Bombing Syria – to restore “democracy”

April 14, 2018

The bombing campaign and missile attacks on Syria began a few hours ago. Supposedly targeting military sites, there is no word yet on civilian casualties, but its certain there will be plenty. Assad, like most dictators, likes to keep his military bases close to civilian centres and no matter how “smart” Trump’s missiles are, a few will surely miss their targets.

I wrote this before the bombing began, but it is still relevant.

First published on Independent Australia

Neither Washington, Moscow, nor Damascus — long live the Syrian Revolution

U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed the world to the edge of a new conflict by threatening a missile attack on Syria. Russia has responded with threats of its own, foreshadowing a new Cold War. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst examines the potential fall-out from the escalating rhetorical duel between rival superpowers.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result (Image by Alisdare Hickson via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0])

THIS WEEK, I was reminded of the life and work of one of my Marxist heroes, Tony Cliff. Cliff was a founding member and leading theorist of the International Socialist Tendency and famously coined the term “state capitalism” to characterise the degraded socialism and despotic regime in the Soviet Union. The politics of Russia have changed, it is now a rampant capitalist oligarchy, but “state capitalism” remains the economic policy of the Putin regime.

Thinking about Tony Cliff also prompted me to note that he would have taken a very firm position on the conflict in Syria and he would have been vehemently opposed to the Trump regime’s threats to rain down ‘nice and new and “smart”‘ missiles on Damascus.

However, Cliff’s opposition to a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime – supposedly in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians in the rebel-held enclave of Houda – would not be based on misguided love for the criminal Assad. Nor would it be based on the mistaken view that Russia is somehow “better” than the United States in terms of the Syria conflict.

(In case you’ve not been paying attention, Russia is committed to propping up the Assad Government while ostensibly fighting Islamic terrorism. In retaliation for Trump’s provocation, Russia threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles fired at Syria.)

Tony Cliff was an International Socialist and, therefore, would not be advocating for taking the side of either of the imperialist powers in their proxy war being fought in Syrian airspace. Understanding Cliff’s background is important here.

Cliff was born Yigael Gluckstein, a stateless Jew from what was then Palestine. He was born in 1917 – coincidentally the first year of the Russian revolution. In his youth, Cliff was a member of the Revolutionary Communist League in Palestine and left for Britain in 1947, effectively exiled for his anti-Zionist political activity.

At the height of the Cold War, when it seemed that the Soviet Union and the United States might actually launch an all-out nuclear strike on each other, the International Socialist Tendency adopted the slogan, ‘Neither Washington, nor Moscow, but international socialism’.

(Image via National Museum of Australia / nma.gov.au)

Today, Tony Cliff would be urging all progressive people to unite behind a similar slogan when it comes to the conflict in Syria. To round out the political message, he would perhaps suggest the following edit:

“Neither, Washington, Moscow, nor Damascus.”

To explain this clearly, a little bit of history is necessary.

The conflict in Syria began with an uprising against Bashar Al-Assad during the ill-fated Arab Spring of 2011. At the heart of the Syrian resistance was a largely secular working class movement which drew strength and inspiration from events in Egypt and elsewhere.

The Syrian revolution grew quickly, and Assad’s response was swift and brutal. He reasoned – as most desperate despots do – that it would be better to destroy large swathes of the nation than see Syria fall into the hands of the rebels.

Assad’s brutality extended to indiscriminate mass murder of civilians through air strikes on some of Syria’s largest cities; the imprisonment and torture (often to death) of his opponents and the deliberate targeting of foreign journalists bravely covering the conflict from behind rebel lines.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A Chinese base in Vanuatu, or another Fairfax beat up?

April 13, 2018

Should Australia be concerned about a rumoured Chinese military expansion in the Pacific? Or is it yet another distraction from the Government’s domestic problems? Political editor Dr Martin Hirst investigates.

First published on Independent Australia Wednesday 11 April

ON MONDAY this week. the Fairfax papers and websites ran an “exclusive” story with the alarming headline ‘China eyes Vanuatu military base in plan with global ramifications‘ — but is the story accurate? The lead par was an insistent and alarming allegation that China was planning a naval base in Vanuatu,

‘… that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep.’

However, in typical fashion – that we’ve come to expect from mainstream journalists covering the “security” round – the next two pars walked back the suggestion and sourced it to “senior security officials” in Canberra. In other words, the reporter, David Wroe, had been given a “drop” a background briefing by an Australian spook, because the Government wanted to float the idea and get a reaction.

‘While no formal proposals have been put to Vanuatu’s government, senior security officials believe Beijing’s plans could culminate in a full military base.’

The tell that this was a planted story is in the lack of detail and the vague sourcing:

‘The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.’

The Vanuatu Government was quick to issue denials and even labelled the Fairfax reports as “fake news”.

Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said rumours of discussions with China over a military base were false.

We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country,” Mr Regenvanu told the ABC.

However, David Wroe’s story still had the effect desired by the Australian “security officials” who briefed him. Within hours, PM Turnbull was able to front the media to express Australia’s concern at the – still unproven – rumours.

We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours,” Turnbull bloviated.

This is an interesting position and an even more puzzling definition of “foreign”. The United States operates more than 20 military bases across the Pacific – from Hawaii to Japan and many ports in between – so why isn’t this alarming to our Prime Minister?

And this is what is really ironic and cynical about Turnbull’s concern: there is – as yet – no Chinese military base in Vanuatu, yet the United States operates permanent military bases throughout the Pacific, including in Australia, Japan (21 bases), Guam and South Korea. Read the rest of this entry »


Malcolm Turnbull 30 days on #Newspoll death row

April 9, 2018

Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is safe for now. However, as political editor Dr Martin Hirst reports, he is forever stained by his 30th Newspoll loss in a row.

Published on Independent Australia

MALCOLM TURNBULL increasingly looks like a very worried man.

It’s not surprising really; last weekend he was at an AFL game in Sydney and when his face was projected onto the big screen, the crowd let out a mighty roar.

Well, it was a sustained booing noise really and the Fizza looked very, very uncomfortable.

Today he is looking – and no doubt feeling – a lot more uncomfortable. It’s easy enough to shrug off a few, perhaps light-hearted boos at the footy; it’s a lot harder to ignore your 30th Newspoll loss in a row. Hard indeed, when your initial claim to the prime ministership was that your hapless predecessor had reached that magic number. But that is indeed the precarious position that Malcolm Turnbull finds himself in this week.

This week, Turnbull closed the gap a little on Shorten, but really only within the statistical margin of error. The ALP still holds a four-point lead – 52-48 – over the COALition. The shift in Turnbull’s favour is not enough to overcome the ALP’s substantial two-party preferred lead over the COALition.

He’s safe for now. But, not, perhaps, for much longer. According to reported comments, the main leadership contenders –Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop – have spent the last few days pledging their loyalty.

And we all know what that means … the leadership speculation will continue and so will the internal plotting against Turnbull.

Now, he’s also facing the difficulty of having a formal faction of backbenchers – the so-called Monash Group – who will be meeting regularly to agitate against the Government’s coal and energy policies. It’s not difficult to believe they’ll also be discussing Malcolm’s failures of leadership too.

Je ne regret, rein?

In late 2015 Malcolm Turnbull cited then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s 30 Newspoll losses in a row as one of the reasons he launched his challenge. Now he is rueing the day. In the lead up to his 24th consecutive loss in the poll numbers, Turnbull was widely quoted as saying he regretted making the 30-loss issue so prominent.

“I do regret having said it,” Turnbull admitted today during a live internet radio interview with News Corp columnist Miranda Devine:

“Only because it allowed people to focus on that, rather than the substantive reasons [for my challenge]. The substantive reasons that I stated were related to economic leadership and governance.”

Instead, Turnbull has claimed that his challenge to Abbott was based on the latter’s poor communication practices and his failing economic policies. That was in December last year. Now he has added to his tally of failures and equalled Abbott’s disastrous record.

Read the rest of this entry »


#Fizza’s winning ways continue into 2018

February 11, 2018

Republished from Independent Australia

FEDERAL PARLIAMENT resumed this week, marking the official start of the political year in Australia. Ah yes, those hardworking MPs and senators. Most of us have been back at work for a month now, but these upstanding public figures need their beauty sleep, or at least to spend more time in bed.

At the end of 2017, Prime Minister Turnbull promised that 2018 would be the “year of rewards” and that all of us would prosper from the trickledown impacts of cutting company taxes.

So far, it’s just been a continuation of the chaos that dogged the Coalition last year — and the year before that and the year before that one too.

The only person who seems to have been rewarded so far in 2018 is George “Bookshelves” Brandis who has been promoted to the plum and coveted role of Australia’s official representative at the Court of St James.

Brandis left the Senate on Wednesday after delivering the traditional valedictory speech afforded to retiring members. But Brandis did not follow the script. He appeared to issue a veiled warning to his Coalition colleagues about the rise of creepy rightwing politics – and creepy rightwingers – in the Liberal Party.

“Increasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism’s concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism’s respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them.”

Was this Brandis having a dig at his colleague, Unter Führer Peter Dutton? Many commentators seemed to think so. And perhaps it was more than a coincidence that the valedictory coincided with the parachuting of alleged racist and alleged war criminal, General Jim Molan into the Senate. Molan replaced former Nationals deputy, Fiona Nash who fell foul of section 44 last year.

According to credible research, backed up by his own sanitized memoir, Jim Molan was allegedly responsible for a series of potential war crimes, while serving in Iraq and a high-ranking Coalition general. While this is shocking enough, Molan’s entry to the Senate was marred by another scandal, this one much closer to home.

Molan shared the racist Britain First videos infamously circulated by Donald Trump last year. Of course, this potential disaster was turned into an opportunity by the agile and nimble Prime Minister.

Fizza took the opportunity to defend Molan loudly and in his most patrician shouty voice.

According to Turnbull’s logic, Molan can’t possibly be a racist because he once wore a uniform. In other words, being a soldier means you either a) are not a racist ipso facto; or b) your racism can be excused. Fizza had to ignore a whole lot of history of racism in the Australian Army and by Australian soldiers to come up with that fairy tale.

“The Leader of the Opposition wants to describe [Molan] as a racist. That is deplorable. It is disgusting. Jim Molan is a great Australian soldier. We are lucky to have him in the Senate. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”

Yes, lucky indeed. Molan will no doubt bolster the ranks of the nasty faction around Dutton, Tony Abbott and their troglodyte henchmen (and women, but mostly men). Molan is a good fit with Dutton and co. As a leading exponent of “Sovereign Borders” he has experience in not being a racist, but…

In his own mind and words, Jim Molan is a champion of multiculturalism — a set of skills he learned well in the battlefields of Iraq where he led an equal opportunity policy of slaughtering men, women and children, regardless of race or religion. Too bad most of them were unarmed civilians and probably Muslims.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February 2018:

Asked if he apologised for his actions, Senator Molan said: “No I don’t. No, because I didn’t know it was an appalling organisation a year ago. 

“Anyone who thinks I am anti-Islamic or racist, as the allegations were made yesterday in The Sydney Morning Herald, is stark-raving mad. I have worked effectively cross culturally for years,” the former military major general said, referring to his role on missions in Muslim nations such as Iraq.

Senator Molan also denied he had shared articles about banning Muslim migration to Australia. However, his Facebook page still shows he shared two news articles about the issue in September 2016.

Jungle Jim is just another example of Australia’s seemingly willing and blind slide into open Trumpism in our politics. Malcolm Turnbull is also willing to let this happen on his watch.

We also learned this week that the Turnbull Government has learned nothing from Australia’s disastrous military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of our American cousins. It’s a pity General Molan can’t share some of his no doubt deep expertise on the issue.

The Jobs and Growth government – which is presiding over one of the worst declines in real wages in a generation – has decided to propel Australia into the already crowded global weapons industry.

Yep, manufacturing armaments – you know, ordnance that kills people – is to be the new highway to economic nirvana and a bright new future for Australian industry. It’s a joke, but the punchline is you get blown to bits.

Yep, Malcolm is winning and winning this week. However, perhaps his greatest victory – the sweetest victor of all – was his sterling and spirited defence of embattled Deputy PM Barnaby #BeetRooter Joyce.

The week began well for Bananaby, the Daily Telegraph splashed his happy baby news on the front page. Oh how delierously delighted the nation was at that point. A true champion of family values had finally been blessed with a family.

Oh what? Really? He already had a family and the babymama was a former staff member, and she was married and….

Well, that quickly turned into a shit sandwich for everyone concerned.

And, of course, it is under these arduous and adverse conditions that Malcolm truly knows how to win. He gallantly dived in and took a great big bite of the sandwich, declaring through gritted teeth, and with an unpleasant look on his face, that Barnaby would make a good father and at least he hadn’t left his babymama to bring up the love child on her own.

He added that he really didn’t want to talk about it:

I’m very conscious of the distress this causes to others, in particular Natalie Joyce and her and Barnaby’s daughters, so he it is a private matter, a tough matter, and I don’t have any more to say about it. 

Lucy and I are very conscious of the hurt occasioned to Natalie and their daughters in and particular. So that’s why I don’t want to add to the discussion about it.

And, no wonder Fizza didn’t really want to talk about the BeetRooter’s baby. It seems that – despite self-serving media bleating about no real public interest in the matter – there may be more to come about the Deputy PM’s trysting with a former staff member.

A lot of people have been asking why the Daily Telegraph would publish this story now. And it’s a good question. I think I have at least part of the answer.

As regular readers of Independent Australia would know, the rumours about Bananaby’s extramarital nookie have been around for a while. We covered the story back in November last year, but back then the mainstream ignored it.

The real target of the NewsCorpse machete attack on Joyce was not the Deputy PM. He and his family are just collateral damage.

The real target is Turnbull himself.

Now it has been revealed that Turnbull’s office – and therefore the PM himself – helped move Mr Joyce’s girlfriend into a well-paying job in Matt Canavan’s office, he is firmly in the firing line.

Both Joyce and Turnbull will be under increasing pressure to either come clean about this – which could lead to one or both of them resigning – or they will have to double down and keep trying to put out a raging dumpster fire with methylated spirits.

I don’t put it past either of them to make a last-ditch effort to cling on to their jobs. After all, we now know for sure that it cost Fizza $1.75 million to buy his bed in the Lodge and the BeetRooter has paid the ultimate prize for his position — he’s earned the probably permanent hatred of a woman scorned, times by five.

My gut feeling is that NewsCorpse support for Peter Dutton is behind the stories coming out now. Somebody is certainly drip feeding the Daily Telegraph with juicy updates on the affair, the money trail and the inside goss on who knew what and when. Dutton is certainly the front-running challenger to replace Turnbull and the Libspill rumours just won’t go away.

We know from the Joyce story that if the rumours are swirling then there’s something lurking just below the surface.

It might be only the start of politics for 2018, but I’m willing to bet that Turnbull won’t be prime minister at the end of the year.

He won’t be beaten in an election, because the Coalition will want to cling on to the bitter end. Fizza will be replaced — sooner rather than later.

Dutton will become Prime Minister and the “Butcher of Fallujah” will get a cabinet post.

Here’s a bit of advice. If you get into trouble and Malcolm Turnbull offers to come to your defence, best you politely decline. He doesn’t have a good track record.

PS: I haven’t had the space to mention the Banking Royal Commission, which starts next week, but it doesn’t take a stable genius to know that, unless there is some dramatic whistleblowing, it will be a whitewash.

Also, and finally, the Closing the Gap report this week underlines just how good Turnbull is at winning. The gap in health, education, opportunity, wealth, life expectancy and incarceration rates between white Australia and Indigenous Australians is getting bigger. That is a win of Trumpian proportions.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.


Trumble, mumble, stumble crumble: #MarriageEquality plebiscite fiasco

August 10, 2017

The strategy of the marriage equality opponents in the Coalition is to retain the conservative status quo at all costs, says Dr Martin Hirst.

THE OPPONENTS of marriage equality came a step closer to blocking the popular move yesterday when Liberal Party MPs decided by an overwhelming majority to stick to a policy of deflecting, pretending and ignoring good sense and common sense.

Good sense should have informed them that bringing the matter forward for a free conscience vote in both houses of Parliament is what the vast majority of Australians want them to do.

Common sense should have told them that sticking to the time-wasting and false “promise” of an expensive, but non-binding plebiscite on the issue would make Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull look weak, embolden his conservative opponents in the party and proven – once again – that the Liberals are a party of reaction, blocking and bigotry, not the hopeful, social progressives Malcolm desperately wants his dwindling band of supporters to believe in.

The position adopted 28 to 7 in the Liberals’ party room was to put the non-binding plebiscite position to the Senate again with the Plan B option being an even less legitimate non-compulsory and non-binding postal vote.

This strategy seems like a rotten compromise. It is. It represents Malcolm the Appeaser at his unprincipled worst. It is a terrible plan that has the fulsome support of all the opponents of same sex union. They are the real winners; everyone else, including Turnbull, is a loser.

Just take a moment to really think through what the Liberals endorsed last night:

  • Plan A represents an idea to the Senate that it has already rejected as unworkable, unnecessary and stupid, and which the ALP, the Greens and enough cross-benchers to sink it have already said they will block.
  • Plan B is to threaten a really awful Plan B – the postal vote – in an attempt to force reluctant senators to back Plan A ‘or else’.

It’s like holding a gun to your own head during a bank robbery while high on crack cocaine and threatening to shoot the puppy unless the bank-teller gives you all the five-cent pieces. And the bank-teller be like Mate, here’s all the rolls of zacs I’ve got. It comes to seven dollars, go buy an ice cream.

Read the rest of this story at Independent Australia


NBN retailers want pricing model changes

August 10, 2017

Leading retailers of Australian broadband ISP services say the NBN pricing model is broken, making high-speed internet connections too expensive for most domestic customers.

Managing Director of ISP retailer MyRepublic, Nicholas Demos has told IA that the NBN Co must reduce its controversial connection charges to retailers. He is among several NBN retailers calling on NBN Co chief Bill Morrow to admit it has made a mistake and to start over on its pricing models.

The NBN levies a connectivity charge, the CVC, which retailers purchase in 100 megabits per second Mbps, as well as a second access charge, the AVC. These charges apply to each individual subscriber that the ISP retailer signs up.

In all, the wholesale NBN pricing structure has four components and the average charge per connection is around $24. It is very complicated and MyRepublic’s Nicholas Demos says this is the major point of contention between the retailers and the NBN Co.

Said Nicholas Demos:

“At the moment, with the CVC and AVC charges, the pricing structure discourages people going higher speeds because it’s too expensive. Some players have cheaper products, like a $29.99 per month price point. But that’s ridiculous and it’s only a speed of 12Mbps download and 10Gigabytes of data. That’s not what the NBN is about, you get more data on your phone.”

MyRepublic is offering a trial retail package at a site near Wollongong, called Gigatown, where a 1 gigabyte download speed is being offered for $129.99 per month.

 

Mr Demos says customers seem willing to pay this for better speeds.

“NBN Co has acknowledged its pricing model is wrong,” Mr Demos says. Retailers can now get discounted CVC fees, which he says demonstrates that the NBN Co knows the model is not working.

“We know NBN Co is looking at it because they’ve acknowledged the pricing model needs to be changed,” he said.

Read the rest of this article at Independent Australia


Where is the Australian Jeremy Corbyn hiding?

June 27, 2017

BRITISH LABOUR LEADER Jeremy Corbyn has achieved rock star status in the UK, he gave a radical speech to a crowd of 120,000 cheering music fans and the British ruling class is worried.

One of my Facebook friends described Corbyn’s speech at Glastonbury as the reawakening of English socialism, not seen since the days of Marx and Engels.

That might be a slight exaggeration, but Corbyn has certainly ignited a welcome spark of resistance to austerity, the Tories and capitalism. Now the search has begun to find our local saviour.

I’ve been quite bemused by speculation on the Australian Left about who might be “our” Jeremy Corbyn. A number of names have been put forward, but none of them is a viable contender in my view.

The most obvious nominee to the role is Anthony Albanese of the NSW Labor Left faction. But Albo does not aspire to be our Jeremy. He has publicly said he doesn’t want the job and that he thinks Corbyn is too left wing. Albo is actually totally unsuited to being the Aussie Jeremy. Corbyn has been an activist all his life, even while in Parliament. Albo is a grey suit in a lobby of grey suits who poses as a cool DJ on weekends.

Albo is a dud.

This week another likely candidate popped up but one with even less left credentials than Albanese. Queensland MP Wayne Swan has made vaguely pro-worker statements to the ACTU conference this week, but his rhetoric falls far short of Corbyn’s. Swan has also attempted to boost his standing with the Labor Left by meeting with Bernie Sanders, but he also met International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials on the same trip. Swan’s “revolution”, is really just a fig leaf for more business as usual politics.

If not from Labor then where? Read the rest of this entry at Independent Australia.