“It’s fun to shoot some people,” Defence Secretary Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis notoriously remarked in 2005.
“Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot … I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.” Mattis says, bringing a little Tarantino, perhaps, to a panel discussion in San Diego, California.
A Marine general voicing his enjoyment of killing causes military members of the audience to laugh and clap.
More worryingly, Mattis goes on to become famous as the Trump’s administration “only adult in the room”.
This week, Mattis exits; slams the door. Trump is pulling 2000 US troops out of Syria; 7000 will leave Afghanistan. It’s two steps too far. Mattis quits his post in a “Dear Mr President” letter of resignation and protest.
Adult to the end, Mad Dog drops fifty copies of his resignation letter around the Pentagon. As you do. Helene Cooper notes in The New York Times, it’s the most public condemnation of Trump’s isolationism the president has ever received from his administration. Mattis ups the ante; throws down a back-handed challenge.
“While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”
Trump hates the letter. He is particularly hurt by the widespread view that he sometimes needs adult day-care.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there,” he tweets. It’s a full four Pinocchio on The Washington Post Scale after failing to persuade any senior Pentagon figure to publicly back his withdrawal. Or lie for him in his war on the truth.
Official White House fabulist, mythomaniac Sarah Saunders is left to spin Trump’s tweet. She settles for ‘clarifying’ that the recall of US troops over the next 2-4 months will mark a ‘transition to the next phase of the campaign’ against IS.
It’s standard Saunders’ Orwellian double-speak. Trump’s abrupt, unilateral withdrawal of US troops from Syria is more chilling. It illustrates, again, just how much US policy and power rest largely on the whim of one man-child.
Trump thrives on chaos and disruption, of course. He’s desperate to distract from Mueller’s investigation. He’ll do anything to evade the net. And in January, he’ll have to account to a Democrat Congress. They’ll ask for his tax returns. These may well expose his links with Putin’s government. But there are many other hazards.
CNN suggests that virtually every House investigatory committee will pursue something from his administration.
Even worse, no longer can he count on the Republican majority in the Senate as any guarantee of united support.
North Carolina’s senator Richard Burr, Republican chair of the senate intelligence committee, releases two independent analyses, this week explaining how Russia’s Internet Research Agency, (IRA) was able to use hacking and disinformation strategies to help Trump get elected and later boost his presidency.
On the other hand, Patrick Lawrence, queries the reality of the troop withdrawal. The Washington Post and other papers report that Raqqa “unofficially” has 4000 US troops, which control virtually a third of Syria. In September, these troops were told they were to remain until the Syrian conflict ended, as a bulwark against Iran.
Luckily for Australia, our troops in Iraq still get a visit from Scott Morrison (Afghanistan is too dangerous). ScoMo is photographed handing out a couple of deflated footballs as part a stunning pep talk-presentation. But will the soldiers get time to pump them up – let alone have a game? ScoMo is in the dark on Trump’s latest new world order.
As becomes an ally “joined at the hip” to the US, the Morrison government responds to America’s troop withdrawals with a vow that Australia will continue to hold the line, (whatever or wherever that may be).
The Weekend Australian runs the spin that Scott Morrison, Christopher Pyne and Marise Payne promise Australia will continue to hold the line with international partners, including the US and NATO. In other words, no-one has a clue what to do.
“Australia will continue to provide security, humanitarian and development assistance in the region.’’
There’s a good side. Happily taking selfies with soldiers means that ScoMo cannot field questions regarding Andrew Broad or George Christensen’s claim that his eight innocent trips to the Philippines are subject to a “vile and defamatory smear campaign”.
Broad says he won’t stand as Nationals candidate for Mallee in the light of his “sugar daddy” scandal which involves his visiting Hong Kong in September to hook up with a sugar baby almost twenty years his junior. He’s only gone once and they didn’t have sex. The liaison is arranged via a website, “Seeking Arrangements”
Broad’s story appears in veteran celebrity gossip magazine, New Idea, this Monday. He subsequently steps down; issues a statement as any sugar daddy would.
Broad’s statement blames the media. “After recent media stories about my private life, it is clear that the people of Mallee will be best served in the next parliament by a different Nationals candidate.”
Proving, surely, that travel broadens the mind, is the fact that the member for Mallee was one of the first to criticise his former leader, Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce when details of Joyce’s affair with his staffer became public.
Broad does pay back a $400 internal airfare in case you think he’s misused funds but there is a bit of a fuss when a Guardian Australia article shows that he and George have been guilty of copying and pasting their fact-finding reports. It’s not a good look.
More damning is that his current National Party leader, the dynamic Michael McCormack knew about the matter six weeks ago, a fact which seems to slip his memory. McCormack’s explanation for not bothering Scott Morrison who learns about sugar daddy only this week, is that the PM was too busy.
“I don’t tell the prime minister everything about every member of parliament. He’s got enough on his mind at the moment and quite frankly I thought it was a matter for Andrew to sort out with his family.”
Naturally, Christensen chooses to defend himself in a Facebook post, Saturday morning, as his response to media recent media reports about AFP blackmail concerns over an unnamed federal MP visiting seedy neighbourhoods overseas notorious for drugs and prostitution. The whole affair is the work of his political opponents.
The allegations were “mainly” spread by a former senior government MP and one of his former senior staff members, he says he’s been told. He does not identify either. As for any allegations about him made to the AFP, these are vexatious, fake and made by a “senior Labor MP”, he says. That clears that up then.
On the lookout for fake Labor, or forged unity, scribes attend an over-orchestrated Labor gang show in Adelaide.
“Managed to an inch of its life”, sniffs Michelle Grattan. On the nose is The Fair Go, Labor’s 48th National Conference-travelling salvation show, which winds up beyond peak puke in North Terrace, Adelaide, city of Light, Tuesday. Newly ordained life member, Kevin Rudd, bestows a tongue-in-cheek benediction on his mortal enemies.
“You know, we had our occasional disagreements … Just here and there, at the margins, but you know something, we all have written our bit and I just have a simple suggestion: Let’s let history be the judge of these things.”
Rudd also jogs history’s elbow by reminding Labor that Murdoch is not so much a news organisation as a political party, warning Bill Shorten that “dealing with the Murdoch mafia is … like dealing with a daily evisceration”. We’ll take his word for it.
It is true that his press loves to hammer Labor but the experience in Victoria recently shows that voters ignored the trumped-up nonsense about African gangs and how a Liberal government would restore law and order and other fictions. Do his papers have the influence they once did? Or did they ever have the influence they claim?
Murdoch may like to style himself as a king-maker but two Australian academics disagree. Rodney Tiffen and David McKnight, argue that while his media outlets routinely excoriate Labor, Murdoch is more likely to trust in his political intuition; sniff the political wind before he makes a case for backing the favourite.
Even then, he insists that he’s not responsible for what his editors may write. (As if they don’t pick up his views.)
Perceptions do matter, nevertheless. Andrew Probyn argues that when Murdoch concluded Malcolm Turnbull was a dud, it rattled the then Prime Minister.
Probyn then reconstructs the infamous “Malcolm’s got to go” meeting where Rupert Murdoch is reported to have told Kerry Stokes, “We have got to get rid of Malcolm. If that’s the price of getting rid of him then I can put up with three years of Labor.” The Australian Financial Review reported a remarkably similar story.
Even accepting that Murdoch is shrewd rather than all-powerful, there are, nevertheless, changes in the complexion of Australian print and electronic media since Fairfax’s corporate merger with Nine, attracted by Stan and Domain and little else, is likely to lead to more cuts to journalism and a drift to the right, with a senior Liberal, Peter Costello taking over the nation’s biggest media company.
Then there’s recent confirmation of active interference by the Coalition in the ABC, with pressure on the national broadcaster not to be critical of government policy while savagely slashing budgets to help ensure compliance.
None of this seems to unduly bother Labor’s 48th conference. It survives some desperate attempts at upstaging on Monday by the government’s MYEFO castles in the air future surplus and hint of income tax cuts stunt – self-sabotaged also by the member for Mallee’s sugar daddy broadside – prompting a zinger from Deputy, Tanya Plibersek – “We’re into big ideas, they’re in New Idea.”
There are some bold proposals. Shorten commits a Labor government to subsidise the building of 250,000 homes for low and middle-income earners over ten years, even if it is not prepared to raise Newstart or to increase the age pension or fix a liveable minimum wage. Ensuring the Fair Work Commission was not unfairly stacked with employers’ representatives might help with core issue of the suppression of fair and reasonable wage increases, too.
A pledge to fund 15 hours a week of subsidised preschool for every three-year old, acknowledges the importance of early learning, but fails to include a ParentsNext scheme reform that will not see young mothers forced to attend activities such as playgroup or swimming lessons to keep their parenting payments.
Nor is there any hint of a recall of the RoboDebt programme and a reform of other Centrelink demands on low-paid workers’ time.
Among other worthy but often general aims, James Button includes the following in his report of the conference:
“New funds for schools and TAFE, a commitment to higher pay for “feminised industries” such as child, disability and aged care, and restored penalty rates for 700,000 workers.
While it’s promising to learn “The refugee intake would be lifted over time from 18,750 to 32,000” It’s inexcusable that the aim to empty offshore detention centres on Manus and Nauru cannot be made effective immediately.
Similarly, it’s distressing to learn that asylum boat turn-backs are a policy now accepted by the party’s Left. These are neither legal nor humane. As it is, it’s enough to drive Peter Dutton nuts as evident in his wild attack on Bill Shorten – still the best game in town amongst the Liberal right wing. Dutton sneers.
“In fact what he has committed to is unravelling Operation Sovereign Borders – the Coalition’s successful policy – that stopped the boats after Labor’s last disastrous term in government.”
Dutton must believe Australians can’t read the reports of bullying in the ABF or the tragic reality of suicide amongst its staff. He also assumes, contrary to opinion poll evidence, that the old canard that the Coalition stopped the boats with Operation Sovereign Borders has any currency. It’s just a lie that is endlessly repeated.
In fact, the boats slowed to a trickle under Kevin Rudd in July 2013, with his announcement that people arriving after that time would not be resettled in Australia.
Furthermore, as John Menadue never tires of pointing out, “Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison kept the door open for tens of thousands of boat people arrivals by opposing legislation that would have enabled implementation of the Malaysia Arrangement of September 2011.”
It’s heartening to learn that Labor also promises to hold a referendum to recognise First Australians and create an Indigenous advisory body to Parliament in the Constitution. The voice to parliament was cynically misrepresented by the Turnbull government as constituting a third chamber and dismissed out of hand.
Finally, among the edited highlights, the conference makes new commitments to fight climate change, yet side-steps Adani, a project which Labor maintains will not go ahead instead of boldly exposing the lies about promised employment and opposing such issues as environmental degradation and the energy subsidy it represents.
Despite its delusions and mining backers, the Coalition is not going to win the election on Adani. The Australian Conservation Foundation has already come up with a powerful campaign. Labor simply needs to get on board. It even has a ready-made pitch.
“If it goes ahead, Adani’s mine and its coal will wreck our climate, steal our groundwater, trash Indigenous rights and irreversibly damage the Great Barrier Reef. Adani’s mine is a climate crime – a crime against humanity and our planet.
Life memberships are also bestowed, in absentia, on two other former Labor PMs, Paul Keating and Julia Gillard, as part of the conference’s spirit of ecumenism and public unity. Shorten pays tribute to Keating as a “hero of the true believers” and to Gillard for her “continuing inspiration for women and girls”.
No mention is made of Gillard’s NDIS which is being wilfully cut back by the Coalition. It has already pruned a handy $2.5 billion off the cost by making it harder to qualify. Autism advocates have protested, for example, at cost-cutting in the case of autistic children. The government changed the qualification criteria so that many people would have to be individually assessed to determine their need for support.
No Keating quote? Keating’s insults are surprisingly current. “He’s wound up like a thousand-day clock! One (more half) turn and there’ll be springs and sprockets all over the building. Mr Speaker, give him a Valium.” Scott Morrison? Josh Frydenberg? PJK could have had any number of the current front bench in mind.
No. The mood and the rhetoric is curiously subdued, over-cautious, over-controlled rather than inspiring .
Karen Middleton mistrusts the display of unity at Labor’s triennial conference. The party may boast that it holds an open shop but all that’s on show is a window display writes another. Veteran Canberra Gallery-slaves appear to mourn a lack of ill-discipline, confusion or open insurrection in The Fair Go. After all it is a Labor shindig. For weeks, scribes predict nothing else. Someone’s got to keep the hoi-polloi on script.
In three days of public debate over the party platform – if debate is not too robust a word — observes James Button, just one issue is taken to a contest, when the Left faction’s push to introduce a Charter of Human Rights loses by just three votes. Can a Labor conference lose such a vote and still have what it takes to run the country?
The peoples’ voice is not entirely excluded. Resourceful protestors make colour photocopies of passes; gain entry. But, again, all is not what it seems. A lad with a promising mullet tells the press ,“young working class people like me aren’t racist dickheads”.
His cotton protest tabard-cum placard bears the legend: “ALP CLOSE THE CAMPS”
Contentious issues are dealt with in caucus. In 2015 this was not the case and clearly some commentators hanker for a return to the past so that the (largely fictive) narrative of a faction-riven, fisticuffing Labor Party may yet again play out in public.
Middleton and Grattan are right. The Fair Go is more your Whitby collier, built broad of beam and shallow in draft to lessen the drama of running aground in uncharted waters. It’s no man o’ war or flashy transport of delight. Yet Shorten easily brings her up alongside after four days of left-hand down a bit and steady as she goes.
“There has been a lot of pain,” Shorten consoles by torturing an analogy. “But today I say to the conference, it is time for healing, to make peace with our past in the same way we are united about our future.”
All hell breaks loose on the other side. Mozzle Morrison, aka Captain cluster-fuck, our mini-Trump – whose gift for turning chaos into catastrophe surpasses Turnbull the PM Scott somehow deposed in August’s mystery coup – is stumped . Moz still can’t explain why he’s Prime Minister. Judging by his wondrous stuff-ups, nor can anyone else.
Take a bow, Moz. True, you haven’t cocked it all up on your own. There’s your own self-effacing Santa’s elves on your largely invisible front bench. Tirelessly, they ply their skills to erase all trace of any ministerial responsibility.
And the states. The NSW government is pressing Morrison to do what predecessor Turnbull had planned – go to an election in early March, before the NSW state election at the end of the month, rather than waiting until May.
Don Harwin, NSW Energy Minister, bags his Federal Coalition colleagues for being “out of touch” on energy and climate policies in an op-ed for The Australian Financial Review.
“We need to end the ‘climate wars’ and put science, economics and engineering ahead of ideology,”Harwin says.
The “big stick” energy policy – now no stick at all – frightens mining and business lobby horses. It is against Liberal principles. Yet can a party which has this abject, jargon-stuffed line in its credo really claim any right to govern?
“We believe in the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples; and we work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives; and maximises individual and private sector initiative.”
Finally, t’is the season to be giving. And for every giver there must be a receiver. Top marks to Tassie Nationals’ senator, Steve Martin, who manages to spend $531,000 to refurbish his new electorate office (and more than $50,000 in temporary office costs) after he quits the Jacqui Lambie Network and relocates to Devonport.
Four snouts, Stevie!
(Steve’s fit-out, according to one reader, could buy … $531,000 is worth: 37 years of Newstart payments; over 5 years of University; could pay for a 4 bedroom house in regional QLD , NSW , Tasmania; could pay for 500 Certificate III courses at TAFE.)
David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.