Trump reaches for the Tomahawk while Turnbull’s rivals sharpen their knives.

trump on syria

 

Mafia Don, as former FBI Director, James Comey designates Donald Trump in his best-seller, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership is ever more desperate, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation closes its net on the nepotist-in-chief and his comic Corleone family’s alleged criminal collusion with the Russian government.

Two weeks ago, in Richfield Ohio, the US will exit Syria, he tells a crowd.

 “Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump promises, in a riff which echoes The Beatles’ classic, Get Back “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be…”

But that was then. This is now. Now Trump has as his National Security Adviser, John “mad-bomber” Bolton the stark raving bonkers neo-con, “architect” of the Iraq War WMD disaster, a hawk’s hawk who lusts for war on Iran, North Korea, Syria and regime change in Libya, Syria, and Venezuela.

Apply the emergency brake. In another high-speed Trumpian highway chase U-turn, which evokes our own helmsman, hydrogen gas-bag Mal, another untethered[1] barrage balloon, of whom Essential’s Peter Lewis, writes, “(Turnbull) didn’t walk away from his beliefs, he never had any “, Trump tweets about “our beautiful, smart” missiles a reference to the slow, low-flying, long-range Tomahawk missile first deployed in 1991.

Will he also countermand his instructions to his military commanders to quickly end American involvement in Syria? Who knows what he’ll do when the diversion fails to halt Mueller’s inexorable advance. For now, in the eternal present of the president’s goldfish consciousness, it’s time for a token show of force.  And perfect for chicken-hawk Trump.

A Tomahawk may be large and slow, but it has a long-range and flies below enemy radar.

Unlike James Comey, who is “an untruthful slime ball”, – (at least it’s an area in which Trump can claim some special expertise) – Mafioso Don reveals in 280 characters or fewer why the fading ex-star of The Apprentice is still world’s best reality TV president.

He provokes Russia into threatening to shoot down any US missiles and to respond to any strike on Syria “at the source”, the first threat of direct military action since 1945.

Then it’s on for young and old – especially the old white males of Trumpdom.

“A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump says on a special Saturday night White House broadcast, Friday our time.

Associated with? No proof is provided that Syria is behind the alleged chemical attack last weekend in Duma, where up to 70 people may have been killed.

The gas allegedly used in the Duma attack is chlorine which is not on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) list of banned chemicals and is not classified as a chemical weapon. Any country, including Syria, is allowed to possess it, but cannot use it as a weapon.

If chemical weapons were used, the US is being highly selective. A string of such attacks in Syria has been reported in the last five years. The UNHCR’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (even the title is a worry) claims to have confirmed at least 34 chemical attacks since 2013, many of which it says used chlorine or sarin, a nerve agent, and were conducted by the Syrian government.

Syria, Russia and Iran all deny that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

“The use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances is illegal and utterly reprehensible,” our local Great Helmsman reads from his US kit of talking points, Saturday, despite his government’s support of Saudi Arabia which, The Washington Post, reports uses US-supplied white phosphorous, a chemical weapon, against Yemen. But relax, it’s OK if it’s used carefully. It’s a nice little burner.

Last June, Human Rights Watch warned, “US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.”

In early 2017, US Marine artillery deploys to Syria in support of the operation to retake Raqqa, an operation in which “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)” are also participating.

The Washington Post publishes photographs of the deployed Marine unit equipped with white phosphorus projectiles, as well as similar pictures showing white phosphorus projectiles with US Army units outside Mosul.

A Raqqa resident living in Beirut tells The New York Times in June of an internet cafe in Raqqa hit by white phosphorus, killing around 20 people.

White phosphorus, the US claims, it sells for signalling only. What could possibly go wrong? When used against soldiers and civilians as reports attest, it can kill or maim by burning to the bone. It was used in the Battle of Fallujah November 2004 where Jim Molan helped direct operations in a hopeless attempt to “flush out” Sunni insurgents.

Depleted uranium was also used against civilians. Coordinates revealing where US jets and tanks fired nearly 10,000 DU rounds in Iraq during the war in 2003 have been obtained by the Dutch peace group Pax.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published an epidemiological study in 2010, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009,” found that “Fallujah is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.”  But that was then and this is now. That was them and this is about Trump’s political survival. Bigly.

Turnbull, so pro-USA, he says, we’re “joined at the hip” (and lip?) parrots Trump’s hypocrisy.

“The Assad regime must not be allowed to commit such crimes with impunity.  The attacks are “a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response.”

There’s always a first time. But Turnbull needs a calibrated, proportionate diversion when his 30th Newspoll Abbott petard blows up in his own face this week.

There’s blood in the water. A hapless Turnbull staggers across his own Rubicon of “30 losing Newspolls”, as The Australian’s latest landline phone survey, published last Sunday, reveals Labor leads 52-48 on first-party preferences based on 2016 voting intentions. Blood, too, in news of mass deaths in the live sheep trade, a business essentially, as a senate committee found in 1985, “inimical to animal welfare”.

While refugees can rot in squalor offshore, animal lives really matter to this government, given the power of images of animal cruelty to move television viewers to demand that the Coalition do something. Cue shock and horror; David Littleproud’s debut.

“I’ve seen that footage and I was absolutely shocked and gutted,” neophyte federal Agriculture Minister and Barnaby Joyce protégé, David Littleproud says in an extraordinary outburst of visceral imagery. Talk about going butcher’s hook.

Littleproud’s responding to 60 Minutes’ fourth story since 2003 on the live sheep trade showing WA ship, The Awassi Express, on a three-week voyage from Fremantle to the Persian Gulf with 65,000 sheep. 2400 sheep, it is said, die from heat stress and overcrowding. Lambs are born and crushed underfoot.

There’s no money to invest in a humane live sheep fleet but the federal government announces this week that it will match Victoria in plunging $50 million each into a half- billion dollar pilot plant that will operate for just 12 months to produce “up to” three tonnes of hydrogen from brown coal over a whole year.

Three days after Tony Abbott’s coal-fired power and Lycra revival bicycle tour through the Latrobe Valley, Turnbull is desperate to compete with anything that Abbott may have to offer. Even if it is another, utter con-job. At least he goes for a noble gas.

The PM’s hydrogen mania appears highly selective; contrived. Where was Turnbull when wind and solar-fuelled hydrogen projects – which will create significantly more hydrogen at a fraction of the cost from wind and solar – were unveiled by the ACT and South Australian governments (before Labor’s SA election loss)?

SA’s  50MW wind and solar-fuelled electrolyser at the new Hydrogen Hub would be built by Neoen near Crystal Brook, could provide 20 tonnes of hydrogen a day, at a fraction of Turnbull’s brown coal thought bubble. Giles Parkinson reports the entire complex, including 150MW of solar, about 150MW of wind, a 50MW hydrogen plant along with up to 400MWh of battery storage, would cost around $600 million.

The brown coal hydrogen experiment is located at the Loy Yang brown coal mine complex, where AGL will keep its huge brown coal generator operating until 2048, despite our hopelessly conflicted energy minister Josh Stalin Frydenberg insisting, like a true state socialist, that Loy Yang A and B plants must run until 2070.

For the pilot to succeed, however, depends on carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that is still a pipe dream. Like the perpetual motion machine. Not that Andy Vesey AGL boss needs to worry about the pollution created during the experiment. Like the government’s energy policy itself, it’s exempt from any real-world constraints.

Our CCS industry is a metaphor for the Turnbull government’s track record of over-promising and totally under-delivering. Last year’s Auditor General’s report, reveals a total of $450 million wasted so far. All up, over $1.5 billion has been squandered.

There is nothing to show for government funds punted on CCS. Snowy Hydro 2.0 is also likely to be an expensive dud. Think NBN with coal-fired uploads.

$6 billion just disappeared into buying out NSW and Victoria’s interests – (provided the 2018 Budget passes)-  to help the Turnbull government proceed with its untried, unproven Snowy Hydro 2.0 pipe dream – now estimated to cost $4.5 billion – not including the $2 billion estimate it will cost to upgrade transmission lines from the mountains to Sydney and Melbourne.

The Turnbull government can find $12 billion plus if it means feeding its anti-solar and wind ideology, but it has no intention of putting any money where its mouth is on the live sheep trade, a business where farmers’ interest and animal welfare are ever at odds.

Yet the conflicted Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud is beside himself with outrage. It’s easier than admitting as Bernard Keane notes that the Department of Agriculture simply refuses to regulate animal welfare. Dave rushes to defend the farmers.

“This is the livelihoods of Australian farmers that are on that ship. That is their pride and joy and it’s just total bullshit that what I saw is taking place.”

The aptly named Littleproud proceeds to lash his own department, a mob lovingly fashioned in his own image by former party leader in exile, New England’s pride and joy, Barnaby bullshit Joyce.

Minister Littleproud is making “a brave decision”, as Sir Humphrey would say, if not a “courageous” career move.

Agile, innovative and keen to staunch more bad PR, Littleproud says he’ll get the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, himself a paragon of compassion and justice who has endeared himself to all Centrelink pensioners via his robo-debt regime of terror to examine the “skills, capabilities and culture of the regulator”.  Perfect call.

The regulator is the federal Department of Agriculture. It’s will rather than skill that is their deficiency. Yet can they be blamed for just following orders? Ask Nuremberg.

“Staff have diligently reflected Barnaby Joyce’s indifference to animal welfare and preference for the industry to self-regulate. That is Joyce’s legacy on this matter,” writes The Saturday Paper’s Martin McKenzie-Murray, a view echoed by Bernard Keane.

Joyce used live exports to harangue Labor, ceaselessly talking up how its “irresponsible policy plunged the northern Australian cattle industry into extreme hardship” despite a lack of any empirical evidence. The irony is that now Joyce’s indifference to animal welfare has created a real, live, problem for exporters. But he’s worse with people.

Cruelty to public servants is an Abbott-Turnbull signature theme. Agriculture ministry workers ought not to take it personally. Since Abbott, a Coalition committed to “smaller government” and to outsourcing to private contractors avidly slashes funds and culls its workforce, throwing government servants and their families into penury via Orwellian “efficiency dividends”, – if only to rehire some as contractors.

Last September The Australian Public Service (APS) Commission reports there were 152,095 APS staff at the end of June, after a decline of 2.3% over the previous financial year. It’s the lowest figure since 2006. Apart from understaffing and issues of morale and politicisation it’s a fair chunk of knowledge and experience to excise from a public service which increasingly must bear the wrath or the whim of the Minister.

Whim? A whole department may find itself “relocated” from Canberra to Armidale, decimating its workforce by decree as “Joe Stalin” Joyce is doing with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) which appears now largely crippled and utterly demoralised by a loss of qualified personnel.

Staff departures reached nearly 20 per cent in 2015-16, a national audit report found last year. APVMA was struggling to find regulatory scientists to replace those walking out the door since the Coalition government decision to move it in November 2016.

Yet there are even more disturbing signs. Australia now has a bureaucracy specifically engineered to deliver indifference and inflict suffering, warns Professor Stuart Rees in New Matilda, as “clients” of Centrelink would attest.

“Fear, engendered by cruelties has become central to the operations of an allegedly rational, efficient Australian government” he writes citing the now notorious example of Scott Morrison who as Immigration Minister, in 2013, instructed ASIO to delay security clearances for refugees until he’d changed the law to cruel their chances of citizenship.

Quibbling has broken out this week between Home Affairs Peter Pooh Bah Dutton and hapless Malcolm Turnbull, eternal puppet of the right-wing, over whether cabinet discussed Dutto’s brilliant idea to cut immigration. It’s a great way to seize the headlines and to dog-whistle racists which also allows Tony Abbott to gain some extra unwarranted attention, but it may be attention that the Coalition does not really need.

The Federal Ombudsman reported in December 2017 that on the handling of citizenship applications that required integrity and identity clearance, some people had waited over 18 months for an outcome. There was also an increase in the number of applications where a decision had not been made for over two years.

Bleeding profusely from some ugly self-inflicted injuries, such as making himself a hostage to Newspoll and to his party’s lunatic right-wing in his Faustian compact with Barnaby Joyce, an “unwritten”, secret agreement, whose details he stubbornly refuses to divulge, the underlying reality – despite its incessant crowing over jobs is that his government has clocked up 29 months of economic mismanagement.

To hear its front bench shills, the Turnbull government has created record numbers of jobs. Why 403,000 are  recorded by the Bureau of Statistics in December. But, as Alan Austin points out, with natural population increase and migration, Australia’s population has never been higher either.

“The strongest growth in jobs relative to the adult population in history was actually in calendar 1989 when Bob Hawke was PM. Hawke beat Turnbull’s achievement – relative to population – also in 1985 and 1988.”

The Coalition never mentions unemployment. By September 2015, unemployed numbers shot up to 776,300; a rate rise of 6.1%. After 29 months of Turnbull government, 734,100 are jobless a rate of 5.6%.

Whilst it’s a modest improvement on Abbott’s disaster, Australia’s world ranking has fallen as globally jobs have risen. In 2013, we ranked seventh on our jobless rate in the OECD. By 2015, we slipped to 14th. Now we are 17th.

Underutilised workers, or the sum of unemployed and underemployed, rose in February to 1,841,000, the third highest quarterly figure since this statistic was first recorded in 1978. The only two higher quarters were both since Turnbull became PM and Senator Michaelia Cash employment minister.

The PM comes under fire from his own front bench, Monday, as Julie Bishop, Josh Frydenberg, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton each declare their very qualified support for their leader. They all have leadership ambitions. Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce kindly give Turnbull until Christmas to prove himself or quit. He may as well leave now.

The Newspoll gap narrows two points in two weeks, but since the 2016 election, Newspoll, Ipsos, Essential, ReachTel and YouGov have Labor leading the Coalition in 127 of 138 surveys. Six ties are recorded, but the government leads in five YouGov polls only, between June and October 2017, which allow respondents to nominate their own preferences. Yet there is no way the Coalition will concede its performance is at fault.

Team Turnbull will ignore all polls as it continues to deliver “good government”. This includes suppressing details of the deal whereby Turnbull gained the Nationals’ support to depose Tony Abbott, by promising to follow the suppository of all wisdom on climate, energy, no conscience vote on SSM, keeping the Northern Australia infrastructure slush fund for coal projects and supporting The Nationals’ outrageous $10 billion Inland Rail boondoggle. Above all, as he shows, Monday, Sally Cray will have her way.

The PM’s Principal Private Secretary, Field Marshal Sally Cray, the Peta Credlin of Turnbull’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, (PM&C) and most powerful woman in Australian politics today, next to Lucy Turnbull, Gina Rinehart and her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, but more of a potty-mouth comes out fighting.

Cray orders her Turnbull to put on his best f***ing shit-eating grin and to parade his loyal troops in his courtyard in a special presser, Monday.

Mal’s ministers blink in the sun of an Indian summer; moles suddenly fetched up unnaturally from their nocturnal subterranean undermining; alternately preening and squinting in the flare of a scrum of mainstream media camera chums, a Canberra club which bears far too much wattage and sheds far too little light.

The runts of his government’s underwhelming front bench are a shallows of Widmerpools, “the most dogged and fearless solipsist in modern fiction”.

Obeying Cray’s directive, each goes out of his or her way to spread the gospel of loyalty on their favourite fawning TV or radio talkback shows not hesitating also to declare themselves candidates should the occasion present itself. It’s a total disaster.

But not to our “Malentariat”, a press claque whose livelihoods depend on servile flattery. Hacks gush that Turnbull is back in town; he’s not only “closing the gap” in opinion polls, he’s safe because, as everybody knows, disunity is death and the nation’s phobic about changing leaders, a myth MSM, themselves have helpfully engendered first to attack Labor’s internecine rivalry; now to defend the government from itself.

Above, all, runs the clincher, his front bench, if not his parliamentary party have less popular appeal and even less talent than Mal. It’s not totally implausible. Mal will remain leader, we are told breathlessly, because there is no alternative. Yet.

Seldom has Turnbull’s tactical dyslexia been so clearly exposed. Nothing confirms a vote of no-confidence in any leader quite so well as a fake display of solidarity.

It’s a formidable performance. Stung by Tony Abbott’s Monash Forum insurrection, a comical ginger-group of rear-guard reactionaries who want to bring back coal, topple Turnbull and install Morrison, the elephant in the courtyard is the Lycra Sniper’s gibe that Truffles must explain why he does not now depose himself.

Abbott, The Incredible Sulk, like any self-respecting narcissist, also demands to be told what he did wrong. Publicly. In detail. But look, hands are waving in the air.

The Mexican Wave his front bench performs Monday turns out to be Turnbull’s cabinet putting up their hands for job – if the opportunity should present itself.

In other words, expect a lot more bitching, back-stabbing and pointy-elbowing for position before a knifing around Christmas; our traditional festive and killing season.

=================

[1] “Unethical and untethered to truth” is James Comey’s character reference for Trump.

It’s just not cricket.

howard cricket for dummies

 

 

Is our cricket now as crook as our politics?  Do we play to win at any cost?  Centre stage this week is Ball Tampering,  a post-modern, morality play which features a hapless Cameron Bancroft, a type of everyman anti-hero and innocent abroad, a batsman in a baggy green cap, who is caught putting his hands down the front of his pants, in the third test against South Africa at Capetown’s Newlands cricket ground at the base of Table Mountain.

Howls of anguish erupt across our nation. Anger. Outrage. Our national identity is bound up with the twin myths that not only do we excel at sport; clean-limbed, athletic lads and lasses from the Sparta of the South but, above all, we are good sports, from the land of the Fair Go, whatever our human rights record says about us.

Or The Australia Institute research which shows that the richest 20% have 70 times as much as the poorest 20%.

We also love to think we uniquely obsessed with our sport. Yet, as Fairfax columnist, Waleed Aly, noted at the Sports Writers Festival in Melbourne last year, in the US, for example, 53 per cent of the entire country’s population tuned in to watch the last Super Bowl. Our AFL and NRL grand finals combined don’t get anywhere near that here.

Now we look a mob of cheats and try-hard wannabes. Above all, in our worst national nightmare, we make ourselves look foolish in the eyes of the world. At least thirty cameras are rolling as Australia’s first sandpaper tamper scandal unfolds.

Bancroft, reports Fairfax, Sunday, is exposed on the big screen. Cheating. It’s not a good look by any stretch of the waistband. Cam takes a piece of canary-yellow Bunnings’ sandpaper to chafe the cherry-red ball to make it swing.

Or hasten its replacement; stories vary. In full view of umpires and some of the world’s best photojournalists.

It’s pure “Keystone Cops skulduggery”, former England all-rounder, commentator, Vic Marks, sniggers. The cricketers’ immaturity is equally risible – reflected and reinforced in the media’s infantilising collective, “the boys”.

You can’t man up and cop it sweet if you are a boy. Nor if your MPs give you a bum steer. This is not to suggest that our cricketers are corrupted by poor political role models but there are some worrying crossover symptoms and parallels. And certainly a lack of role models in political life for any young sportsperson to aspire to.

Michaelia Cash’s vile sledging of Bill Shorten’s female office staff meets with no censure whatsoever from her PM. Instead, he defends her baseless rumour and innuendo on the grounds that she was bullied and provoked by Labor Senator Doug Cameron. What was once Question Time is now Sledging Time, where the government uses parliamentary privilege to slander “shifty” Bill Shorten’s supposed lack of integrity.

MPs seldom ‘fess up until caught red-handed – and not always then –  as the case of Michaelia Cash’s wilful misleading of parliament about her tipping off the press to her illegal raid of AWU, or Barnaby Joyce’s spirited public bar defence of water rorting and war on greenies; or Peter Dutton’s recent instant two for one phone call instant au pair Visas, a feat of magical realism he has no intention of explaining or being held to account over.

Batsman Cameron says he panicked and he lied about his sandpaper. He’d have been OK as an MP, however, if his PM, desperately needed his support.  He could have even argued, like Barnaby Joyce, that evidence, like any mere data, is irrelevant.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has lost half its workforce in less than two years as a result of Barnaby Joyce’s pork barrel decision to move the government department 750 km from Canberra to Armidale, in his New England electorate, to boost his vote. Yet Joyce reckons it’s a huge success.

Reality denial begins at the top. Turnbull, this week, is found to have misled parliament over a job for Vikki Campion, Joyce’s companion, a job set up for her in Matt Canavan’s office, according to a document signed 9 May 2017 by the PM’s Office senior corporate and governance adviser, Alison Green .  Denial does the trick, though.

Certainly, there’s been little pursuit of the PM’s prevarication from mainstream media, including our ABC.

So who’s to blame Bancroft being caught dack-handed? It’s just a cloth, he says, to polish his Ray-Bans. No? OK, it’s duct tape with grit on the sticky bit. No? OK, it’s LEADERSHIP’S idea. Echoes of Matt Canavan blaming his mother.

Leadership? Our hypocritical PM, Malcolm Turnbull, blunders in to wag his finger, over- eager to be judgemental but utterly lacking in judgement. The nation winces at another hollow moral homily from the tedious old tosser. Doubtless, he’s on to Cambridge Analytica data harvested by a crack team of advisers marshalled by Lucy.

“Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.”

Cricket is not synonymous with fair play, Mr Turnbull. It’s just your spin. Sociologist Ashis Nandy has noted, cricket is “almost unique in providing ample scope for unjust play as well as having strong taboos against such play.”

Fair play? Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper cannot believe our PM can be so ignorant of cricket’s aggression and corruption, including Bodyline, Underarm, the News of the World match-fixing sting, and Australia’s tour of apartheid South Africa.

Is the PM unaware that cricket has inspired an illegal bookmaking industry so vast and powerful that it may have caused the death of Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer?

Cricket also includes Mark Waugh and Shane Warne‘s payments from “John the bookmaker” on a tour of Sri Lanka in 1994. The players received $4,000 and $5,000 respectively from the bookmaker for pitch and weather information. When the, then, Australian Cricket Board found out about the incident in 1995, it fined the players.

Yet the board did not release the information until 1998, and received widespread censure for delaying announcing the scandal.  Rob O’Regan QC later concluded that cricketers were unaware of the risks of interacting with bookmakers, and in future players should be punished by not only fines, but also by suspensions.

The PM’s role models presumably include the recently resigned Australian coach who, in 2003, referred to his Sri Lankan opponents as “fucking black cunts”?”

What beggars belief, Mr Turnbull, is your confected moral outrage; your retreat to Rupert Brooke’s mythic cricket club on Grantchester’s village green and the sound of leather on willow.

Stands the church clock at ten to three and is there honey for tea?

Alas, nostalgia is not what it used to be.

Even before Kerry Packer commodified the game in the late 70s to suit his short attention span, and to slake his passion for sport as a driver of television ratings, cricket was not always cricket. It could be total war. Nothing much has changed since the game was invented.

According to Wisden, in the late 18th century, players were bribed to throw matches. The late, great, WG Grace, a type of Edward Lear in flannels, was a notorious sledger who could argue the toss with any bumptious umpire.

“They came to see me bat; not you umpire”.

Nothing new about tampering either: In 1921, J. W. H. T. Douglas, England’s captain in Australia, threatened to report Arthur Mailey for cheating by using resin to grip the ball – until Mailey pointed out that Douglas’s own thumbnail had been worn to the flesh picking the seam for his own bowlers.

Turnbull feels the need to wag the finger to signal his own virtue. It helps to blame someone else, too, of course. Blaming and shaming have vastly increased under this Coalition government’s eagerness to wage war on the poor. Delinquent cricketers are another safe target. Unless, of course you value your credibility and integrity.

Vice-Captain David Warner’s wife Candice blames herselfThe Australian sensitively reports. Vile abuse from South Africans about her youthful liaison, with New Zealand rugby star and heavyweight boxer, Sonny Bill Williams, affected Warner’s state of mind during the series. Liaison? The Guardian sticks with tryst, lest we assume they were partners.

Offensive songs, signs and spectators wearing Sonny Bill masks — went way too far. “on a complete other level” she says. She’d be left in tears in the team hotel. So her husband had to go the sandpaper tamper?

“I feel like it’s all my fault and it’s killing me — it’s absolutely killing me,” she tells the Murdoch sympathetic ear, The Australian, stressing she’s “not trying to make excuses for the ball tampering”.

Perish the thought. Candice refers to an altercation between Warner and Quinton de Kock, also caught on film during the tea break on day four at Kingsmead Cricket Ground in Durban.

Luckily, our sporting nation is blessed with an army of powerful, protective bureaucracies, all with autocratic CEOs. Unlike its Warne and Waugh fiasco, Cricket Australia whistles up an investigation that’s over in a couple of days.

Incredibly, CEO Sutherland claims Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were the only players with knowledge of the plot to change the condition of the ball in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.

They are charged with breaching Cricket Australia’s Code of Conduct and are flown home. Captain Stevie Smith is “stripped of his captaincy” as sports writers like to put it in case by his actions he hasn’t forfeited it already. Suspended from the game for a year.  He says he “accepts full responsibility for his role in the episode”.

It’s a “failure of leadership”. He won’t be considered for a leadership position for two years.

No-one’s really convinced. Deceit, buck-passing and laconic cover-ups trigger a welter of finger-wagging, hand-wringing.  Schadenfreude swamps nostalgia. Almost. Cricket’s always been like that.

“I think a lot of what they’re copping at the moment comes from the way they have played their game,” says England’s Australian coach, Trevor Bayliss. “It’s almost like teams and people around the world have been waiting for them to stuff up, so they can lay the boot.” 

Our big-wiggery – from our PM to his republican cobber in the red bandanna, Peter FitzSimons rush to pass judgement, a way of establishing their own moral probity by condemning a new outbreak of contagion .

After penalties are imposed on the lads, up goes an appeal from a chorus of blokes who claim our Cam, his captain and vice have been hard done by. They fail to see anything wrong with cheating because everybody’s doing it. They may well be but normalising corruption is hardly going to cure the game of its badly tarnished reputation.

Nor will drug cheat, mauler of metaphor, Shane Warne who calls the penalties excessive. Cricket Australia is “caving into a tornado of hysteria”.

 Ball Tampering becomes the latest, sensational episode in our long-running national ruling-class melodrama, Bread and Circuses. It provides a wondrous opportunity for inspired interdisciplinary ensemble work from a team of old stagers, Cricket Australia’s young gladiators, awful hams, hacks and stage-struck ingénues.

Yet not everyone enjoys the show. The scandal is more than the product of poor political role models; bad political leadership. Mike Carlton contends in The Saturday Paper. It is part of a larger national sickness.

There is something rotten in the Commonwealth of Australia. A culture of greed, selfishness, envy, cruelty and often criminal corruption is gnawing at the nation’s heart. The notion of the “fair go”, once prized as the very essence of Australianism, has become an empty slogan mouthed by the sharp-elbowed spivs and chancers hell-bent on trampling the rest of us into the blood and sawdust as they claw their way to the top.

One recent case illustrates Carlton’s concern. It’s the outrageous breach of good faith by two Victorian Neoliberal

Sharp elbowed Liberal “spivs and chancers” MPs Craig Ondarchie and Bernie Finn, beg a parliamentary pair to go to church Good Friday but, instead, hide in their offices to return to vote down Dan Andrews’ government’s bill to sort out a fair deal for fire-fighters. It’s just not cricket to use a well-worn-out phrase.

“If people professing with religious fervour their desire to be paired can’t be trusted, and their leadership believes the end justifies the means, no one can rely on the Liberals’ word ever again, says Families Minister Jenny Mikakos.

Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd get brief cameo roles as our nation’s ongoing melodrama, Bread and Circuses, which helpfully eclipses the Abbott-Turnbull government’s sixtieth straight panning by the News Poll, an epic –  if not monumental failure, which helps insulate us once again from an outside world as markets are rocked by Reality TV President Donald Trump’s tariff war which wipes $400 billion off the US stock market in a few days.

We were led into an illegal invasion of Iraq, by John Howard, Man of sandpaper, a PM who did not hesitate- as it suits the current incumbent, Man of Spiel, Malcolm Turnbull, to eagerly volunteer our unconditional support for whatever disastrous, nefarious, hare-brained scheme our great and powerful friend proposes.

Fairness? Howard falsely claimed to have legal support for the invasion. Equally false was the information on the Weapons of Mass Destruction that US sources told him were sufficient cause alone to wage war on Iraq.

But John is a champion spin bowler. “In the event,” writes the war criminal, picking at the seam of the Kookaburra, “this proved not to be the case. That does not mean, as claimed by Mr Rudd, that my government had misled the Australian people. Rather it means the intelligence was wrong.”

Turnbull lost down dangerous data mine-shaft.

turnbull farewell

“The federal Liberal Party must and does stay within the law, and we will always do that. It is crucial we do that if we’re to retain the trust of the Australian people,” Angus Taylor

Straight man, Federal Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber-security, formerly Digital Transformation, Angus “Trust-me” Taylor’s SBS News shtick is a crack-up: he denies his party’s into data mining, an electronic personal space invader devouring our democracy.

Angus may lack the gravitas of daggy Dan Tehan, MP for Wannon, his earnest predecessor, (now promoted to Social Services, a career move helped, no doubt, by his view that low-income earners – minimum wage and below should pay tax – how else will they break their welfare dependency?), but Angus can certainly keep a poker face.

The Enforcer hits the airwaves this week with the world’s funniest appeal to be taken seriously – “Trust us, we’re The Liberal Party” (only one of our treasurers is in gaol.)

Total team-player, Taylor won’t speak for the South Australian Libs, however.

Is he implying Marshall’s mob is crooked? SA Liberals freely admit to using i360, a data mining program which purloins voters’ precious personal details, vital to lobbying marginal seats. Some say it helped win its last election, although electoral boundary changes probably helped, too – and ballot paper changes sprung on unwary voters.

Liberals import i360 software from the US. Where would be without the land of the free? i360 is an electronic thieving magpie which steals glittering “information gleaned from social media, polls and surveys to pinpoint vacillating voters’ addresses and the issues they care about in key marginal seats so they can be targeted for lobbying”.

I360’s development has been a project of industrial billionaires, Charles and David Koch. Life isn’t easy for them. Chuck, 78, and Dave, 74, are worth $ 41 billion each but according to Forbes’ list are only the fourth richest men in the US. They tie for sixth on the world’s richest billionaires list. Clearly the bludgers are under-achieving.

To compensate, they’ve set up a network as the joint project of many mega-wealthy reactionaries determined to reshape US politics and public policy in libertarian and anti-government directions. Part of this corruption of democracy involves funding the i360 data mining project which dovetails neatly with Facebook. But don’t close your account.

Your personal information is not only stolen from social media or given away in those contests and claim forms which require your personal information, it is bought and sold. Thankfully, you can help things along a bit with a bit of far-sighted DIY data mining.

Digi.me 2009 says it is “a personal data collection company that equips consumers with the tools to take ownership of their digital footprint, enabling users to collect and share the information directly with companies on their own terms.”  Share or sell?

Sell yourself? Flog your own footprint? A Neoliberal wet dream. i360 is far more couth.

Politico explains that the i360 recipe matches voter information with consumer data purchased from credit agencies and other vendors. Blend in social network data. Add a dash of any interaction you may have had with campaigns and advocacy groups.

Don’t worry about your brushes with the law, or visits to the doctor, they may pop up all by themselves. In a massive leak by a private contractor, 50,000 sensitive personal records were exposed online last November. Angus is bound to be on to it by now.

(No biggie. Just names, passwords, ID data, phone numbers, credit card numbers and corporate information including salaries and expenses. Easy to fix now we have a whole new Law Enforcement and Cyber-security department. They’ll be sure to have forms or a recorded message or a self-help website for all that.)  Back to your own profile.

Add a topping of recent addresses, how often you have voted, and the make of car you drive. No need to reach for the TV remote. Another i360 service sifts information about your viewing habits to help campaigns target ads more precisely and cost efficiently.

i360 tells campaign workers which doors to knock on; phones to ring. Volunteers out door-knocking can even have their talking points updated in real-time along with their sincerity; fine-tuned with personal detail to match up with the couch-surfer who opens the door as opposed to the landlord or the person paying the rent. How cool is that?

Bear in mind, however, one size does not fit all. A major part of the exercise in the US, where voting is not compulsory and the turnout rate at the last presidential election was 53.5%, the lowest since 1999, is aimed primarily at getting people out to vote.

Is data mining a threat to democracy? Certainly. As are many other existing ailments.

David Marr, appearing on ABC Insiders, Sunday, warns that voters are micro-targeted secretly; issues are not contested publicly. A party can woo voters by “speaking out of both sides of its mouth” in ways which can’t be contested.

Some of this duplicity and born to rule arrogance is already eerily familiar to Australians.

No-one, for example, has been able to budge the Turnbull government from its lie that tax cuts for big corporations create jobs or drive economic growth. Or that renewables are more expensive and less reliable than coal in generating electricity. Or that small business is the engine of the economy. The only real contest takes place behind closed doors with members of the Senate cross-bench seeking their own odd concessions.

The “talking toilet-brush” as Derryn Hinch was known back at home in New Zealand appears to want to have the banks exempted from a tax cut, a reasonable aim given their massive profits. Yet he is quickly, quietly moved on to some lesser consolation prize.

Shock horror at the corruption of our democratic will is not confined to i360. Revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a UK data mining firm, once co-directed by Steve Bannon, which creates detailed profiles of voters and which helped swing the election for Donald Trump, cast another cloud over our otherwise halcyon political landscape.

Pristine Labor Senator, Kristina Keneally, calls Cambridge Analytica’s activities “the dark arts of secretly mining and manipulating our citizens’ personal data”. She doesn’t want it in Australian politics. Too late. Banks do it as the Royal Commission reveals recently when a bank admits to swapping the income and assets of the guarantor with the borrower. All a terrible error, of course, but it did expedite the granting of a loan.

Besides, what sort of profiling does Labor use? There are many competing data mining products in the marketplace. It is unlikely that Labor would not have access to one.

Of course it’s not the brand that matters. It’s the principle of spying and stealing other people’s personal data for your own political gain. As in Facebook trolling.

A spokesman for the Liberal Party’s federal secretariat denies the party uses Cambridge Analytica. In perfect sync with Angus Taylor. Why would they? i360 software can help their party achieve even better results.  The Liberals doth protest too much.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “the tool (i360) is said to have been critical to the Liberals South Australian victory”. How do they know? Is it like selling Amway?

There’s no time to waste testing the snake oil claims. Victorian Libs are already frantically data-mining their way to certain victory in their November state election.

Matthew Guy’s lobster with a mobster fund-raiser and his alleged links with Mafioso will, doubtless be data-matched to sync his crime crackdown with his door-knocking; shield him from random encounters with aggrieved African gangsters.

Guy gets top billing on ABC News these days with his party’s latest Labor bashing. Our radio and TV also helpfully tell us or show us what they think we need to know, based on ratings systems, audience talkback, texts, tweets and station owner’s interests.

Not that mass media are to be confused with election campaign software programmes -but there is a complementary, if not exactly parallel, echo chamber or bubble in which the audience’s prejudices are massaged at the expense of any increased knowledge or understanding.

Of course, prominent MPs would rather a media that was a megaphone. Peter Dutton is in the news with his criticism that the ABC doesn’t applaud his daft claim that we need to extend preferential treatment to South African farmers that alt-right websites insist are becoming a persecuted minority. The facts don’t bear this out. So the ABC’s “dead to him”. Besides, he’s got a swing against him in Dickson that badly needs fixing.

Guy Rundle points out how cheering a discovery it must be to Peter to find that there are “neighbourhoods of white South Africans around his electorate’s Albany Creek area, little Johannesburg East. Being white South Africans, they are active in the local Liberal National Party. A few boatloads of the right, white refugees should pretty well guarantee his re-election.

This is not to ignore his powerful political tactic of dog-whistling racists

Unlike Dutton, Taylor’s ABC is not “dead to him”. So, too, with fossil-fuel tool Frydenberg, the world’s most hopelessly conflicted environment minister, who’ll save marine parks by letting in “well-managed fishing” and more tourists, so he tells Fran Kelly on RN. Josh is so good at what he does he’ll be PM one day. He’s earned it.

Abbott and Dutton are on a talk-show mission to save white South African farmers from a non-existent forced dispossession on their regular 2GB love-ins. All of this constant barrage of disinformation vitiates our national conversation; corrupts our capacity to make informed choices, surely? To say nothing of its power to inflame division.

MPs go into print or leak or go on air to “get the message out”, a spin about spin. And in our mainstream media spinners are winners. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Peter Dutton gets more than the odd nod of approval from Ray Hadley on 2GB.

Equally, no-one at SBS News, News Corp or ABC would be so naff as to challenge Angus Taylor on his strictly legal Liberals gag nor his hilarious punchline about “retaining” an abused and long-lost public trust. But it may tear the guts out of our body politic.

Trust is not so easy to talk up. Only around a third of Australians trust any government; most observers and studies suggest that fraction is declining. Save your breath, Taylor.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, for example, an 18-year annual study of attitudes across 28 countries towards government, non-government organisations, business and the media suggest most of us distrust Taylor’s spin. It’s a tribute to our discernment, surely, despite all the fashionable hand-wringing on The Drum, Q&A and other host-controlled, “balanced” “panel shows”, where we mourn our loss of trust in our unworthy leaders.

Our nation leads the world in growing scepticism about those in charge. Commendably, Australia and Singapore are the only two countries to have “declined in trust” across all four institutions this year: Australia’s trust in NGOs is 48%, business 45%, government 35% and media 31%.

Angus is clearly wasting his time hoping we’ll just accept his claim that Liberals are lawful. Tell that to the Australian Workers Union (AWU), whose offices in Sydney and in Melbourne were illegally raided by The Australian Federal Police, on instruction from the newly established Registered Organisation Commission (ROC) last October.

Josh Bornstein, of law firm Maurice Blackburn, who is taking the federal government to court, contends, on his client’s behalf, “That the raid conducted by the AFP was illegal; and That the investigation by the ROC is illegal because it is politically motivated.”

Illegal and politically motivated? It’s almost standard government procedure. It’s the essence of our immigration policy and practice or border protection, for example.

1287 people suffer illegal detention within Australia. 2000 more remain in offshore detention in conditions designed to break their spirit, conditions which the UNHCR has described as “tantamount to torture”. Taylor would have us believe this lawful?

His government itself has been forced to concede it has breached its duty of care of 2000 refugees and asylum-seekers, illegally detained in horrific conditions from 2012 to 2016. Each received a settlement, last June, an admission of culpability by the Australian government, Taylor claims is always law-abiding.

He would do well to talk to the people of Iraq whose nation we illegally invaded and whose lives we helped to destroy at the bidding of our great and powerful friend the US on the pretext of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, a decision made by former PM John Howard who claimed, falsely, to have obtained a legal ruling

Clearly he’s forgotten when former Liberal Party honorary Federal Treasurer, Michael Yabsley spilled his guts in May 2016 about how he knew donations made through the Free Enterprise Foundation (FEF) were illegal and how the FEF was designed to circumvent rules about donations from property developers.

$250,000 from property developer Brickworks and $150,000 from Westfield Corporation were amongst the banned donations. The funds helped the NSW Liberal Party win the state’s 2011 election campaign.

Taylor’s crazy-lame denial-confirmation is another bombshell in a shocking week in which Donald Trump goes postal, provoking a world trade war with his tariff madness, imposing $60 billion on Chinese imports. Trade wars are good, Trump intones, as financial markets sink and the prospect a trans-Pacific trade war rises.

Trump also sacks Lt Gen H.R. McMaster, his sanest, most capable adviser in a White House of sycophants and buffoons, to appoint gonzo ambassador John Bolton, whom Fox describes both as “a bull-dog” and “a hawk”. To the non-Fox fraternity, Bird-Dog Bolton is a Neocon war-monger, one of the brains behind the 2003 illegal US invasion of Iraq.

While dark shafts of data mining allegations undercut the Tasmania and South Australian election results after revelations from Cambridge Analytica, Royal Commissioner, former High Court Judge Ken Hayne and his amazing assistant Rowena Orr QC steal the show in the national political theatre this week, by asking the banks all the right questions and demanding honest answers.

Clearly, they’ve done their research. They know exactly what they’re looking for.

Catch their performance in the brilliant Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. It has a few weeks to run.

So far it proves comprehensively just how much the government lies when it tells us ASIC is as good as a Royal Commission need because we already had ASIC – the Clayton’s corporate regulator you have when you are not having a corporate regulator.

CEOs have been forced to admit lending money to people who clearly didn’t have the capacity to repay, for example. The borrowers’ expenses were simply never checked.

The nation is delighted by news, this week, however that our government’s grovelling to the US is paying “yuge” dividends. We’ve cut a deal on aluminium and steel. A hundred years of mateship has helped us get an exemption from bad new tariffs.

Or has it? Echoing cringing, John “Winston” Howard’s servile, fawning, Malcolm Turnbull’s craven US arse-licking helps only, bigly, to normalise the monster-baby in The White House. And appease the enfant terrible. Donald cuts loose.

The deal turns out to be “a temporary measure”, we learn Friday, until we can show what else we can do to further American interests. What else can we do?

Despite the 23 Chapters, 4 Annexes, and 27 side letters of our free trade agreement with the US, AUSTFA furthers US interests. The US trade surplus with Australia, under the 2005 deal, grew from $14 to almost $25 billion in ten years.

ANU’s Peter Drysdale estimates that “Australia alone has suffered trade losses from AUSFTA, the annual equivalent of the current price of around 18 Japanese, German, Swedish or French submarines through this deal”

The New York Times reports that Trump decamps to Mar a Largo “after a head-spinning series of presidential decision on national security, trade and the budget” that Washington reels while White House staff still in work freak out.

Trump’s so up, that he wants to show Kim Jong-Un, just how much his “nuclear button is bigger than anyone else’s” by nuking North Korea. The Donald also gets a little global trade war happening; threatens the entire world economy.

Are we to blame? We’ve pumped the Trump at every opportunity, no wonder he’s taking no other advice.  Golf buddy, Greg Norman signs a letter. Joe Hockey who knows the ropes, pulls strings while in the land of The Oz, Merry Gerry Henderson gushes how “clever and cunning” Trump really is.

“He does not read much but he is highly intelligent”. Stable, genius, Trump’s disruption, furthermore, works to Australia’s advantage. Or does it?

“America First becomes America alone” McMaster has warned as Trump triggers total global trade war, this week. Trump sulks. Where are those yes men when you need them?

At last he gets staff who understand him. Enter Joltin’ John Bolton, so far stage right, he even frightens the alt-right. But he does love the Russians.

Selfless, compassionate to a fault, as Fairfax big notes Big Mal’s 2016 counselling of old family friend James Packer, currently laid so low by the black dog of despair that he must stand down from the family money laundering firm, no-one pretends that pumping up Trump’s tyres is solely for the dotard’s benefit.

Of course, reprising “lying rodent Howard”, our current PM, will do anything to boost his stocks at home.  His 30th dud Newspoll moves inexorably closer. with another dud.

The latest Newspoll of 1597 voters, the 29th published late Sunday in the Australian, also shows Labor’s primary vote climbing to 39 per cent against the coalition’s unchanged 37 percent. Labor’s first preference vote has not been as high since Mr Turnbull ousted Mr Abbott in September 2015,

July 2, 2016 is the last time his government led Labor in Newspoll on a two-party-preferred basis – the day of the last federal election.

Bill Shorten’s satisfaction rating is 34 per cent, two points ahead Mr Turnbull’s 32 percent. The preferred PM is pretty well neck and neck on 36 to 39 when you allow the poll’s margin of error.

Malcolm needs to talk to Angus Taylor. He’ll explain how no-one in the Liberal Party would ever do anything improper. How the Party’s integrity and legality has won it the public’s trust. You just need a massively deep data-mining exploration to discover it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the conundrum of the SA Election to the riddle of The ASEAN Way

Hung Sen looking ugly

Could Adelaide, or “Adders”, as Jeffrey Smart loved to call the Athens of the South, the staid city of churches and canon law, now be under Marshall law? How dare Labor lose when it was electric light years ahead of everyone in Tesla batteries; renewable energy?

Cue our ABC. The national broadcaster is a staunch SA regime change supporter when it’s not gunning for soft-on-crime Dan Andrews and his African gang crisis in lawless Victoria.

Chris Uhlmann led the charge; blaming renewable energy for SA’s blackouts caused by natural disaster but there has been some solid pro-Liberal teamwork from our state broadcaster, including Fran Kelly’s trifecta of power-crisis, the demise of the car industry and rising regional unemployment, all of which are Labor’s fault, Thursday, on RN Breakfast.

Labor is howled down for its “ideologically driven” embrace of “aggressive” targets for wind and solar energy; an “experiment” in a clean and sustainable source of electricity which can can never be as affordable or reliable as good old coal. Or coal industry Liberal Party donations. Or a Liberal plug from the IPA with its secret list of big mining, big Rupert donors.

Labor’s SA was a plucky little state, of 1.2 million, scapegoat in a cynical attack on behalf of big coal and gas. It stood up to Canberra’s bullying over the federal government’s National Energy Guarantee, (NEG), a thought-bubble masquerading as an energy policy.  

What energy policy? Jay Weatherill was never afraid to let everyone know the emperor wears no clothes. Renew Economy’s Giles Parkinson reports growing ranks of critics who argue that the NEG is all negative. It will do nothing to address Turnbull’s “energy trilemma” of emissions, prices, and reliability. In fact, it is more likely to make each of them worse.

It has the capacity to kill investment in storage and to leave businesses with stranded assets.

Utilities, analysts, and activists have already criticised the NEG for doing little on emissions, putting an effective freeze on renewable investment, and creating a scheme of such complexity it would likely push up prices and reinforce the power of incumbent utilities.

Jay Weatherill quickly resigns as SA Labor leader, Sunday, soon after he concedes victory to Steven Marshall, leader of a Liberal Party whose inscrutable win was founded upon an extensive redrawing of electoral boundaries which psephologist, William Bowe and other experts predicted would help its chances in four seats.

Context matters. As do key actors. The SA Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission was chaired by Supreme Court Judge Ann Vanstone, sister-in-law of former federal Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone, appointed in October 2015 under state laws requiring the chair to be the court’s most senior judge. Labor appealed against the redistribution and lost.

A unique, “electoral fairness”, clause in SA’s constitution requires the commission to attempt to set new boundaries so that a group of candidates which receives more than 50 per cent of the popular vote “will be elected in sufficient numbers to enable a government to be formed”.

On ABC Insiders, Sunday, a guest recalls an ABC 2016 report that The Liberal Party’s chances of winning the 2018 South Australian election were greatly improved by a boundary redistribution which “notionally handed the party up to four additional seats”.

398,000 voters were affected by the changes and our ABC predicted Labor would need to secure a 3.2 % swing to stay in Government at the 2018 election.

Was it time for a change? Our ABC repeats a slogan which evokes Whitlamesque reform to misreport the state’s reversion to rule by the coal and gas barons; the oligarchy of corporate captains of industry and finance which commands the ear of our federal government.

Can the barons trash our national conversation? Is our democracy in peril?  Certainly SA’s Liberals ride a wave of industry-sponsored nostalgia for the good old days of paternalistic government delivering mythic certainty for investors with lashings of energy security, all guaranteed free of sovereign risk, as SA 2.0 hops aboard the Coalition’s flight from reason.

Business and mining interests are, nevertheless delighted to see little SA come to its senses; elect a government keen to take it back into the 1950s. A roar of approbation follows from the right, boosted by what Richard Denniss warns is “econobabble bullshit”.

Not so noisy, mow, however, are those at Aunty such as Leah MacLennan who, but six weeks ago predicted a premiership for Nick Xenophon and a majority for his SA Best, a party which fails to win a single seat. Was it a bold call? Or relaying a shrewd Liberal spin unit scare-tactic to panic voters into sticking with the devil they fondly imagine they know?   

Yet MacLennan is not the only pundit undone. Many a News Corp scribe confidently forecast a swing to “the minor parties” or on ABC’s The Drum beat up a bold showing for the tirelessly self-promoting, reactionary, throwback, Cory Bernardi and his atavistic Conservatives.

One social good is achieved. Hardening into orthodoxy is speculation that disaffection with the major parties’ snake oil salesmen causes voters to flock to more overt shonks; even wackier, crackpot candidates. SA’s result offers no evidence to help such theorising.

But let’s not get too warm and fuzzy about South Australia’s former government. Wind and solar aside. Labor has less of a lead on Liberals in nature conservation.  The Liberals’ ten-year moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, includes fracking, in the rich farmland of the state’s south-east while Labor supports an expanded gas industry there.

And when it comes to letting multinational corporations drill for oil in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight, the two parties are neck and neck in their rush to wreck the precious ecosystems of a unique environment. Liberals are gung-ho,while Labor merely insists that companies “follow regulations”, an approach which does nothing to avert an oil spill accident.

Oil spilled, experts caution, could wash up on the shores of NSW. BP and Chevron may have shelved their plans but international oil giants Statoil and Murphy, still hold exploration titles. Expect a lot of propaganda about jobs but don’t expect either to pay company tax.

South Australia’s election result is the week in politics’ riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside an enigma; rivalling the inky, darkness at the heart of ASEAN, ten Southeast Asian supremos in search of a soul attending Turnbull’s monster mash in Sydney this weekend.

The result is also a black hole which sucks energy out of ALP candidate, former ACTU President, Ged Kearney’s winning 54.2% of the primary vote and a 3.2% swing to Labor in Batman, Victoria, a by-election, Labor was widely tipped to lose to The Greens’ Alex Bhathal, who receives 45.3% – with 80% of the vote counted, late Sunday afternoon.

Sabotage, fumes browned off Greens’ leader, Richard di Natale. He blames “internal sabotage”, presumably referring to the leaking of bullying complaints against Bhathal.

Less paranoid, party strategists attribute the Green’s loss to their candidate’s focus on national issues such as the proposed Adani coal mine project and refugee policy while conceding that they were up against Ged Kearney’s popularity. Nor were they helped, they mutter, by Labor’s Faustian preference deal with Conservative candidate, Kevin Bailey.

But look over there. Shifty Bill Shorten is picking pensioners’ pockets. Rolling old grannies for their savings. Howl down, the scoundrel. Howl him down. Labor’s aim to reform dividend imputation becomes the mother of all scare campaigns.

Raving Scott Morrison is a froth of confected outrage. As always, parliament’s worst ham actor, he lampoons his own case, forfeits any credibility by over-egging his hyperbole.

“It is unfair to steal someone’s tax refund, I wouldn’t do it on your tax refund as a normal income tax payer and I’m not going to do it for pensioners and retirees who are simply making smart decisions in an environment like this where they can get a better return on buying shares,” Morrison rants, conveniently overlooking these investors don’t pay tax.

Only Morrison can turns a cash handout rort costing taxpayers $6bn into a tax return.

Not only is Labor out to sabotage SA’s power grid, then, it is intent on stealing pensioners’ nest eggs.  Reform dividend imputation? Labor is mad, bad and dangerous to know.

In fact, Labor proposes a change which the Parliamentary Budget office calculates “will have a minor impact” on 10% of our 2.5 million age pensioners who receive a part pension and only 1% of those receiving a full pension. But facts don’t matter to Morrison. Labor’s reform, something which the Liberals themselves considered in 2015 is demonised in mainstream media (MSM) as “Shorten’s cash grab”.

The servants have been nicking the silverware again; you just can’t trust Labor, is the major MSM theme. Yet Treasury estimates the average cash refund for age pensioners holding shares to be $900 a year per person. Any cash grab came in 2015 when The Greens sided with the Coalition to deprive all pensioners of up to $12,000 PA by changing the assets test.

.In Tasmania, however, the prospect of a Greens alliance with even Labor is held to deter swing voters from voting Labor, explains The Guardian’s Ben Raue, arguing that Labor is destined to struggle to win elections until this dilemma is resolved. Yet for your average mug punter, in all other respects, Tassie, aka Woolworth’s Island Inc., is thriving.

The post-Vandemonian pandemonium over Big Gambling’s buying of last week’s Tasmania’s election is quickly drowned out as souped-up chainsaws rev up to tear into Tarkine timber whilst the staccato rattle of automated fire destroys the natural tranquility as cockies, graziers and sporting shooters get bigger, quicker guns in their war on nature.  

But let’s be fair. Lethal, rapid-fire assault rifles are vital if farmers are to have a sporting chance against the lethal,feral fauna threatening their livelihood, or, if they just lust, lawfully, to enjoy the thrill of the kill, like any other normal, red-blooded, responsible sporting shooter who never had a rifle stolen. Or had to lend or even sell one or two to a mate.

Tassie’s battle with the bush and the irksome dictates of democracy are upstaged by Home Affairs Supremo, Scipio Africanus Dutton, who tears himself away from sacking former Queensland Drug Squad colleague, Roman Quaedvlieg, six months’ too late.

Roman, it seems, has been sold down the (Murray Darling) River, lock, stock and barrel, in Turnbull’s open season on bosses who bonk. He’s dismissed over allegations he got his girlfriend a job at Sydney airport. If only he’d been more discreet; asked Matt Canavan or Damian Drum.  It is all part of an adult soap opera entitled Barnaby’s Choice.

Unlike Sophie’s Choice (1982) which stars Meryl Streep, Barnaby’s Choice involves impaling yourself on the horns of a dilemma by pretending your paramour is not your partner even if you do promote her to a series of well-paid posts in your government, said to involve teaching staff about email even though she, herself doesn’t merit an email account.

In another shotgun marriage, Peter Dutton springs a firearms advisory council proposal, a move to allow our burgeoning gun lobby to bypass tedious democratic process and buy itself “a seat at the table” of government. All’s fair in love and war. What could possibly go wrong?

A proposal to allow white South African farmers, a persecuted minority, special Visas to enter Australia? Our Home Affairs supremo jumps the shark, given the dispossession of white farmers is part of a proposed amendment, as barrister Greg Barns explains in Crikey.

Worse Dutton makes a case for preferential treatment in a statement which has clear, racist overtones. Not only does he claim the farmers share our values, he tells 2GB listeners.

“We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare. And I think these people deserve special attention and we’re certainly applying that special attention now.”

Dutton’s misunderstood that the brutal dispossession is, in reality, a recent move by the South African Parliament to recommend an amendment to that nation’s constitution to allow for expropriation of agricultural land without compensation.

Yet, as Barns points out ,had Dutton bothered with any research, the resolution provides ways around the proposed change in a law which is a long way from being enacted.

Farmers and big agribusiness stakeholders can cut a deal with the Ramaphosa administration. Dutton’s act of clemency is in effect a calculated dog-whistle to right wing racists at home. It is the Home Affairs Minister’s White Australia Policy 2.0.

Late Sunday, Julie Bishop disputes Dutton’s claim that the white farmers merit special treatment and their alleged persecution. She pretends that the Home Affairs Minister was referring to Humanitarian Visas which she says anyone can apply for at any time.

Above the chatter of the automatically weaponised, dog-whistling ruling classes, all eyes turn to Sydney by the weekend. The city of bread and circus, is abuzz with fuzz this weekend as it plays host to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, (ASEAN), another fabulous gabfest about business opportunities just waiting on our doorstep and how more state power and secrecy will keep us all safe from ISIS in a “Special ASEAN-Australia summit”, a diversionary circus called by a Coalition which, so far, can’t win a trick.

Shunting aside a hapless ABC News 24 presenter, Friday afternoon, Turnbull mugs on camera with old pal, Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong in an impromptu infomercial where our PM prompts his guest to mouth incoherent platitudes about the great regional leadership Australia is showing already. It’s an inspired vignette of The ASEAN Way.

A big-noting, do-nothing club, ASEAN is an outfit where nine out of ten members are tyrants whose mutual contempt for human rights is protected by a mind your own business pact.

Like the fabulous Kray brothers who terrorised London, ASEAN’s strong men are harsh but fair. Cambodian PM Hung Sen obligingly warns any would-be protesters that,

“If they burn my effigy … I will pursue them to their houses and beat them up”.

The ASEAN Way means members vow not to meddle in any other member’s internal affairs. These include Myanmar’s genocide, or the 12,000 plus, Human Rights Watch calculates to be the current tally of victims of Duterte’s “war on drugs”, in reality, a war on the poor.

Sadly, psychopath, Duterte is unable to be with us this weekend because he’s busy pulling The Philippines out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by withdrawing from The Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC. He’s furious with ICC criticism of his ways.

It’s inspiring leadership. Our own tin-pot government, a front for big mining, banking and other multinational business interests is already well along The ASEAN Way as Julie Bishop and her funky DFAT backing group refuse to condemn Myanmar’s genocide of Rohingya  or utter a peep at China’s Xi becoming President for life.

Still it’s hard to claim the high moral ground. We have glaring human rights violations of our own, in our offshore detention regime and in our treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples while our Coalition government increases state surveillance and secrecy.

The ASEAN club fondly imagines itself to be the hub of Asia Pacific regionalism which could  put a spoke in China’s wheel, in an airy grand design that provide a beaut opportunity for our government’s foreign policy wonks to compose carefully worded statements pious intent that lack all specificity; an archly non-committal commitment, the epitome of postmodern politics.

“Australia places high priority on our bilateral relationships in Southeast Asia and on our support for ASEAN. The Government is enhancing engagement with the region to support an increasingly prosperous, outwardly-focused, stable and resilient Southeast Asia.”  

The statement, like ASEAN itself defies parsing. Just think of APEC without the silly shirts. But it’s a ripper of an opportunity for “Little” Malcolm Turnbull to pose as a regional statesman amongst a bunch of crony capitalists, nepotists, despots and thugs -(strong men is the favoured euphemism) -who preside over governments that deny basic liberties and fundamental freedoms to their citizens. Especially in Myanmar.

Human Rights Watch reports,

Since late August 2017, more than 688,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma’s Rakhine State to escape the military’s large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing. The atrocities committed by Burmese security forces, including mass killings, sexual violence, and widespread arson, amount to crimes against humanity.

Those who expect to hear a statement from the Australian government censuring Myanmar for its policy of genocide towards The Rohingya come away from the weekend sadly disappointed.

It is left to a group of local lawyers to file a private case against Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor and de facto leader of the Myanmar government.  

Ron Merkel QC, a Melbourne barrister and former federal court judge, international lawyers Marion Isobel and Raelene Sharp, and Sydney human rights lawyers Alison Battisson and Daniel Taylor file the private prosecution application in the Melbourne magistrates court late on Friday, reports The Guardian’s Ben Doherty

The lawyers’ application, which faces many barriers, including the approval of the attorney general, Christian Porter, accuses Aung San Suu Kyi of crimes against humanity for the deportation or forcible transfer of a population in relation to widespread and ongoing human rights abuses inside Myanmar.

May the applicants be blessed with miraculous success. Their action is inspiring as much as it shows up the Turnbull government’s reluctance to assert any real leadership at all.

The last word for the week could be a motto for the ASEAN Way and our own ruling elite’s self-interested, cynical – often amoral but high-handed behaviour comes from Trump’s new economic adviser Larry Kudlow who takes the spirit of neoliberalism to a whole new level:

The wealthy, he claims, “have no need to steal or engage in corruption” because “they know how to achieve goals and convince skeptics that good deals can be made to the benefit of both sides.”

Our nation abounds this week, with examples of how deals can be good because the wealthy are by definition virtuous.

 

“Despite the light at the end of the tunnel, the journey ahead will not be smooth.”

 

korean_cheer-leaders

“Despite the light at the end of the tunnel, the journey ahead will not be smooth.” Wang-Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister.

China’s philosophical Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, dips into the fortune cookie jar, this week, for a homespun mixed metaphor to sound a diplomatic note of caution, when, in an extraordinary turn of events, North Korea agrees to meet South at the negotiating table.

Wang’s multi-layered killer riff also wraps politics at home from Barnaby Joyce’s “grey area” paternity, to the fracas in Tasmania as “slick” Willy Hodgman’s Liberals sensibly announce their policies after winning the election, thus sparing Apple Isle voters the Sisyphean agony of choosing between parties according to policy manifesto; promises made to be broken.

Shoot first. Ask questions afterwards. Even Tasmanian nasty party veteran, Eric Abetz must be shocked by the state Liberals’ Willy-nilly approach to democracy. Returned Premier Hodgman openly admits that 200 of its 300 policies were released after election day. Yet he’s claiming an electoral mandate even for policies which were hidden from voter scrutiny.

Fast-talking Michael Ferguson, Tassie Liberal campaign manager and master of spin, claims his party simply had too many good ideas. Of course. The “sheer volume of policies released during an election campaign makes it impractical to widely promote all of them during the campaign period”. Or explain them. Or get them to Treasury on time. Or cost them.

Treasury documents, released Wednesday, reveal that Hodgman has opted to follow Barnaby Joyce’s example of improving a party’s electoral appeal by not costing new policies. Tassie Liberals win a Barnaby award for most un-costed election commitments.

Showing contempt for evidence is one way the National Party’s former leader once rallied his party. As shadow water minister, in 2010, he said he’d use for toilet paper, the Productivity Commission Report on water recovery for the Murray Darling Basin.

Insufficient time or information leaves Tasmania’s Department of Finance unable to assess 161 Liberal pledges. Joyce, readers will recall, billed the taxpayer $40 million to move an entire government department, appropriately a regulatory authority which deals with pests, without even what is fondly called “modelling” and despite the wishes of the staff.

This week, the wonderfully named David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture confirms the move will continue, despite the discovery that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority will spend nearly $1 million on leasing and fitting out its temporary digs in Armidale for more staff, as it prepares to move into its permanent new home by mid-2019.

ACT MP Gai Brodtmann warns that the move “has cost the Australian taxpayer $26 million already and is likely to cost the Australian taxpayer $60 million”.

A mere 42 staff, including nine scientists have left the APVMA since Barnaby’s brainwave and Dr Parker, New CEO of the regulatory authority claims most have been unable or unwilling to travel north from Canberra, the original location of their workplace. Nothing to see here.

Less is heard this week from  industry groups who have complained that the authority is unable to cope with its workload, but Ms Brodtmann reports that the move is opposed by industry groups and peak associations, including CropLife Australia, Animal Medicines Australia and the National Farmers Federation.

The vibe was right; the pork barrelling perfect. Bugger the key stakeholders. Too much consultation simply spoils the populism. So, too does the over-sharing of personal details, as Joyce discovers to his cost.

Barnaby’s intimate affairs may be the new wet patch of national politics. Monday, Joyce calls yet another public, press conference to keep his life private. The paternity of his partner Vikki Campion’s child, he says, is a grey area. Joyce is a dead, buried and cremated man walking.

How quickly, the gold rolls off the “rolled gold promise” he would survive as Nationals’ leader.

Already regretting her rolled-gold pledge is Nats’ Deputy, Bridget McKenzie, whom a well-oiled Joyce (“I wasn’t drunk”) once publicly admired in a late night senate session,

“Madam acting deputy president McKenzie, you are looking wonderful tonight,” Joyce said at 9:00 pm July 2012. “You are a flash bit of kit in this chamber; there is no doubt about you.”

 In the spirit of International Women’s Day, last Thursday, it must be remembered that Barnaby rounded off his compliment by asking McKenzie to “roll with me on that one”.

Impotent, “inept”, but as yet unrolled, Liberal leader, Turnbull, meanwhile, wears his PM’s hollow crown uneasily. Eagerly awaiting Newspoll number 30, Abbott reminds him he will need to show due cause why he should remain Prime Minister, next month – if not sooner.

Michaelia Cash, darling of Western Australia’s hard right, continues to cause grief with her “brain-snap”, or attempt at debate by personal innuendo and slander but Turnbull cannot afford to lose her support. His contortions to keep her onside, on board, or behind a white-board have been pure high farce and highly damaging. If only he could white-board Abbott.

The white-board parodies a government which boasts it is open and transparent. Damaging also is Turnbull’s brain-snap defence of Cash. Betraying his need to support her at any cost, he absurdly accuses Doug Cameron of bullying. At least the dud GDP figures can be hushed up.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), reveal real GDP grew by 0.4% in the December quarter of last year. Even the best spin can’t disguise a drop over the year to 2.4%, below what the government claims is the economy’s potential trend growth rate or around 2.75%.
Malcolm chokes on the sulphurous stench of his 28th consecutive bad Newspoll, a modern medieval Hell’s mouth, which, this week, even devours his precious but irrelevant preferred PM lead. He drops eight points. Now he’s statistically equal to Bill Shorten.

Since 2016 the government has lagged behind the opposition by 6.6 per cent on average. The Turnbull experiment is a failure.

Even Turnbull must concede that a thirtieth dud poll is inevitable, next month. “Senior Labor figures” are said to be calculating on facing another Liberal leader, next election. Nothing for it but once last fling at being Super-Mal. Mal gets his office to call Greg Norman to be Robin.

As he dons his tarnishing Super Mal outfit; the showman in Turnbull senses a last chance to pose as a super statesman by wringing exemptions from the president’s dumb 25% tariff on steel 10% tariff on aluminium – that is if no-one at home notices that US tariffs won’t make much difference to our industries. We don’t export much of either metal.

What we do export, moreover, is covered by the Australia United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSTFA) our much-vaunted dud Trade Agreement with the United Sates.

Dynamic Dan Tehan rushes to air Friday informing ABC RN listeners of his mission to save Alcoa’s Portland aluminium smelter, which is in his electorate. He neglects to say that the business is a basket case, propped up only because the state and federal government use $250 million of tax-payer money to pay the smelter’s electricity bill.

Of course, there’s more. Now concessions have been granted –or appear to have been granted, Trump expects Australia to “join the US in sending a signal to China about the South China Sea”, or play chicken with the Chinese Navy, an option favoured by new US ambassador to Australia, Pacific commander Harry Harris formerly of Guantanamo Bay.

It’s a high price to pay for concessions which appear to have been unnecessary and which, in any case, won’t protect us from the effects of a trade war between China, USA and the EU. Turnbull’s stunt may prove a pyrrhic victory; another example of his poor judgement.

Another fan of poor judgement, Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, pops up on Sunday’s ABC Insiders to spruik US lickspittle, John Howard’s, dud trade agreement with the US as the best thing since smashed avocado. Yet three years ago, ANU research confirms that the Australian Free Trade Agreement, (AUSTFA) is a lemon. But how would Steve know?

Everyone on Insiders is too polite to ask the Neoliberal blowhard what’s happened to the wondrous free trade deal with Indonesia he promised a year ago. Ciobo’s work on our Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), which began in 2016, is a game well into extra time, as negotiators add an 11th round in December, its seventh extension after negotiations in November failed to finalise any deal whatsoever.

Ciobo’s lies about the benefit of AUSTFA are unchallenged. Ciobo even drops the name of the Liberal party’s patron saint, Neoliberal Saint John of the double-cross of Tampa, the un-Fair Work Commission, cheer-leader of the illegal invasion of Iraq Howard, Amen, as geriatric living proof that AUSTFA is a good thing. It has, in fact, cost us billions.

Shiro Armstrong Co-Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU notes the agreement diverted Australia’s trade away from the lowest-cost sources. Australia and the US reduced their trade with the rest of the world by US$53 billion and are worse off than they would have been without the agreement.

Imports to Australia and the US from the rest of the world fell by $37.5 billion and exports to the rest of the world from the two countries fell by $15.6 billion over eight years to 2012.

Praise for AUSTFA is “complete and utter nonsense on stilts” to purloin Nick Clegg’s recent dismissal of Julie Bishop’s proposal of a UK-Australia free trade (FTA) which would be “value-added” by creating a bridge whereby the Old Dart could become eligible to belong to another impending disaster, the TPP.

The TPP will enable companies to exploit “temporary workers” brought from overseas, says the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which slammed the deal on February 21. It also warns that the agreement also allows foreign companies to sue Australian governments for making decisions, such as the plain packaging laws on cigarettes.

Never to be outbid, our Prime Minister, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull echoes Wang’s cryptic warning. “There have been many false dawns”, Turnbull responds. He should know. His epigram avoids trains, tunnels and journeys but unwittingly voices his own political epitaph.

Turnbull doesn’t mention false claims. The week witnesses a bizarre tussle as three nations compete for kudos in wrangling “rogue state” North Korea to its senses. Things turn ugly.

In a shocking three-way heist, China, snatches credit from the US which snatches credit from South Korea, which cops a lot of stick, for painstakingly setting up its first talks since 1953 with North Korea’s Fatboy-Kim III, as Kim Jung-un is known, in Chinese cyberspace.

The breakthrough results from South Korea’s hard yards. Despite US opposition, President, Moon Jae-in has laboured long over his courageous personal diplomacy in search of peace.

Moon’s initiatives include high-risk ventures: he hosted Kim’s sister and a chorus of cheerleaders for the Winter Olympics. He defied US opposition to his mission. And a senior delegation sent to Pyongyang, gets a terrific surprise to find their dinner host is Kim.

Moon will meet Kim next month on the south of the demilitarised zone, a brutal reminder of when the US divided North and South Korea after dropping half a million tonnes of bombs on the north. Chemical weapons and Napalm were included in a “long, leisurely and merciless” bombing campaign killing three million people, about half of whom, were civilians.

Koreans remember “the forgotten war”, a war the US lost against largely peasant armies, “forgotten” by the US and Australia only because it went unreported at home. One post-war detail, at least, helps contextualise the view of those who charge Kim with nuclear blackmail.

Nuclear blackmail? From 1958 to 1990, the US stationed hundreds of nukes in South Korea with standard plans to use them in the early stages of a North Korean invasion.

Moon pressures the US to relax its demands for talks with North Korea. He sends his emissary to Trump, Thursday, relaying “an undisclosed personal message” from Kim. It is this initiative which results in The Donald trumping his efforts and claiming all the credit.

Yet Wily Wang Yi is uncannily prophetic. Before week’s end, two desperate imposters, the hopeless, hapless, narcissist Trump and his embarrassingly eager “inept” fan-boy, Turnbull, big-note themselves abroad in desperate attempts to divert impending domestic disaster.

Trump jumps the shark. As his staffers spin the old, tired myth of The Donald’s deal-making mastery, he gazumps the South Korean engineered offer to talk with “little rocket man”, his pet pejorative term for Kim Jong-un, and pretends to propose a pow-wow in May, provided, of course, Kim completely disarms and crippling sanctions stay in place.

Deal-making? It’s just a stunt. Yochi Dreazen sets the record straight in Vox.

It’s not just that Trump hasn’t been able to nail down deals on domestic issues like health care, trade issues like NAFTA, or foreign policy issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s that he hasn’t really even tried, avoiding direct talks with political rivals or foreign leaders and instead preferring to simply sit on the sidelines and see what his aides could come up with.

 Sit on the sidelines? Trump slaves night and day over his signature phrases “We’ll see what happens … we’ll see how it all comes about”. Flattery helps. “Uncle Trump” or “Donald the Strong” or “The Commander” his Beijing fans call him. They follow state media in paying tribute to his “decisiveness; his fearless risk-taking”. China has got Trump’s number.

The Chinese play Trump at his own game. The self-proclaimed master deal-maker would rather have a bad deal than no deal at all. Even a compromise allows him to declare a “win.”

“Tell him yes”, “I’ll do it,” The Donald rudely interrupts a trio of South Korean officials, visiting The Oval Office to weigh the diplomatic options of Kim’s offer to talk. Trump has no inkling of what he’s up for. No-one could remotely prepare him for such an encounter by May. But his instinct prompts him to snatch kudos for himself, regardless of protocol. His racism helps, too. Instantly, he usurps Moon’s role; brazenly claiming his diplomacy as his own.

Light at the end of the tunnel may, of course, be an oncoming dragon. Or the devil’s venom, the dangerously volatile rocket fuel, unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH), which China and Russia have obligingly supplied Kim since George W Bush restored trade tariffs to protect the US steel industry in 2002, a calamitous failure, abandoned a year later.

With no dragon’s venom, Kim’s missiles could not fly but that’s not in either Russia or China’s strategic interests. Our US vassal nation rejoices to learn that China has sorted North Korea, even if, as Wang Yi suggests, we may all be in for a rough trot.

Amazingly, the Pussy-Grabber in Chief is able to extricate himself from his duties; tear himself away from getting lawyer, Michael Cohen to put a restraining order on adult film actor, Stormy Daniels, (Stephanie Clifford), who wants to reveal details of her alleged affair with Trump, a fabulous audio-visual performance piece, which may include images and texts.

Juggling the rigours of golf, firing more staff and the other pressing needs of a B-Grade reality TV presidency, including waging a world trade war, simply because, he mistakenly believes it will win him Pittsburgh, Trump stops the show by announcing he will meet Kim.

It’s huge. The Donald’s talk of talks with Kim, “in May, sometime” on a set yet to be chosen is given a standing ovation by local media happy to pretend a meaningless stunt is, in fact, an amazing breakthrough – before any meeting has even taken place.

The Donald is hailed locally as “The first serving president to meet a North Korean leader”.  Some of our local politicians from Tamworth to Tasmania will be delighted to see Trump get the accolade before he’s even met Kim Jong-un or without a scrap of evidence to suggest the US President is capable of any intelligent, informed, strategic dialogue.

What do facts matter in a post-truth world? Or a world in which lies are merely alternative facts? Or a world where real statecraft takes a back seat to parochial politics; how it looks at home for Wang, Turnbull and the photo-opportunity, reality TV president Trump?

No-one expects Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, his nation’s life insurance policy. Nor does China want a weakend North Korea on its border.

It’s clear, above all, from Wang-Yi’s cryptic fortune cookie comment that it’s not the light at the end of the tunnel but the long rough journey ahead – the drawn-out, time consuming, endlessly protracted time wasting process of talks that’s China’s real objective.

Upsetting the bad-apple cart, is South Korean President, former student activist and human rights lawyer, Moon Jae-in’s inspiring personal quest for peace and justice against the odds; a rare quest fuelled by principle and ideal in a world where cynical pragmatists abound.

The cheerleaders, whom Moon kindly billeted, over a Winter Olympics, will have long left to go back to their homes in the North, but he could certainly do with some cheering on.

 

 

One-armed bandits rob Tassie election while Cash loses plot and Barnaby finds paternity a grey area.

And it is money that has come out of the pockets of some of the poorest people. It is money that comes from human hardship. These machines are located in pubs and clubs in areas of economic disadvantage deliberately. And that is why we have fought so hard, so hard, to get poker machines out of pubs and clubs in Tasmania. We know they are lethal and toxic machines. Cassy O’Connor Tasmanian Greens’ leader

Like rabbits caught in the headlights of a juggernaut of pro-pokie Liberal Mad-men, Tasmanians vote, Saturday, mostly to do as they are told. It’s a win for pokies’ owners by pokies’ owners. Bugger the people. Yet it’s not the crushing victory being sold on mainstream media. What is clear by Sunday is the Liberals will stay in power.

Premier Will Hodgman’s government wins 13 of the 25 state lower house seats on Saturday, a loss of two, or down 0.8 %, but still enough for his Liberal Party to govern in its own right in a large late surge over the last month.

Labor’s vote is up 5.4% with 84% of the vote counted Sunday. The Hare-Clark, Robson system means that several seats remain in doubt in contests between candidates from the same party. What is not in doubt is the size of the Liberal war chest which some say is ten times Labor’s. Did wealthy Liberals donors help the party buy its victory?

Bedazzled by bill-boards, newspapers and TV screens, in a saturation ad blitzkrieg, voters succumb to sentimental slogans such as “love your local” and fear of paternalism, the dreaded spectre of Labor-Green despotism.

And the jobs’ lies. “I’ll have to go to the mainland for a hospitality career if Labor gets in,” whinges a teenager on the radio, a model of self-pitying misery and entitlement, already a perfect fit for any career in customer service.

Bad news, kid, the “hospitality industry” is rife with wage theft and exploitation. Better you should stay at school.

“Whether it’s a big, small or medium business, the most common worker is young, unskilled or a migrant so really it’s a hotpot for exploitation. When you put all these things in the mix, people aren’t aware of their rights — people are desperate to work, and it’s a recipe for exploitation,” says Shine Lawyers employment law expert, Will Barsby.

When it comes to wages, Tasmanian workers share the predicament of all Australia’s workers. Wage earners’ share of the national pie has shrunk dramatically to the lowest point since the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) began recording this data in 1959.

Roy Morgan reports that our workforce is 13,410,000 comprised of employed and unemployed, up a whopping 518,000 on a year ago, a context omitted in Scott Morrison’s misleading claim that “2017 was a year of extraordinary jobs growth in Australia, over 400,000 jobs created in the year”.

1.312 million Australians were unemployed (9.8% of the workforce); an increase of 126,000 (up 0.6%) on a year ago, but Morrison chooses to hide this from us in the hope we are all mugs. ScoMo or Michaelia Cash never talk about numbers of unemployed.

Furthermore, despite Liberal shills on ABC and mainstream media who pretend there is some miraculous recovery happening ,Tasmanians are in fact more likely to be out of work or underemployed than workers in any other state.

Tasmania’s unemployment rate is 10.7% while 11.5% of the workforce is under-employment 11.5%. 22.2%, or one in five, Tassie workers have either no work or not enough. Abolishing pokies is not going to cost 5000 jobs – as claimed by Hodgman’s Liberals – when there are only 370 workers in the industry – or about 1000 in gambling overall. And other jobs are likely to be created as a result of money not spent gambling.

The new gaming laws will bring a windfall for casinos reports The Australia Institute, cutting their taxes in half if they are put on the Federal group rate. Taxes for pubs and clubs, on the other hand, will rise by $10 million. Yet, in a typically caring, sharing, token concession to pokies’ toxicity, taxpayers will contribute an extra $1.7 million to the Community Support Levy to counter the costs of problem gambling. The casinos are the big winners while the punter loses out yet again.

The Liberals’ big Tasmania vision is not solution, either, for unlucky punters. Population growth is at its highest rate since the GFC, but that doesn’t “grow” jobs. Nor is it a state economic windfall. It’s the structure of the population that counts. Each year Tasmania has fewer young and more older people compared to the rest of Australia, even when population “booms”.

Will Hodgman has had a population push since 2014. Yet Tasmania has always gained more people over 45 and lost more younger, working, fertile, 19-39 year olds due, mainly, to the state’s lack of employment opportunities.

Older folk create jobs and actively contribute to society and economy, but they also will create increasing demand for government services, such as pensions and healthcare, areas in which Liberals have a poor track record.

The Government has made sweeping job cuts in health, reports ABC Fact check with the Treasurer stating publicly that while the Tasmanian Health Organisations gained 80 full-time equivalent staff, the Health Department shed 200 positions between June 2014 and March 2016.

But bosses and government never gull young people, it’s always unions and greenies who are out to con you.

“Labor and the Greens think you’re stupid. What’s next? Don’t let them tell you what to do”.

This richly allusive Liberal rhetorical campaign gem shrewdly taps Tasmanians’ memory of the unpopularity of its last Labor-Greens coalition cabinet of 2010, a coalition which psephologist, William Bowe, dubs an electoral disaster.

Be it inertia, bewilderment, blind panic, cynical manipulation, disinformation or a toxic cocktail of the lot, in the end, voters elect Will Hodgman’s Libs, a shady cabal of big business, big gambling and Big W, in a result which will further erode Tasmanians’ control of their own lives, expand state power, boost  gun-power and feed the canker of poker machine blight, introduced to the Apple Isle by Ray Groom’s, 1993 Liberal government.

Can Tasmania, our most beautiful, most wondrous state, Australia’s own Serendip, now be rotten at the core?

Ministry of Truth, our ABC in its Insiders cosy Sunday hack-chat-show, a forum which artfully evades the real issues, or real depth, says the Liberals win as Tasmanians flock to sunny uplands of neoliberal prosperity. Hodgman’s Liberals, they say, deliver an “economic upturn” a myth based on the island state’s property boom, or bubble.

It’s a tall story which can only grow taller, as the federal Liberals’ spin doctor army toils to turn the result into a vindication of the Turnbull government’s futile attempts to revive neoliberalism’s corpse; its corporate tax cut payola to its donors, and austerity budgeting, a campaign of calculated impoverishment of innocent and vulnerable victims of its policies, which daily widens the gulf of economic inequality, in its war on the poor and elderly.

By Monday, Tassie’s results will become a sign of upturn number 365 in the Turnbull government’s popularity. There is always a reboot, a recovery around every corner.

Yet, apart from real estate sales, any other economic upturn is hard to find. So why the sudden turnaround? A month ago, polls had the two parties neck and neck, on 34% of the vote, but in more recent polls Liberals soar an alarming 12 %.  in a shocking corruption of the popular will, which, William Bowe, worries, means,

The election could join federal Labor’s mining tax debacle in 2010 as a cautionary tale about the dangers of taking on deep-pocketed interests in an election campaign.

A key issue at stake is many Tasmanians’ opposition to Federal Hotels’ pokies monopoly. Federal owns all 3500 machines (plus Wrest Point Casino, some luxury wilderness accommodation and the Henry James Hotel). Labor and The Greens’ want to remove pokies from all pubs and clubs by 2023. But end the firm’s half-billion dollar revenue stream?

Also not sitting well with voters is Federal’s breath-taking, back-flipping duplicity. Anti-pokers veteran, Pat Caplice sums up Federal’s hypocrisy.

 “The clubs and hotels pushed for pokies back in the ’80s. Federal opposed it totally, used all the arguments about dependency they now deny. Then, when it was being debated in 1993, there was a huge backflip, within days, and Federal itself was gifted a monopoly licence.”

Saturday’s election result ushers in a new “gaming” agreement, an industry euphemism for ripping off unwary, vulnerable, punters. The state will revoke Federal Hotels’ monopoly and gift licences to pokies pubs, in a move which will result in cashed-up Federal and Woolworths buying up dozens of pubs, allowing Woolworths a 30-40% stake in gambling in the state. The result is guaranteed to increase personal misery and social breakdown.

Meanwhile, the pro-pokie promotion create a ruckus that sucks the oxygen out of many other areas of debate.

Protecting what remains of The Tarkine is a huge political issue. Speciality timber logging permits granted in 2014 by Hodgman’s government reduce the area’s reserve to five per cent of its former area. Liberal candidate for Braddon, Adam Brooks’, media release reads “Only the Liberals would stop a Tarkine National Park”.

The Liberal election pledge is an indictment of the party’s senseless environmental vandalism; its contempt for Aboriginal cultural heritage, history and the legacy of shell middens, stone quarries, hut depressions, seal hides and rock carvings that remain and its failure to consult with local Aboriginal people.

17 coupes are still being logged while the 4WD fraternity, bush-bash on expensive temporary road mats. In Hobart, around two thousand people protest the abuse of the unique wilderness, in a gathering led by the Bob Brown Foundation. The group calls for permanent protection for the 447,000 hectares of the Tarkine.

One-armed bandits backers make such a racket they drown out late news that the 45th Tasmanian premier, William Edward Felix Hodgman, promises the quaintly termed sporting shooters and farmers, a hard-nosed gun lobby, an easing of gun control laws, extending licences from five to ten years and permitting automatic weapons.

But if it’s a victory for guns and money, it’s also another stage in the ascent of the corporate oligarchy Woolworths, which, Guy Rundle writes, will wield power over Tasmanians “from controlling prices to suppliers, to selling them their food back as consumers, and taking the cash of people who never quite make it to the shops.”

At the same time, Tasmanians surrender their own say in their own affairs, as Hodgman’s big government proposes major projects legislation and a state-wide planning scheme which shuts out community input.

Tasmania, fruit of the fruit machine, rolls with the dice, as the state’s obscenely powerful gambling lobby pours millions of dollars into Liberal party campaign coffers, vastly outspending the Labor Party. Some estimate a Liberal war chest up to ten times larger. We may never know. The state has the nation’s slackest campaign donation disclosure rules.

What is unique – and refreshing about the Tassie election campaign is the respect between the Liberal and Labor leaders, a tradition that is dead, buried and cremated in federal politics this week when Michaelia Cash suddenly threatens to name young women in Bill Shorten’s office – about whom there have been rumours “for many, many years.” The idea that she should “slut-shame” nineteen women working in Shorten’s office is bizarre, wrong and a sign of an ugly decline in federal politics.

Worse, Cash makes it clear that she proposes to name names and then Shorten will have to prove his innocence. It’s a perversion of legal process and a cheap, demeaning stunt. Worse, it plumbs new depths in character assassination as political strategy.

And it’s part of Liberal team plan: Peter Dutton is soon off the leash on 2GB attacking loose, louche, philandering Bill and two-timing Tony Burke.

“I think we’ve sat here taking a morals lecture from Bill Shorten in relation to Barnaby Joyce over the last few weeks and people know that there’s a history of problems in Bill Shorten’s personal life, Tony Burke’s personal life. And to be lectured by the Labor Party really sticks in the craw.”

As is Dutton’s wont, he is undeterred by being factually incorrect and totally out of order. Labor scrupulously abstained from criticising Barnaby Joyce’s affair with his staffer Vicki Campion.

It was, in fact, Malcolm Turnbull who took it upon himself to deliver a finger-wagging moralising, which was backed up with what can only have been a National to Liberal Party hand-ball leaking of the name of a woman who is bringing case of sexual harassment or serious misconduct against Joyce to the National Party – from whom we have heard nothing further.

Above all it’s not Joyce’s dangerous liaisons that are the critical issue – not his fidelity or his personal morality but how he could create or cause to be created not one but three jobs for his (non-partner) paramour Vicki Campion. And his boondoggle inland rail. Plus his Murray Darling basin water for rich cotton irrigator National party mates scandal.

As the week closes, it is clear that the Coalition’s mud-slinging will continue as part of the Kill Bill strategy – but also as a splendid diversion from any alleged peculation, nepotism or misuse of public funds including travel allowances, a net which seems to be closing rapidly on Julie Bishop, whose non-partner, David Panton, is somehow able to travel at taxpayers’ expense.

The situation is clarified late in the week when Bishop changes her mind; agrees the two have been partners for six months. At least that’s cleared that up. Will Panton now repay his trip to the UN or any other trips he took with her prior to that period? At least it’s not “a grey area” as Barnaby Joyce calls his paternity.

A new tune to add to his brilliant riffs on playing the innocent victim, Joyce tells media that everyone assumed he was the father of Vikki Campion’s child. He may not be. The Daily Tele never asked, despite there being an email from the paper to Joyce asking that very question according to Fairfax.

Now it seems Barnaby and non-partner Vikki were mostly geographically apart with some togetherness during the putative conception date of the unborn child, whom Barnaby, nobly, says he will love anyway. And no. He has no intention of taking any paternity test. Perhaps it may turn out to be an immaculate conception.

In Tassie this week, the Liberals win by throwing buckets of their sponsors, the gambling mob’s – (wrongly dignified as an industry)-  money at advertising promoting fear and loathing of Labor, while, in the senate, Michaelia Cash dishes the dirt as a diversion from her own alleged collusion with the AFP to contact media to help her conduct a witch hunt in an illegal raid on the Melbourne office of the AWU, a union Michael Keenan says gave a donation to Bill Shorten’s campaign – as it is perfectly entitled to do.

The AWU has not yet been charged with a single criminal offence. Probably because none has been committed. In the meantime, politicians from Tasmanian to the nation’s capital compete this week, as Hamlet almost says, stewing in corruption, honeying and making love – while tipping buckets of excrement over their opponents in a debauched, degenerate, parody of a competitive party political system which was once based however loosely around policies and reasoned argument and rational rebuttal.

The nation moves beyond policy, principle or even the fan-club of identity politics to savage character assassination, innuendo and vituperative personal attack. Each day we draw closer to the politics of Trump’s USA, the nation our PM wishes to sedulously ape and not only in tax cuts for corporations but in health and welfare, too.