Outstanding edition of Q&A

Last night’s Q&A programme came out with all guns blazing and showed that it was prepared to subject itself to public scrutiny over the issue of the participation of Zakky Mallah in last week’s programme. It even invited two Liberal party sympathises, Tim Wilson and Paul Kelly onto the programme. The only person from those whom they could have expected some support, Tania Plibersek, was lukewarm to moderate.

The real stars of the programme were counter-terrorism expert Anne Aly

 Intelligent, well-informed and rational

Intelligent, well-informed and rational

and theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss.

What is it about theoretical physicists?  They always seem so  intelligent, even when talking about politics.

What is it about theoretical physicists? They always seem so intelligent, even when talking about politics.

And, of course, Tony Jones who remained calm in the face of some pretty obnoxious behaviour from one of the panellists.

One of  Australia's outstanding journalists

One of Australia’s outstanding journalists

Jones also noted that the ABC’s editorial standards “tell us to present a diversity of perspectives so that over time no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded, nor disproportionately represented”.

And this is really the issue.

The ideas that Mallah expressed, in particular the idea that he would have had his passport cancelled and been deported under legislation proposed by the current government yet was found not guilty in a court of law, goes to the heart of the debate on the legislation before Parliament.

There is no doubt that many people would found his presence and many of the ideas he has expressed on the Internet completely repugnant. But this is a difficulty. Often the types of ideas that he is expressing come from people you probably wouldn’t want to invite round for a cup of tea. But the ideas do need to be heard, in this case the choice of messenger was pretty unimpressive.

The other great thing about the programme was the Liberal party boycott of Q&A. But only for a week, unfortunately. Next week Barnaby Joyce will be on  (as well as right-wing Piers Akerman).

I won’t be watching

Paul Krugman on the Greek crisis

Paul Krugman, columnist with The New York Times and winner of the 2008 Nobel prize for economics, opened his article on the Greek financial crisis with  “It has been obvious for some time that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake. Europe never had the preconditions for a successful single currency – above all, the kind of fiscal and banking union automatically protects (people).”


Don’t you just love it when guys like Krugman demolish a large proportion of the world economy in one sentence, well in this case a paragraph!

He goes on to say “You need to realise that most – not all, but most – of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 per cent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

And this collapse, in turn, had a lot to do with the euro, which trapped Greece in an economic straitjacket. Cases of successful austerity, in which countries rein in deficits without bringing on a depression, typically involve large currency devaluations that make their exports more competitive. This is what happened, for example, in Canada in the 1990s, and to an important extent it’s what happened in Iceland more recently. But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option.”

And finally whether the Greek population should vote yes for a continuation of the austerity measures, “They shouldn’t, for three reasons. First, we now know that ever-harsher austerity is a dead end: After five years Greece is in worse shape than ever.

Second, much and perhaps most of the feared chaos from Grexit has already happened. With banks closed and capital controls imposed, there’s not that much more damage to be done.

Finally, acceding to the troika’s ultimatum would represent the final abandonment of any pretense of Greek independence.”

My other post on the Greek crisis

Chickens come home to roost in Greece (and Bonn and Paris)

“The problem with socialism,” said Margaret Thatcher, ” is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

And that is precisely what is happening in Greece. In addition to running out of other people’s money, Greece also appears to be running out of other people’s patience.

This particular problem has been a long time in the making. The wealthier EU nations have been quite happy to keep lending Greece money to pay pensions and entitlements that the domestic economy simply could not support.  It would appear that no one stopped to think what was going to happen if this went on for any extended period of time. But now it is becoming increasingly obvious to the credit nations of Europe, that the Greek population is not of a mind to accept any restrictions on spending (of other people’s money).

The Greek population, quite naturally, does not want to see welfare and pension payments, which constitute a significant proportion of many people’s income, cut. They argue, quite correctly, that reducing the spending power of the population is not way to get the economy moving.

On the other hand, their creditors argue that running an economy on charity is unsustainable. The economic hard-heads in Germany and in the IMF think that there needs to be a fair amount of pain to correct the situation in Greece.

The dilemma is keeping the economy alive and avoiding having the country slip into political anarchy while the productive (and tax-paying) economy picks up.  This may take decades rather than years.

The fundamental problem is that the economically powerful nations, such as Germany and France, have enjoyed a much lower exchange rate within the EU  than they would have enjoyed if they had been independent nations. They needed economically weak countries such as Greece and Spain to maintain that the low exchange-rate.

This low exchange rate gave them a huge advantage against their global trading partners. But we should not be any doubt that the prosperity of the wealthy European nations is a result of financial conditions inherent in the economic structure of the EU.

So while it may appear as if Greece is behaving like spoilt child, it is worth remembering that the current situation is not entirely of Greece’s making.

The chickens are coming home to roost, not just for Greece, but for the wealthy nations of Europe.

greece11My other post on the Greek crisis

Turnbull supports Abbott on ABC attack.

The Age reports that Malcolm Turnbull has compared the ABC to an “undergraduate playing at tabloid journalism” after a former terror suspect was allowed into the Q&A audience. And the Communications Minister says a government inquiry into the incident is not an attempt to undermine the broadcaster’s independence.

On 7.30, Turnbull did a reasonable job of distancing himself from some of the Prime Minister’s more florid rhetoric. But now he is having another bite at the apple.

This is a hot air balloon that is going take a lot of puffing to keep airborne. It was, as Turnbull said,  “a grave error of judgement.”  But that’s all it was and it doesn’t warrant the amount of time and energy being put into it by the ABC bashers.

 A politician-powered hot air balloon approaches ABC headquarters in Melbourne.

A politician-powered hot air balloon approaches ABC headquarters in Melbourne.

Protest as he might, Turnbull is going to have difficult job convincing any thinking Australian that this is anything other than the Liberal Party’s ongoing ideological war on the ABC.

To argue that a government enquiry into the broadcaster is not an attempt to undermine the broadcaster’s independence is an argument that does Turnbull’s intelligence no credit.

Everyone who watches the ABC and is following this debate would know that the government wants to limit the ABC’s ability to provide a view independent of that of the government.

Turnbull has been pursuing the argument that  that  “allowing Mallah into the audience was a security issue because Q&A was a “very high profile target”  but anyone who reads the report of this discussion on the ABC’s Insiders program will see how difficult it is to maintain that particular argument.

Whether Mallah was a security risk is a question about the effectiveness of the security at the ABC not about editorial decisions that were made by the programme’s producers.

If Turnbull has a concern about this then following the advice of junior minister Ciobo and cutting the funding to the ABC is not the way to fix the problem. If the Minister of Communications wants Q&A to be more secure, he should provide more funding for increase security at the national broadcaster.

The power of black-and-white photography

This photograph by Edwin Kats appeared on the A Lifetime Photography website.

1479097_672197656146227_1034319824_n The photo is a wonderful example of the way in which modern digital photography is able to span the divide between realistic and abstract art. The swans in the photo are real swans photographed on a pond somewhere. The black background (or pond) has been Photoshopped. You simply don’t see things like that in nature so the photograph is primarily abstract.

You can interpret it however you like: the balance of darkness and light, line and space, nature’s beauty in a dark world, it doesn’t matter, the abstraction is meant to affect people in different ways.

But that’s what makes it such a wonderful photograph. For me it is the way that the photographer has managed to get a perfect balance between the image of the two swans and their wake and the vast black pond so that the swans not only appear to float on the pond but also seem to be suspended in space.

There is also a beautiful simplicity to the photograph which  I always find appealing.

Assessing Australia’s intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq

The Age publish an article entitled “Who killed Australia’s warlord in Afghanistan” which discusses the assassination of Matiullah Khan, the corrupt warlord police chief who was bankrolled by the Australians.

Matiullah Khan and his men at his compound in Tarin Kowt in January 2013.

Matiullah Khan and his men at his compound in Tarin Kowt in January 2013.

The article discusses the consequences of Khan’s death which has plunged Oruzgan province back into chaos. The seeds of the problem were sown when the Americans and Australians backed Khan and his Popalzai tribe  “putting all their money on the fourth or maybe even fifth-strongest of the local tribes”  In the power vacuum that has been created, the other tribes are now trying to reassert their influence. The problem with the disenfranchisement of the major tribes was that it drove them into the arms of the Taliban whose influence is now increasing in the province.

 In May of this year I wroteThe Afghanistan province where Australian troops were stationed for eight years and suffered most of their casualties is in danger of sliding back into Taliban control, Afghan sources and experts say.

The tragedy of this situation is that, despite Australia’s best efforts and the heroic sacrifices of its soldiers, the intervention in Afghanistan appears to have achieved very little of tangible worth.

Another sober commentary on Australia’s intervention in the Middle East and related conflicts appeared in The Age today. It was the Peter Craven review of Australian David Kilcullen’s essay: Blood Year – Terror and the Islamic State. From 2005 to 2006, Kilcullen was Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department.  He was a senior counter-insurgency advisor to General David Petraeus in 2007 and 2008.

Dr. David Kilcullen

Dr. David Kilcullen

Kilcullen’s argument is that the demobilisation of 200,000 of Saddam Hussein soldiers created the military muscle for ISIS. They were well armed, and employed and with a serious grievance and a well-organised fighting force that was recruited to fight to establish the caliphate.

Many Muslims, including Zaky Mallah, argue that ISIS is a creation of Western military and political forces. It now appears that one of the most senior advisers to the Bush administration is given credence to this view. The difference, of course, is that Zaky Mallah believes that it was intentional, whereas Kilcullen is arguing that it was a  counter-intuitive consequence of an ill-advised intervention in Iraq.

The need for leadership on terrorism

When the ABC  allowed Zaky Mallah on its Q&A program, it prompted a visceral response from the Prime Minister.

“A lefty lynch mob” was the way he described the ABC. He has continued his inflammatory rhetoric against the national broadcaster demanding that “heads must roll.” This is his idea of the “war on terror.”

 Tony Abbott  attacks the ABC not the  terrorists

Tony Abbott attacks the ABC not the terrorists

What is informative about the Prime Minister’s response is that he has chosen to attack the ABC.  He has not uttered a word to refute the views that Mallah expressed on the programme. Mallah’s views are easy to refute and the leader of a strong, democratic nation would have no difficulty in doing so. Yet Abbott chooses to attack one of our national and most respected institutions instead.

Many people would probably agree with Malcolm Turnbull’s assessment that allowing Mallah to appear was “a grave error of judgement.” But many would not agree with Tony Abbott that it was “a betrayal of Australia”.  The biggest mistake that the ABC made was giving Tony Abbott ammunition and consequently giving Zaky Mallah greater national visibility then he would have been able to achieve on his our own.

When a free and democratic society is confronted with the ideas that Zaky Mallah and his ilk promulgate, it is necessary to refute them with better ideas.

The approach that Liberal MP Steve Ciobo, also a program guest,  took in telling Mallah he would be happy to see him lose his citizenship is not the answer. You don’t counter seditious ideas by banishing the people who think and express them. You counter them with better ideas: Ideas about the nature of a just and fair society, about the rule of law, about  freedom from fear and about religious freedom.

This is what we need our political leaders to do. Abbott has been a singular failure in this respect but at least he has been a failure of commission. Opposition leader Bill Shorten has been a failure of omission.

Bill Shorten  missing in action (again) on the issue of Q&A

Bill Shorten missing in action (again) on the issue of Q&A

Terrorists on the ABC

There are a number of things that make Tony Abbott froth at the mouth:  (amongst other things) terrorists, asylum seekers, and of course, the ABC. So when you put the ABC and terrorists together, Tony goes into mouth-froth overdrive.

 Tony Abbott seems to need a  regular mouth froth

Tony Abbott seems to need a regular mouth froth

The Age has reported that: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has launched a blistering attack on the ABC’s Q&A program, asking “whose side are you on” after an Australian man convicted of threatening Commonwealth officials appeared on the program Former terrorism suspect Zaky Mallah confronted  Zaky Mallah live on air on Monday night, complaining that he could have had his citizenship stripped under proposed changes to the Act.

Zaky Mallah in his Westmeade Home, thursday 4th September 2014, Pic Danielle Smith

Zaky Mallah in his Westmeade Home, thursday 4th September 2014, Pic Danielle Smith

However, it appears that the commercial channel is going to give Zaky Mallah a time where he faces tough questioning from Waleed Aly on Ten’s The Project after appearing to urge Australian Muslims to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State on ABC’s Q&A.

Abbott maintains that Australians have been let down by the ABC in allowing Mallah to appear. There are a couple of things about this quite senseless claim.

The first is that most Australians don’t watch the ABC, let alone Q&A.  The second point is that people who do watch Q&A tend to be those with an interest in current affairs and presumably with the intelligence to make decisions about the opinions being voiced on the programme.

Many Q&A viewers will think that allowing him to appear on the programme allowed Australians to see what a flesh and blood terrorist. The highly unlikely that anyone was converted to carers as a result of this appearance.

This Australian at least, a dual nationality one at that,  finds having The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bonwyn Bishop, appear on Q&A and launch a party political and partisan attack on Gillian Triggs far more repugnant than having Zaky Mallah appear.

Tony Abbott  has a little snog with Speaker Bronwyn Bishop. Christopher Pyne  waits for his turn

Tony Abbott has a little snog with Speaker Bronwyn Bishop. Christopher Pyne waits for his turn

It’s ironic that Tony Abbott accuses the ABC of using its institutional position to promote the view of its left-wing/terrorist mates, while the Speaker of the House of Representatives has made it quite clear that she will promote the  the office of the House of Representatives to  promote the political interests of her right-wing mates.