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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Well why not?

If it is true that there has been no investigation of Joel Fitzgibbon’s relationship with Helen Liu, then senior defense department staff should be sacked. 

Joel Fitzgibbon is Australia’s Minister of Defense. He is the member of the executive branch of government who is charged with responsibility for funding and policy decisions in relation to Australia’s armed forces.

I would have thought some background checking, and checking of contacts, was the standard for government ministers. Not so they could be removed from office, except in extreme circumstances, but so that appropriate advice could be given and care taken.

Even if that minimal level of checking is not done routinely, there is a responsibility to investigate when serious allegations are made about a government minister’s involvement with a person with close ties to the military or intelligence services of a foreign power.

Helen Liu has paid for multiple trips to China, has made substantial campaign donations, has invited Fitzgibbon to functions at which senior Chinese military personnel were present.

There may have been nothing wrong with any of that, though you might wonder why Liu was going to so much trouble.

The problem, or at least the beginning of the awareness there might be a problem, came when Fitzgibbon lied about the extent of his relationship with Liu, and her gifts to him. People who lie usually do so because they think have something to hide. If they think they have something to hide, they probably do.

There should have been some checking before Mr Fitzgibbon was appointed. Maybe that’s just not the Australian way. But once it was clear he had lied about his relationship with Liu, a full investigation became imperative.

Instead, the Defense Department conducted an investigation into whether there had been an investigation.

Questions which should have been asked about Liu’s loyalties and contacts, and about her generosity to Fitzgibbon, and his indebtedness to her, have still not been asked. Not by the people who should be asking them, anyway.

Now business associates of Helen Liu have revealed that Chinese intelligence agents asked them to do just what Helen Liu has done – form a close relationship with Fitzgibbon, including expensive gifts and trips to China.

Why would Chinese intelligence be interested in having someone form a close relationship with Australia’s defense minister?

Maybe they were just being friendly. As a citizen of Australia, I’d like to know.

You’d think that those responsible for Australia’s security and defense planning would also like to know.

I am not worried by Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor’s apparent belief that being a latino woman makes her wiser than a white male. That is just par for the course.

Newt Gingrich is right to point out that a white male who said his experiences made him wiser than a latino woman would be decried as both racist and sexist, and forced to withdraw from the nomination.

We all know that’s not going to happen with Sotomayor. Despite the hypocrisy of her remarks, conservatives cannot win that argument.

But I am quite sure that Robert Gibb’s assertion (in response to a question about abortion) that Obama is satisfied that Sotomayor’s view of the consititution is ‘similar to his’ is a coded way of saying she is supportive of his view of abortion rights.

That is the most radical view ever held by an American President. Obama does not even believe that care should be offered to children born alive after a failed abortion attempt.

Sotomayor’s views on abortion are a concern for liberals because she is a catholic by birth. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for justice and for the children of America, that means absolutely nothing.

One of the promises made by the Labor party during the last election was that there would be more transparency in government. I guess that means being honest about information sources, advice received, funding, and who will benefit from what.

That was obviously a non-core promise.

Senator Nick Minchin discusses this in relation to the government’s vastly overpriced and already outdated fibre optic broadband plan.

Mr Rudd and Senator Conroy have repeatedly said they are simply following the advice of an expert panel and also the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Yet they have produced no solid evidence to confirm that to be the case. ..

Its refusal to release key advice in relation to this proposal makes a mockery of its pledge to deliver a new age of transparency. And despite the scale of this project and the billions of taxpayer dollars that will be risked on it, the Government arrogantly dismisses the need for a cost benefit analysis.  It claims this network will be commercially viable, yet has also failed to produce a scrap of credible evidence to support these evangelical assertions.

And the key problem with the whole dumb idea:

The Government has no idea how many customers may choose to use this network and how much they will have to pay to do so in order for it to be viable.

It is not as if we have a spare $43 billion floating around that we couldn’t use for hospitals, roads, schools, or research.

I don’t think so.

Conservatives less likely to slap their dads, even if dad says its OK? Yes, that I can believe.

Conservatives have less confidence in their own wisdom relative to that of our forebears and fellow citizens. We are also less likely to make exceptions for ourselves – to say ‘ That rule applies generally, but not in my case.’ Consequently we give greater weight to laws and customs, and are generally more law abiding.

Nisholas Kristoff says studies show conservatives ae less likely to act in ways they perceive as disrespectful of authority. That’s a good thing in my view. But then, I would think that.

Kristoff also says studies show conservatives are more likely to experience feelings of disgust than liberals. That I do not believe. Unless it is disgust at liberals’ flouting the rules and disrespecting authority. But I don’t think that’s what he means.

Kristoff says that research show conservatives are more likely to feel disgust than liberals when stepping on a worm, or crawling through a sewer, or skinning an animal. He then extends this to feelings of moral disgust, and draws the conclusion that conservatives are less open minded.

That’s a pretty long draw in any case, but my experience is that it is liberals who are more likely to get upset about things being ‘yucky.’ And as for skinning an animal or working in a meat factory, let alone a sewage processing plant, or anything involving manure, forget it. Conservatives are far more likely to be the ones who roll up their sleeves, get out there and get on with it. That’s why we have red necks.

Can this be extended to moral/intellectual disgust/openness?

I don’t know, but again, my experience is that liberals (I used to be one) tend to talk to each other, and the discovery that people actually exist who do not share their opinions makes them angry. Look at the hate on people’s faces, and the tendency to violence, at leftist demonstrations, for example.

One of the funniest things I have ever read on the internet. From the Peoples Cube.

In an audacious raid Friday, al-Qaeda terrorists managed to slip past White House security and seize President Obama’s teleprompter. Their demands were released in a grainy video, which apparently showed the president’s teleprompter, bound and blindfolded but  unharmed, while heavily armed masked men stood behind it, quoting from the Qur’an. The content of their demands is not being released.

President Obama, visibly shaken, attempted to address the White House press corps on his own. “Words, uh, um, I, uh, heh-heh, well…”

“We need a verb!” shouted David Gregory of MSNBC.

“I uh, know that,” quipped the president testily. “And… I’ll make sure my staff, uh, gets back with you,” he resumed after regaining his composure.

Leon Panetta, CIA Director: I’d like to address the terrorists, wherever they are hiding: If you did this because you were annoyed by our president saying “uh” too often in his speeches, then stealing the teleprompter is not going to help. Just think about it.

Lots more on the Peoples Cube site, including a photo of the kidnapped, bound and clearly terrified teleprompter. Despite brutal treatment the teleprompter is maintaining a brave silence.

Former Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer has told Australians planning to travel overseas to grow up and take some responsibility.

After about 10 minutes as foreign minister I was a little surprised to learn I was “responsible” for miscreant Australians who got into trouble in foreign countries.  No, no, no, don’t get it wrong – drug traffickers, drunks, kleptomaniacs and fraudsters weren’t responsible for their own stupidity – I was.

It’s about time that great nanny in Canberra, the Federal Government, turned around and told people they are responsible for their own decisions.

Mr Downer goes on to say that of course Australia will always be there to help Australians in real trouble, especially in circumstances over which they have no control, and could not reasonably have predicted.

But even then, he notes, the response of many is not an expression of thanks, but more complaining:

I couldn’t help remembering the awful events in those same places three years ago when Israel went to war with Hezbollah.

There were said to be 20,000 Australians in Lebanon at that time and a hefty percentage of them were demanding the Australian Government save them and fast.

Lebanese support groups hit the airwaves screaming that the Government was too slow getting those Australians who wanted to be evacuated to safety. But hang on, Australia’s about 15,000km from Lebanon and we don’t dock ships in the eastern Mediterranean ready to ferry Australians to safety.

And there was something else. We’d issued a travel advisory months earlier warning Australians of the dangers of southern Lebanon and the risks of going there.

It didn’t matter – apparently we had to get them out.

We were lucky. The Australian ambassador, a petite, charming professional called Lyndall Sachs, worked day and night chartering ferries and providing comfort to the evacuees, who hadn’t cared about the travel advisories, and whisked them to safety.

It was one of the great achievements of an Australian diplomat. Almost single handedly, she managed to get around 5000 Australians to Cyprus and Turkey.

We then chartered planes to take them back to Australia. I hope they built shrines to her. Some did, at least metaphorically.

But some just whinged. They felt seasick on the ferry and that was our fault. Could they get frequent flyer points for the free flight back to Australia? And all this cost around $30 million dollars – your dollars.

I’ll tell you this – I didn’t get 5000 emails of thanks but I got plenty of abuse because we weren’t fast enough, the ferries didn’t go from their port of choice and we were slow because we were racist, and so on. I mean, we’d warned them and told them not to go to the south of Lebanon. They went all the same. And when the proverbial hit the fan it was, you guessed it, “our fault”.

It is a well thought out, well written and amusing article. Read the whole thing.

Another one to add to the bleeding obvious list.

Government grants (ie, giving other people’s money) to new home owners, amount to $21,000.

Because they have a larger deposit, (sometimes the grant is their only deposit) first home buyers are able to arrange larger loans. Which they are often unable to afford.

The average loan size for first-home buyers has risen by $52,000 – or 23 per cent – in the past two years, raising fears that the much-publicised government incentives for young buyers are artificially inflating the market.

Imagine governments encouraging people to take out home loans they can’t afford. Why, if they’re not careful that could cause some problems, maybe.

In addition, throwing tax payer funds at the housing market causes inflation, so that in many cases the total cost of a new home is more than it would have been if the government had minded its own business, not handed out unecessary grants, and saved my tax dollars for something useful.

Who was it who said the only thing we learn from history is that no one learns anything from history?

And it was given by Dick Cheney.

Regardless of your opinions about ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ you should read this. For good or ill (and I think good) Cheney’s speech gives clear understanding of the concerns and reasoning behind the Bush administration’s decisions about how to deal with the threat of terrorism.

It is well-argued, passionate and convincing. Go read the whole thing. Here are a couple of excerpts:

To make certain our nation country never again faced such a day of horror, we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks. We decided, as well, to confront the regimes that sponsored terrorists, and to go after those who provide sanctuary, funding, and weapons to enemies of the United States. We turned special attention to regimes that had the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, and might transfer such weapons to terrorists.

We did all of these things, and with bipartisan support put all these policies in place. It has resulted in serious blows against enemy operations … the take-down of the A.Q. Khan network … and the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program. It’s required the commitment of many thousands of troops in two theaters of war, with high points and some low points in both Iraq and Afghanistan – and at every turn, the people of our military carried the heaviest burden. Well over seven years into the effort, one thing we know is that the enemy has spent most of this time on the defensive – and every attempt to strike inside the United States has failed…

… somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.

Over on the left wing of the president’s party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists. The kind of answers they’re after would be heard before a so-called “Truth Commission.” Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense, and political opponents as criminals. It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent, filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse, than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessors…

It is a fact that only detainees of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation. You’ve heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Muhammed – the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl.

We had a lot of blind spots after the attacks on our country. We didn’t know about al-Qaeda’s plans, but Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and a few others did know. And with many thousands of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we didn’t think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all.

Some of the decisions made may have been mistaken. Some of the methods may have been questionable. But after reading Cheney’s speech I am even more convinced that those who made those very difficult decisions were men and women who were not just concerned about protecting America’s interests, but were also passionately concerned about doing what was right.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has declared his intention to follow Barack Obama’s plan to impose strict limits on CO2 emissions from motor vehicles. This will increase costs, and cost jobs.

CO2 is not a pollutant. It is a vital part of the cycle of life. Plants need it. There is no evidence that human produced CO2 has ever had any affect on climate.

In other words, imposing limits on vehicle CO2 emissions is pointless, popularist posturing. Damaging, pointless posturing.

And incidentally, remember all those claims that US cars couldn’t be sold in China because their emissions were too high?

China Daily reports: “Obama’s automobile emission deal enhances the difficulty for Chinese auto manufacturers to export their vehicles to the US market, a highly-matured market Chinese players are dreaming of, as it’s even harder for Chinese vehicles to meet the new and stricter emission requirements,” said Zhong Shi, an independent auto analyst.

And brainer. And more fun.

However, I can understand some of them being a bit disgruntled about a political ally posting photos of them on a website without their permission. Even if the idea was that the more hot women in the Liberal (conservative) Party, the more successful the party might be in recruiting men. 

There’s nothing in any of the photos that would detract from my opinion of the women involved. They just look like attractive, intelligent women who don’t take themselves too seriously. And that’s another thing that makes them likeable.

Now if only the rest of the Liberal Party could work on being interesting, attractive and likeable.

The Telegraph reports this morning that the UK government will allow all Gurkhas with a record of honourable service  to settle in the UK.

All Gurkha veterans were finally granted the right to live in Britain yesterday as the Government was forced into a humiliating climbdown. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, confirmed the policy reversal for those with four years’service in a Commons statement following an intense three year campaign, led by Joanna Lumley, the actress.

The victory brings to an end more than 20 years of demands to give Gurkha veterans equal rights and has left Gordon Brown and his ministers embarrassed after misjudging the public mood.

Joanna Lumley was generous in her response to Gordon Brown, and expressed her thanks that his government had finally done the right thing.

But others were openly frustrated about the gap between Labour’s claims to the be party which cares about ordinary people, and its policies and practices.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Leader whose Commons motion led directly to the Government’s volte-face, labelled it a “great victory” but added: “Gordon Brown has finally woken up to the principle that people across Britain understand instinctively: if someone is prepared to die for this country, they must be allowed to live in it.

“Tragically this decision will come too late for many of those brave Gurkhas who have been waiting so long to see justice done.

“Gordon Brown’s claim of a ‘moral compass’ rings hollow when, on every issue from Gurkhas to expenses, he has to be dragged every inch of the way towards doing the right thing.”

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: “It is just a shame that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts and then through the crowds of Gurkhas outside parliament before it finally did the right thing.”

Otherwise this is a pretty good article about the problems with economics predictions, and the difficulty of developing policy on the basis of those predictions.

Stephen seems to think puerile means pointless, because there can never be any definitive answers. But it doesn’t.

Puerile means childish, immature, trivial. Debate about economic policy is certainly not that. Even if policy makers cannot be certain about answers and outcomes, history and common sense must inform decision making.

A brief excerpt:

The data from around the world at the moment is all over the shop and gives no clear guide to who’s right, other than Yogi Berra.

And if it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, the whole game gets even tougher when it’s twisted by the force of political spin.

One reason Treasury’s economic growth estimates received such a sceptical, even scornful, response was that the Treasurer had been warning Australians for months that the world is in the midst of “the worst recession since the 1930s”. (Read, “we’re not responsible” and “prepare for a little pain in the Budget’). Did you notice how Wayne Swan tweaked the rhetoric on Budget night, talking of “the sharpest” downturn since the 1930s? No wonder it was hard for the public and many commentators to accept the idea that we’re back on track within a few months and recording stellar growth in a couple of years.

Yogi Berra, notorious for his (often intelligent and amusing)  mis-speaks, said ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’

My favourite Yogi Berra quote is this: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else.’

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I hoped to do some serious thinking about torture, semantics and public policy over the weekend, and to something ready to post last Monday. That didn’t happen. I ended up working over most of the last two weekends, and on Mondays – my normal day off. But things have been percolating away, and I feel as if I am starting to get to the point where I have done enough research and thinking to begin to have an opinion.

For the past few years some Australian academics have been using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the removal of part aboriginal children into schools or home-based care. It has been claimed there was a policy of the forced removal of such children, even from caring homes or communities, simply because they were part aboriginal.

However, no such policy ever existed in any Australian jurisdiction. Not one one law ever prescribed such action, nor did any official guideline ever suggest it. No court, despite their sympathies for the cause, has ever found a single case in which this occurred.

All the evidence is that children of any racial background were only removed from their families because their parents either gave them up into to care, or because the children were being neglected or abused.

You can find more about this at Keith Windschuttle’s The Sydney Line.  Or for a brief introduction, I posted an article on this earlier this year called ‘Empty Apologies.’

Even if part indigenous children had been routinely removed into care to give them access to medical care and education, and so that they could be integrated into wider society, it is hard to see how this qualifies as ‘genocide’ in any sense even remotely related to how the word is normally understood.

The force of the word comes from the fact that what it describes – the deliberate murder or attempted murder of a whole race of people – is so horrendous that any normal person is shocked and appalled by it.

But taking children into care, even if the reasons for doing so were misguided (and they were not), is not genocide. The word genocide was used, not because it described what had happened – it did not – but to give those who used it a political advantage over the men and women who had taken those children into care, and those who suppported them, or even who refused to condemn them.

Something similar is happening with the use of the word ‘torture.’

Some people whose opinions I greatly respect (Zippy Catholic, for example) have suggested that ‘Any legitimate public discussion of torture definitions by faithful Catholics ought to acknowledge, as prerequisite to even discussing the matter, that waterboarding KSM was immoral torture.’

To say that begs the question is an understatement.

Before deciding whether some particular action was torture, we need to have a clear definition of what constitutes torture.

Mark Shea points out that the Church defines torture as:  ‘Violation of human dignity in the form of  intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to  use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end against that person’s will.’

But this is simply not an adequate definition of torture.

Using a person as a means to an end in a way which causes them harm is wrong in almost all circumstances, but it is not necessarily torture. If it is, then I have been tortured a number of times, including by some former bishops.

The Compact Oxford Dictionary says torture is the ‘infliction of severe pain as a punishment or a forcible means of persuasion.’ That’s closer – torture involves not just harm but pain.

But the Oxford definition is not entirely adequate either. People torture kittens, and other people, just for fun. And the church is right about torture involving a refusal to recognise the other person as a person, as an end and not just a means.

What people mean they use the word torture is this: Serious physical or mental pain, deliberately inflicted, with disregard for the victim’s needs or rights.

If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times, this might very well constitute torture. A drop of water on the head, repeated incessantly, can cause severe mental pain. But KSM was not waterboarded 183 times. That is the total number of times water was poured. Most of those pours of water lasted less than ten seconds.

I have no doubt that he was uncomfortable, as were Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

But there is nothing in the memos to suggest even remotely that anyone ever, at any time, inflicted serious pain on any of those three detainees. They were never in danger of harm, and they knew they were never in danger of harm.

Instructions to operatives included notes that no technique should be used which would delay healing of any pre-existing wounds or injuries, and that if it appeared physical or psychological harm was being done by a particluar technique, that technique should no longer be used, or the interrogation stopped altogther.

Detainees at Guantanamo were and are provided with high quality food, medical and dental care. Their religious traditions are respected. There is no evidence of any disregard for their needs or rights.

All of the techniques were used at Guantanamo were techniques used on US military personnel in the course of their training.

Some of those techniques are harsh. People are entitled to question whether they were approriate or effective when used on detainees.

But to call them torture is misinformed, stupid, or politically motivated and dishonest.

One of my close friends is a muslim and a teacher. She is a delightful and interesting woman with a bright smile. I speak with her three or four times a week.

She is Indonesian, and teaches Indonesian language and culture.

As part of her programme she talks about the religious culture of Indonesia. She tells the students she is a Muslim, and explains something of her faith. I have no problem with any of that.

A couple of days ago she was distressed and angry after school. I asked her what had happened. She told me she had been telling the students Islam was a religion of peace. They laughed at her.

That was rude. And to be fair, she is not always treated well, by staff or students. But I almost laughed too.

This is the monthly jihad report for April 2009 from Religion of Peace:

 Jihad Attacks: 158
 
 Countries: 15
 
 Religions: 5
 
 Dead Bodies: 715
 
 Critically Injured: 1135

Her response to the class resulted in further laughter.

She started by telling the class that the way people thought about Islam was because of distortions by the media.

Christians killed people just as much, she said. Martin Bryant, for example, killed all those people at Port Arthur. And then to illustrate how morally lax Christianity was, she pointed out that here in Australia lots of men have sex with one another.

She assumes that everyone in Australia, or every white person, is a Christian. She has been here long enough to know better.

But more alarming is the blindness, even in this intelligent and largely westernised woman, to the horrors perpetrated in the name of Islam

Where to begin?

Hard to believe but true.

‘Israel should be wiped off the map, the holocaust never happened’  president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University on September 24, 2007.

This was an example of the free exchange of ideas, of the liberal championing of the value of free speech.

The day before he departed for America, Ahmadinejad re-emphasized the two most heartfelt ideas to which he and his regime are dedicated–“Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” emblazoned on signs in a military parade over which he presided.

But you know, diversity, free speech and everything.

Yet more than once, planned speeches by Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, one of the US’ closest allies, have been cancelled because of violent demonstations by ‘peace loving’ liberals.

Netanyahu will meet with Barack Obama tomorrow (the 18th).

According to The Telegraph, Obama will use that meeting to tell Netanyahu that from now on Israel must earn its privileged relationship with America.

The arrogance! Perhaps Netanyahu will get a chance to tell Obama that from now on the US must earn its privileged relationship with Israel.

The present US administration has already allowed millions in aid to flow to Palestinian groups run by or with links to terrorist organisations. Leon Panetta recently told Israel that a nuclear armed Iran would not be much of a worry.

Yes, well, see comments above from Mr Imanutjob.

Israel may very well begin to feel that it is on its own when it comes to defending its borders and people.

So may its enemies. And it is hard to hold bullies back if they think they can threaten with impunity.

Obama’s distancing the US from Israel is the last thing that is likely to lead to peace.

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