Monthly Archives: February 2014


By what fool is it thought repeated blows to the head occasioning death is not murder?

Only one. Scott Morrison.

Goodbye Kangaroo

It’s clear after Qantas that competitive global capitalism doesn’t work any more, not after the GFC shrank everybody’s appetite for entrepreneurial adventure, and the only thing that might work is government-funded, ungreedy enterprises like the BBC which make good products and, if they occasionally lose money, are propped up by the taxpayer.

Consider where Qantas would be if it hadn’t been given over — by Keating, the bright fool — to shareholder greed and successive CEOs earning millions, forty times as much as most of their employees, men who had never flown a plane, or loaded one.

It would now be run by a public servant, on 400,000 dollars a year, and still employing 50,000 Australians and still the safest airline in the sky. Some years, it might have lost a million dollars, or even ten, and cost each taxpayer eighty cents that year. And three generations of children would have gone to school untraumatised by the unjust sacking of a parent.

Its planes would arrive and depart on time, because there would have been enough baggage-handlers and passport-processors to ensure this. It would have a really good reputation and lots of people would be travelling on it, sometimes to Australia.

It would not be subject to the brain-snaps of an Irish dimwit (hey! let’s buy two planes each time Virgin buys one!; hey! let’s kill off Perth as a destination!; hey! let’s go on strike and so disrupt the Melbourne Cup!) and the weird religion of the Palestinian fundamentalist Hockey who, by losing 500 jobs a day thinks he’s improving the bottom line.

Because people aren’t fools. They know if you tell them it takes 40,000 people to to keep an airline safe and then you sack 5,000 of them you’re making it more dangerous. They know that. They get that. And when they do, when they get that, they fly less often with you.

If this were a government enterprise, and profit were less of an issue, and there were 50,000 not 35,000 in Qantas’s employ, most of them Australian, it wouldn’t be in any trouble today.

Eighty cents a year, or even five dollars a year, is not too big an ask from the taxpayer for a national carrier beloved across the world that brings people here, to spend money here.

Think about this, and think about buying Qantas back, or twenty percent of it, and getting an ex-pilot, on a mere one million a year, to run it.

Why Qantas Is Important (2)

Strange how even the slippery Abbott was trapped into doing, yesterday, the one thing that was bound to destroy him.

This was refusing to guarantee a Qantas loan.

This is like refusing legal help to Paul Hogan if he was gaoled overseas — for drinking Fosters, say, in Saudi Arabia.

For Qantas, like Hoges, is a very Australian thing. It’s an Australian invention, built by Australian excellence. It was our trademark triumph over gravity, and the tyranny of distance, and the curse of time. It encourages tourism almost as much, dare I say, as Cadbury’s. And selling it off is like selling off Anzac Day to Syria, or donating Don Bradman to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It’s a flying billboard. It calls Australia home. It, like the 2000 Olympics, makes people want to come here. Why get rid of it? Why get rid of it?

How mad they are.

They might as well be speaking in tongues, like S&M does on Sundays.

Are they unAustralian?

Of course they are.

Lines For Tony Abbott (15)

Unlike Qantas, Cadbury’s encourages tourism, and so deserves all the … all the… money we …

Let me read that again.

In Fifty-Eight Words

If we do it for Qantas we’ll have to do it for everybody, Abbott says. He didn’t use that line when he did it for Cadbury’s.

No, he said Cadbury’s encouraged tourism, and this was a reason to fund it.

Qantas does nothing of the sort, of course. It’s nothing to do with tourism.

What an idiot he is.

In Four Words

Who murdered Reza Barati?

Lines For Albo (65)

Not helping Qantas is like hanging, drawing and quartering Paul Hogan.

How dumb they are. How dumb they are.

A Question To Paul Murray

Was Afghanistan a success? Or a failure?

Was Vietnam a success? Or a failure?

Just asking.

In Eight Words

Who killed Reza Barati? Has he been arrested?

In Twenty-Four Words

Lee Rigby’s brutal murderers will never get out of prison. Reza Barati’s brutal murderers are earning good Morrison money, for a job well done.

The Tolling Of The Bell

A line has been crossed, and the Abbott government has no admirers any more, not even in its own back bench.

It happened yesterday, in five overlapping storylines. One was giving Queensland farmers ten times what the workers of Shepparton and the farmers of the Goulburn Valley asked for in vain, and calling drought a ‘natural disaster’ and the GFC and the high dollar no such thing, no excuse for a dip in profits of any company anywhere. One was demanding Qantas sack Australians in thousands if it was going to get any taxpayers’ money; Australian taxpayers’ money.

One was saying you can’t criticise a man in uniform if a brutal death — like Reza Barati’s, like Lee Rigby’s — happens on his watch, and sixty head injuries, and he covers the details up. One was denying Nash had misled Parliament, and saying she was a really good health minister though she did the junk food business’s bidding corruptly, it would now seem. One was Bronwyn Bishop showing senility in eight of her rulings, and disgracing the office she was in.

Cumulatively, they made the government seem amateur, frantic, low grade and creepy. And it’s hard to crawl back up the greasy pole from there.

Tomorrow they will declare five thousand Qantas workers, a nation’s iconic heroes, not worth saving and better replaced by foreigners. Then, as Lee Rigby’s brutal murderers’ punishment is made known, they may be asked why Reza Barati’s brutal murderers are still on full pay, unimprisoned and menacing witnesses. And why Morrison, who is ‘not a wimp’, has not gone to Manus yet, and is cowering back in Canberra as a true wimp would.

Can the government come back from here? It would require a 9/11 for them to do so. They are costing us five hundred jobs a day, and thousands of children’s livelihoods, and railing against the Carbon Tax, and calling its axing a ‘plan for new jobs’.

They don’t get it, and think they have rusted-on supporters, and they don’t, any more than Campbell Newman, bound now to lose his own seat, has rusted-on supporters, any more.

It is time the GG got rid of them, calling a new election to coincide with the Senate in WA. If she did, Labor, Palmer, Katter, Wilkie and the Greens would pick up forty-five seats.

It’s a no-brainer. She should do it, and save the nation from what seems now a building, spreading catastrophe.

How To Fix Everything

It’s passing strange, as Kim used to say, that the way to fix things is plain as the nose on your face, and wanted by nearly everyone, and no politician wants to do it.

What is needed is the enactment of a sort of negative GST. You reduce all rents by a third, and parking station fees by three quarters.

This puts a trillion dollars back in the economy, allows some wages to come down, and a lot of prices to come down, and a whole lot of small businesses to stay in business, employing people, young people especially. Shoe shops, flower shops, newsagents paying 3,000 a week will pay 2,000. Flats will cost not 450 a week but 300.

It will annoy a hundred thousand people, and gratify twenty million.

Why not simply do it?

Just asking.

How To Fix Qantas

Pass a law requiring both Qantas and Virgin to raise their fares by twelve percent.

Require them as well to suspend Frequent Flyer fares for a year, or maybe two years.

And to replace Joyce, and two of the Board, with former pilots, baggage handlers, or engineers.

If it’s still losing, say, fifty million a year, put on each taxpayer a levy of four dollars a year. If he doesn’t want to pay it, let him write in and ask for his four dollars back, and send it to him.

Shorten’s Moment

All those watching Shorten’s speech in the House will admire him now. The stunned faces of the government, and the jibes of Julie Bishop while he was PRAISING Angus Campbell, indicate how deep he struck, and how lethally he wounded. One could almost detect some evidence of shame.

How the press will report it, I do not know. But anyone who sees it in replay will observe an engrossing performance unlike any since Beazley at his best.

No doubt what followed, an argument with Bronwyn Bishop about an amendment she, in breach of all precedent, disallowed, may consume the media. But the great parliamentary moment, of what seems like a great party leader, will be what survives in history.

And I ask that you watch it, if you can.

Bronwyn Bishop: The Sunset Years

Any observer of Question Time today, and any reader of Hansard tomorrow, would come to the conclusion, or begin to suspect, that Bronwyn Bishop is losing her mind.

She is exactly my age, and within the reach of senility, and should undergo tests.

Lines For Tony Abbott (15)

Drought is like a natural disaster, but the GFC is not. Though it smashed big parts of our economy, and many, many lives and lifestyles as surely as the Christchurch earthquake, we won’t lift a finger to put those lives back together.

That’s not what we’re about. That would be like … helping people.

And, shucks, we’re sworn, Madam Speaker, we’re sworn, hand on heart, never to do that.

Lines For Albo (64)

Scott Morrison is not a wimp? Scott Morrison is not a wimp?! He’s such a wimp that he’s not yet, in nine days, flown to Manus Island! To appreciate the situation! To interview the witnesses! To ask the murderers, politely, why they killed that man, and not another!

Not a wimp? Not a wimp? He’s the biggest!

Ten Easy Steps

(From Ginny Lowndes)

Australia has completed these ten easy steps to fascism in six months. Well done. Ozzie. Ozzie. Ozzie.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.

There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space – the globe itself is the battlefield. “This time,” Fein says, “there will be no defined end.”

Creating a terrifying threat – hydra-like, secretive, evil – is an old trick. It can, like Hitler’s invocation of a communist threat to the nation’s security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the “global conspiracy of world Jewry”, on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain – which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks – than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

2. Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA “black site” prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can’t investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don’t generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: “First they came for the Jews.” Most Americans don’t understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People’s Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.

3. Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode – but the administration’s endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for “public order” on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station “to restore public order”.

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

5. Harass citizens’ groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”. The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, “because I was on the Terrorist Watch list”.

“Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that,” asked the airline employee.

“I explained,” said Murphy, “that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution.”

“That’ll do it,” the man said.

Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of “enemy of the people” tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

7. Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that “waterboarding is torture” was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were “coordinated” too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

8. Control the press

Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s – all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened “critical infrastructure” when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy – a form of retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC’s Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN’s Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

9. Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”. When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times’ leaking of classified information “disgraceful”, while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the “treason” drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.

Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and “beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death”, according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

In Stalin’s Soviet Union, dissidents were “enemies of the people”. National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy “November traitors”.

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done. “We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model – you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we’re going to hold you,” says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests – usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn’t real dissent. There just isn’t freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

10. Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens.

Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears’s meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole’s baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: “A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night … Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any ‘other condition’.”

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are “at war” in a “long war” – a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president – without US citizens realising it yet – the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions – and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the “what ifs”.

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack – say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani – because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us – staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody’s help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

· Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot will be published by Chelsea Green in September.

CJ, The Musical

After The Gielgud Memorandum did so well I’m planning, with the same cast, An Evening Without Clive James, using mostly his verse and songs, and my few memories of him. A Sample.

Event Horizon

For years we fooled ourselves. Now we can tell
How everyone our age heads for the brink
Where they are drawn into the unplumbed well,
Not to be seen again. How sad, to think
People we once loved will be with us there
And we not touch them, for it is nowhere.

Never to taste again her pretty mouth!
It’s been forever, though, since last we kissed.
Shadows evaporate as they go south,
Torn, by whatever longings still persist,
Into a tattered wisp, a streak of air,
And then not even that. They get nowhere.

But once inside, you will have no regrets.
You go where no one will remember you.
You go below the sun when the sun sets,
And there is nobody you ever knew
Still visible, nor even the most rare
Hint of a face to humanise nowhere.

Are you to welcome this? It welcomes you.
The only blessing of the void to come
Is that you can relax. Nothing to do,
No cruel dreams of subtracting from your sum
Of follies. About those, at last, you care:
But soon you need not, as you go nowhere.

Into the singularity we fly
After a stretch of time in which we leave
Our lives behind yet know that we will die
At any moment now. A pause to grieve,
Burned by the starlight of our lives laid bare,
And then no sound, no sight, no thought. Nowhere.

What is it worth, then, this insane last phase
When everything about you goes downhill?
This much: you get to see the cosmos blaze
And feel its grandeur, even against your will,
As it reminds you, just by being there,
That it is here we live or else nowhere.

TLS, May 10, 2013

Ukraine: An Exchange

Al Berzins February 25, 2014 at 1.10 pm

Hot issue for me as an Australian Latvian. Looks highly likely that Putin will occupy East Ukraine and Crimea to ‘protect Russians’ and get away with it same as he did in Georgia. EU/US Pressure will hopefully keep him out of West Ukraine. Heavy flow of Russian tanks is reported through Novorossiysk on East Ukraine border.

Ex Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister on Lateline last night said that Chief of Russian Intellegence (old KGB) was personally directing Russian snipers shooting Ukrainians. Many of the 88 dead were shot in the head by Russian sharpshooters. Will be interesting who rises to the top in Presidential Election. An experienced fresh face is required and not Tymishenko (tainted) or the Boxer (inexperienced).

Klondike Rob, 2:00 pm

I think you are fairly right in your assessment. There will be a redrawing of the eastern boundary of Ukraine along ethnic lines and in accord with Putin’s demands. Ukraine will protest, undoubtedly defend their core territory bravely, but will be sufficiently wise to know that America and the EU will not risk a conflict in their defence. A flow of refugees each way will follow and a new boundary will be drawn. There has long been a divide between these two ethnic groups, so what is unfolding is perhaps inevitable. Not right, but inevitable. Russia rules, ok?

Bob Ellis, 5:50 pm

Bless you.

Klondike Rob, like Mr Dick, sets us all right.

Klondike Rob, 8:56 pm

Goodness me, I do not seek to set anyone right. But, I expect this is how it will turn out. The key variable is the degree of violence Mr Putin cares to exercise. He knows there will be no effective outside resistance to whatever he chooses to do.

But he also knows Ukraine will put up a stiff resistance with their armed forces and civilian action – making the place a very costly exercise to conquer and occupy. Subversion of Ukraine politics will follow.

Whatever you may think of Putin, he is no fool. It’s hard, perhaps, for Australians to “appreciate” someone like Putin after decades of fools for politicians here.

Frank, 1:15 pm

I was amazed to take a glimpse behind the fence of Yanukovych’s private bolt hole.

These ex presidents always seem to amass incredible luxury. At the end of their reign, true to type. they all leave the same burnt bits of paper behind in the shed…

I do like his house though. Its a kind of Neo-Imperial Fascist Hunting Lodge that Scott Morrison would enjoy strutting around in his slippers with a hunting rifle perched off his shoulder!

The alternative candidate. The woman with the blonde braids, I don’t trust either.

l’Inconnu, 2:15 pm

Czechoslovakia 1968. The USA certainly had power though.

La triviala, 2:20 pm

Nobody gives a fuck about the Ukraine, it’s all about the gas. The price, the flow, the guarantee of flow, Russia to Europe via the Ukraine.

The debt, the stealing of gas, the non-payment for gas, and the untapped gas deposits of the Ukraine itself.

But everything will be OK because the IMF and the World Bank are involved.

Gazprom is a monopoly and the West hates monopolies, especially when the West doesn’t have the monopoly of this monopoly.

James, 4:53 pm

“Nobody gives a fuck about Ukraine”. Ukrainians do. If the Russian invade and seize the Crimea as they look like doing then Ukraine will split into East and west and the culling will be on a par with the split in Yugoslavia in 1991. I believe Bob is correct and neither the US or the EU will take any tangible action. Mind you I wonder if Putin realises the response he is likely to get from Ukrainians?

Mal Kukura, 4:02 pm

A Private Kubrick Meditation:

With your Kubrick allusion Bob you gift us with a Pandora’s opportunity to comment on the longue duree in the perennial struggle that connects and transcends the cold war era of 1941-1991 and the permanent global war on terror since the New World Order of 1990 to the present day as the great recession grinds on like some monstrous tormenting agonizing creeping glacier.

Nuclear weapons – WMD – remain right in the centre of causes of the condition of decline of the world’s only remaining super-power.

In 1962 the Strangelove moment provoked (perhaps intentionally) by the Playa Giron hoax was played out by the two world champion geopolitical chess masters on the two sides in post WWII America.

The rivals trace their ancestry back to the 15th century barbarian invasion of the Carib’s island home and on the other side the 17th century Elizabethan era British countering movement by the Mayflower Pilgrims with their missionary affinity for the Reformation.

My paternal ancestors are Ukrainian yet I have no direct connection with today’s Ukraine.

The story dribbling thru the mass media lens is certainly enough to conjure up an awareness of a possible pre-meditated recycling of the strategy behind the pattern of events of 1959-1975 when the extreme right made their bid to finish what Hitler started in 1933 but were forced to withdraw from in 1975.

But it only took five years until the October surprize put them back in the drivers’ seats where they’ve been firmly in place until the GFC hit in late 2008.

Six years later the Tea Party neo-liberal version of the extreme right are financially more powerful than ever but their grip has been loosened since 2008 even if only very slightly.

The nuclear stand-off of October 1962 led directly to the invasion of IndoChina in March 1965 but only after the coup of November 1963 made it clear to everyone who mattered that democracy was dead and a new invisible King was on the throne – at least until 1976.

If it is today indeed another Strangelove moment – where is the next war to be provoked? If the Ukraine is to be divided, Putin will be under pressure to act to ensure there is no repeat in the Caspian basin.

The Syrian powder-keg, were it to blow up all of Mesopotamia might make some tidy war profits with less than minimal risk of a nuclear exchange but it’s still a risk no sane person could want just as the risk of nuclear exchange in 1962 was insane – but it did enable the massive $600 billion war “investment” that followed.

We should be on the lookout for any hints of nuclear sabre rattling over the Ukraine. If that happens then the probability is high that an expensive war will be waged somewhere else where there are “minimal” risks of WMD – but there are none left like IndoChina was in 1965 anymore.

Perhaps it is just media froth and bubble again.

Not a good time to be an Ostrich among the sand gropers.

Hemingway13, 5:48 pm

You obviously put a great deal of time into writing this interesting, lucid and lengthy comment.
I appreciated the opportunity of reading it.

Hugh Weiss, 5:30 pm

The real agenda for the Russians & Americans in the Black Sea region is over access & control of the flow of oil & gas from Central Asia. When things started to blow up in the Middle East, the Yanks resented Russia being involved & the deals it had done for control of oil fields with various regimes, before American influence could exert any influence.

At the same time Putin was using energy supply & Europe’s increasing dependency on supplies from Eastern Europe, as a political & economic tool. In the mid 2000s, Putin used disputes with Ukraine as justification for blocking pipelines transiting Ukraine to Western Europe.

Enter Chaney, Rumsfeld, then Rice, followed by Hillary Clinton agitating for new pipelines transiting western leaning Black Sea states, like Turkey & Georgia. And for the positioning of the now dead missile defence system. The yanks also started aggitating in Ukraine around the time Victor Yushchenko’s poisoning, for the Ukraine to terminate its military base assess for Russian forces.

One of Putin’s immediate actions was to encourage all those with any vestiage of Russian blood to apply for joint Russian citizenship & passport.

Georgia was the first to be taken out of the game, when Putin invaded to “defend the rights of ethnic Russians”.

Now he is repeating the same in Ukraine. Some millions of Ukrainians have taken up the passort offer. After all, Russian blood is everywhere in the Ukraine after decades of the Soviet & Russian Navies & Air Forces being based around Sevastapol & Odessa.

The yanks went into this exercise with their usual boots & all diplomacy, but in the end have proven to be unable to deliver on promises, or capable of projecting power into a resurgent Russia’s backyard.

It is interesting to look at geopolitical changes with an understanding of the cycle of rise & decline of empires in mind. The more powerful the economy, the greater is the cost of protecting & projecting power. Eventually, the cost becomes too great & destroys super powers from within.

Dare I say, the US reached its peak during WW2. It has not won a war or defeated an insurgency in any place bigger than Panama & Grenada since.

Putin must pissing himself laughing at the Yanks. Old Ronnie Reagan’s of bankrupting of the communist state is but a distant memory. I’m sure Putin thinks revenge is sweet.

Glow Worm 10:00 pm

Good post, Hugh Weiss. Russians, like their old nemesis the Chinese, have long memories and great patience and endurance.

Hemingway13, 5:36 pm

This current “impotent” phase of America might turn out to be similar to the decade following the madness and mass slaughter of Vietnam. The USA maintained a relatively low level of involvement until highly advantageous targets of opportunity came along to regain prestige for the U.S. military.

For a glimpse of the propaganda elements as well as the militarism of America’s resurgence during the Reagan presidency, I recommend DVD of “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986) directed by and starring Clint Eastwood as a traditionalist Marine Sergeant leading a platoon in the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.

Along with its gratuitous violence, there’s a considerable amount of sexist and homophobic language. As a Vietnam Vet, the dialogues of the non-coms in this script are consistent with what I experienced in the military.

I found it revealing that this sports metaphor is spoken in the film:
“0-1-1″ and, at the end, “1-1-1″.

These numbers are employed at first in relation to the Korean and Vietnam Wars and then after the Granada invasion.

Manus: Up Against The Wall, Poofter

I wasn’t aware till an hour ago that one gets thirteen years for homosexual practice in PNG, and some ‘transferees’ were nervous about this, and rioted when told they would never live anywhere else. Some were fleeing countries where gays were gaoled, or stoned to death, or spat upon, and here they were, in trouble again with militant wowsers, knives in hand, approaching by moonlight.

A respondent called Manus an ‘Abbott-run fascist state’, and I thought this to be an exaggeration, an hyperbowl, one recent eminent person might have called it. But Rory Callinan in the smh this morning also thinks it so. Photos were deleted, access denied, the body guarded in the morgue by men who may have killed it, a camera seized when Rory photographed Angus Campbell, his hospital visit a state secret, it would seem. How can such things be?

Well, if you can imprison for life gay men fleeing persecution, and be told you are not a ‘wimp’ by your thankful Prime Minister for having done so, anything is possible. And you may soon be treated as Putin treats your kind: gay men, journos, democrats, oppositionists, up against the wall.

I had not thought it would be this bad. But Tony Abbott, whom I had believed for a while a friend, has become a kind of gremlin, chittering and drooling and leaping about and shaming his party — the party of Menzies, Fraser, Chaney, Peacock, Turnbull — in obscene, unexpected ways. His mentor Santamaria would be aghast. His ally Peter Costello thinks him innumerate. His fellow Christian Tim Costello thinks him a monster. His confessor Pell is wisely leaving the country.

And his gay lifelong prisoners will not be allowed to speak to his inquiry of the murder of a friend. How bad is that. How close to a crime against humanity.

Worse days are coming, I fear me, old friend, and our democracy shrinking.

And so it goes.

Manus: A Hypothetical

The Campbell-Conroy clash of yesterday I happened to watch live, and found unremarkable. But when Johnston wanted an apology for it from Conroy, for his having said the obvious, if you don’t answer the question it’s a cover-up, it occurred to me that more might be going on than the nation had previously thought. Why are they so skittish?

Let’s see. What follows is a hypothetical.

Campbell flew to Manus and soon found the killers of Reza, still at work in the compound, were menacing the surviving witnesses into silence, and the principal thugs were technically still working for Morrison or his delegated company, and twenty of them, like the king-hit Kings Cross killers, should by rights be doing seven years, mandatory. He informed Morrison who panicked, and by Wednesday morning was trying to cover up an event as big as the bikie shoot-out at Milperra. Campbell was uneasy at this cover-up, and said Morrison should come clean, or he would.

Morrison, even more panicked by now, did his Saturday night letter-drop and went home to pray. But his craven back-down raised more gremlins than it smothered. It was now fairly clear a number of violent men were on his payroll and a number of refugees, probably, willing to dob them.

He then worked out with Cabinet, or with his bureaucrats, or with his spin-men, or Abbott’s, an inquiry that did not (I hope I’ve got this right) interview ‘transferees’. Angus Campbell was ropeable, said you can’t get away with this, and yesterday, when accused by Conroy of a cover-up, blew his stack.

Now … given all this, given that there has been no autopsy, no arrest of suspects, no reporters let in to speak to ‘transferees’ in hospital, given their determination to let somebody get away with murder, the question arises, what else are they lying about?

Is it possible, just possible, some boats are getting through? and they’re lying about that also? And they’re doing what in fact is really illegal, which is taking children found on an Australian beach in an orange lifeboat to an Indonesian beach, and dumping them there?

This would account for why they are still refusing to say how many boats have been intercepted. It would account for why Campbell is so obviously scared of being accused of a cover-up, on any front. And why the details of the riot are being sat on.

Are the boats, in fact, still coming? And have some got through?

Just asking.

Kafka Alert (1)

Fans of Kafka will derive much pleasure from Hanson-Young versus Bowles in the Senate Estimates this afternoon.

Bowles is unable to say if any violent killers are still at work on Manus, nor if he told his Minister it was safe to send people there, nor where the violence occurred, nor when, nor when he discovered it had occurred for certain, nor when told his Minister about it, nor if he knows for sure his Minister’s name, nor if the murderer is still drawing wages, nor if he did anything wrong, nor what his own birthday is, or his own middle name.

He is a joyous character whom Sterne, Dickens, Waugh, Cleese, Clarke, Doyle, Watson, Biggins, Milligan and Kafka would covet and cherish, and he should be lovingly studied in detail, clause by clause, digression by digression, by all who value the art of intricate evasion, and revel in the pliability of multisyllabic, mandarin English when used in the cause of maintaining and praising tyranny.

Punch him up and check him out. You’ll be so glad you did.

Why Qantas Is Different

Qantas became known as the world’s best airline because Australian pilots, repairmen, baggage handlers and stewards worked harder and better over sixty years at their testing jobs than anyone else in the airline business. It has been thought since then that half of these clever Australians could be sacked without harm to its reputation, and half the remaining jobs could be done by lesser nations and planes would not, then, begin to suddenly lose altitude, catch fire, overshoot, arrive late or otherwise alarm their passengers and shrink their customer base.

This proved not to be true. And Alan Joyce, who is not an Australian, will soon propose to sack even more Australians and thus, by juggling figures, mysteriously fix the problem, he says.

He is not an Australian, and he does not understand that Australians are proud of Qantas because it is an Australian invention, an Australian flagship, an Australian flying flagship, and if it becomes a half-Arab flying flagship they will fly on other carriers. Alan Joyce is as stupid as that.

This, then, is the story. And if a Qantas Levy were each year imposed on each Australian, and it were a hundred and fifty dollars a year, and the money were used over time to buy Qantas back, and bring Qantas jobs back home, no Australian would resent it.

I commend this levy to Tony Abbott, and, of course, to the Labor Party.

Lines For Tony Abbott (14)

By the next morning, by the next morning, the camp was operating, and the murderers, Madam Speaker, all the murderers, Madam Speaker, were safely back in charge.

The Strangelove Moment: Putin/Obama/Ukraine

It had to come, I guess, but the Ukraine facedown, shakedown and civil war will show, at last, what long has been plain to some of us, that America has no power in the world any more.

Putin will make war, and Obama cannot move. The country will be split, or re-conquered, and the criminal Yanukovych restored to some sort of power (as Mussolini was by Hitler in 1945), and the US will not move. No Strangelove Moment will occur, no Fail-Safe hotline be picked up, no bombers take off and head for wintry Siberia. The giant will sit helpless; then turn his back, and mutter of other things.

This has been in the works ever since Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment, of a country still racked by suicide bombings, eleven years ago. Since then America, like Baghdad Bob, have been proclaiming victory, or ‘peace with honour’, everywhere and demanding, like Canute, that the waves recede. It did not happen, and here we are.


Orwellian Excursions (1)

The Orwellian slicing-and-dicing of the language that the Abbottites like to try has invaded lately even their three-worder, Stop the Boats.

The boats have stopped, S&M says, which implies none are coming. But one came last week, and twenty-six people in it were resmuggled into Indonesia, in a boat we gave them. When asked how many others have come, S&M won’t say. It’s an ‘on-water, operational matter’, he bays, whose details are secret, lest the criminals he is donating boats to be ‘encouraged’.

So: though twelve boats, maybe, have come in the last sixty-seven days, none have ‘arrived’. Therefore, none have come. Therefore, the boats have stopped.

Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-four is shown three fingers and told he must say there are four. This is what S&M is doing to us lately, or trying to.

This is pretty scary stuff and will, until they are sacked, continue.

Lies upon lies upon lies.


Lines For Richard Marles (7)

I ask the Minister:

Have arrests occurred in the week since the murder of Reza Barati?

Murder On Manus (5): Erasing The Tapes

It is hard to see why the press should be stopped from interviewing witnesses to a murder, their cameras seized and their footage erased. This is what happens in police states, like Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela.

Why not investigate who killed a man, and ask him if he did it? Our government finds good cause for this, and will not answer questions about it.

What state secret is involved? We are not at war with PNG, or, as yet, Iran. Somebody killed somebody, stomped him to death, stomped a model prisoner to death, in an affray whose injuries affected no prison guards or local police. Clearly the murderer should be found, lest he murder again.

What possible cause can the government have for protecting him from reporters, and erasing their tapes?

Just asking.

Today’s Newspoll

It is possible O’Shannessy was fighting drunk when he put up 54 last night for Labor. He names, for instance, Rudd as leader of the Liberal Party, and Abbott of the Labor Party in one column, a culpable inaccuracy, and gives Shorten a ‘first time negative’ rating while claiming he would win forty seats.

The ‘margin of error’, 3 percent, puts it where Morgan was yesterday, at 50.5 for Labor, and this is about right, I would guess, and O’Shannessy as usual planning to show a ‘massive swing’ the other way in the week of the SA and Tasmanian elections.

But there might be something in it. It was a landline poll of wrinklies after all, and they may have been gutted by the age at which the old age pension kicks in going up to seventy, and Joe’s proposed expatriation of Qantas, the wellbeloved Aussie brand-name, and the six dollars extra co-paid for each GP visit in their nineties, their imminently approaching nineties, and …

Reza Barati’s death may also have had some effect, not necessarily for nice reasons. He was a white man clubbed to death by black men; or stomped to death, or throat-cut, by coal-black descendants of cannibals, and S&M’s view that his death was his own fault may have been thought by some old girls, and doctors’ wives, and rural racists, unfair — and by every Middle Eastern fugitive, like him, and like Joe Hockey’s dad and uncles, from the Ayatollahs’ tyranny.

But … but … the movement of a million votes which these numbers indicate in the mere seven days since last week’s Nielsen put Labor on 48 seems to me to involve a fraud of some sort; or, to be kind, a tweaking.

It is also entirely possible Murdoch has flipped. He may now see the destruction of manufacturing in Australia, and the criminalisation by chronic unemployment of ten percent of our youth, and the rage against the dying of the light of four million oldies, as a hurdle too high for his propaganda. And he may have turned turtle, the way he does, despising Hockey’s innumeracy (you create more jobs by sacking a hundred thousand people? really?), and admiring Shorten’s cool.

Shanahan’s commentary this morning suggests this. ‘The Coalition is riding into the valley of electoral death,’ he cries, unusually, noting Abbott’s electoral standing ‘has sunk to its lowest since he was elected in September’, his disapproval ‘jumping seven points to 52 percent’.

The penny may have dropped, and the earth moved.

And we will see what we shall see.

Getting Away With Murder

Not just a murder, but a conspiracy to murder occurred on Manus, involving maybe twenty people, a week ago, 7.30 revealed last night. Violent locals were let in, and heads clubbed and necks slashed, one man killed and sixty-two injured.

Yet Scott Morrison is planning, by the look of it, no arrests, and no blacklist of guards who after the weekend will want to work for Transfield, and threaten again those they have injured. This murder, in his view, and this affray, and these acts of spontaneous torture, merit no retribution. They are an ‘incident’ to be ‘investigated’ with a view to uncovering a ‘failure of procedure’ he can blame on Burke, his predecessor.

Murder should not come into it. They should get away with murder.

Is it wrong to make a fuss about this? Is a candlelight vigil ‘over the top’? We will be told so. We will be told that fuss should be reserved for Craig Thomson, who misspent five thousand dollars on firewood and cigarettes and will do time for it, unlike twelve Liberal MPs who misspent more.

It is what we might call an Orwellian Settlement we are now in, where young men are ‘disappeared’ and their killers go unnamed and unaccused, and pick up their pay as before after clubbing somebody to death.

And because the mind recoils against this, against the enormity of it, we shut it down, and think of other things — the cricket, Charlotte Dawson, king hits in Kings Cross — instead.

And they get away with murder. The Minister prefers it, and thus it shall be so.

Spinning Manus

Morrison called Reza’s death a ‘tragedy’; on advice, I would think, from some shit-scared Liberal spin-doctors. ‘Tragedy’ makes it sound like a suicide, or an overdose, leukemia, or a ski-ing accident, or being taken by a shark.

But it was none of those things. It was a murder. Or, if done by more than one person, a conspiracy to murder plus a murder. A lynching. It was certainly a major crime, for which a number of people should do twenty years.

But Morrison doesn’t want them to do time. He doesn’t even want them to be investigated. He doesn’t want any detainee, moreover, to be interviewed. He wants the culprits to get away with murder. If he doesn’t, he himself might be implicated, or people he appointed, or failed to stop.

‘Tragedy’ solves all that. It’s like an act of God, with no legal consequences, like an avalanche, a mine collapse, an earthquake. If he once calls it ‘murder’, which is what it is, everything changes, and he loses, big time.

And so it goes.

Today’s Morgan

The Morgan Poll showing Labor on 50.5 two party preferred is probably right. But its distribution shows Labor gaining so much in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia (52, 54.5, 50.5, 53.5) and losing so little in NSW and WA (47.5, 45) that victory is thus far (I think) assured.

Two more percent of the women will come back after the Manus massacre details, one percent of the men when (if) South Australia is retained. And all will be well; may be well.

But … the union revelations will hurt, whatever they are, and the further shaming of Craig, and some counterattack is needed — on Pyne, on Downer, on Howard — some scandal with greed or sex in it, to balance the sheet.

And we will see what we shall see.

No Country For Old Men: Bob Nelson’s, Alexander Payne’s And Bruce Dern’s Nebraska

In a land of immigrants like America, ‘homecoming’ is an idea that gnaws at the heart, spawning fantasies of renewal, rebirth, resurrection, restoration of things lost, or that which I like to call a ‘sustaining fantasy’, of the good village from which we are all exiles, in which old friends respond with love to our unexpected return.

These thoughts occur in Nebraska, a black-and-white road movie in which a father, Woody (old, snarly, formerly drunken, brain-impaired perhaps) and a glum son, David (edgy, lovelorn, wary, unsated, gainfully employed), go slowly to Lincoln, Nebraska, to pick up the million dollars Woody thinks he’s won and David knows he hasn’t, via his home town, Hawthorne (rundown, crumbly, like the town in The Last Picture Show, dustblown, sour of soul) where many old acquaintances with lizard faces believe he’s won it, and want a piece of it.

Other black-and-white films (Wild Strawberries, The Best Years Of Our Lives, A Loss Of Roses, Out Of The Past) have shown us the desolations of homecoming, and other return-home films (Junior Bonner, The Trip To Bountiful, Charlie Bubbles, Young Adult) the disappointments of too-idealised remembrance.

But this film isn’t like that. Woody, like Oscar the Grouch, hates life already; wants only his stolen compressor back, and a new truck though he can’t drive any more, and, in one long sequence we observe appalled, his lost false teeth. He despises his children and siblings and actively hates his nagging fat unforgiving wife Kate, who thinks he’s lost his marbles and wants him taken into care. And he thinks his fraught son David (Will Forte), currently his chauffeur, a wuss and a loser, and his other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), a provincial TV newsreader, no better.

And it’s only his brushes with the past (a cemetery; a brutal ex-business partner who funded him once and wants his money; seven saurine brothers who don’t say anything much and watch the baseball with him in shared silence; twin fat angry hoons, his nephews, one a rapist, who believe in his million dollars and mug him in an alley) that revive some gleam of his lost humanity.

He’s a Korean War veteran, returned, traumatised, undiagnosed, who wallowed in booze and bad memories for fifty years, but we barely know that. Yet we are told all we need to know, in a good, spare, terse, unhurried script by Bob Nelson that the director, Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, The Descendants) leaves unaugmented. Sometimes the shots, crowded with old, camel-ruminative faces, go on for five minutes. This is indeed Yeats’s country for old men, and we don’t want to go there.

The cast are all superb, not least David’s obese ex-girlfriend Noel (Miss Doty), hovering over the possibility of moving back in; and Woody’s old girlfiend Pegy (Angela McEwan), sunny and unresentful and pleased with her subsequent life but sorry she lost him (‘I wouldn’t let him go around the bases’); and, most remarkably, June Squibb as Kate. If ever there was a fat unforgiving bitch and scold it is she; and nonetheless we come to feel for her too, even after she flaunts her genitals at the gravestone of a man who turned her down.

Few films are set in the American working class (Blue Valentine, Gran Turino, Marty) and few so true to its stoic, sullen, masochistic embrace of lifelong loss, but this is one of them, a classic like almost no other, and it should be seen.

Lines For Scott Morrison (3)

There was no interruption to the operation of the compound, Madam Speaker, and all the murderers were back at work the following morning.

Lines For Richard Marles (6)

Can the Minister say what the nationality of the murderer was? Can he assure the House that he was not, as is rumoured, an Australian national of Anglo-Celtic appearance and ancestry? Can he say how many other head-kicking and knife-slashing assailants there were, and what nationalities they were, and whether they are still employed in the compound?

The Fog Of Morrison

‘Blows to the head by descending boots’ is not a phrase Scott Morrison used in his many befoggings of the Manus murder and what led up to it. There’s a reason for this. He has to stifle the murder matter quickly, lest it prove that four or five boots pulped the brain of a model prisoner and he be asked why these known killers were kept on staff and how much they have been paid, in wages and overtime, since the murder.

It is, we are told, ‘the fog of war’ that ever bedims the slaughters that make us queasy. It is the Fog of Morrison that lately effects this wondrous erasure, this willed forgetting of murder, and spontaneous acts of torture, that he sees as his job.

What he has to do, and urgently do, if he is to save his skin, is turn our our eyes from the slashed and twitching corpse of Reva Barati to the boats becalmed in Indonesian waters and the awed Hazaran fugitives from the Taliban staring at oceans they will never cross, and how happy they’ll be for the rest of their lives not crossing them. What he has to do is keep saying the boats have stopped, or they are not arriving, at least not arriving often, but never say how many set out, and hope we’ll believe him after this, after the Big Lie of Manus, and the murder there.

It’s a lie so big that we now may wonder if anything he has lately said was true. That though his employees, or some of them, stomp heads they would never burn hands. That no boats have reached Australia undetected; no submarines ever sailed up the Diamantina, or disgorged fifty Syrians north of Broome; no light plane parachuted two Tamils at midnight into desert north of Mount Isa. Never ever.

How can his word be trusted? He keeps on paying a murderer, whose name is known, for work well done and not saying who he is. How many days, hours, can this jabbering dill survive? Till the next head-stomped refugee dies? Till Reza’s parents sue him? Till the Senate interrogates him? Till the Monarch, on Senate advice, dismisses him?

We will see, dear comrades, what we shall see.

Lines For Richard Marles (6)

Does the Minister know who the murderer is? What has he done about him?

Lines For Tony Abbott (13)

You don’t want a wimp. You want a cracker of heads.

Cambodia Now

Interesting how quickly racism resurges, on even Radio National. Alison Carabine just implied that Rudd requiring that some of the guards on Manus were ‘local people’ meant it was Labor, really, that ‘bore responsibilty’ for the riots in Monday and Reza Barati’s death.

This implied in turn that Manusians are genetically irresponsible, of course they are, and there is no vetting process that can weed out the murderers, there are so many of them. It means, too, that Barati’s murderer was ‘doing what comes naturally’, and he shouldn’t be punished any more than the others, who shouldn’t be punished at all. It is what these people are like.

The Green arguments against Manus are pretty racist also. No-one should be put in such a ‘hell-hole’ as Manus, they said, PNG is dreadful, and Moresby one of the scariest places on earth. Yet they did not say we should take in women and children who flee here from PNG. Why, precisely, is that? If it’s not good enough for Iranians, who are more or less white, why is it good enough for Niuginians, who are emphatically black? Can there be any other reason?

Worst in the debate is the dehumanising, the muppetising, of people that are sent back. It is never asked how they will get a job. It is never asked if they will starve, or if they will whore themselves, and whore their children, to keep from starving. Out of sight, out of mind, the ever-abiding rule of the racist, is the way of all the parties in this debate.

And now it is Cambodia. My son wrote a novel about Cambodia, and it’s a scary place, whose own particular Holocaust, the Killing Fields, haunt its dreaming still and bedevil its diaspora. How many Iranians, Palestinians, Hazaras, Tamils, will find work there? People of their religion? People of their complexion? People of their Sabbaths and holy days? It is never asked. How will they live? How long will they live? We will never find out.

Because, like Reza Barati, they do not, in any real sense, truly exist. They are the untermensch, the underclass, the unremarked, the unembellished, the unremembered, the forgotten, the … erased.

And so it goes.

The Madness Of Scott Morrison (8): Protecting Murderers Is Wrong

Strange how Morrison has not yet grasped that murder is different. It is not suicide. It is not death occasioned by self-defense. It is not industrial accident. It is not a tornado, or a bushfire, or a flood, or a landslide killing somebody. It is the deliberate extinguishing of the life of a man without his consent.

It is a bad thing to do, and it is against the law. Yet S&M thought, and still thinks, that the murderer in this case need not be locked up, nor stopped from going to work as usual among the friends of his victim or the witnesses of his crime. He thinks if the company he works for is changed on Saturday, and another company moves in, and takes over the compound, that will be punishment enough, somehow. Of course it will. And Reza Barati’s killer can go free.

Has there been a greater lunatic in any Ministry in our federal history? It is hard to think of one. Let us be clear about this.

Killing people is wrong. Cutting their throats and stomping their heads are crimes that are punished in modern societies. It is wrong that people who do such things should be paid a government wage any more, or lodged at a cost of 72,000 a night to the taxpayer.

And it is wrong, very wrong, to give false evidence about the cut throats and stomped heads of the night in question, thus implying that other people than the perpetrators did it. This is normally called perjury, and you can go to gaol for it.

And it is really, really, really wrong to call this protection of murderers ‘not being a wimp’, a quality we need in a Minister. It is so, so wrong and argues our Prime Minister is also insane, and he deserves to be dismissed by the Monarch for it — for inciting terrorism, for commending the crime of assisting a regime of atrocity and murder.

I hope I am not overstating this, committing what an esteemed figure once called ‘hyperbowl’. I only want to emphasise that killing people is wrong, and sheltering fugitive murderers, as S&M now seems to be doing, is wrong. And it is hard to see how a man suspected of such an activity can remain a Minister.


Murder On Manus: The Politics

It usually takes a death.

Penny Easton’s ruined Carmen Lawrence, Mary-Jo Kopechne’s finished Teddy Kennedy, the four lads installing roof-batts did for Kevin Rudd. It took an old man burning himself to death in Parliament House to do for Phillip Ruddock, but, like heaven’s vengeance, he came.

And now Reza Barati, mourned across Australia tonight, has come for Scott Morrison. He told him and the others in December they would never live in freedom again, and here we are, a bad angel sneering over his shoulder,’Vengeance is mine.’

Abbott, whose mind is going, praises him for not being a wimp, but Eichmann wasn’t a wimp either, or any bikie smiting a foe with a bollard in an airport lounge. S&M had a duty of care, and chose to goad his charges into desperation, riot and massacre; or something that has the whiff of massacre about it.

He must be sacked for it, and sent, at the Senate’s behest, to The Hague for trial.

Lines For Richard Marles (5)

I ask again, is the murderer in custody?

Lines For Tony Abbott (12)

We don’t want a wimp in this Ministry. Much better we have an accomplice of murderers.

Murder On Manus: J’Accuse

As I write this, Barati’s murderer is still in Morrison’s pay, and his clubbing-and-slashing accomplices who wounded sixty innocent men, some of them genuine refugees, are too. It is inexplicable that S&M has not yet moved to arrest them, and leaves them in control of witnesses to their crimes, who they may hinder, harass and threaten as they choose.

S&M is at the very least a foolish man. He invades foreign waters with his yellow lifeboats, people-smuggling unwanted Hazaras into towns where they are despised. He leaves the yellow lifeboats where Indonesian people smugglers may use them in their trade. He has offered to buy from people smugglers lesser boats with cash they might then use to buy and build better ones. He pretends the boats have stopped coming, but will not say how many have set out. He speaks in a language, scottmobbledigook, that excites derision in many nations. He speaks in tongues on Sundays.

There cannot have been a more dangerously laughable minister in our history. In US history, Senator Smoot, of Utah, comes to mind. But he did not collude with murderers.

It is now desirable the Senate investigate him, requiring cabinet papers from last September, as they now can, to discover how well his boat-buy-back went, and how many children were at his orders kidnapped and dumped in hostile coastal villages, and what became of them. And why he chose to tell the Manus inmates they might be in gaol forever, and thus provoke the disturbance that ended, last Sunday, in murder.

I accuse this idiot of staining Australia’s good name in South East Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East. I accuse him of complicity in the cover-up of many clubbings and slashings and a murder.

I ask that the Senate investigate him, and, before that, the Governor General stand him down.

Murder On Manus (5): The Morrison Complicity

(First published by Independent Australia)

It is hard to imagine how a dead man, throat-cut and head-stomped in a walled prison compound, can be thought to have been killed outside it. Yet Scott Morrison says this mistake was made. The ambulance men will have picked up the body, and adjacent bits of it, in a particular place, and will have said where that particular place was in their hospital report, and this detail would have been clear to the Minister and his advisors by Monday night.

But S&M would have us think it was not the prison guards, but ‘rogue elements’ of the surrounding citizenry, responding to unwarranted levels of violence by a heathen Islamicist escapee, were the ones who did it, in a close-fought battle with a vile fanatic outside the prison walls, adjacent savages not in his employ.

But no, no, no, no, it was otherwise. It was a death in custody, involving more than one guard and more than a dozen wounds, the more lethal involving, apparently, stompings on the head.

So we now must hypothesise, if I have got this right, that it was more than one murderer S&M covered up for – unwittingly, no doubt unwittingly – and kept on his payroll ‘administering’ the witnesses for six more days before he noticed they were murderers, and then…kept them on the payroll, as before.

It cannot be otherwise adduced, if we follow this hypothesis, but that he has acted as the complicit accomplice of protectors of murderers; their protection racket, you might say. And it must be said that he impeded the course of justice whilever he employed those witness-menacing murderers and did not lock them up in a part of the compound where they could do no harm, to the witnesses or each other.

The Senate should look into this, on Tuesday. He should be made to say why he covered up the details of a murder for so long. And when he knew what he revealed last night, after the newspaper deadline, and for what purpose he concealed it.

And whether or not Reza Barati was a genuine refugee.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (86)

Paolo has been banned for life, on the grounds of repetitive insanity.

Morrison: A Hypothetical

Call this a hypothetical. I am not certain it is true. But it seems to be.

Scott Morrison has for six days now refrained from ordering the arrest of a murderer, and continues, it seems, to pay him wages. In those six days the murderer has been in a position to threaten those witnesses of his capital crime who otherwise might testify against him, in a regime called ‘firm but fair’ by our Prime Minister.

The murderer’s name is known, yet the Minister will not move against him, or ask the PNG police to do so.

Nor has he moved against the twenty or thirty thugs who with knives or clubs or boots have wounded sixty people, some of them genuine refugees, but continues to keep them in positions of authority over their victims, to menace, threaten or ill-treat them as they will.

The Minister seems incapable of knowing what a crime against humanity is. He sees what has happened — a kind of slaughter — as a mere administrative glitch.

He says it may be months, or years, before it is known what happened. In this time a murderer and some brutal spontaneous torturers will be kept on staff, in daily contact with their victims.

I have long called this Minister mad, and it has always seemed to me that his grip on reality is uncertain. I am not sure what should be done about him, but his evident complicity in the protection of a murderer and twenty or thirty knife-wielding bullies argues that something should be done, fairly soon. The Senate, perhaps, should investigate his crimes against humanity, which are surely not now in doubt. Or the ACT Attorney-General could arrest him for these crimes, or the PNG police request his extradition to that country.

It is certain the Prime Minister, who is in some sense complicit, having brought on the riot by deciding the refugees might stay in prison all their lives, will not order a Royal Commission. Nor will he send in the SAS to secure the compound and arrest those suspected of bashing, mutilation and attempted murder. So other bodies must act without him.

These are uncharted waters, and the above is, as I say, a hypothetical. But events are moving swiftly, and drastic measures should be considered — by the Senate, the Monarch, and the lawmakers of PNG.

Lines For Richard Marles (5)

Again I ask the Minister: Is the murderer still on staff, and still being paid? Is he still in a position where he can menace or threaten witnesses? Or kill them? Why is he not in custody?

Is the Minister out of his mind? Will the Minister tender his resignation to the Governor-General urgently, now?


I predicted the swing to Labor would be 14 percent, but it seems to be currently 16 percent, and I am covered with shame.

The Redcliffe swing, if duplicated across Australia, would cost Abbott 75 seats and leave him with 15.

If the swing were half that, he would win 30 seats and Labor, the Greens, KAP, DLP, Motoring Enthusiasts and Independents 120.

If the swing were a quarter of the swing in Redcliffe, he would still lose office in a landslide.

If this is not the tipping point, there will never be one.