deregulation. Petrol costs will go up due to the re-introduction of indexation.

Funds to science bodies like the CSIRO have been cut – this is a cabonet which has no minister for science, yet talks of being the government of innovation.

To balance this, the government claims it will create a medical research fund which will reach $20 billion over six years. It is this fund that puzzles me – where does the money come from?

The government has introduced a $7 payment for the first 10 visits to a doctor and says that some part of this, plus other cuts to aspects of health will make up a $20 billion.

The cuts to the health sector are listed here. They are supposed to make up this huge amount. But it just doesn’t compute.

What I have done is to extrapolate the amounts and see how much they will raise over the six years till 2020.

The first amount listed is $197,100,000 being saved over three years. Doubling that gives us $394,200,000 over six years.

Then there are numerous amounts to be saved over four years:

2,300,000
9,900,000
200,000
142,000,000
115,400,000
53,800,000
400,000
2,900,000
367,900,000
201,000,000
390,000,000
89,600,000
4,400,000
14,400,000
229,000,000
1,800,000,000
15,200,000
22,800,000
9,600,000
1,300,000,000

Totalling up these amounts, one gets $4,925,200,000. Extrapolating for six years, one gets $7,387,600,000.

Then the following amounts are listed as being saved over five years.

6,400,000
266,700,000
1,700,000,000
3,500,000,000

Totalling them gives us $5,473,100,000. And working it out to six years, makes a figure of $6,567,720,000.

If all these sums are added up, we get $14,349,520,000. Let’s add a very generous amount of $2 billion as interest over the six years.

That gives us a rounded figure of $17 billion, tops. Where does the other $3 billion come from?

Voted for Abbott? Then just suck it up

TODAY, a large proportion of the Australian populace is groaning after hearing of the measures which have been brought down in the 2014 budget.

Last September, many of those people blithely voted for the Liberal and National coalition and propelled them into government.

There’s just one thing to say to this mob: suck it up.

Abbott has brought in a rise in university fees, something in keeping with this government’s anti-intellectual character.

There is no mention of climate change and no planning for it; this will again affect the younger generation who will have to cope with a warmer world when they grow up.

Abbott has also ensured that Australians no longer have universal healthcare. Everyone who visits a doctor, apart from those who have seniors cards or healthcards, will have to pay $7. Those who have medicine prescribed will have to fork out another $5 per prescription.

Some part of this money will go into a medical research fund which is touted as reaching $20 billion by 2020, six years from now.

But the figures don’t add up. Let’s assume that Australia has 23 million people (the actual figure is a wee bit less) and that every one of those people goes to the doctor 10 times a year. That adds up to 230 million visits; multiply that by $7 and you get $1,610,000,000.

The doctor gets $2 of the $7 fee so this measure will raise $1,150,000,000 for the fund.

Let’s again assume that each Australian gets five prescriptions; that gives us 115 million prescriptions and at $5 a pop it gives us $575 million. That makes it a grand total of $1.725 billion.

Over six years, we get $10.35 billion. Let’s add $1 billion as interest over those six years, assuming the money is invested as it comes in. Yes, it’s a high rate of interest, but never mind.

The government has said it is putting in $1.1 billion at the start; in total, that gives us $12.46 billion in all.

Where does the other $7-odd billion come from?

Abbott can’t do sums, it appears. Neither can his treasurer Joe Hockey. Nor his finance minister Matthias Cormann.

The ABC is a master of weasel words

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a huge organisation, funded by public money, that dominates the media in Australia. It purports to be among the most liberal and forwar-thinking. Yet oft times, it is exposed as having a colonial outlook, one that harks back to the days of British Raj.

This is not surprising – Australia was settled by British convicts but the rulers were the upper classes from Britain. For many years, Australia had a whites-only migration policy.

For the most part I ignore the clear evidence of discrimination that I notice on the national broadcaster. But at times I react – as I did on September 5 this year, nine days before the federal elections. I submitted the following complaint:
Continue reading The ABC is a master of weasel words

Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

SO Egypt’s mild flirtation with democracy a la West is over. And it is unlikely to ever return. It’s happened on a good day too – the US celebrates its independence day and Egypt celebrates military rule. What a coincidence!!!

The problem is that the West wants its own systems imposed on other countries – in order to benefit economically. The idea that one cannot bring in a Westminster system and superimpose it on a different model does not really register with people at the US state department.

Mohammed Mursi is from the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be less extreme in his thinking than others in the same movement. But, obviously, he has never been a candidate of choice for the folk in Washington.
Continue reading Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

Blurring the message

GONE are the days when politicians would speak directly to the people in order to communicate their message. These days, politicians use the media as a shield to try and get the message across.

That’s why they fail to win popular support.

It’s difficult to understand why, if politicians are seeking public support, they cannot go out and interact with the source of their power. Unless, of course, they are bad communicators, are afraid of being embarrassed in public, or are simply ill at ease with crowds.

The Australian Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, is not the most intelligent person in politics in the country; he is not an attractive individual in many ways. But he is brave enough to go out in public and mix with people. Sometimes he comes off as a buffoon, at others, h strikes a chord with the crowd. But no matter what the outcome, he takes that risk.

That is why a man who is detested by the intelligentsia at large now looks very much like becoming the next prime minister when the country goes to the polls in 2013.

Undoubtedly, once Abbott comes to power, people will tire of him pretty soon as he is largely a policy-free zone. He is akin to the premier of the state of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, who was elected in 2010 and had no real plan for the state. Hence he does nothing. He has no ideas, no vision, no plans. He just wants to keep things on an even keel – and that is a difficult proposition during a time when global economic conditions are conspiring against Australia.

Using the media as a shield is not always a good idea. At times, one comes across a journalist and then the politician stands exposed. Hence politicians tend to favour those who will give them an easy ride – people whom one cannot call journalists, people who are more oriented to behave as PR professionals would.

There is a school of thought that manipulation of public sentiment can continue ad infinitum. This is a serious mistake. At some stage, the people do react and will not take it any longer. News Corporation, the biggest media organisation in the world, found this out in a different context when it hacked into the phone of a deal girl and gave the impression that she was still alive; the public reaction forced the prime minister of Britain to act and now the brown stuff has fallen all over the company.

But taking a risk is not part of a politician’s routine. He or she follows the dictates of spinmeisters until the day of being ejected from that seat arrives. Then comes a vow to do it better the next time around. A time which, sometimes, does not eventuate.

The China wave

PROFESSOR Zhang Weiwei is not particularly well-known around the world. An author and former translator for the Chinese supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, Zhang is, however, a very important figure in China.

He has written a ground-breaking book, The China Wave – which has not, as far as I can make out, been translated into English – about China’s way of approaching development and one that is attracting great interest in his home country.

In an interview with the one news service that seems to have a knack for ferreting out the interesting and the newsworthy – Al Jazeera – Zhang made some very interesting observations.

In the West, whenever China is discussed, there are plenty of Western “experts” on call who offer opinion after opinion, many of which are, frankly, silly and born of a lack of education. Western news services seem to fight shy of calling on the Chinese themselves to analyse their own country.

Zhang’s point of view, is, in this context, refreshing, simply because he turns the lens on aspects of China which nobody so far has even thought relevant.

For example, one of the West’s preoccupations is that in a few decades China could well become the most powerful country in the world; with that as background, Western countries are forever postulating how China should become a democracy.

But Zhang points to an aspect of this democracy debate that has never been highlighted – if China had had a one-man one-vote system, he says, the country would have had a peasant government given its population structure. Such a government would be very nationalistic – and would probably go to war with Taiwan. Or even with Japan.

Is that what the West wants? Certainly not, says Zhang, and that is a very good reason why China needs the kind of government it has at the current time.

Another argument that the West uses against China is the question of individual rights. Zhang points out given China’a past – when right from the 1800s the longest period of internal stability has been eight or nine years – the average Chinese values internal stability much more. For the last three decades, there have been no invasions or internal uprisings in China and from the Chinese point of view that is much more important than the freedom to protest.

The West often tries to pass off its system of government – where accountability comes at the ballot box every three or four years – as superior to that in China where a nine-man politbureau is the supreme decision-making body. But as Zhang points out, the basic criterion for any member of this body is that he or she should have been a successful governor of a province for at least two terms. And as he points out, these are provinces which often have four or five times the population of an European country.

Zhang even has a little dig at the US here, pointing out that under such a system as this, a man like George W. Bush would never have been chosen as a leader.

As to Western fears of Chinese expansionism, Zhang is quick to point out that Beijing built a great wall to keep others out; in other words, its main preoccupation is internal social stability, not taking over and running the affairs of others.

He emphasises the value that China places on its past, the fact that people always look to history to understand the present and the future. Despite the fact that Mandarin has been in use for nearly 3500 years, he points out that the teachings of Confucius can still be read and understood by the average educated school child. This is in stark contrast to the fact that even a professor at an English university often cannot understand the works of Shakespeare as they were originally written.

Thus, China has a vast store of historic cultural wealth in its vaults that it can draw on and use while deciding about its future. This is not available to the West.

Zhang also points out that while the West is prone to laud its systems as superior, there has been no job creation in the US since 2008. By contrast in China, every year for the last three decades, there has been growth and job creation at every level, down to the smallest unit under governance. Why should China then adopt Western systems which have been shown to be inferior?

In short, Zhang shows that it is often more useful to look at the East through its own eyes, rather than consistently yielding to the big mistake of trying to measure Eastern achievements with a Western tape measure.