Magna Carta-myth and reality

Most Australians would, if asked, probably identify Magna Carta as the foundation stone of our legal system.  They would have a vague sense that Magna Carta was the start of it in England and that, in 1788, the system built on Magna Carta was transplanted into Australia.

Magna Carta is mostly a myth, but provides a great example of an enduring truth: that in political matters, mythology is far more important than facts.

Popular history tells us that Magna Carta was sealed on the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June, 1215.  So, on 15 June 2015, we commemorated 800 years since it was sealed.

In fact, we acknowledged the wrong document and the wrong day.

The document that was sealed on 15 June 1215 was the Articles of the Barons.  The document we think of as Magna Carta was based on the Articles of the Barons and was prepared and engrossed a few days later, some say on 19 June 1215.

But in any event, England switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, so as to bring the calendar back into synchronisation with the real world.  When that switch happened, eleven days simply disappeared.  So while it is true that the Articles of the Barons, later called Magna Carta, was signed on 15 June 1215, that day was 800 years minus 11 days before 15 June 2015.  The date which is exactly 800 years after the signing of the Articles of the barons was actually 26 June this year.

But this does not matter: it is the symbolism of the thing that really counts, and I doubt that anyone thought about Magna Carta on 26 June 2015.

Winston Churchill wrote about the signing of Magna Carta in volume 1 of his great History of the English Speaking Peoples:

“On a Monday morning in June, between Staines and Windsor, the barons and Churchmen began to collect on the great meadow at Runnymede.  An uneasy hush fell on them from time to time.  Many had failed to keep their tryst; and the bold few who had come knew that the King would never forgive this humiliation.  He would hunt them down when he could, and the laymen at least were staking their lives in the cause they served.  They had arranged a little throne for the King and a tent.  The handful of resolute men had drawn up, it seems, a short document on parchment.  Their retainers and the groups and squadrons of horsemen in sullen steel kept at some distance and well in the background.  For was not armed rebellion against the Crown the supreme feudal crime? Then events followed rapidly.  A small cavalcade appeared from the direction of Windsor.  Gradually men made out the faces of the King, the Papal Legate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and several bishops.  They dismounted without ceremony.  Someone, probably the Archbishop, stated briefly the terms that were suggested.  The King declared at once that he agreed.  He said the details should be arranged immediately in his chancery.  The original “Articles of the Barons” on which Magna Carta is based exist to-day in the British Museum.  They were sealed in a quiet, short scene, which has become one of the most famous in our history, on June 15, 1215.  Afterwards the King returned to Windsor.  Four days later, probably, the Charter itself was engrossed.  In future ages it was to be used as the foundation of principles and systems of government of which neither King John nor his nobles dreamed.”

King John was the youngest of five sons of Henry II.  His oldest brother, Richard, was king, but went off to fight the crusades, where he earned his nickname “Lionheart”.  John’s elder brothers William, Henry and Geoffrey died young.  Richard died in 1199, and John became king.

Richard and John both incurred huge expenses in war, especially in suppressing rebellion in their French domains in Normandy and Anjou.  Both leaned on their nobles to support the expense.  John, who had managed to make himself deeply unpopular, met resistance.  John made increasing demands for taxes of various sorts, including scutage – money paid to avoid military service – and he sold wardships and heiresses for large sums.  Henry II and Richard had done the same, but John’s nobles resisted.  By May 1215, the barons had occupied London and made a series of demands.

In June 1215, the barons met King John at Runnymede.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, played an important role in mediating the dispute and eventually the Articles of the Barons were prepared and sealed.

Before it became known as Magna Carta, it was set aside.  Two months after the Articles of the Barons were signed King John (who was not a reliable person) prevailed on Pope Innocent III to declare the Deed invalid.  The Pope said it was “not only shameful and base but illegal and unjust.” He declared it null and void, and ordered King John not to observe it.  This was in August 1215, just 10 weeks after the great symbolic meeting at Runnymede.

The barons were not happy.

John died in October 1216.  His son Henry was only nine years old.  Henry’s advisors saw that re-issuing the Charter in modified form would help keep the young king in power.  So an amended version was issued in 1217, under the title Charter of Liberties.  At the same time the Charter of the Forest was issued.  The Charter of Liberties was the bigger of the two, and soon became known as the Great Charter: Magna Carta.

When he had come of age, Henry III swore his allegiance to a modified version of Magna Carta.  This took place on 11 February 1225, so that is probably the most appropriate date to observe.  The 1225 version of Magna Carta more closely resembles the document which has been so venerated for so long.

Perhaps people will celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta on 11 February 2025, or perhaps on 22 February 2025 to allow for the change in calendars.  But probably not.

The 1215 version of Magna Carta includes many provisions which are concerned with taxes.  For example:

(2) If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a ‘relief’, the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of ‘relief’.

(12) No ‘scutage’ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter.  For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.  ‘Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly.

(15) In future we will allow no one to levy an ‘aid’ from his free men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry his eldest daughter.  For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.

(27) If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church.  The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

(28) No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this.

(30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

And there are plenty of surprises:

(4) The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal services.  …

(5) For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land itself.  When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.

(6) Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social standing.  Before a marriage takes place, it shall be’ made known to the heir’s next-of-kin.

(10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands.  If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

(11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it.  If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands.  The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords.  Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

(33) All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom.  There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells[1] within the selvedges.  Weights are to be standardised similarly.

The only part of Magna Carta which is widely remembered (if that is the right word) is found in Articles 39 and 40:

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Together, these became Article 29 of the 1225 version:

(29) No free-man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, of his free tenement, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land.  To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.

Considering the mystic significance which is attached to Magna Carta these days (and especially in 2015) it is interesting to note that Shakespeare, in his play King John, does not mention it at all.  He mentions Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who played a large part in compiling the document.  But he mentions Langton just once, and in passing.  He does not mention Runnymede.

Sir Edward Coke

So why do we honour it so greatly? The short answer is: Sir Edward Coke.  And here we embark on a truly remarkable story of a new reality being formed as myth is piled on myth.

Sir Edward Coke entered the English parliament in 1589, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  In 1594, he became Attorney-General and still held that role when James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603.

Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had famously broken from the Church of Rome because he wanted a divorce.  The formation of the Church of England led to increasing oppression of English Catholics.  The oppression sharpened during the reign of Elizabeth.  Elizabeth died without leaving an heir or any obvious successor.  When James VI of Scotland was cautiously chosen as Elizabeth’s successor, the oppressed Roman Catholics of England had hopes that James might treat them more leniently.  After all, James was married to Anne of Denmark who, although a Protestant, had converted to Catholicism.

But these hopes were dashed, and a group of well-educated, pious, Catholic nobles conceived a bold plan to resist the increasing oppression: they would blow up the Houses of Parliament on the day of its opening.  The opening of James’ first Parliament was delayed because the Plague had spread through London.  For the opening of the Parliament, the Royal family, the Lords and the Commons would collect together in the Great Hall at Westminster.  Eventually the date for the opening of Parliament was set for 5 November 1605.  But word of the conspiracy got out.  The night before Parliament was due to open, the whole Parliament building was searched.  In a room immediately below the great hall, a man who called himself John Johnson was discovered.  He had 36 barrels of gunpowder: enough to blow the whole place sky-high.

John Johnson was also known as Guy Fawkes.

King James personally authorised the torture of John Johnson, in an attempt to identify the other conspirators.  Torture was unlawful then, as it is now.  But King James considered that he ruled above the law.  He adhered to the theory of the Divine Right of Kings.  In this, we see the elemental force which was at play in the Constitutional struggles of the 17th Century.  The key question was this: Does the King rule above the law, or is he subject to it?

The trial of the Gunpowder conspirators began on 26 January 1606.  Sir Edward Coke[2], as Attorney-General, prosecuted the case.  He won.  He was a favourite of King James because, on many occasions, he had supported King James’s view that the King ruled above the law.  Later in 1606 he was rewarded for his loyalty and good service by being appointed Chief Justice of Common Pleas.

On the bench, Coke’s view seems to have changed.  This sometimes happens to judges, to the great irritation of governments.  In a number of cases, Coke CJ insisted that the King ruled subject to law.  It is a principle we take for granted these days, but in the early 17th century it was hotly contested.  He rejected King James’ interference with the operation of the Courts.  The King dismissed him from office in 1616.  He re-entered Parliament.

The Petition of Right

In 1627 (the second year of the reign of Charles I) the King ordered the arrest of Sir Thomas Darnel and four others who had refused to advance a compulsory “loan” to the King.  They sought habeas corpus.  The jailer answered the suit by saying the five were held “per speciale mandatum Regis” [by special order of the King].

Darnel’s case in 1627 prompted Coke to draft for Parliament the Petition of Right (1628).  The Petition raised, very politely, various complaints about the King’s conduct, including that:

  • he had been ordering people, like Darnel, to be jailed for failing to lend him money;
  • he had been billeting soldiers in private houses throughout the country against the wishes of the owners;
  • he had circumvented the common law by appointing commissioners to enforce martial laws and those commissioners had been summarily trying and executing “such soldiers or mariners or other desolate persons joining with them as should commit … (any) outrage or misdemeanour whatsoever …”;
  • he had been exempting some from the operation of the common law.

The Parliament prayed that the King “would be graciously pleased for the further comfort and safety of your people, to declare … that in the things aforesaid all your officers and ministers shall serve you according to the laws and statutes of this realm …”.

The Petition of Right reflected Coke’s distilled thoughts about English law and politics.  In his most famous work, The “Institutes of the Lawes of England”, Coke elevated Magna Carta to previously unrecognised significance.  He claimed of it that it was the source of all English law, and in particular he claimed that it required that the King rule subject to law, not beyond it.  He said that Magna Carta “is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign.”

The Petition of Right was Coke’s way of creating (he would have said “recognising”) the essential features of the English Constitutional framework.

The Petition of Right was adopted by the Parliament but Charles I would not agree to it.  Charles I, like John centuries earlier, wanted to continue raising taxes without the inconvenience of Parliament.  Like King John, he did it by exacting large sums from his nobles, as he had done in Darnel’s case.  Again, the nobles were unhappy.  The Civil War started in 1642.  Charles lost the war and, in 1649, lost his head.  Then came Cromwell, Charles II and James II.

James II was a Catholic and was not popular.  His son-in-law, William of Orange, was persuaded to usurp the throne of England.  In what became known as the “Glorious Revolution”, on 5 November 1688, William landed at Brixham.  That year, 5 November turned out worse for James II than it had in 1605 for James I.  James was deposed and William and Mary became joint sovereigns in James’s place.

But there was a condition.  William had agreed in advance to accept the Petition of Right.  So the parliament of 1689 adopted the petition of Right and it became the English Bill of Rights.  By this path, Sir Edward Coke’s views on Magna Carta gained an unassailable place in the fabric of English law.

In form, the Bill of Rights declares itself to be “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown”.

It recites and responds to the vices of James II.  Its Preamble starts this way:

“…  Whereas the late King James the Second, by the assistance of divers evil counsellors, judges and ministers employed by him, did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom …”

and it then declares certain ‘ancient rights and liberties’.

The English Bill of Rights does, in some ways, reflect Magna Carta.  So:

Magna Carta (1215) Article 12: No ‘scutage’ or ‘aid’ may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter.  For these purposes only a reasonable ‘aid’ may be levied.  ‘Aids’ from the city of London are to be treated similarly

Bill of Rights, clause 4: That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal;

And the ideas underlying Article 20 of Magna Carta and clause 10 of the Bill of Rights are similar:

Magna Carta (1215) Article 20: For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood.  In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court.  None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

Bill of Rights, clause 10: That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted;

Beyond this other parallels can be found, but it takes the ingenuity of Sir Edward Coke to make them sound persuasive.  For example, Article 61 of Magna Carta of 1215 (which was not repeated in the 1225 version adopted by Henry III) provides for a council of 25 barons to hold the King to his promises, and clause 13 of the Bill of Rights requires Parliaments to be held frequently.

But Coke had persuaded a generation of lawyers and historians that the liberties in the Petition of Right, and thus in the Bill of Rights, were recognised in Magna Carta.  So the importance of Magna Carta was picked up and sustained by the Bill of Rights.

The US Bill of Rights

We do not think about the English Bill of Rights very much these days.  When we hear about “The Bill of Rights” these days, we automatically think of the United States of America.  It is not an accident.  The American colonies had been established by the English when they settled Jamestown in 1607.  By 1773, things were not going well.  The Boston Tea Party took place on 16 December 1773.  It was the colonists’ protest against having to pay taxes to a distant government in which they had no representation.  In 1776 the colonists decided to sever their ties with Britain and on 4 July 1776 they signed the Declaration of Independence.

In 1789 a Constitution was proposed for the newly independent United States of America.  It was a bold and unprecedented venture.  The idea of a federation of states with local as well as a central government was a novelty back then.  The thirteen colonies, anxious about the possible tyranny of a Federal government, put forward 10 amendments to the Constitution.  Those amendments are known, in America and across the English-speaking world, as the Bill of Rights.  They closely reflected the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

Although it is sometimes thought the US Bill of Rights is a human rights document, it is no such thing.  It is no less than a reflection of what is now called the Rule of Law.

The parallels between the English Bill of Rights and the US Bill of Rights are very clear:

English Bill of Rights (1689) US Bill of Rights (1791)
Preamble: By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law 5 – No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
3 – That the commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious; 3 – No law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
4 – That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal; See US constitution Article 1, Section 9 “…No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time….”
7 – That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law; 2 – A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
10 – That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted; 10 – Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted
5 – That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal; 3 – No law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Two important provisions of the US Bill of Rights reflect Articles 39 and 40 of the 1215 Magna Carta (Article 29 of the 1225 re-issue).

Magna Carta 1225

Art 29: No free-man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, of his free tenement, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land.  To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.”

US Bill of Rights

“8 – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury …  and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; …  and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

9 – …the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court”

It is no great surprise that the American colonists drew so heavily on the English Bill of rights.  Sir Edward Coke’s Petition of Right represents a stand against the Divine Right of Kings: it seeks to place the ultimate law-making power in the people, through their elected representatives, and it sought to ensure that no-one would stand above the law.  The American colonists in 1789 were in the process of creating a new and powerful body which would hover above the various States.  It looked as though they might be creating a new monarchy.  To guard against that, they proposed the first 10 Amendments to the proposed Constitution.

The US Bill of Rights has very little to do with human rights.  It is all about constraining the power of the new Federal government.

The principle of legality

Article 29 of the 1225 Version of Magna Carta is sufficient justification for the document’s fame.  Its provisions have since been taken to stand for the proposition that punishment can only be imposed by a court, that laws apply to all equally according to its terms, and that all people are entitled to have their legal rights judged and declared by a Court.  This is more grandly expressed as the Principle of Legality or the Rule of Law.

In Australia, we did not adopt a Bill of Rights in our Federal Constitution, and our Constitutional fathers did not have the same reasons to be anxious about a Federal government as the American colonists had a century earlier.  But the High Court of Australia has found in the structure of our Constitution a Principle of Legality which reflects the spirit of Magna Carta as interpreted by Coke.

The power of government includes the legislative power[3], the executive power[4], and the judicial power[5].

The Australian Constitution is divided into chapters.  The first three chapters create the Parliament, the Executive Government and the Courts respectively.  The High Court very early on decided that this gives each arm of government exclusive rights within its own domain.  So, for example, only the parliament can exercise the legislative power, and only the courts can exercise the judicial power.  For present purposes, that means that courts can impose punishment, but the Parliament and the Executive cannot.  Parliament can pass a law which says “Doing x is illegal; penalty 5 years’ jail” but only a court can find that a person has done x, and impose the appropriate punishment.

At least according to Coke, this echoes the provision in Article 39 of Magna Carta that “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals…”

It seems odd, and not a little ironic that, in the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Australians were confronted with a government which is seriously challenging the Rule of Law.

A Bill introduced into the Federal Parliament in 2015 authorised guards in immigration detention centre to treat detainees, including children, with such force as they think is reasonably necessary.  As a retired Court of Appeal judge said to a Parliamentary enquiry, this would, in theory, allow a guard to beat a detainee to death without the risk of any civil or criminal sanction.

The Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill removed financial support for patients with a mental illness if they are charged with an offence which could carry a sentence of 7 years or more.  This automatically puts a defendant at a disadvantage when facing a serious charge, and they suffer that disadvantage regardless whether they are innocent or guilty.  It looks very much like punishment without trial.

The Abbott government advanced the idea that any Australian who goes to fight with the Islamic State should be stripped of their citizenship by a Minister of the Crown, that is to say, by a member of the Executive government.

Having your citizenship cancelled looks very much like a punishment: but the Abbott government was determined to be able to do it without troubling a Court to see if the relevant facts are proved and the punishment is required by law.  And, archaic as it seems, letting the Minister take away a person’s citizenship looks very much like outlawing or exiling the person without the judgment of his equals.  Punishment without trial.

This is not a political argument: it is an argument about the rule of law and is as serious and important as it was in 1215.

In the 21st century it is too late to deny that Magna Carta has developed a level of significance which its authors may not have noticed or intended.  If we are true to the spirit which Sir Edward Coke found in it; if we are true to the same spirit which informed the Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights and the American Bill of Rights then we owe it to the past and to the future to resist any attempt by any government to punish or outlaw or exile any person, except by the judgment of his equals.

 

[1] An ancient unit of measure.   But not a very useful unit of measure in a standardised system, because its value varied from place to place.  The English ell = 45 inches; the Scottish ell = 37·2 inches; the Flemish ell = 27 inches.

[2] pronounced “Cook”

[3] the power to make laws

[4] the power to give effect to laws and policies

[5] the power to decide legal questions, impose punishments etc.

Donald J Trump

This is a very good piece written by Australian author Mike Richards: It deals with him by the letters of his name, which is NOT to say he is a man of letters.

Donald J Trump, by Mike Richards

The essence of Donald Trump’s political personality is actually beyond narcissism: he has what I would call an “emperor complex” — a belief that, like medieval European royalty, he is a supreme being, superior to all others, all-powerful, above the law in ruling his empire, and able to do and say anything which must be taken as valid and true.

As Emperor of All America, Trump believes he possesses the divine right of kings: he is not accountable to earthly authority (i.e. Congress) or even subject to the will of the people, whose duty is only to admire and loyally praise his tremendous power and magnificent achievements. And under the doctrine of the infallibility of kings, Trump is unimpeachable and always right. At times he seems to extend to his children this assumption of an entitlement to rule as part of an imperial royal family.

In spelling this out, let’s start with Trump’s use of his signature in an enduring ritual of his presidency: issuing fiats by signing into law legislative and executive orders and displaying the signed document for lawmakers and the assembled media in the Oval Office as a validation moment of presidential achievement.

No president has been more triumphant in holding up the signed formal record of his executive accomplishments. As he signs the page with his custom-made black Sharpie pen, he etches the big, thick lines that make up his signature, which is at once angular and condensed, yet takes up more than half a page-width of what he sees as imperial edicts. Bold and huge, his signature is clearly intended to signal his commanding authority.

Using psychoanalytic insights, how might we decipher the signature letters of “Donald J Trump” to speculate on the traits that shape and define his emperor complex?

(Image: AP/Andrew Harnik)

 

The “D” in Donald J Trump has a number of possibilities. Despotic, defensive, deaf, devious, damaged, disloyal, disordered and dysfunctional all come to mind — as does dangerous (Mary Trump’s descriptor), which refers to all manner of damage he has done to the American system of democracy through his imperious disdain for truth in public office. He is also divisive, as in his response to the Black Lives Matter protests, associating himself with a tweet labelling peaceful protesters near the White House as “terrorists”.

But the behavioural trait he most compellingly displays is “delusional”. For Emperor Trump, the concepts of evidence and truth do not matter, and the most powerful man in the world can say anything he likes and not be accountable.

Trump has exhibited delusional behaviour many times during his term in office, starting with his description of the crowd at his 2017 inauguration as the biggest inauguration crowd ever– a description the White House sought to bolster through manipulated photographic images.

This was Trump’s coronation moment, the occasion of his enthronement, and he cannot bear to have his consecration diminished by comparisons with his rivals — those he regards as inferior beings — even if the rivalry exists only in his imagination. For Trump to accept that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had a larger crowd at his inauguration would be internally wounding and demeaning, and he is driven to avoid it with delusions of exaggerated superiority and self-importance.

This early delusional flourish was merely a hint of what was to come. Since then Trump has come to sharpen his obliteration of his perceived enemies — and those who deny his claim to greatness — with his frequent use of the word “fake”. This has become the epithet of choice for Emperor Trump: not merely is someone who opposes him wrong or even despicable, they are illegitimate and can be banished from his mind.

Obama has been a special target for Trump, going back to his assertions during Obama’s first term that America’s first Black president was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii, and hence was not constitutionally eligible to serve in the White House — merely a “pretender” to the throne. His delusions about Obama were not merely a political claim that his predecessor was misguided or ineffectual, or took the country in the wrong direction, but that he occupied his office illegitimately.

This is the ultimate put down by Trump — not merely the political disparagement of an imagined rival but the denial and destruction of his legitimacy. With no credible evidence whatsoever for his “birther” claim, Trump destroyed in his own mind the authority of the man who stood in the place he coveted.

It wasn’t enough, however, and Trump’s obsession with Obama has continued, perhaps intensified by Obama’s mocking of Trump at the White House correspondents dinner in April 2011. Humiliated by the audience laughing at him, Trump has never let go, tweeting in May this year that Obama was responsible for “the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR … [a crime that] makes Watergate look small time”.

However, at a subsequent press conference when pressed by journalists to explain this baseless claim, Trump replied: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers…” (He continued his “denial of legitimacy” ploy with comments in August about the Democratic candidate for vice-president, Kamala Harris, who he falsely claimed was “ineligible to serve” if she was elected in November because she was born in the US to immigrant parents.)

Delusions of imperial grandeur are also a feature of Trump’s personality. He boasts that everything he does is amazing — the biggest, the best, the grandest and most beautiful. This became apparent in 1982 with the completion in New York of the extraordinary Trump Tower, the family apartments which are decorated in a gaudy mix of the opulent style of the French emperors’ palace of Versailles, the columned temples of ancient Greece and the grand palaces of Russia — a style which has been disparaged as “haute Miami Vice elegance”.

These gilded private rooms, with fixtures in 24-carat gold plate, are an expression of Trump’s inner need to feel regal — even King Midas-like. On its website, the Trump organisation says of the building that it “stands as a world famous testament of Mr Trump’s grand vision and ability to achieve tremendous success with everything he touches”.

The delusional trait is also found in Trump’s Twitter communications, both in his own words or those of others who say what he really thinks and believes. Last year he quoted a conservative radio host who called him “the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world … and the Jewish people in Israel love him like he is the King of Israel. Like he is the second coming of God.”

As we know, Emperor Trump tweets the messages of others that reflect his inner beliefs. His delusions are repetitive and obvious and have a common element: he is a tremendous president, and the greatest, the most perfect leader of his subjects.

This is a recurring claim that he makes, as he did in July 2019: “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.” It was apparent again when, in disputing the impeachable character of his so-called quid pro quo phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he described the call as “perfect”.

Consistent with this delusion, when things go well Trump takes the credit; when they go badly, it’s always someone else’s fault. This was clear when he made the grandiose promise of completing the wall between Mexico and the US. When it was not completed, he blamed the political establishment, the news media — everyone but himself.

More recently, in early March this year, Trump minimised the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic for the US — blaming the “fake news” media for spreading panic — as if accepting the enormity of this threat would somehow diminish his standing of Imperial Majesty.

As appropriate as “delusional” is to describe a key Trump trait, it has to be acknowledged that it is accompanied by high-level political acumen. On the flip side of his delusions is an unerring capacity to pick the weaknesses of his political rivals, perhaps through unconscious projection of his inner vulnerabilities. It is as if his delusions about his own inflated capabilities (founded as they are in unconscious defences against a profound inner sense of inferiority) enable him to crystallise the personality flaws of his opponents — to endow them with the personality traits he denies in himself.

(Image: AP/Alex Brandon)

 

The second letter of Trump’s royal signature — “O” — is also instructive: obscene, outlaw, outlandish, obsessive and oppositional are in the frame, but the signature “O” word that best fits is “omnipotent”, and it’s a particular expression of his delusional and authoritarian behaviour.

Trump always sees himself as the best, the greatest, the smartest — but particularly the most powerful. Even from the outset of his presidential candidacy, he articulated his grandiose sense of himself. Accepting the Republican nomination in July 2016, he declared: “I am your voice. I will be a champion, your champion. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

It has also come out in his periodic declarations of his monarch-like authority: “When somebody is president of the United States, your authority is total.” Trump said this in an angry tirade at a press conference on April 13 in response to criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. His seeming omnipotent authoritarianism is not the expression of a developed philosophy of governing, but a reflection of his self-centred preoccupation with ruling — of being in total control of his empire and its subjects.

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The key letter for Donald Trump is “N” for “narcissist”. This is the umbrella letter for his core political personality, and it is no exaggeration to say that all the other behavioural features flow from this. He has a hyper-narcissistic personality, and whatever he does in office is really all about him.

All successful leaders have a healthy degree of self-regard — and a certain measure of associated paranoia; qualities necessary for political action and leadership survival. But when they become excessive and overpowering they can lead to debilitating and dysfunctional ways of acting politically.

More importantly, when these traits include a mix of other antisocial personality traits — what clinicians call “malignant narcissism” — sociopathic behaviour can emerge.

There are several features of Trump’s narcissistic and paranoid personality that shape a consistent pattern in his political behaviour. The central features are a distinctive marketing acumen and political drive that is accompanied by paranoia and destructive tendencies — anger, rage, envy and resentment — which suggests an inner dynamic involving overweening ambition defending against (that is, compensating for) low self-esteem.

The psychoanalytic literature on narcissistic personality is extensive and important to understanding Trump’s political personality, his emperor complex. At the core of modern theories are the concepts of the “narcissistic self”, in particular the “grandiose self” — the unconscious structure holding omnipotent and exhibitionistic wishes regulating behaviour and self-esteem.

The grandiose self, whose central mechanism may be stated as “I am perfect”, is a normal part of the child’s sense of itself. Under optimal conditions the exhibitionism and grandiosity of the child is gradually tamed, gives way to more realistic functioning, and becomes an important element in adult self-esteem. However, if the child’s development is disrupted by narcissistic trauma, whether real or imagined, it may persist unaltered in the adult formation of exaggerated ambition.

It is worth noting here that Trump has described his father Fred as demanding, difficult and driven, Indeed, from multiple biographical accounts of Trump’s early life, including most recently Mary Trump’s book, his father seems even more extreme — a sociopathic, relentlessly dominating, bullying and emotionally inaccessible parent. Trump’s emotional development was seemingly snap-frozen in early childhood when he appeared defensively combative, aggressively competitive and dominating. For the young Donald, losing meant inner obliteration.

In short, it seems the child persona has persisted into his adult behaviour. As he told a recent biographer: “When I look at myself in the first grade and look at myself now, I’m basically the same.”

In his classic study published more than 40 years ago, US psychoanalyst Otto F Kernberg MD identified a number of distinctive characteristics of the narcissistic personality. This type, he wrote, typically presents with “excessive self-absorption hand in hand with … various combinations of intense ambitiousness, grandiose fantasies, feelings of inferiority, and over-dependence on external admiration and acclaim, they suffer from chronic feelings of boredom and emptiness, [and] are constantly searching for gratification of strivings for brilliance [and] power”.

Other predominant characteristics “include a lack of capacity for empathetic understanding of others … conscious or unconscious exploitativeness and ruthlessness toward others and, particularly, the presence of chronic intense envy and defences against such envy”.

Trump’s behavior has been exemplified by many of these problematic features, the first of which is a tendency towards intense envy and resentment of those who, he believes, have entitlements greater than his own.

This is linked, second, to an ambivalent attitude towards elites and people in authority — for example, promising to “drain the swamp” at the same time as aspiring to rule over the swamp. At other times this appears as a tendency to enviously abuse and tear down to his level anyone within his orbit he perceives as occupying a superior position and casting a shadow over his throne.

Third, he shows in his political behaviour an obsessive concern to assert that he — above all others — is in control. And fourth, he shows a tendency towards paranoid fantasies, a hyper-sensitivity to criticism, where he sees friend and foe alike as attacking or undermining him.

Trump’s inner sense is that he is never wrong. If someone questions, even for a moment, his claim to unparalleled greatness, they are met with withering and unrelenting retaliation.

Associated with these features is a high level of rage at a political world he struggles to bend to his will. It’s a world that he vilifies in his tweets, a social media monologue that, like its author, is occasionally perceptive but mostly destructive and sometimes paranoid. These are features of the emperor complex that drove Trump to seek and attain the presidency. But they are also qualities of a flawed personality that make his presidential reign highly problematic and unsustainable.

At other times, when his sense of entitlement is breached — the demands of his grandiose self-image betrayed — he responds with retaliatory rage and retribution. This becomes clear in relation to his political associates — the imperial court — with whom he makes common cause at periods in his political rise.

A strong common element here is that his brittle shell will not allow any scintilla of criticism, and any deviation from wholehearted support by courtiers, staff and allies is responded to with a flight to rage and vindictiveness.

Trump’s sensitivities are evident in his experiences with successive White House chiefs of staff. One by one they have fallen foul of Emperor Trump’s need to be self-sufficient in his political decision-making. Trump sees his advisers as either loyalists or rivals, and they are most vulnerable to his impulsive and bullying instinct when they were best doing their jobs: telling the emperor what he does not want to hear. Successive close advisers have lamented their inability to make Trump take advice.

The point is less that Trump won’t take advice, but that he can’t take advice: to take the advice of a subordinate is humiliating and he can’t do it — unless and until he can convince himself that it was his advice in the first place, that he was the author of this masterstroke of strategy or politics that would be universally applauded as “brilliant” and “amazing”.

Trump is profoundly insecure and feels threatened when prospective staff have professional experience, standing and seniority that rivals his sense of superiority. At the start of his presidential term he dealt with that by appointing courtiers and devotees — inexperienced juniors — to his staff.

His campaign press secretary was Hope Hicks, a 26-year-old former model he later appoint to the role of White House director of strategic communications, despite the fact that she had no experience in government. This is less a case of Trump appointing a loyal associate than of ensuring the power relationship between president and advisers is uncomplicated by appointing seasoned professionals who might provide frank, fearless and independent advice.

He has also drawn upon the imperial entitlement of his imagined royal family to appoint his daughter Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, to senior adviser roles, although they had negligible skills for their positions.

Trump’s insecurity becomes more obvious when subordinates have a standing or get media and public attention he believes is rightfully his. In the early days of his presidency, the reported power behind the throne was Trump’s campaign chief executive and chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, who developed a high public profile and received intense media attention and accolades from commentators about his campaigning success.

Trump regarded this attention as demeaning of his own pre-eminent imperial position and went out of his way to disparage Bannon, putting him down in a way that allowed the proper hierarchy of greatness to be restored in his favour.

Eventually Trump could not endure Bannon’s prominence and he fired him in August 2017, after which he belittled Bannon’s role and denied his influence. In fact, he trashed Bannon as merely “a guy who works for me” and said “sloppy Steve” Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job”.

Eighteen months after he was dismissed, and well before he was arrested on fraud charges, Bannon was able to work his way back into the emperor’s favours, in part by publicly calling him “a great leader as a president” and a “great campaigner” — whereupon Trump felt able to say that Bannon was “one of my best pupils” and “still a giant Trump fan”. Notice that even in his renewed praise he keeps himself as the central object of admiration.

Trump has fallen out with other close court advisers — none of whom has lasted for more than 18 months — including chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and General John Kelly, and national security adviser John Bolton. Most recently his health expert on the coronavirus, Dr Anthony Fauci, incurred Trump’s displeasure, primarily because the president cannot abide anything less than devoted cheerleading from his courtiers.

When a subordinate’s advice is later shown to be well based, and Trump appears to have been publicly at odds with it, he reacts severely, as was the case with Fauci. This happened when, in a CNN interview earlier this year, Fauci said Trump had “pushed back” against his early advice about mandating social distancing to combat the spread of the coronavirus — an initiative, Fauci said, that had it not been delayed “would have saved lives”.

This was too much for Trump, and he retweeted a conservative call for Fauci to be fired. In effect, he was projecting his inner wish for retribution at the suggestion that his imperial rule was flawed. It is only when Fauci walked back from the meaning of his comments and praised the president for his handling of the pandemic response that Trump disavowed banishing him.

Others have not been so lucky. Months after Trump’s impeachment, for example, he was still paying out by firing those government officials who honoured their ethical duties in relation to the Ukrainian quid pro quo. Trump cannot ever accept the betrayal he feels about their conduct: in his mind, their loyalty is not to the republic or to their office, but unquestionably to him as emperor, and any deviation is met with aggressive disparagement and ultimately (in his mind) obliteration — by firing them.

Incidentally, there are interesting echoes here of Trump’s TV program, The Apprentice, where his signature statement was “you’re fired!” In the Middle Ages it would have been “off with his head!”

A central feature of Trump’s personality is his pronounced lack of empathy. At his press briefings, when he has conjured the numbers of COVID-19 cases or deaths, he has expressed little sympathy or empathetic understanding for those who have lost family or loved ones.

Back in March, in one of the more insensitive expressions of this trait, he conceded that he wanted to keep a cruise ship in limbo off the California coast rather than allowing it to dock because he wanted to keep the reported number of coronavirus cases artificially low. “I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship … If they want to take them off, they’ll take them off. But if that happens, all of a sudden your 240 [cases] is obviously going to be a much higher number, and probably the 11 [deaths] will be a higher number too.”

More recently, Trump seems to have given up on accepting responsibility for managing the pandemic, using distractions about employment numbers and the economy and law and order to divert attention from mounting infection rates and deaths. He has also urged reduced testing for the virus in the deluded belief that less testing means fewer cases.

The flip side of Trump’s narcissistic self-regard is paranoia, which manifests as a kind of persecutory anxiety: nobody is spared, he sees friend and foe alike as attacking him, and his emblematic expression is one of distrust in others. “I don’t trust anybody but myself,” he seems to be saying. “Everyone else is trying to undermine me and my claim to greatness.”

As we’ve seen earlier, a feature of his political persona is his denigration of his political colleagues as a way of raising himself up in his own estimation. One expression of this is the extensive list of disparaging nicknames he gives to both his political opponents and his erstwhile supporters.

Competitive rivalries between politicians in leadership positions are normal and inevitable. But in Emperor Trump’s case this takes a somewhat relentless and extreme form: he systematically belittles and demeans the activities and efforts of his party colleagues, as if only his actions are worthy and good. This destructive envy spreads to anyone he feels stands taller than him and, hence, one by one his colleagues — whether supporters or rivals — are characterised as “crazy” or “crooked” while his activities are extolled as “tremendous” and “perfect”.

Trump has a characteristic way of belittling real and imagined rivals who even momentarily challenge his elevated regal authority. They are variously “crazy”, “sleepy”, “sloppy”, or “lying”. Going back to the Republican presidential nomination process in 2015 and 2016, his rivals were “low energy Jeb” Bush, “little Marco” Rubio, and “lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

Four years later, as the Democratic party nomination process got under way, he targeted “sleepy, creepy Joe” Biden, “crazy Bernie” Sanders, “fake Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren and, later in the process, “mini-Mike” Bloomberg.

Trump’s denigration of rivals or would-be rivals reveals his inner self: anyone who emerges to challenge his pre-eminent position of entitlement is a threat to his sense of himself and has to be cut down to size. His Democrat Congressional detractors are put down in the same way (“crazy Nancy” Pelosi, “little Adam” Schiff, “cryin’ Chuck” Schumer), as are his supposed tormentors in the media (“crazy Jim” Acosta, “sloppy Carl” Bernstein, “crooked H Flunkie” Maggie Haberman, and “little wise guy” George Stephanopoulos), among many others.

It’s no surprise, incidentally, that Trump hates the media, since journalists are most frequently the source of the critical reporting and commentary that he finds demeaning and threatening to his grandiose inner sense of self. It’s why he brands anything less than unqualified admiration, if not idolatry, as “fake news”.

Trump’s deadliest venom in recent times has been directed at his former opponent in the race for the White House, Hillary “lock her up!” Clinton. Trump has never accepted that while he won the presidential election through his majority of delegates in the Electoral College, Clinton nationally polled 2.8 million more votes than he did. Unable to be gracious in victory, he still has to belittle her as “crooked Hillary”, lest anyone think she might have been more popular than him.

It is worth considering who Trump likes and admires. Mostly it’s other national leaders — all of them autocrats — with whom he can appear on an elevated world stage. Foremost in his relationships has been his enduring admiration for Russia’s modern-day tsar, President Vladimir Putin. In new evidence reported by CNN at the end of June, veteran journalist Carl Bernstein cites US national security officials with authorised access to Trump’s classified telephone conversations with Putin as dismayed by the pandering approach he took to the Russian leader — in sharp contrast to the abusive tone he adopted in speaking to democratic allies in German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British PM Theresa May.

Trump’s clear preference for authoritarian bullies has been obvious in his relationships with rulers such as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and more recently Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

Trump’s relationship with China’s authoritarian president Xi Jinping has been admittedly on-again, off-again, and he has been ambivalent about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. At some points, Trump liked Kim, perhaps because when they met in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea in June 2019, Kim appeared deferential and compliant in his body language. This was appealing to Trump because he could satisfy his grandiose sense of himself as the dominant party strutting the world stage. Of course, lest anyone think Kim eventually got the better of him through his diplomatic game-playing, Trump looked to cut Kim down to size, once again describing him as “Little Rocket Man.”

(Image: YouTube)

 

There are any number of “A” letters that a decipher of Emperor Trump’s signature suggest: angry, ambitious, amoral, anti-democratic, adolescent, abusive, antagonistic, aggressive and autocratic commend themselves, as does attention-seeking, which characterises Trump’s pursuit of the presidential throne in the first place. This was not about Trump seeking to realise a developed vision of leading and governing in the national interest. This was about leveraging the foremost position in the country to attract attention to himself, to become more powerful and more famous than anyone.

The “A” word that fits best, however, is “arrogant” — a belief that he is better than others and knows more than anybody, even when the reality is that he doesn’t have a clue.

Trump’s arrogance is a defence against his profound inner sense of inferiority. He has claimed countless times while in office that he had extraordinary special knowledge about politics and public policy. Typically he has expressed this as: “Nobody knows more about [x] than I do.” He has claimed he knows more “than anyone on earth” about defence, nuclear weapons, Islamic State (IS), the courts, technology, the environment, renewables, money, taxes, trade, banks, healthcare, infrastructure, construction and campaign finance among an extensive list. It comes as no surprise that he has described himself as “a very stable genius”.

He invoked his claim to “genius’ again in March on a tour of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, when he felt obliged to overcome his lack of any real understanding of the laboratory experiments into infectious diseases that CDC medical researchers are distinguished for. So he bragged to the media accompanying him about his “great super genius” uncle, an MIT medical engineering professor, to assert that he himself had a natural ability as a medical doctor and researcher: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it … Every one of these doctors said: ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability, maybe I should have done [become a medical researcher] instead of running for president. But you know what? What they’ve done is really incredible. I understand that whole world, I love that world. I really do. I love that world.”

Trump cannot even for a moment accept that he has — like the rest of us — merely a rudimentary understanding of complex medical science, so he has to exaggerate — in this case by invoking his connection to his highly accomplished uncle — to momentarily project into the minds of the media audience the thought that he could have been a “great super genius” too.

There have been other occasions when Trump has looked to present himself as the guy who could cure coronavirus, notably with drugs such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. When his medical advisers warned that these were untested and potentially hazardous he pushed back: “I disagree. I feel good about it … I’m a smart guy. I’ve been right a lot.”

On April 23, Trump continued his “super genius” delusion by suggesting at his daily press briefing that a combination of UV light-zapping and disinfectant injected into the lungs could be a possible cure for coronavirus-infected patients. As CNN reported, when a journalist asked “why he was touting rumoured cures and not medically proven science”, the president reacted angrily, accusing the reporter of pushing fake news.

The next day, “Lysol” Don sought to further deflect the outrage from medical scientists by claiming he was only being “sarcastic”. Since then he has claimed that he had started taking hydroxychloroquine himself. Consistent with his relentless disposition to never let go, this seems like an attempt to buttress his first claim and reassert his authority after being widely ridiculed.

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The letter “L” presents a number of possible interpretations — lewd, liar, licentious are just a few — but “lawless” is appealing, aligning as it does with Trump’s sense that he is above the law, that the law is whatever he says it is. The basis of the impeachment proceedings started in the House of Representatives were that Trump had abused the power of his office and unlawfully obstructed the Congress in breach of the constitution. As we know, while the House voted to impeach, he was acquitted by the Senate on both counts.

The point to make about Trump’s lawlessness is not that he recklessly flouts the law or wilfully breaks it, but that as a reigning emperor he doesn’t believe he is bound by the law. Like Richard Nixon before him, who famously said that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”, Emperor Trump has the inner conviction that his tremendously important position means he is above the law. As he said at a conservative student conference in July 2019: “Under Article II [of the constitution], I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” In effect, he believes he has an unimpeachable entitlement to rule.

Trump repeated the point in his media briefing on April 13 when he claimed “total authority” over the states in relation to COVID-19 lockdowns. This is less an expression by Trump of a developed argument about the limits or otherwise of presidential powers than a reflection of his inner sense of his dominant, unquestioned royal authority.

Indeed, his April 17 tweet inciting his supporters to protest against social distancing lockdowns by state governors — “Liberate Michigan”, “Liberate Minnesota”, “Liberate Virginia” — provides a hint of his inner state of mind in asserting his legitimate dominance, and that the law is whatever he says it is.

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The second “D” offers a number of deciphering possibilities: devious, disordered, disturbed, destructive, deranged, demented, dissolute, distrustful or despotic; or perhaps — given its second occurrence in the signature — double-down, which is tempting given that when challenged on something he says that is shown to be false, Trump simply doubles-down and says the criticism of him is just “fake news”. Through his imperial powers, the truth is whatever he says it is.

But the “D” that looks closest is “distrustful”. This quality of never really trusting anyone was foreshadowed early in Trump’s term by his treatment of FBI director James Comey in a meeting at the White House on January 27, 2017, shortly after Trump’s inauguration. At the one-on-one dinner — which took place amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — the new president improperly sought to extract a commitment of personal loyalty from Comey, superseding the FBI director’s oath of allegiance to the constitution and the duties of his high office.

Having failed to secure such a pledge of fealty from Comey, Trump could never trust him, later calling him “an untruthful slime ball” and a “proven LEAKER and LIAR”, and eventually firing him in May 2017. As Comey later wrote in his memoir, Trump’s behaviour in office was “unethical and untethered to truth” and — in respect of his demand for personal loyalty as the basis of any trust and working relationship — like that of a Mafia boss.

(Image: Reuters/Francois Lenoir)

 

“J” is a central letter in the Trump signature, and it has a singular character, perhaps aligned with jealous and judgemental, both of which traits Trump frequently exhibits. And then there is jingoistic, an extreme nationalism in framing US foreign policy, which conveniently matches Trump’s inner need to dominate, even globally.

With Trump, even the political campaigning objective of “Make America Great Again” takes on an aggressive quality as he runs down allies and enemies alike to elevate the US — but particularly himself — in the global leadership stakes. (It’s tempting to think of “America first” as really “me first”, because in his mind Trump and America are one and the same.)

Jingoistic he certainly is, but the most compelling “J” is “juvenile”, a Trump trait abundantly in evidence through his immature, even childish, behaviour. This was on show at a NATO meeting in Brussels in May 2017 in what came to be known as “the shove”. Walking with other leaders to a planned photograph at NATO headquarters, Trump momentarily found himself positioned behind a group of presidents and prime ministers slowly shuffling toward the photo-op point. Like a child in a playgroup, Trump abruptly shoves out of the way the NATO colleague inadvertently blocking his path — who happens to be the leader of tiny Montenegro, Prime Minister Duško Marković.

Trump’s intent is to assert his entitlement to be at the front of the group (not unreasonable in the global scheme of things, of course), especially ahead of this Balkan nation state, which has a population of a mere 620,000. His abrupt manoeuvre successful, Trump self-consciously flaps his suit coat as if to say: “Outta my way. I’m the king of this sandpit!”

(Image: AP/Alex Brandon)

 

The “T” is a big deal in the Trump signature: along with the opening “D” and the final “P”, it is the tallest letter on the signature page, over-reaching the others like Trump Tower on the Manhattan skyline. Treasonous and treacherous are possible, and transactional appeals too. Certainly Trump has been quintessentially transactional in his presidential behaviour, as in the Ukrainian quid pro quo, where his presidential negotiations and positioning were clearly motivated by the prospect of personal political advantage rather than advancing US national interests.

This has been a consistent approach, well documented over time, harking back to his early business dealings as a New York property developer where he made political donations to elected city officials, Democrat and Republican, to create a political obligation that could be called in to his financial advantage when required.

Transactional though Trump certainly is, the “T” word that best expresses a core personality trait is “tyrannical”. That is not to say Trump is a tyrant per se, although his propensity to fire those administration officials who cross him comes close to tyrannical behaviour. Indeed, there is a litany of officials Trump has fired because they have been doing their job in respect of Congressional and intelligence community oversight, but in ways that Trump perceives as offensive to his sense of himself as perfect.

Trump’s tyrannical trait reflects the fact that he has an inner wish — a compulsion — to dominate, to exercise unfettered power and control absolutely, to never be constrained by laws or principles or ethics or counter-balancing institutional authority. Like so many of Emperor Trump’s behavioural political instincts, it derives from his inner conviction that he is unique, he is a tremendously majestic and powerful person, one without peer or blemish on the national and global stage.

(Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

 

There are several “R” words that fit the bill — reckless, rabid, remorseless, rivalrous and raging — but the closest reading is “resentful”. Like Nixon, Trump is a serial collector of resentments and at times his political outlook is dominated by extreme suspicion and distrust, hostility, and a pervasive preoccupation with enemies, real or imagined. He stores up his resentments and takes every opportunity to get even, usually by firing courtiers who offend his sense of superiority.

Trump has an extremely low threshold of tolerance for anyone who doesn’t vow fealty to his imperial sense of himself and so he has forced out multiple senior White House counsellors, advisers and special assistants, national security advisers, the US deputy attorney-general, the secretary of state, the FBI director and deputy director, Justice Department officials, the secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as competent senior officials in many other departments.

This is especially true for a raft of independent inspectors-general, officials in oversight roles in the US administration who have incurred Trump’s wrath just for doing their jobs with integrity. In fact the turnover rate in the Trump administration has been record-setting. No doubt some staff have left of their own volition, but a number of reports have pointed to a toxic culture within the Trump administration — the consequence of capricious expression of presidential resentments — as the cause.

It is tempting to suggest this is not the promised “draining the swamp” as Trump might have it, but the trashing of vital administrative capability on the whim of a deluded and resentful emperor. Trump’s resentful trait was further in evidence recently when — hypersensitive to any hint of criticism about his “perfect” performance on the COVID-19 outbreak — he ordered a cut in US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since then he has taken action to withdraw the US from WHO altogether.

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There are myriad Trump traits associated with the letter “U”, beginning as it does numerous “un” words. These are the contra versions of the positive qualities so conspicuously absent in Emperor Trump: unprepared, unruly, unethical, unsympathetic, untethered, unstable, unforgiving, unthinking, unprincipled, unscrupulous, unreflective, and unrepentant. Unempathetic also has a certain appeal.

Unforgiving is relevant too, capturing that vindictive trait that he can never let go of a slight and has to pay out on the source. This was how he behaved toward his Republican rival, the late Arizona senator John McCain, the Vietnam War pilot and prisoner of war he periodically disparaged in a 20-year feud because McCain stood in the uniquely elevated position that Trump knew he could never reach, much less surpass — that of American war hero.

Perhaps feeling humiliated as the former military academy student who never served during the Vietnam War (granted multiple deferments because of his college status and later exemption because of supposed bone spurs in his feet), the best Trump can do in his unforgiving way is mock McCain as a captive of the North Vietnamese: “He’s not a war hero,” he said in a July 2015 interview. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s evident contempt for US military sacrifice was reportedly on display during a presidential visit to France in 2018. According to The Atlantic, Trump cancelled a visit to war graves at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris because (as he allegedly said to senior staff members) the American soldiers who had fought and died in World War I were “losers” and “suckers” for getting killed.

This is Trump rationalising to himself the “smartness” of his own unwillingness to serve in Vietnam. Any reasonable comparison, even in his own mind, between his avoidance of military service and the bravery of those combat soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way would be deeply humiliating for him, so to maintain his inner sense of superiority he has to disparage their sacrifice as meaningless or stupid.

“Unhinged” is the signature word of choice here, however, referring as it does to the emotionally unbalanced way in which Trump has often behaved, especially in relation to the present COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus outbreak first appeared, Trump went on the attack, accusing the Democrats of fostering a new hoax.

“They tried the impeachment hoax,” he said on February 28. “This is their new hoax.” A little over two weeks later, on March 17, Trump was insisting he knew before anyone how serious COVID-19 was: “I’ve always known this is real — this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

Trump has been consistently unhinged in his responses to the health crisis. How else to explain his unwillingness to adopt a disciplined and focused leadership of the US response? Since the outbreak, he has relentlessly advanced and backtracked, uneasily trying to juggle the demands of evidence-based, scientific health advice in the best interests of the American people with his inner imperative to give priority to his own political interests through a booming and unconstrained economy.

Trump has been unfit and mentally unprepared to articulate a coherent strategy through this crisis — a pathway that Americans can heed and have confidence in, and the rest of the Western world can respect and follow. Through his unhinged leadership, Trump has untethered the US from its near century-long great-power role on the world stage.

(Image: YouTube)

 

The letter “M” offers interesting decoding possibilities such as manipulative, megalomaniacal, mad and mendacious. The one that gets it, though, is “misogynist”. This is not normally a term describing a narcissistic personality trait, but in Trump’s case it is important because it provides yet another revealing expression of his hyper-sensitivity to slight.

Trump commonly sees women as inferior, dependent, and even — in his entitled way — as his sexual playthings. The latter emerged in 2005 in a hot-mic conversation recorded on a bus when travelling to film an episode of the TV program Access Hollywood. Trump boastfully related his sexual exploits with women made possible by his status as a TV star: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Women are a special challenge for Trump. Defining them in his mind as inherently dependent, lesser beings, he cannot allow any turning of the tables when he encounters smart, highly educated and assertive women –as he did in the Republican presidential debate in August 2015 when Fox News journalist and debate moderator Megyn Kelly got the better of him. In a question to Trump, Kelly called him out on his record of insulting and disparaging women.

“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said. “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”

Skewered by the question, Trump was doubly offended because he has been taken down by a woman — one he later disparaged in a repulsive tantrum as “crazy Megyn” Kelly, who had “blood coming out of her wherever”.

Trump is also consumed with resentment and envy when he feels that his entitlement is breached by others undeserving of his celebrity position, as he did in December last year when teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was chosen as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019. Even though Trump had been the Time Person of the Year in 2016, he evidently felt humiliated by her elevation over him, depriving him of an opportunity to equal his rival, Barack Obama, who had been named Time Person of the Year twice.

One of 10 short-listed nominees with Thunberg in 2019, Trump’s humiliation was perhaps deeper because Thunberg was only 16, and he lashed out at her in a way that was designed to further cut her down to size. “She beat me out on Time magazine,” he commented testily, after tweeting his ire about her being named for the award: “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend. Chill Greta, Chill!”

Here again is an expression of Trump’s preoccupations revealing his inflated but fragile sense of self — a sitting US president feeling diminished by the celebrity of a teenage girl he momentarily regards as a rival for the high accolades to which he feels entitled.

(Image: AP/Kazuhiro Nogi)

 

So to the last imposing letter in the Donald J Trump signature: the letter “P” and the distinctive final signature flourish of a plutocratic, petty, paranoid, predatory, petulant, punishing and psychopathic personality. Fitting as these descriptions might be, the “P” word that best describes Trump is “Putinesque”. Like the word misogynist, Putinesque is not a psychological term but it expresses a behavioural trait of Emperor Trump in an instructive way.

Trump reveres Putin because the kleptocratic Russian president has the attributes that Trump aspires to for himself: unconstrained imperial power, seemingly unlimited terms of office, vast wealth, and no political rivals to contend with — primarily because Putin “locks them up”, or worse. Such is Trump’s infatuation with Putin that he cannot even bring himself to denounce the covert bounties paid by Putin’s Russia to Taliban-linked militants to kill American combat troops in Afghanistan.

Putin is arguably the most autocratically powerful person in the world — an achievement shared perhaps only with China’s President-for-life, Xi Jinping — and his personal wealth is estimated to be somewhere between US$70 billion and US$200 billion. By contrast, Trump’s fortune is thought to be just US$2.5 billion.

For Trump, Putin’s unchallenged position of authority represents the ideal of his own grandiose ambition to be the most powerful, the wealthiest and tremendously superior person on the planet. (It didn’t hurt either that — as Trump reported in May 2019 — Putin wrote him “beautiful letters”.)

Putin was also recently successful in rewriting the Russian constitution to allow him to serve two further six-year terms. Is it really outside the bounds of possibility that, if Trump looked to be defeated at the presidential poll in November, he could assert that the COVID-19 crisis “demanded” he intervene to delay the election (to a politically more advantageous date), despite the constitutional and statutory provisions denying such a power?

Trump has already started to manipulate the election with his assault on the capability of the US Postal Service to manage mail voting for the election. The most concerning possibility would be for Trump to invoke the National Emergencies Act 1976 in the lead-up to the election to disrupt elements of the vote.

And if he is defeated in the election, might he move to disallow “invalid” votes in the Electoral College to keep himself on the throne? Or would he unleash armed and lawless protesters, as he encouraged those who menacingly entered Michigan’s state parliament in late April, describing them as “very good people”?

Certainly, such manoeuvres would be entirely consistent with, if not exemplify, some of the core traits of the emperor complex we have now deciphered in Donald J Trump: delusional, omnipotent, narcissistic, arrogant, lawless and distrustful. Juvenile. Tyrannical, resentful, unhinged, misogynist and, perhaps most worrying of all, Putinesque.

Climate Change

Helen Sykes has published more than 30 books in the Future Leaders series (see https://www.futureleaders.com.au .  The next Future Leaders book is Climate Change and Health.  She asked me to write a chapter, and said I could put it on my website:

Climate Change and Human Rights

Climate Change represents the greatest challenge to human existence we have ever experienced.

This is not a universal view.  On 29 April 2019, Dr C.J. Hamilton wrote:

“Climate Change” alarmists base their case for man-made Global Warming on two key claims.  Their first claim is that carbon dioxide is “dirty” and a pollutant – it is not.  Their second claim is that the increase in global temperature since the onset of the industrial age around 1850 is primarily due to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by the combustion of fossil fuels – it is not.  There is no evidence in all the historical scientific records to support this claim.  The real cause of “Global Warming” is the repeat of the Warm Period cycle which made Greenland green a thousand years ago during the Medieval Warm Period and caused the Little Ice Age from 1350 to 1850.

It’s not a view I do not share.  If Dr Hamilton would consider me a “Climate Change alarmist” so be it.  But although I am persuaded that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the principal cause of Climate Change, I do not regard it as “dirty”, or a “pollutant”.  And, despite Dr Hamilton’s sharp views, I regard Climate Change as very important and a major threat to our species.

A lot of people think that our knowledge of Climate Change dates from Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring (1962) or Al Gore’s later expressions of concern about it.  In fact, we have known the mechanism of Climate Change for much longer: roughly 160 years.

It is worth considering the earlier history of Climate Change.  In the 1820s, Joseph Fourier calculated that a planetary object the size of Earth should not be as warm as it is, given its distance from the Sun, and the relatively small amount of sunlight falling on its surface.  We now know that Venus and Mars both have atmospheres, as does the Earth.  The atmosphere of Venus is about 100 times as dense as the atmosphere on Earth. Venus is closer to the sun than Earth is; Mars is further away.  To make sense of the table that follows, it is worth bearing in mind (in relation to Fourier’s observation) that Venus and Earth are roughly the same size; Mars is much smaller than both. The atmosphere of Mars is about 1% as dense as the Earth’s atmosphere.

Planet        distance from Sun           av. temperature

Venus         108 million km                  461o C

Earth          150 million km                  61o C

Mars          228 million km                  -60o C

The temperature on Mars ranges from 20o C in daylight  to -73o C at night.  As most commentaries on Mars note, its atmosphere is so thin that it does not have a thermal blanket to trap heat.  The contrast between Marrs, Venus and Earth is obvious.

In about 1859, Tyndall discovered that water-vapour was an important heat-trapping agent, and that it tended to trap carbon dioxide, which was also very good at trapping heat, by preventing the escape of infra-red radiation. The trapped heat enables the atmosphere to hold more water vapour, more CO2  and so on.  He demonstrated this on 10 June 1859 in a Royal Society lecture, pointing out that coal gas and ether strongly absorbed infrared heat

The central insight was in fact given earlier in a paper by Eunice Newton Foote, in about 1856, but Tyndall gets the credit.  Some things just don’t change.   Eunice Foote was an American scientist, inventor, and women’s rights campaigner from New York.  At a conference in 1856, she presented a paper titled “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays” which suggested that changing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would change the Earth’s temperature.

In the 1890s, Svante Arrhenius demonstrated that CO2 trapped infra-red rays, and that the consequent warming would enable more water vapour to be held in the atmosphere, and that water vapour would in turn trap more heat in the atmosphere.  He worked out that if you halved the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the temperature of Europe could drop by as much as 4-50C.  Conversely, increasing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase the average temperature of the Earth.  His calculations were remarkably accurate.  (The concern of 19th Century scientists with water vapour is probably a reflection of the fact that the Industrial Revolution was, in large part, powered by steam).

Between the four of them: Fourier, Foote, Tyndall and Arrhenius showed us what we needed to know about the mechanism of Climate Change.  We ignored the science, but now it’s getting critical.  Let’s hope we don’t allow politics to distract us too much: our future depends on understanding the implications of what we have known for more than a century.  Al Gore simply reminded us of this “inconvenient truth”.  And Dr C.J. Hamilton shows plainly that it is a very divisive issue.  The sad fact is that it has become highly political.

in 2011 the Israeli writer Yuval Noah Harari wrote a book called Sapiens. It is a history of our species, homo sapiens. He makes the point that we have been around for about 200-300 thousand years.  Until we discovered agriculture we lived in extended family groups, hiding from our predators. But when we discovered agriculture, about 12 thousand years ago, we started living in villages, towns, cities.

Harari raises a fascinating  question, which he does not answer: Are we genetically disposed to be concerned about the immediate group rather than the entirety of our species? It’s a good question, and all the more important because Climate Change is the first phenomenon in history which threatens our entire species.  And that threat is now at its most visible and critical phase: in November 2018, the IPCC reported that we have until 2030 to take serious steps to defeat Climate Change, or it will be too late.  Despite the urgency of that warning, the government in the USA seems to deny the reality and seriousness of Climate Change; Australia’s major political parties seem incapable of formulating policies which accept the sorry facts, the mechanism for which has been known since 1856: both of Australia’s major political parties seem contented to ignore the science (as well as the evidence of our warming climate), and to keep exploiting our fossil fuel resources, either for use or sale.  Is it too cynical to think that their attitude to Climate Change might be different if they did not receive large donations from the fossil fuel industry?

Dr C.J. Hamilton’s disdain for Climate Change is reflected in the fact that (in Australia) the only political party to take Climate Change seriously is the Greens, and that party is treated as a refuge for people whose ideas do not deserve to be taken seriously.

Harari’s question has immediate importance for all of us: unless we are willing to be so selfish that we will accept the best the planet has to offer us, despite the fact that future generations will probably be unable to survive on this planet.

It troubles me that, as a species, we seem unwilling to accommodate the idea that it will be difficult for us to keep going like this; that we need to recognise that Climate Change is a serious threat; a serious threat to us, and to the whole of our species.

In Australia, we seem able to accept all that is good, while ignoring the dangers we have created. If the bushfires over the summer of 2019-2020 were a kind of warning, we seem able to ignore the warning.

Perhaps it is because we have a government which has denied the existence of Climate Change for a long time and a PM (Scott Morrison) who took a lump of coal into the parliament, apparently to show us how safe it is! Perhaps it is because we have a dis-spirited Opposition which does not have a clear policy on Climate Change.

Perhaps politicians in both major parties see that they will be long gone before the harshest consequences of Climate Change are apparent; and for that reason they are willing to accept huge donations from the fossil-fuel industry. I have a different view.

For my part, I expect to live out my life before the worst effects of Climate Change make human life on Earth impossible, but I think we all have an obligation to make sure that we leave the planet as liveable for the future as possible, or at least foreseeable.

It would be a fine thing if the science of Climate Change turned out to be wholly wrong, but that seems highly unlikely.  So far, all the evidence seems to support the science.  It is interesting that politicians who are willing to dismiss the science of Climate Change would probably not be willing to board a plane if science told them it had a 20% chance of crashing before it arrived at their destination.  And most politicians who are willing to dismiss or ignore the science of Climate Change nevertheless use mobile phones, the functioning of which is plainly a product of science.

The rich, advanced countries in the world have benefitted greatly from the phenomena which are responsible for Climate Change: the use of fossil fuel to power the remarkable enterprises of the post-industrial revolution world.  But Climate Change has consequences for every country, rich and poor; for the entire planet.  The phenomena responsible for it are, essentially, fossil fuels used to create light, heat and energy.

While the mechanism of Climate Change has been known for about 160 years, the precursors go much further back: to Newton’s time.  Newton’s law of the conservation of energy teaches us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.    So, an explosion of petrol in an engine is transformed into motion, heat, noise etc..

Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) were produced tens of millions (or hundreds of millions) of years ago as a product of the sun’s energy (Sunlight provides the energy for plant growth; plants eventually die and become coal, etc.).  Fossil fuels store energy in the bonds between the atoms that make up their molecules. Burning the fuels breaks apart those bonds. This releases the energy that originally came from the sun.  That is why timber can be burned to produce (release) heat.  Allowed enough time, the timber becomes a fossil fuel. Simply stated, the sun is the original source of energy on this planet (and all others in our solar system).

It is worth remembering that the fossil fuels we use today store energy from the sun from millions of years before our species existed.  And since the start of the industrial revolution, at least, we have been releasing that energy with increasing enthusiasm, to the great profit of some, but at a terrible risk, eventually, to us all.

The difficulty (and the confusion) about the conservation of energy arises where the transformation of stored energy to noticeable energy results in wasted energy.  So, the heat and noise produced by fuel in a car engine are forms of energy which are difficult or impossible to capture and re-use.  When a stick of dynamite explodes, the chemical energy is transformed into heat, noise (sound energy) and movement of objects (motion energy).

Energy which dissipates that way is difficult to harness for useful purposes.  Because of this, Newton’s law of the conservation of energy is not self-evident.  The simple fact is that all the energy we use ends up going somewhere.  Using fossil fuels releases energy which arrived on the Earth  many millions of years ago.  If we use fossil fuels now, the stored energy has to go somewhere.  Using fossil fuel means that energy will be released which arrived on the Earth millions of years ago.  The science of Climate Change shows that the stored energy ends up warming the vast amount of water in the oceans, and causing catastrophic weather effects: increasing average temperatures, storms and so on.

And where a by-product of the transformation of one form of energy to another is CO2 (or water vapour, nitrous oxide, methane or ozone), the tendency of those chemicals to trap infra-red radiation in the atmosphere means that our planet gets warmer.

The fact that the sun is the original source of energy on this planet raises interesting possibilities for Australia.  I have heard that if just 3% of the centre of Australia was covered with solar panels, we would produce enough electricity for the entire globe.  There are many obvious practical difficulties with implementing that approach, but it makes a very important point about Australia’s natural advantages.

Sunshine could easily create enough electricity for all of Australia, and there would be a lot of energy left over.  That’s important, given that the sun does not shine brightly every day, and does not shine at all at night.

But on days when the sun shines brightly, the use of surplus sunshine, in a country like Australia, raises many possibilities, especially as the spare sunshine could easily be used to create energy which can be stored and used later.  For example  Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, has suggested using the energy from surplus sunshine to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.  Later, the hydrogen  could be burned (as a source of energy) and the by-product of this is, of course, water.  Hydrogen is readily transportable.

Other suggestions include using sunshine to superheat various salts which can be stored underground as a medium- to long-term heat storage.  Another suggestion is to use surplus sunshine energy to lift water in projects like Snowy 2.0.

Wind power is another obvious energy source.  Europe, especially, has many wind-turbines in use.  The number of wind farms in Australia is increasing, but depends largely on government encouragement which at present is sorely lacking.

And Elon Musk has shown how efficiently energy can be stored in Lithium ion batteries.  Australia has vast deposits of Lithium: one prediction says that Western Australia could supply half the world’s Lithium.  Whether Lithium ion batteries remain a preferred way of storing energy is not clear, but it offers immediate possibilities.

Right now, the wealthiest countries in the world are run by the luckiest generation in history.  The baby-boomers are a generation which has not seen a World War, or a Depression, although it remains to be seen if the Covid-19 pandemic changes that.  It is a generation which has had the very best the world can offer.  This has been managed (in part) by massively exploiting the fossil fuel resources of the Earth, the impact of which is being felt, especially, in poor countries which cannot afford to protect their people against it; and in low-lying countries, which are becoming increasingly unliveable.  And yet, the richest countries in the world are doing little or nothing to protect poorer countries from the impact of what we have done.  The injustice of it is obvious.

Australia is in an interesting position.  Our domestic CO2 production is relatively small by world standards: China is the largest producer, USA number 2; Australia number 17. However on a per capita basis Australia is at the top of the list: per head of population, Australia is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.

Unfortunately it is easy for us, who have benefitted from the use of fossil fuel, to deny that there is a problem or to assert that it will resolve.   After all, the consequences are comfortably remote.  By contrast, the world’s reaction to Covid-19 was much sharper because it showed immediate consequences.  That said, America’s response was tragically relaxed.  As at the start of June 2020, about 105,000 people had died in America because of Covid-19.  It took a delayed (and relaxed) approach to the pandemic, and had the biggest death toll in the world.  In Australia we responded much more actively, and our per capita death rate was very low, as at the start of June 2020.

But even America’s death toll was way less than 1% of its population.  Yet its approach to the threat of Climate Change, which threatens 100% of its population (as well as the population of the rest of the world), is to deny it or ignore it.  And the reason for that striking difference appears to be simply this: Covid-19 is an immediate threat, with consequences which are visible right now; Climate Change is a threat that might not destroy us for 50 or 100 years.  Our “leaders” will be long dead before the consequences of their short-sightedness are noticed; but ignoring Climate Change rewards Americans with a booming economy.  As a result, political pressures mean that warning about Climate Change (let alone taking steps against it) looks politically difficult; politically disadvantageous.

To those of us who are old enough to remember early advertising about smoking, this is a familiar response.

The fact that smoking tobacco was associated with adverse health outcomes was known from the 1890s.

When science first raised doubts about the health consequences of smoking, the tobacco industry responded with advertising lines like “You’ve got nothing to lose but your smoker’s cough”.

In the early 1950s an English study showed a clear link between smoking and lung cancer, although it could not predict that a given individual who smoked would certainly get cancer: the likelihood increased, but it was not a certainty.

On 11 January, 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General‘s Report on Smoking and Health was published; it led millions of American smokers to quit, and it resulted in certain advertising being banned.

Cigarette advertising was banned progressively over the following 40 years.  Australia slowly followed, so that many types of tobacco advertising are no longer legal in Australia.

In short, the known ill-effects of smoking were resisted (or doubted, or denied) for a very long time, because there was good money in pretending the truth lay elsewhere; and the effect of smoking on any given individual was almost certainly a long way in the future and impossible to predict with any confidence.  The parallel with Climate Change is obvious.

For most people, the idea that our planet will become impossible for human life is nearly impossible to accept.  Denying the possibility is easy and comforting.  Not one of us would like to think that the quality of our lifestyle will cost a future generation the possibility of continued existence.  If the science was plainer, or more definite, or more precisely predictable, it is likely that our response (as a species) would lie somewhere between our recent response to Covid-19 and our current attitude to smoking.

The human rights implications of Climate Change are profound, and obvious.  The rich, lucky countries have got richer and luckier, while the whole world pays the price.  Those of us who live in New World countries enjoy the benefits of the consumption of fossil fuels: in the USA there are 838 motor cars for every thousand people in the population; in Australia, there are 790 motor cars for every thousand people in the population.  But our avoidable production of Greenhouse gases has an impact in every country, and on all the oceans.

It is tragic that concern about Climate Change and Greenhouse gas emissions has become so mired in politics and commerce and blind optimism.

 

A Bit About Words: Misdemeanours

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

It is impossible (well, difficult) to be alive today and not be aware of Donald Trump. And if you are aware of him, it is difficult to overlook the fact that his conduct as President of the USA is (to say the least) unorthodox. So unorthodox that the US House of Representatives undertook an official impeachment enquiry. In American law, the articles of impeachment are formulated by the lower house, for trial in the upper house. A President is not removed from office except by a two thirds vote in the Senate.

It all starts with the US Constitution.

The American Constitution was the result of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The first draft was prepared in 1787, and it was ratified in 1788 after Congress voted to transmit the document to the thirteen states for ratification. By 21 June 1788, it had been ratified by the minimum number of nine states required under Article VII. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were adopted in 1789. They are collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights: they reflect the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – a century earlier – and a couple of additional protections drawn from Magna Carta as interpreted by Sir Edward Coke.

Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution provides:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors

There is a continuing debate about what is meant by “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”.

Nowadays misdemeanour is generally a reference to a relatively minor offence. The OED gives the current meaning of the word in the law as “One of a class of indictable offences which were formerly regarded as less heinous than those called felonies…” and the Macquarie defines it as “a less serious crime”. The English Dictionary (1742) by N. Bailey defines misdemeanour as “an offence or fault” whereas Johnson (1755) defines it as “Offence; ill behaviour; something less than an atrocious crime”. Webster’s International Dictionary (1902) defines misdemeanor ( no u) as “(Law) a crime less than a felony” and adds a note quoting from Blackstone:

“As a rule, in the old English law, offences capitally punishable were felonies, all other indictable offences were misdemeanors. In common usage the word crime is employed to denote offences of the deeper and more atrocious dye, while small faults and omissions of less consequence are comprised under the gentler name of misdemeanors.”

(Even though Blackstone spelt the word misdemeanours with a u, Webster drops it in the quotation.) The American Heritage Dictionary adopts a definition, consistent with Webster: “(Law) an offence less serious than a felony”. In England, the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour was abolished by the Criminal Law Act of 1967.

It is to be noted that many dictionaries still distinguish between the ordinary meaning of misdemeanour and the meaning at law. The OED, for example, defines misdemeanour as follows:

    1. a.1.a Evil behaviour, misconduct. Now rare.

b.1.b An instance of this; a misdeed, offence.

    1. Law. One of a class of indictable offences which were formerly regarded as less heinous than those called felonies; high misdemeanour

The New Oxford English Dictionary (1998) defines misdemeanour as “a minor wrongdoing” and adds “Law a non-indictable offence, regarded in US (and formerly in the UK) as less serious than a felony”.

(It is interesting to see the silent nod to the Criminal Law Act of 1967 which abolished the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour).

Johnson does not make such a clear distinction between ordinary usage and legal usage, when he defines it as “Offence; ill behaviour; something less than an atrocious crime”.

Given the way the words are printed in the US Constitution (“…high Crimes and Misdemeanors…) it is possible that the adjective high was intended to qualify both nouns (Crimes and Misdemeanors). That would raise the question: what is a high misdemeanour? The OED definition of misdemeanour (quoted above) defines it, in part, as high misdemeanour.   The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” as one of the criteria for removing public officials who abuse their office was suggested by George Mason of Virginia. Before Mason’s suggestion, other phrases had been suggested, including high misdemeanor, maladministration, and other crime. George Mason was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. (He was one of the three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution.) So, it seems that we do not have to unpick the idea of high misdemeanour.

This becomes clearer, when you consider that, at the Constitutional Convention, Edmund Randolph (a lawyer from Virginia) said impeachment should be reserved for those who “misbehave.”  Charles Pinckney (from South Carolina) said, it should be reserved “for those who behave amiss, or betray their public trust.” These both seem to fit within the contemporary understanding of misdemeanor.

The phrase high Crimes and Misdemeanours was used often enough in England to remove officials. Since 1386, the English Parliament had used the term high crimes and misdemeanours as the ground on which officials of the Crown could be impeached. The allegation was used to remove from office officials accused of widely varying acts (not all of them criminal offences) such as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament, granting warrants without cause, and bribery. The common feature of these accusations was that the official had abused the power of their office and was unfit to serve.

Section 4 of Article II provides that an official can be removed from office on “…impeachment for, and Conviction of…” (Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors). The impeachment investigation is a matter for the House of Representatives; conviction is a matter for the Senate. The House of Representatives in USA has begun impeachment proceedings against only 19 officials – one U.S. senator, four presidents (including Trump), one cabinet member, and 13 federal judges. It is notorious that three presidents have been impeached by the lower house, but they have been spared conviction in the Senate. Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1868, but not convicted in the Senate. Richard Nixon was impeached, but resigned when the Watergate tapes surfaced and before a trial in the Senate: on 27 July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment charging Nixon with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. He resigned on 8 August 1974, before the Senate could hear the case against him. And Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1999, but not convicted in the Senate (there were 50 votes against him, where 67 votes were needed for a conviction: despite the oath Senators must take before sitting on an impeachment trial, it all ultimately turns on politics).

The misdeeds of Nixon and Clinton are well-remembered by most people. Johnson was President much longer ago: he was Lincoln’s Vice-President and took office after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865; he was in favour of slavery. The House voted to impeach him in February 1868, three days after he sacked his secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, contrary to the provisions of the Tenure of Office Act.

Which raises the question what impeach means. According to the OED impeach originally meant “To impede, hinder, prevent”, with supporting quotes from 1380 to 1690. Closer to the mark, it is also defined as meaning “To challenge, call in question, cast an imputation upon, attack; to discredit, disparage” with supporting quotes up to 1888, with the earliest from Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“You do impeach your modesty too much To leave the City, and commit yourself into the hands of one that loves you not.” (1590).

Impeach is also defined as meaning “To bring a charge or accusation against; to accuse of, charge with.”, supported by quotations from 1380 (Wyclif) to 1840 (Dickens).

As the House of Representatives has resolved that Donald Trump engaged in high crimes or misdemeanors, it has impeached him accordingly, but he will not be removed from office unless the Senate convicts him (by a two- thirds majority) of either of the articles of impeachment resolved by the lower house.  At the time of writing, the articles of impeachment have not been sent to the Senate, because the Republican Senate leader (Mitch McConnell) is talking about having a trial without hearing from any witnesses, or receiving any documents.   Senator McConnell clearly has no idea what a trial is.

Conviction in the Senate is where raw politics saved Johnson and Clinton. Johnson avoided conviction in the Senate by just one vote. Clinton survived conviction by 17 votes. Trump may get a similar result, given the power of the Republicans in the Senate, even though his erroneous ways have been far more egregious than those of Johnson or Clinton.

It would be the great irony of our times that a President, who has tormented the English language as much as George W Bush did, should finally raise the greatest challenge for English: the meaning of the key phrase in section 4 of Article II of the Constitution.

The Stolen Generations

Bruce Trevorrow

Bruce Trevorrow was the illegitimate son of Joe Trevorrow and Thora Lampard.  He was born in November 1956.  They lived at One Mile Camp, Meningie, on the Coorong.  They had two other sons, Tom and George Trevorrow.

They lived at One Mile Camp because, in the 1950s, it was not lawful for an aborigine to live closer than one mile to a place of white settlement, unless they had a permit.

When Bruce was 13 months old, he got gastroenteritis.  Joe didn’t have a car capable of taking Bruce to the hospital, so some neighbours from Meningie took him to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital where he was admitted on Christmas Day 1957.  Hospital records show that he was diagnosed with gastroenteritis, he was treated appropriately and the gastro resolved within six or seven days.  Seven days after that he was given away to a white family: Mr & Mrs Davies.

The Davies lived in suburban Adelaide.  They had a daughter who was about 16 at the time.  She gave evidence at the trial as a woman in her late middle age.  She remembered the day clearly.  Her mother had always wanted a second daughter.  They had seen an advertisement in the local newspaper offering aboriginal babies for fostering.  They went to the hospital and looked at a number of eligible babies and saw a cute little girl with curly hair and chose her.  They took her home and, when they changed her nappy, they discovered she was a boy.  That’s how Bruce Trevorrow was given away in early January, 1958.

A short time later Bruce’s mother, down at One Mile Camp Meningie, wrote to the Department asking how Bruce was doing and when he was coming home.  The magnitude of her task should not be overlooked:  pen and paper, envelope and stamp were not items readily obtained in the tin and sackcloth humpies of One Mile Camp, Meningie.  But Thora managed to write her letter, and it still exists in the South Australian State archives.  The reply is still in existence.  It notes that Bruce is doing quite well but that the doctors say he is not yet well enough to come home.  Bruce had been given away weeks earlier.

In South Australia in the 1950s, the laws relating to fostering required that foster mothers be assessed for suitability and that the foster child and foster home should be inspected regularly.  Although the laws did not distinguish between white children and aboriginal children, the fact is that Bruce’s foster family was never checked for suitability and neither was he checked by the Department to assess his progress.  He came to the attention of the Children’s Hospital again when he was three years old:  he was pulling his own hair out.  When he was eight or nine years old, he was seen a number of times by the Child Guidance Clinic and was diagnosed as profoundly anxious and depressed and as having no sense of his own identity.

Nothing had been done to prepare the foster family for the challenges associated with fostering a young aboriginal child.  When Bruce was 10 years old, he met Thora, his natural mother, for the first time.  Although the Department had previously prevented his mother from finding out where Bruce was, the law had changed in the meantime and they could no longer prevent the mother from seeing him.

The initial meeting interested Bruce and he was later to be sent down to stay with his natural family for a short holiday.  When the welfare worker put him on the bus to send him down to Victor Harbour, the foster mother said that she couldn’t cope with him and did not want him back.  His clothes and toys were posted on after him.

Nothing had been done to prepare Bruce or his natural family for the realities of meeting again after nine years.  Things went badly.  Bruce tried to walk from Victor Harbour back to Adelaide (about 80 kilometers) to find the only family he knew.  He was picked up by the police and ended up spending the next six or eight years of his life in State care.  By the time he left State care at age 18, he was an alcoholic.  The next 30 years of his life were characteristic of someone who is profoundly depressed and who uses alcohol as a way of shielding himself from life’s realities.  He has had regular bouts of unemployment and a number of convictions for low-level criminal offences.  Every time he has been assessed by a psychiatrist, the diagnosis has been the same:  anxiety, profound depression, no sense of identity and no sense of belonging anywhere.

Bruce was the Plaintiff in a major action against the State of South Australia.  The trial ran for many weeks, in 2005 and 2006.

The trial had many striking features.  One was the astonishing difference between Bruce – profoundly damaged, depressed and broken – and his brothers, who had not been removed.  They told of growing up with Joe Trevorrow, who taught them how to track and hunt, how to use plants for medicine, how to fish.  He impressed on them the need for proper schooling.  They spoke of growing up in physically wretched circumstances, but loved and valued and supported.  They presented as strong, resilient, resourceful people.  Their arrival to give evidence at the trial was delayed because they had been overseas attending an international meeting concerning the repatriation of indigenous remains.

The second striking feature was the fact that the Government of South Australia contested every point in the case.  Nothing was too small to pass unchallenged.  One of their big points was to assert that removing a child from his or her parents did no harm – they even ventured to suggest that removal had been beneficial for Bruce.  This contest led to one of the most significant findings in the case.  Justice Gray said in his judgment:

“[885]   I find that it was reasonably foreseeable that the separation of a 13 month old Aboriginal child from his natural mother and family and the placement of that child in a non-indigenous family for long-term fostering created real risks to the child’s health.  The State through its emanations, departments and departmental officers either foresaw these risks or ought to have foreseen these risks. …  ”

That finding was not only supported by evidence, it also accords with common sense.  We all have an instinct that it is harmful to children to remove them from their parents.  The finding was based on extensive evidence concerning the work of John Bowlby in the early 1950s, which showed that it is intrinsically harmful to remove a child from his or her parents, in particular when this occurs after nine months of age.

At the time Bruce was given away, the Aborigines Protection Board of South Australia had already been advised by the Crown Solicitor that it had no legal power to remove aboriginal children from their parents.  One of the documents tendered at the trial was a letter written by the secretary of the APB in 1958.  It read in part:

“…  Again in confidence, for some years without legal authority, the Board have taken charge of many aboriginal children, some are placed in Aboriginal Institutions, which by the way I very much dislike, and others are placed with foster parents, all at the cost of the Board.  At the present time I think there are approximately 300 children so placed. …”

After a hard-fought trial, the Judge found in Bruce’s favour, and awarded him a total of about $800,000.  The judgment, given on 1 August 2007, is here.

There are a few things to say about this.  First, Bruce’s circumstances are not unique.  There are, inevitably, other aboriginal men and women who were taken in equivalent circumstances while they were children and suffered as a result.  Although they may seek to vindicate their rights, the task becomes more difficult as each year passes.  Evidence degrades, witnesses die, documents disappear.

Second, litigation against a Government is not for the fainthearted.  Governments fight hard.  It took Bruce’s case eight years to get to court, and the trial ran for some months.  If he had lost the case, Bruce would have been ruined by an order to pay the Government’s legal costs.

Kevin Rudd’s Labor government was elected in late 2007.  The new parliament assembled in Canberra on 13 February 2008.  At that first sitting, the Government said ‘sorry’ to the stolen generations.  It seemed almost too good to be true:  the apology so many had waited so long to hear.  And it was astonishing and uplifting to hear some of the noblest and most dignified sentiments ever uttered in that place on the hill.  It is worth recalling some of the words:

“Today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.  …

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and Governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.  …

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say ‘sorry’.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say ‘sorry’.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say ‘sorry’.  …

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.  …”

Kevin Rudd wanted to make sure there were Aboriginal people in the public gallery of the House of Representatives when he apologised to the Stolen Generations.  Tom and George Trevorrow were invited.  They had become leaders of the Ngarrindjerri community and they were internationally recognised as leaders. Bruce Trevorrow – then and still the only Aboriginal person to have been recognised by a court as having been taken unlawfully, and to have suffered as a consequence and to be awarded compensation – Bruce did not get an invitation.  The bureaucrats were reminded, and Bruce got a hurried, late invitation.  He got to Canberra for the apology, but died on 20 June that year, a few months short of his 52nd birthday.

13 February 2008 will be remembered as a day the nation shifted, perceptibly.  The apology was significant not only for marking a significant step in the process of reconciling ourselves with our past: it cast a new light on the former Howard government, which had refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations.  It set a new tone.  And it reminded us of something we had lost: a sense of decency.

Most of the worst aspects of the Howard years can be explained by the lack of decency which infected their approach to government.: not only in its attitude to Aboriginal people, but also in many other instances.  They could not acknowledge the wrong that was done to the Stolen Generations; they failed to help David Hicks when it was a moral imperative: they waited until his rescue became a political imperative; they never quite understood the wickedness of imprisoning children who were fleeing persecution; they abandoned ministerial responsibility; they attacked the courts scandalously but unblushing; they argued for the right to detain innocent people for life; they introduced laws which prevent fair trials; they bribed the impoverished Republic of Nauru to warehouse refugees for us.  It seemed that they did not understand just how badly they were behaving, or perhaps they just did not care.

One of the most compelling things about the apology to the stolen generations was that it was so decent.  Suddenly, a dreadful episode in our history was acknowledged for what it was. The Prime Minister’s apology makes no difference whatever to whether or not Governments face legal liability for removing aboriginal children.  But it acknowledges for the first time that a great moral wrong was done, and it acknowledges the damage which that caused.  The most elementary instinct for justice tells us that when harm is inflicted by acts which are morally wrong, then there is a moral, if not a legal, responsibility to answer for the damage caused.  To acknowledge the wrong and the damage and to deny compensation is simply unjust.

From that point, events could play out in a couple of different ways.  One possibility is that members of the stolen generations would bring legal proceedings in various jurisdictions.  Those proceedings would occupy lawyers and courts for years, and would run according to the circumstances of the case and the accident of which State or Territory was involved.  The worst outcome would be that some plaintiffs would end up the way Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner ended up a few years earlier:  crushed and humiliated.  Or they might succeed, as Bruce Trevorrow did.  Either way, it would be a very expensive exercise for the State, and a gruelling experience for the plaintiff.

A second possibility is a national compensation scheme, run by the States, Territories and the Commonwealth in co-operation.  The scheme I advocate would allow people to register their claim to be members of the stolen generations.  If that claim was, on its face, correct then they would be entitled to receive copies of all relevant Government records.  A panel would then assess which of the following categories best describe the claimant:

  • removed for demonstrably good welfare reasons;
  • removed with the informed consent of the parents;
  • removed without welfare justification but survived and flourished;
  • removed without welfare justification but did not flourish.

The first and second categories might receive nominal or no compensation.  The third category should receive modest compensation, say $5,000-$25,000, depending on circumstances.  The fourth category should receive substantial compensation, between say $25,000-$75,000, depending on circumstances.

The process could be simple, co-operative, lawyer-free and should run in a way consistent with its benevolent objectives.

If only the Governments of Australia could see their way clear to implement a scheme like this, the original owners of this land would receive real justice in compensation for one of the most wretched chapters in our history.

Until such a scheme is introduced, members of the stolen generations will have good reason to think that they have been denied justice.

An update: this federal election, I’m standing for Parliament

In the past, I’ve said I wasn’t interested in politics. But it’s clear to me that things need to change, and that has motivated me to run for parliament, because of the situation our community, our country and our planet are facing.  In late 2018 the IPCC issued a report which said that we have until 2030 to take serious steps to tackle climate change, or it will be too late.  The idea that we will reach a point of no return is deeply worrying.

I’ve decided to stand for election in Kooyong because I have lived in this electorate my entire life, and I don’t feel like moving.

For years the major parties have allowed people to be misled and ignored when it comes to climate change, to refugee policy, to addressing inequality. They’re driven by self-interest and by the demands of their big corporate donors pulling the strings. People are not being listened to and they are not being respected by the Liberals or Labor.

I’m standing for the Greens because their policies are centred around people: caring about how people are treated, about the opportunities we have throughout our lives, the world we live in and the world we hand on to those who come after us…and they deliver results.

Time and again, we have seen the advocacy of the Greens, in Parliament and in the community, deliver outcomes, lead the political debate and give voice to the people and issues the major parties ignore.

As a Greens candidate and as a Greens MP, I’ll have honest and frank conversations with people about how we have been let down by the Liberals and Labor, and how the Greens’ plans put the well-being of everyone at its centre.

Climate change is the biggest single issue we all face, and it too is about humanity. It’s about our survival, but it’s also about jobs, health, power bills, the liveability of our towns and cities, whether it’s too hot to enjoy our summers, whether our community parks are protected, and whether we have clean air and clean water that doesn’t make us sick.

We need plans to address climate change, to make the transition to renewable energy technology and exports that will ensure workers are not hung out to dry as the world continues to move away from coal. The Greens are the only party talking about how we deliver this.

The current member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, has consistently been in a position to deliver climate change action – as Environment and Energy Minister, as Treasurer, as Deputy Liberal Leader – but he has consistently disappointed us.

When Josh Frydenberg was the Minister for Energy, he championed policies that would have meant more coal, more pollution, higher prices and less renewable energy. He was unable to grasp the opportunities that renewable energy has provided Australia. Meanwhile, his party continues to accept donations from coal and mining giants.

The renewable energy sector has been badly damaged by the instability within the Liberal Party over the past few years. By comparison, the Greens helped established the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Renewable Energy Agency and a price on carbon – they developed a world leading package that was then wrecked by Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party.

Refugees and people seeking asylum is another issue of great importance to me. To their great shame, the Liberals and Labor have used used people seeking our protection from war and conflict and the most appalling abuses of their human rights as a political tool for decades (stretching all the way back to Paul Keating).

Australia is a kind and compassionate country, yet we have been subjected to decades of this corrosive debate, acting as though offering support for people who need it is an intractable problem.

I have acted pro bono in many cases concerning the treatment of refugees. It concerns me greatly that the Liberals have lied about the treatment of refugees for years, and Labor has been too cowardly to call them out on their lies. I will be campaigning to end the major parties’ cruel and internationally condemned offshore detention regime. The Greens values reflect my values. They care about people, and they are the party that consistently stands up for human rights.

In my career, the cases I am proudest of are those where I have worked to protect people or remedy the injustice they’ve faced by attacks from big corporate interests or from cruel and craven government actions.

I’ve defended the rights of workers, of refugees, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, of our environment – against governments and against corporate giants.

That’s the challenge we are all facing right now: big corporate donors dictate terms to politicians who care more about their own jobs, and about looking after their mates, than they do about the people they’re elected to represent. This is the challenge the Greens are ready to take on.

Unlike both major parties, the Greens are a party that, again and again, show leadership, achieve outcomes and champion big ideas when it comes the issues that really matter. This is the only way we’ll deal with challenges as significant as the future of our planet and the most vulnerable people that occupy it. And that’s why I’m running. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

If you would like to support my campaign you can visit: www.greens.org.au/burnside

French au pairs

How does this work?

The story so far:
-Some Tory squatter couple needs a Froggy au pair to mind their idiot sprogs while they go to the polo.
-La Bimbo gets stopped by border security because she was clearly intending to break her visa conditions.
-Minutes later she is freed to work illegally after a couple of calls by our hero the head of the AFL
-Hundreds of refugees rot on Nauru.
-Dutton tells us there’s nothing to see here: it is irrelevant that the Tory squatter couple’s family are big donors to Dutton’s political party.
-Time to throw up

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/aug/28/peter-dutton-intervened-in-third-au-pair-visa-case-for-afl-bosss-relatives

The Australian Government can save Julian Assange

Julian Assange is an Australian. He is in trouble overseas.  He needs the Australian government’s help.

For six years he has been virtually a prisoner in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  The reason he is there is because he is the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, which published evidence of war crimes leaked by an American soldier, Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning as a matter of conscience. WikiLeaks has since revealed the secrets of the world’s unaccountable forces. This Australian has provided an historic public service.

The Americans have made it clear from the start that they want to get Assange, who has good reason to fear he will be mistreated the way Chelsea Manning was. That’s why this week’s events in London are so critical. Will the Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno, at present visiting London and under pressure from Washington, abandon the man his country has so honourably protected?

Julian Assange has never been charged with any crime. In 2010, Sweden wanted to extradite him from Britain under a European Arrest Warrant. When it became clear that Sweden was likely to hand him over to the Americans, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The Swedish case has been dropped, but the British authorities still want him for jumping bail.  If he steps out of the Embassy, they will very likely hand him over to the Americans.

This Australian needs Australia’s help.

He has not seen sunshine or felt rain for 6 years. Try to imagine what it is like to be stuck indoors for 6 years.  Whatever your view of what he did, 6 years inside is enough.

His health has deteriorated badly over those 6 years.  I visited him at the Embassy  in the middle of June: he is looking much frailer than when I saw him there in mid-2012.

His teeth are causing great pain: a dentist can’t visit him.   He needs root-canal surgery, which is not possible except in a fully equipped dental surgery.

He is suffering from oedema: his legs are swelling.

His eyesight is fading, because he cannot look into the distance: the most distant thing from him inside the Embassy is a view down the corridor, which is perhaps 10 metres.

His bone-density is reducing seriously, because he has not been in the sunshine for 6 years, and exercise is difficult.

The government of Ecuador changed recently, and conditions in the Embassy have changed as well: it is now much more difficult for Assange to receive visitors, and he does not have access to a phone or the internet.

Because the British authorities are likely to hand him over to the Americans, Assange does not dare to step out of the Embassy.  That’s why he needs the help of the Australian government.  Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop could easily reach a diplomatic agreement with Britain to allow Assange to be brought safely back to Australia, where his family is.  If the Americans want to extradite him, they can apply to an Australian Court. The Australian Government has given help to other Australians in trouble overseas – such as the journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.

It in era of diminishing rights, of widespread insecurity and injustice, it is time to recognise one who has stood against the tide. Julian Assange needs our help, urgently. The Government should give it without delay.

 

The trolls are at it again

Really? I get paid nothing at all to help refugees, and I pay a lot of tax. So tell me if you are hinting at some kind of fact I am not aware of. Actually, I think you just made up what you said. Are you a troll or a fantasist?

 What 
What is interesting about it is that people are willing to invent things like that in order to distract attention from the obvious fact that some people are unfortunate enough to live in our society without being able to get work.  They are not only denied the dignity of working, the government does not give them enough to live on.  What’s a person supposed to do, if they can’t afford to pay the rent and feed their kids?
What sort of society are we, if we will willingly let people suffer?
Bronwyn Bishop made much of the fact that her pension had been “earned”, whereas payments to the unemployed are not earned.  Even if that is true, even if you assume that a person on Newstart has never paid tax, it remains the fact that they are part of our Society, and our Society is damaged if we let some people in it suffer: or worse, if we let their children suffer because the parents are unemployed and the Newstart allowance is not enough to allow them a life worth living.
People like Bronwyn Bishop, who have never had to scrape along on hopelessly inadequate resources, probably think that some people will rort the system it if offers a Newstart allowance which allows a decent, if modest, chance of survival.
Let that be so: as a Society we have to decide whether it is better to provide a safety net, or let people fall to the ground and be destroyed.
In my view it is better to provide a safety net.  Even if some people will rort the system.
And how can any politician take a different view?  They have salaries which start at $199k a year (more for Ministers, Committee chairs etc), and allowances which add another $200k to $800k a year.
And then there are the pensions, like the one Bronwyn Bishop gets, so she doesn’t have to see what it’s like living on $40 per day.
Expense allowances:
  • All politicians may claim expenses relating have their travel within Australia covered if they are on Parliamentary or electorate business
    • This may include first class tickets on scheduled commercial services.
  • If heading overseas, these entitlements may extend to medical services and clothing allowances.
  • Politicians are also entitled to a travel allowance for overnight stays, with varying rates for different locations and positions.
  • For example, all politicians can claim $273 for an overnight stay in Canberra but this increases to $498 in Karratha.
  • Office holders are given larger allowances in some locations.
  • The Prime Minister is limited to $564 for each overnight stay in a place other than an official establishment or the Prime Minister’s home base.
  • Accommodation and sustenance at official establishments is provided at Government expense.
  • Politicians have a limited number of overnight stays that they can claim.
    • For some MPs this limit might be 90 nights per year.
  • Ministers can also claim the cost of travel for their spouse, if it is in Australia and for official purposes.
  • All politicians are entitled to a private-plated vehicle to be used for parliamentary, electorate or official business.
    • They can choose an additional $19,500 per annum of electorate allowance to meet the costs of transport within and for the service of the electorate, instead.
  • Specific examples from the second half of 2015:
    • Foreign Minister Julie Bishop claimed the largest amount with a total cost of $808,649.49 – more than half of which was for overseas travel in her ministerial role.
    • Her colleague, Warren Entsch, claimed more than $779,512 – including $441,460 for an office fit-out
    • Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed a total of $508,200.67, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed $423,759.19.

Who should we believe?

It is interesting to compare reports in today’s The Australian and The Guardian Australia

In The Australian, there is an article with the headline: “Newspoll: Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity surges on the back of the budget

In The Guardian there is an article with this headline: “Coalition’s budget fails to turn around Turnbull’s government’s fortunes

On Sunday The Guardian had an article headlined: “An unfunded, uncosted tax plan plays into Labor’s hands – again

Turnbull continues to be preferred PM, but Labor seems to be preferred government.   So, what are we meant to believe?

Florida School Shooting

A student who witnessed the shooting called out lawmakers on TV, looking directly into the camera and saying: “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.” He added: “Ideas are great but without action, ideas stay ideas and children die.”

And when people say we need to discuss gun control, the NRA and its patsies in Congress say “Now is not the right time…”

So, when is the right time to start taking a rational approach to gun control, in a country where the possession and use of guns is out of control?

Anti-Islamic rants, continued

Earlier I wrote about a person who emails me with very odd views about Islam.  Here are some of this person’s toxic ideas.  He advocates:

  • banning all Muslims from Australia
  • supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
  • putting all Australian Muslims in Concentration Camps
  • strafing Muslim boat people (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)

And he quotes Adolf Hitler to advance some of his poisonous views.

Today, I got another email from him, in which he said that the Muslims who are facing genocide in Myanmar are simply being punished for 9/11.

That prompted me to ask him a couple of questions.  My questions, and his answers, are as follows (prepare to be shocked):

Q1:How many of the thousands of Muslims being killed in Myanmar were involved, directly or indirectly, in 9/11?

A: All the Muslims receiving divine retribution in Myanmar were indirectly involved in 9/11.  Anyone who believes that non-Muslims should be killed, especially if they are Jews or homosexuals and who give credence to the evil ideology of Islam are collectively guilty.

Q2: I get the clear impression that you think it is OK to kill people because of their religion, regardless whether they have done anything wrong.  Or have I misunderstood?

A: I do not consider Islam to be a religion. Islam is an ideology that hides behind a cloak of religion. During WW2 the allies bombed civilians in Germany and Japan. These civilians may themselves have done nothing wrong, however they were collectively guilty.  No allied aircrew were ever prosecuted for killing these people.  I rest my case

This provoked me.   I responded:

I understand your answers, and I disagree profoundly.

You clearly have no conception of the rule of law, or of any recognisable form of ethics.  Your willingness to countenance the slaughter of countless thousands of people because of their religion (or ideology, if you prefer) is, quite frankly, appalling.

I do not know what religion or ideology you adhere to, if any.  If you claim to be a Christian, it is clear that you know nothing about the teachings of Christianity.

Your answers disclose a degree of bigotry which astonishes me, despite the shocking content of some of the emails you have sent me in the past.

Your attitudes disgust me.

 

Parliament and Dual Citizenship

Two Greens Senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, recently quit the Senate after discovering that they held dual citizenship: Ludlam is, apparently, a citizen of New Zealand, and Waters is, apparently, a citizen of Canada.  You wouldn’t have guessed: both have normal Aussie accents, and both have worked tirelessly in support of Australia’s interests.

The sudden departure of Ludlum and Waters from the Senate focussed renewed attention on section 44 of the Commonwealth Constitution.  Section 44 provides:

“44. Any person who:

(i) is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power …

shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”

Senator Ludlam said “About a week or so ago it was brought to my attention that I hold dual-citizenship nationality of Australia and New Zealand”.  Given that section 44 is the relevant provision, it is ironic that Scott Ludlam, who is now 47 years old, has lived in Australia for 44 years.  He came here when he was a 3-year old.

A few days later, Senator Larissa Waters also announced she was leaving the Senate, as she had been born in Canada and came to Australia when she was 11 months old.

According to news reports on 20 July, Senator Richard di Natale is now trying to find papers showing that he has renounced any rights to Italian citizenship.  It is significant to notice that, if your citizenship of another country  is a thing of the distant past, digging out documents to show that you no longer adhere to that other country could be challenging.  Given that a lot of people come to Australia as young children born in another country, or are born here to parents who came here from another country, the challenge is a large one.  And add to this that you would have to find out whether the law of the country where you were born, or where your parents came from, recognised you as a citizen in the particular circumstances.

In a multi-cultural country like Australia, it looks a bit crazy.

When a person is elected to the Commonwealth Parliament, they take an Oath of Allegiance in the following terms:

“I [name] do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law, So help me God”

This is a little less comprehensive than the Governor-General’s Oath of Office:

I, [name], do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law, in the office of Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the Commonwealth of Australia, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. So help me God!

It is mildly surprising that members of the Parliament have to swear allegiance to a person who would be disqualified from being a member of the Australian Parliament.  Queen Elizabeth the Second is a British national, she is not a citizen of Australia, but she is our Head of State.  It is also disconcerting that the Governor-General is not constrained in the way members of parliament are.  the governor-General might or might not be a citizen of Australia, and traditionally was a British, but not an Australian, national.

But putting those minor quibbles to one side, no-one has ever suggested that Ludlam, Waters (or any other Greens member) has been untrue to their oath of allegiance.  Given that their connection to New Zealand or Canada respectively is so remote, and so slight, that is not surprising.  Whatever your views about Greens policies, Australian democracy is the weaker for losing Senators Ludlam and Waters.  We should consider very carefully whether section 44(i) is too wide and indiscriminate in its reach.

And here is Ian Holland’s take on the same question, published on 20July 2017 in the Brisbane Times 

Changes to Citizenship Laws

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is holding an enquiry into proposed changes to the Citizenship Act.  The bill being considered is the “Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017”.

The Bill includes the following provision:

“At the end of section 46 Add:

Required information or documents

(4)              …

(5)              The Minister may determine:

          (a)              an Australian Values Statement; and

          (b)              any requirements relating to the Australian Values Statement….”

The Minister (that is, the Immigration Minister) is therefore given the power to decide what constitutes an appropriate statement of Australian Values. The significance of that power should not be underestimated.

The values which define a nation’s character are, typically, very diverse. It is not easy to imagine that every person in any nation would identify the same values as characteristic of that nation. The proposed amendments noted above would produce the result that adherence to Australia’s values would become a touchstone to citizenship. It seems odd then that one person should have the power to determine, for the nation at large, what its values are. For example, the history of Australia since white settlement could lead a person to suppose that Christian principles were central to Australia’s values. But that proposition would be inconsistent with aspects of Australia’s conduct (past and present) and inconsistent with section 116 of the Constitution, which says:

“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

It is worth noting that the proposed s. 46(5) may not prevent a Minister from including, in a Statement of Australian Values, a requirement to adhere to Christian principles. This would be objectionable on at least four obvious grounds:

  1. The fact of growing Islamophobia in the community;
  2. The fact that people from various religious backgrounds join the Australian community and contribute greatly to it;
  3. The fact that such a requirement would be inconsistent with section 116 of the Constitution, even if not in breach of it;
  4. The fact that the indigenous peoples of Australia embrace religious views which are pre-Christian.

It seems highly undesirable that any one person, whether a Minister of the Crown or not, should have the power to determine what the nation’s values are, especially when his or her determination has the potential to affect a person’s right to citizenship.

There is a further point. A Statement of Australian Values already exists, as part of the process of applying for permission to enter Australia. If it is a template for what is proposed, then we have a problem.

The Australian Values Statement, in Form 1281, provides as follows:

“AUSTRALIAN VALUES STATEMENT

This statement must be signed by the main applicant and each person aged 18 years or over who is included in the visa application, unless they have already signed it on the visa application form…

I understand:

  • Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good;
  • Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background;
  • the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.

…”

(emphasis added)

What is notable about the parts emphasised is that they are difficult to reconcile with the idea of imprisoning innocent people who have sought a safe place to live, and in particular they stand awkwardly with treating asylum seekers the way we do in order to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia.

If we are to have a Statement of Australian Values, the Parliament should ensure that it genuinely reflects Australia’s values as reflected by its conduct as a nation, and the Parliament should ensure that all members of the Parliament could, in good conscience, say that they embrace and live up to the Values reflected in the Statement.

It is notorious that Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum has been trenchantly criticised by various NGOs. If we are to have a Statement of Australian Values, it should either reflect our willingness to behave in ways that had attracted that criticism, or else our conduct as a Nation should be made to conform to the Statement of Values. Failing one or other of these, the proposed Statement of Australian Values would only survive at the frontier where self-delusion meets self-congratulation.

And while it is true that the English language is important in Australia, there are some Federal MPs whose grasp of English is so tenuous that they would probably fail the Values Statement.

Submissions can be made online at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/ Committees/OnlineSubmission or via email to: legcon.sen@aph.gov.au

The text of the bill and the Explanatory Memorandum can be found here

Nauru: How it is

I have received a first-hand account of how things are on Nauru at present.  It’s not good. How much are we paying each year to maintain out offshore warehousing?  $500,000 per person per year…

Sounds like pretty bad value.

Nauru is a very small island nation. It is smaller in area than Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne.  Here is the report I received.  I have edited it slightly to ensure that the person who wrote it cannot be identified:

The ring road (the only real road) is 23 km long. From the ring road you can drive up to the Island’s centre, which is elevated. There, it is much hotter without any breeze like you get on the ring road. On this elevated plateau are the RPC’s (Reception and Processing Centres).

RPC1 is occupied by service providers like Broadspectrum and IHMS.

Due to lack of housing, ‘positives’ remain located in either RPC 2 or RPC3. So-called ‘settlements’ are scattered around the ring road and most refugees prefer to live there, because there is access to the ocean, the shops and a cooling breeze.

HOST International works from the Community Resource Centre, located close to the airport on the ring road. HOST employs refugees in numerous positions. Some work as IT support, some as community liaison officers, others as employment officers. In the office, refugees are treated with respect by ex-pats. In the office are also Nauruans. They are part of the government and predominantly work in housing, employment and child protection.

Australia’s history with Nauru centred on phosphate mining. By nature, Nauruans are not hard working. Think Fiji, Rarotonga, Vanuatu…developing countries. Not as poor as PNG, but nevertheless without much prospect, mainly due to its isolated location and tiny size.

The Nauru government holds all power. This power is absolute. They issue or, as the case may be, withdraw visas for ex-pats.  Land can only be owned by Nauruans (this is a very important issue). Nauruans in general are not well educated. However, they are well looked after: they have land, they do not pay rent and they have been given power over ex-pats and refugees, because after all, it is their island.

So, imagine this tiny island being run by not so well-educated, entitled people: Nauruans feel they are very, very precious and every single ex-pat and refugee have to bow to their whims. It leads to unrealistic situations. Example: ex-pats and refugees-are told over and over again that they MUST NOT overtake Nauruans while driving on the ring road. They must be extremely cautious NOT to splash Nauruans by driving through water. Consequences are dire: Nauruans will cut off your car and bash you up, regardless of age or sex. Example: One refugee who works on Nauru, accidently cut off a Nauruan. Before he could apologise, the Nauruans got out of their car and bashed up the refugee very badly. No point going to the police because they are Nauruans also. Refugees are routinely bashed up by angry locals for no specific reason. Nauruans are a very jealous people. Example: Some Iranians refugees had settled on the ring road. They started a business – as many try to – by renting a huge house on the beach front and converting it into a restaurant. Hard working, and with stunning ocean views, the business thrived. Soon the Nauruan landlord found out, and told them to pack up. He simply evicted them. The building has been empty ever since.

Housing is a real issue. Some Nauruans are extremely rich but they do not want refugees to live in their houses. So, all along the ring road you see empty, neglected houses and units which could easily house numerous refugees who are instead housed in the hot and oppressive camps (“Reception and Processing Centres”). No-one can do anything: it is in the hands of the Nauruans.

In the office, ex-pats have to be very careful talking to Nauruan staff. Nauruan staff MUST always be in the right. If not, they simply revoke your visa. Example: An Australian worker had a difference of opinion with a Nauruan staff member. Within half an hour that person’s visa was revoked and he was transported to the airport, never to return. HOST International is powerless to stop any of this. Employees are warned by HOST, to be very careful NOT to criticise Nauruans or their government, because it is not possible to know what is being overheard.

When it comes to dealing with foreigners, Nauruans, and the Government of Nauru, have all the power and, although many welcome refugees on their island, many do not. Refugee children are bullied at school but the Nauru Government has no policies in place with respect to child protection. It is all new to them and they are unwilling to take advice from experienced ex-pats. Refugees have limited opportunities: They can NEVER own land, they are ALWAYS  at the mercy of ruthless landlords, jobs will go to Nauruans first and, even if a refugee manages to get a job, they can easily lose it due to jealousy of the Nauru Government. Most refugees who are employed, are employed by HOST or by Broadspectrum.

 

 

Quadrant, Franklin and other nastiness

It is alarming to see the views some Australians have.  On 23 May, Roger Franklin published an article in the online edition of Quadrant, in which he said it would have been better if the bomb which killed so many in Manchester had instead been detonated in the ABC studios during last Monday night’s Q & A.  Specifically, he wrote:

“Life isn’t fair and death less so. What if that blast had detonated in an Ultimo TV studio? Unlike those young girls in Manchester, their lives snuffed out before they could begin, none of the panel’s likely casualties would have represented the slightest reduction in humanity’s intelligence, decency, empathy or honesty.”

Beyond that bit of foolish poison from Roger Franklin, there is a person who emails me regularly, advocating various anti-Muslim responses.  For example, he advocates:

  • banning all Muslims from Australia
  • supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
  • putting all Muslims in Concentration Camps
  • strafing Muslim boat people (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)

More recently, he wrote this:

  • (in relation to Angela Merkel): “Poor Herr Hitler must be rolling in his grave to see that Germany is being led by: (i) a women, (ii) a former Communist, (iii) who is inviting in the enemies of the Aryan race to destroy the Fatherland.  This is not going to end well”
  • (in relation to the Manchester bombing): “After the attack in the UK do [you] now agree Concentration Camps are the answer to protect our children from Muslims?”
  • (in relation to 2 Sudanese refugees, accused of involvement in a home invasion): “How about electrocuting these bastards as well or at least putting them in concentration camps as did our former Prime Minister – Billy Hughes?”
  • the famous “Rivers of Blood” speech of Enoch Powell … must be one of the greatest speeches of our time.”
  • “Human Rights are bullshit”

And he fired up about Yassmin Abdel-Magied:

“Do you recall the fate of the American William Joyce who was better known as Lord Haw Haw? Joyce promoted an evil ideology of world domination through violence using the media. Yassmin Abdel -Mageed (sic) is also promoting an evil ideology of world domination through violence using the media.

The British hung Joyce. What punishment should be given to Yassmin the Traitor?”

The trouble with stuff like this is that it gives vent to some weird inner frustration with no regard to the facts.  Lord Haw Haw campaigned against Britain during the second World War and was hanged as a traitor.  Yassmin Abdel-Magied quietly invited us, when we are not at war,  not to forget refugees held on Manus and Nauru, and not to forget Syria and Palestine.  They are things we should not forget.  Maybe my frequent emailer is the real traitor, for betraying the values Australia defended during two world wars.

What people like Roger Franklin (and my frequent emailer) do not seem to understand is that their rabid views are just as dangerous as the views of Islamic extremists and other madmen.  Dangerous because, by inciting hatred against all Muslims, they run a very clear risk of radicalising some Muslims who (understandably) feel that they are not welcome in our community, even if they have never said or done anything which could be a threat to any of us.  Radicalising young people is a foolish and dangerous thing to do: it creates the very risk Roger Franklin (and my frequent emailer) are so upset about.

Incidentally, Roger Franklin was very rude about Lawrence Krauss, who was on the Q & A panel which Franklin would have liked to see bombed.  What Franklin wrote was this:

“A smug stick insect and tireless self-promoter, fellow guest Lawrence Krauss, the warmist shill who has the gall to present himself as a man of science, couldn’t resist the temptation to demonstrate a nuanced acuity. Below are his actual words, reproduced verbatim. Try not to throw up.

You’re more likely to be killed by a refrigerator, in the United States, falling on you.

If you need to read this loathsome creature’s glib sophistry once more, just to grasp the full breadth of its breathtaking brazenness, brace yourself and do so.

Tumbling refrigerators are a bigger hazard  than Islamic terrorism? God Almighty but that Krauss is a filthy liar.”

Let’s put to one side that Franklin did not understand Krauss’ point.  The simple fact is that dying in a terrorist event is a very unlikely way of dying.  I am not trivialising it: it is a terrible thing.  But here are the statistics:

 

The effects of Trump’s travel ban

The piece below was written by Mem Fox, the much-loved Australian children’s author.   It details the shocking treatment she received when she tried to enter USA recently.

It is important to remember that, if you give people great power, they will use it. And some will misuse it.  Read this piece and imagine being a hapless traveller to gulag America. Imagine  being a boat person stranded in Nauru or Manus.  .

**********************

I was pulled out of line in the immigration queue at Los Angeles airport as I came in to the USA. Not because I was Mem Fox the writer – nobody knew that – I was just a normal person like anybody else. They thought I was working in the States and that I had come in on the wrong visa. I was receiving an honorarium for delivering an opening keynote at a literacy conference, and because my expenses were being paid, they said: “You need to answer further questions.” So I was taken into this holding room with about 20 other people and kept there for an hour and 40 minutes, and for 15 minutes I was interrogated. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying The room was like a waiting room in a hospital but a bit more grim than that.

There was a notice on the wall that was far too small, saying no cellphones allowed, and anybody who did use a cellphone had someone stand in front of them and yell: “Don’t use that phone!” Everything was yelled, and everything was public, and this was the most awful thing, I heard things happening in that room happening to other people that made me ashamed to be human. There was an Iranian woman in a wheelchair, she was about 80, wearing a little mauve cardigan, and they were yelling at her – “Arabic? Arabic?”. They screamed at her “ARABIC?” at the top of their voices, and finally she intuited what they wanted and I heard her say “Farsi”. And I thought heaven help her, she’s Iranian, what’s going to happen? There was a woman from Taiwan, being yelled at about at about how she made her money, but she didn’t understand the question. The officer was yelling at her: “Where does your money come from, does it grow on trees? Does it fall from the sky?” It was awful.

There was no toilet, no water, and there was this woman with a baby. If I had been holed up in that room with a pouch on my chest, and a baby crying, or needing to be fed, oh God … the agony I was surrounded by in that room was like a razor blade across my heart. When I was called to be interviewed I was rereading a novel from 40 years ago – thank God I had a novel. It was The Red and the Black by Stendhal – a 19th century novel keeps you quiet on a long flight, and is great in a crisis – and I was buried in it and didn’t hear my name called. And a woman in front of me said: “They are calling for Fox.” I didn’t know which booth to go to, then suddenly there was a man in front of me, heaving with weaponry, standing with his legs apart yelling: “No, not there, here!” I apologised politely and said I’d been buried in my book and he said: “What do you expect me to do, stand here while you finish it?” – very loudly and with shocking insolence.

The way I was interviewed was monstrous. If only they had been able to look into my suitcase and see my books. The irony! I had a copy of my new book I’m Australian, Too – it’s about immigration and welcoming people to live in a happy country. I am all about inclusivity, humanity and the oneness of the humans of the world; it’s the theme of my life. I also had a copy of my book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I told him I had all these inclusive books of mine in my bag, and he yelled at me: “I can read!” He was less than half my age – I don’t look 70 but I don’t look 60 either, I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard. They were not apologetic at any point. When they discovered that one of Australia’s official gifts to Prince George was Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, he held out his hand and said: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ms Fox.” I was close to collapse, very close to fainting, and this nearly broke me – it was the creepiest thing of all. I had been upright, dignified, cool and polite, and this was so cruelly unexpected, so appalling, that he should say it was a pleasure. It couldn’t have been a pleasure for him to treat me like that, unless he was a psychopath. In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous. Later in the hotel room I was shaking like a leaf. I rang my friend, my American editor and bawled and bawled, and she told me to write it all down, and I wrote for two hours. I fell asleep thinking I would sleep for eight hours but I woke up an hour and a half later just sobbing. I had been sobbing in my sleep. It was very traumatic.

After I got back to Australia I had an apology from the American embassy. I was very impressed, they were very comforting, and I’ve had so many messages of support from Americans and American authors. I am a human being, so I do understand that these people might not be well-trained, but they now have carte blanche to be as horrible and belligerent as they want. They’ve gone mad – they’ve got all the power that they want but they don’t have the training. They made me feel like such a crushed, mashed, hopeless old lady and I am a feisty, strong, articulated English speaker. I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don’t have my power?  That’s the heartbreak of it. Remember, I wasn’t pulled out because I’m some kind of revolutionary activist, but my God, I am now. I am on the frontline. If we don’t stand up and shout, good sense and good will not prevail, and my voice will be one of the loudest. That’s what it has taught me. I thought I was an activist before, but this has turned me into a revolutionary. I’m not letting it happen here. Instead of crying and being sad and sitting on a couch, I am going to write to politicians. I am going to call. I am going to write to newspapers. I am going to get on the radio.  I will not be quiet.

No more passive behaviour. Hear me roar.

Wilson Parking: hopeless

What sort of operation is Wilson Parking running?  How hard can it be to run a  car park?  Apparently it is much to hard for the geniuses who run Wilson Parking.

For almost a decade I have had a permanent car park at a site run by Wilson Parking.  In February 2017, the Wilson people had the brilliant idea that they would replace the card by which permanent parkers get into and out of the car park.

Problems started (probably due, at least in part, to the fact that Wilson car parks have no staff: just a machine that you touch your card on in order to get in or out).

First, the card would not let me into the car park.  So, you press the intercom button on the machine at the entry to the car park and eventually a human being speaks to you.  You explain the problem, while other drivers queue up (impatiently) behind you: they also want to get in.  they do something from their remote vantage point and the boom opens to let you in.

I tried ringing Wilson Parking.  they are as difficult to contact by phone as Centrelink is. Eventually I managed to get someone to speak to me: they said they would reset the card.

Resetting a card must be awfully difficult: for the first half of February, I had to use the intercom help service every time to get into the car park.

Second, For the whole of February, when I try to leave the car park, the machine has told me either that my car is not present or that the car park number is invalid.  I do not understand how the first message could possibly be true, and I do not understand what the second message means.

So, every time I have tried to leave the car park in February, I have had to wait for someone to respond to the intercom call.  It can take a while.

Most of the time, they tell me again that my card will be reset.  I can’t wait.  Just imagine the luxury of being able to park my car and (at the end of the day) leave, without having to wait at the end of an intercom in order to explain that their system is hopeless.

Third, I wrote to them in mid-February, politely explaining the problem, since speaking to them is so difficult. Here is my email to them:

To whom it may concern:

  1. Please take this email seriously
  2. Please read this email
  3. Please reply to this email
  4. I have had a permanent car park at 200 Queen St Melbourne for about 8 years
  5. Recently Wilson Parking introduced the Wilson One card
  6. Every day last week, and again this morning, the boom gate does not respond to the card: this happens when I am entering and when I am leaving.
  7. This morning I had to speak to 4 different people on the intercom before I could persuade someone to allow me in.
  8. I have tried ringing Wilson Parking to explain the problem, but no-one answers the phone.
  9. If this problem is not fixed by this afternoon, I am going to detail my concerns on social media.  I will not hesitate to suggest that people use a parking service that treats its customers properly (eg, by letting them in and out)

Very best wishes …

Three weeks later, I have not had a response.

This is part of the same corporate beast that runs security on Manus and Nauru.  And parking people in those places is vastly more expensive than parking a car with Wilson Parking.

PS: I posted this on Monday 27 February.  On Tuesday 28 February, I tried to enter the car park and the machine told me I was already present!  Yet again I had to press the intercom button and wait for someone to ask me to read out the 16-digit number on my Wilson One card and (eventually) let me in.  My attempts to call head office continue to end in frustration.

.

Climate Change

Climate change denial is on the rise, encouraged no doubt by the example of that great intellectual President Donald Trump.  That other intellectual giant Andrew Bolt had a crack at me recently for what I thought was the modest suggestion that we need to listen to what the scientists are telling us.  Good on Bolt for his ability to take cheap shots from behind the shelter of the Murdoch press.  But still, it was a cheap shot on an issue which deserves more serious attention.  Trump may not have the intellectual rigour to think about these things, but Bolt might.

What drives people to question climate science is the desire to profit from exploiting coal resources.  But what climate change sceptics like Trump and Bolt ignore is the precautionary principle.

If global warming is real, it threatens everyone.  It raises questions about the viability of the human species on Earth.  In simpler times, the worst consequences of global warming would threaten only a portion of mankind.  However, the growing interdependence of all people means that a catastrophe in Western agriculture or in Chinese manufacturing or in the major trading cities will have consequences for practically every human being.

The solution to global warming is, primarily, a question of science.  However, history shows us that scientific solutions are generally compromised by politics.  Politicians in most nations are answerable to their people.  Without careful leadership, the people of most nations will prefer their own interests ahead of others’ interests.  This is true locally and globally.  The refusal of Australia and the USA to ratify the Kyoto Protocol was a regrettable example: it was a triumph of selfish, insular concerns over the dictates of science and the interests of the entire world.

The debate about global warming is a useful illustration of the way politics and self-interest can damage public discourse.  The  5th report of the IPCC is clear: global warming is real, dangerous, and to a significant degree the result of human activity.  These findings are accepted as true by about 97% of the world’s scientists.

Some groups have a vested interest in slowing or stopping action to combat climate change.  Big oil and the coal industry are obvious examples.  They have a lot to lose, and delaying action on climate change serves their interests.  The debate, unfortunately, has tended to focus on sniping at specific facts identified by the IPCC.  And some people, quite correctly, argue that science is not decided by democratic majority.

Morgan polls indicated that in 2008 about 35% of Australians nominated the environment as a major issue: by 2013 this had fallen to 7%.  The debate shifted from acceptance to doubt to indifference.  What is staggering about the shift is that it ignores the seriousness of the problem itself.

If climate scientists are right, we have less than 5 years in which to act on climate change.  Even Tony Abbott eventually acknowledged that climate change is real and (at least in part) anthropogenic.  Even so, it must be noted that his chief business advisor, Maurice Newman, denied climate change as did some members of Abbott’s cabinet.

Turnbull seems to have thrown his hat in the ring with the fossil fuel industry, so if he has any concerns about climate change, he has subordinated them to his political survival.

If climate scientists are wrong and, of course, they might be wrong, then we will spend a lot of money for no advantage.  But if they are right…

Suppose there is an 80% chance that all the scientists are wrong (that is, only a 20% chance they are right).  If we do nothing about climate change there is only a 20% chance of an avoidable catastrophic outcome.

But that is worse odds than Russian roulette.  In Russian roulette, a revolver with 6 chambers has just one bullet in it.  When you hold the revolver to your head and pull the trigger, you have a one chance in six of a bad outcome.  One in six is more favourable odds than on in five

It may be objected that, in Russian roulette, you hold the gun to your head, and if the one in six chance goes against your child, then the child dies.  If climate science is right, we won’t all die.  OK, so try playing Russian roulette with your children, but hold the gun to their stomach: if the one in six chance goes against your child, it’s not fatal, just dangerous and very painful.

Other arguments which support taking action just in case include: if you were told that 97% of engineers predicted that the bridge will collapse, will you walk across it?  If the airline tells you there is a 97% chance that the plane will crash, will you nevertheless get on board?

Those who would withhold action on climate change (by denying it, or by extending the argument about the steps that should be taken, thereby delaying any action at all) are playing Russian roulette with our children’s future.  But those who doubt will ultimately fall back on the idea that it is people in other countries who will bear the brunt of climate change.  This idea is rarely articulated, because it is self-evidently unrespectable to say that other people’s suffering is less important than our own.  But if anyone makes the argument, they are not only immoral, they are also wildly optimistic.

George Brandis QC A-G

Q&A on Monday 20 February 2017 included Attorney-General George Brandis QC.

Brandis showed rather unhappy aspects of himself, as he sought to justify enormous and extravagant expense allowances for Federal parliamentarians while justifying the meanness of NDIS funding, disability allowances, Community Legal Centre funding and the harshness of automated Centrelink debt recovery.

There was a common theme in Brandis’ position.  He seemed to prefer meanness to generosity.  He seemed unsympathetic to people who are struggling to survive; he does not care what we do to refugees; he does not care that his party has lied systematically to the public for years about boat people; he can’t be bothered to check the law in an area which, whatever your position, is contentious.

He chose to blame Labor for every difficulty, no matter that his party has had years to correct the situation which, he asserted frequently, was created by Labor.  I don’t have much time for Labor, but watching him blame everything on a government which was defeated four years ago is simply pathetic.

It would be charitable to assume some kind of neural deficiency rather than a deep-seated personality disorder.

On robo-debt, Brandis seemed mildly concerned that a man had committed suicide after being chased for an alleged debt of $18,000 (this was later revised down to $10,000, without explanation).  The way the system “works”, the burden is on the recipient of the debt notice to prove the demand is wrong.  Most lawyers (at least, most lawyers who have actually practised law) respond instinctively against civil claims in which the Defendant has to prove that they do not owe the money claimed: the usual situation is that the person who makes a claim must prove it.

Brandis urged that anyone who received a robo-debt demand should ring Centrelink and discuss the claim: he seemed not to understand that getting Centrelink to answer a phone call is extraordinarily difficult.  Several people in the audience with practical experience of the matter told Brandis how difficult it is to get Centrelink to answer a call, but our esteemed Attorney-General continued urging the same course.  He cruised calmly on like a Spanish galleon in full sail, completely untroubled by any facts. Perhaps that’s the world he lives in: when he wants to speak to someone he simply instructs a staff-member to arrange it. He appears to know nothing of the world experienced by ordinary people, and did not seem willing or able to learn anything about it.

When tackled about the reduced funding for Community Legal Centres, he tried to blame Labor.  It seemed not to occur to him that, as Attorney-General, he could arrange increased funding for Community Legal Centres and for Legal Aid.  After all, Community Legal Centres deal with about  260,000 clients each year.  Their total funding is about $40 million a year.  So it costs the government about $153 per client for a CLC to help people who can’t afford lawyers.  That’s pretty good value, but government funding is about to fall to about $30 million a year.  Brandis did not seem to notice this as a problem, just as he didn’t notice the grotesque difference between his position on welfare payments and his position on parliamentary entitlements. Interestingly, Brandis presides over a department which spends about $792 million per year on lawyering.  He has access to excellent legal advice.

Perhaps Brandis regards his government’s legal problems as vastly more important than the legal problems of any ordinary Australian.

And then we got to refugee policy.  Confronted with the awkward fact that several thousand men, women and children have been locked up on Nauru and Manus for over 3 years, Brandis again tried to blame it on Labor.  It is true that Kevin Rudd’s government  put them there, but Brandis party, in government, could have removed them. Instead, it left them to swelter for years on end, suffering torment and abuse which includes hundreds of reported cases of child sex abuse and at least 5 deaths that we know of.

But the most surprising development was when I asked Brandis directly whether boat people commit any offence by arriving in Australia seeking protection from persecution.  He said Yes, they do.  He is wrong about that.  I asked him to identify the provision in any legislation which makes it an offence.  He protested that he could not be expected to identify a particular statute and a particular provision.  He is wrong about that, too.  The Coalition government has, for the past 15 years, called boat people “illegal”.

I assume Senator Brandis sometimes finds time to consider his party’s policies.  So he can hardly have missed the fact that men, women and children who have fled persecution were being branded as “illegal”, and were being locked up in shocking conditions for years.

Unless he has slept through the past 15 years (and I would not rule that out as a possibility), Brandis must be aware of a few related things:

  1. the Coalition, of which he is part, has called boat people “illegal” for the past 15 years;
  2. some irritating people (including me) have been pointing out for years that boat people commit no offence by coming to Australia as they do.
  3. If they don’t commit any offence by coming here, calling them “illegal” is misleading at best, and dishonest at worst.
  4. He has a big staff of highly qualified lawyers and access to lots more.

If he had ever had any of his staff research the question, he would know affirmatively that boat people do not commit any offence by coming here the way they do.

And yet, when I asked him what offence he thought they committed, he protested that he could not be expected to remember what section of what Act.

If the first Law Officer of the country paid more attention, he might have paused to wonder whether his own party’s marketing was honest or not; he might have paused to wonder why no boat people are ever prosecuted because of their means of arrival.

But it seems that our Attorney-General is much too busy enjoying the fat perks of office to think about these things. Either Brandis does not care or he is a hopeless lawyer.  In either case, it will be a relief to see him leave the Parliament and the country.

The only available conclusions are either:

  • He has never bothered to have the question researched; or
  • He lied, because he knew the true answer

Really, Attorney-General?  Did you expect anyone to believe you?

Brandis is a disgrace to the office he holds.  The first law officer of the country should be a bit more curious and a bit more honest.

[Incidentally, both before and after the show, Brandis conspicuously avoided speaking to me in the Green Room.  So I will add pettiness and a lack of manners to my criticism of him]