Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: January, 2017

Newspeak is alive and well and living in the White House

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 31 January 2017

There is much about the Trump administration that is eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, including the Fascist and Nazi ones of the 1930s.

Extreme nationalism, xenophobia and racism are some examples, as are exclusivist immigration policies and the call to by-pass democratic processes and rule by decree or ‘executive orders’. War mongering is another example, as is the adoption of protectionist economic policies.

Wall building, either to keep people in or out, is another example, yet President Trump is going ahead with his Mexican Wall. Presumably he is blind to the problems such walls have caused over the decades.

Trump’s plans to return factory jobs to America also includes the rampant overturning of environmental protection policies, most notably, for the moment, approval of the Keystone pipeline, which President Obama had banned. Obama also did ameliorate, albeit to a small degree, America’s use of torture, which Trump seems hell bent on reviving.

However, the totalitarian trait exhibited by President Trump I would like to focus on in this week’s column is his use, by both himself and by members of his Administration, of what George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece of totalitarian dystopias, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ referred to as Newspeak.

It was the official language of Oceania, a totalitarian state portrayed in the novel, created to meet the ideological needs of the all-controlling Party in power. It was designed to limit freedom of thought by eliminating political concepts such as free will, self-expression, personal individuality, peace, and so forth that were ideological threats to the regime of Big Brother and the Party.

Newspeak loudly, aggressively and boorishly surfaced in Trump’s vocabulary when he and his Administration tried to defend the blatant lie that his inauguration crowd numbers were as large as former President Obama’s.

Of course, we all saw the evidence as we watched coverage of the event. Every media outlet ran contrasting pictures, and it was as clear as the noses on all our faces that Trump’s numbers were way down on Obama’s. Trump’s numbers were also much smaller than the number of women who marched in protest both in Washington and across the country the following day – and world-wide too, of course. There were also very large crowds here in Australia

How did Trump & Co react? By blatantly lying, repeating over and over that his crowd numbers were larger, and when pressed by journalists to explain how this could be so by claiming to be in possession of ‘Alternative Facts’.

Of course, outright lies are what we have come to expect from Trump himself, but soon members of his newly appointed team chimed in, and the Newspeak Prize must go to Trump’s former campaign manager and now White House counsellor KellyAnne Conway when interviewed on NBC a couple of days later.

Tackling her on Press Secretary Spicer’s bizarre press conference the previous day, host Chuck Todd wanted her to explain the absurdity of Spicer being sent before the cameras to argue what Todd said were “provable falsehoods”. Conway was quick to respond by saying “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but our press secretary Spicer gave alternative facts.” Alternative Facts are Newspeak for lies, Ms Conway.

George Orwell, you didn’t know how worse it could get, for in what claims to be “The land of the free and the home of the brave” Newspeak is clearly flourishing.

There is much about the Trump administration that is eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, including the Fascist and Nazi ones of the 1930s.

Extreme nationalism, xenophobia and racism are some examples, as are exclusivist immigration policies and the call to by-pass democratic processes and rule by decree or ‘executive orders’. War mongering is another example, as is the adoption of protectionist economic policies.

Wall building, either to keep people in or out, is another example, yet President Trump is going ahead with his Mexican Wall. Presumably he is blind to the problems such walls have caused over the decades.

Trump’s plans to return factory jobs to America also includes the rampant overturning of environmental protection policies, most notably, for the moment, approval of the Keystone pipeline, which President Obama had banned. Obama also did ameliorate, albeit to a small degree, America’s use of torture, which Trump seems hell bent on reviving.

However, the totalitarian trait exhibited by President Trump I would like to focus on in this week’s column is his use, by both himself and by members of his Administration, of what George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece of totalitarian dystopias, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ referred to as Newspeak.

It was the official language of Oceania, a totalitarian state portrayed in the novel, created to meet the ideological needs of the all-controlling Party in power. It was designed to limit freedom of thought by eliminating political concepts such as free will, self-expression, personal individuality, peace, and so forth that were ideological threats to the regime of Big Brother and the Party.

Newspeak loudly, aggressively and boorishly surfaced in Trump’s vocabulary when he and his Administration tried to defend the blatant lie that his inauguration crowd numbers were as large as former President Obama’s.

Of course, we all saw the evidence as we watched coverage of the event. Every media outlet ran contrasting pictures, and it was as clear as the noses on all our faces that Trump’s numbers were way down on Obama’s. Trump’s numbers were also much smaller than the number of women who marched in protest both in Washington and across the country the following day – and world-wide too, of course. There were also very large crowds here in Australia

How did Trump & Co react? By blatantly lying, repeating over and over that his crowd numbers were larger, and when pressed by journalists to explain how this could be so by claiming to be in possession of ‘Alternative Facts’.

Of course, outright lies are what we have come to expect from Trump himself, but soon members of his newly appointed team chimed in, and the Newspeak Prize must go to Trump’s former campaign manager and now White House counsellor KellyAnne Conway when interviewed on NBC a couple of days later.

Tackling her on Press Secretary Spicer’s bizarre press conference the previous day, host Chuck Todd wanted her to explain the absurdity of Spicer being sent before the cameras to argue what Todd said were “provable falsehoods”. Conway was quick to respond by saying “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but our press secretary Spicer gave alternative facts.” Alternative Facts are Newspeak for lies, Ms Conway.

George Orwell, you didn’t know how worse it could get, for in what claims to be “The land of the free and the home of the brave” Newspeak is clearly flourishing.

Advertisements

Another elephant in a very crowded room

My Daily Advertiser column for today, Tuesday 24 January 2017

Last week an Australia Day billboard showing two girls in hijabs was taken down after the advertiser received threats. The two girls featured amongst revolving images of many other different Australians.

According to the Victorian government the billboard was taken down from a site in Melbourne after threats and abuse were directed at the advertising company, and whilst there is no doubt superficial truth in this its removal also smacks of giving in to intimidation by xenophobic and Islamophobic extremists. From this perspective its removal is shameful and puts a huge dent in our claim to be a multicultural society.

The electronic billboard at Cranbourne, in Melbourne’s south-east, was part of a Victorian Government campaign to promote Australia Day events in the city.

The United Patriots Front, a far-right group opposed to immigration, published an image of the billboard on its Facebook page on January 13, which has since been widely shared.

“State government billboard in Cranbourne spotted by a supporter — they’re making every effort to redefine your nation and gradually erase you from history,” the post read.

Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Robin Scott, said the company that operates the billboard, QMS, took the ad down after receiving a number of complaints. “There were a series of complaints, some of which were of an abusive and threatening nature, that were made to the organisation QMS that put the billboard up,” he said.

“And they’ve made a decision based on the safety of their employees and business infrastructure to temporarily remove the billboard.” Taking Workplace Health and Safety into account such a response is of course appropriate when viewed superficially, but there are other ways of ensuring the wellbeing of staff without pandering to threats from extreme right wing bullies, and it would have been pleasing to have seen some of those tried.

From this perspective Mr Scott’s statement that he was not aware of whether the matter had been referred to the police is disappointing, to say the least, and makes his comments that “Whatever background people come from, images of people celebrating their love of this country should not be considered something that is offensive in the society,” and that “I think it is something we should celebrate” somewhat disingenuous, to say the least,

Greens Leader and Victorian Richard Di Natale was slightly more on the ball when he said he was “disgusted” the campaign to remove the billboard was successful.

“Islamophobia is a genuine threat to Australian democracy and to the multicultural society that the vast majority of Australians cherish,” he said.

“We must stand against racial hatred wherever we encounter it, and stand with those communities suffering from its vile effects.” Quite.

This incident brings to mind the wider question of that enormous ‘elephant in the room’, whether or not we should be celebrating Australia Day on 26th January, for to many it was and remains ‘Invasion Day’, and to others (White) ‘Settlement’ Day.

The establishment of the British convict settlement had a devastating impact on the land’s first people, something most politicians and their parties manage to ignore, though thankfully not all, for as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said last year, “On Jan 26 thousands of Australians will remember the Frontier Wars when this land’s First Peoples fought against British colonisation. Tragically their struggle continues.”

Indeed it does. We really do need to seriously consider if this is the most appropriate date to celebrate Australia’s diversity.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 17 January 2017

Ley’s expenses scandal is more evidence that we need a national ICAC

As I pondered my selection of topic for this week’s column I was spoilt for choice, for though we weren’t even hallway through the first month of the year there were several political train wrecks competing for my attention.

There was federal government’s Human Services Minister Alan Tudge stoutly defending Centrelink’s disastrous Debt Recovery program as he firmly denied the agency had made fundamental errors. Perhaps he needs to be reminded of the old adage of “If you are in a hole stop digging”.

Then there was President-Elect Trump’s appalling first press conference since his election, at which he crudely berated the media for doing its job and denied that the Russians had secret ‘dirt files’ on him. Of course, when we find out the sordid details of the contents of those files, as we surely will, it will be everyone else’s fault bar his.

But the political train wreck I’ve chosen to focus on today is (former) Health Minister Sussan Ley’s travel rorts, because it has very significant ramifications. It is not the stories of expensive charter flights on busy capital city routes when she could have simply booked a seat on an existing flight, nor the purchase of an $800,000 property on a tax-payer funded trip to the Gold Coast, nor other tax-payer funded trips to other expensive flesh pots that rankle, nor her eventual resignation, for the demise of Ms Ley’s ministerial career will probably only be for the short term anyway, given the way disgraced minister Arthur Sinodinos has bounced back to favour.

The real significance of the story is that it finally provoked PM Turnbull into a major overhaul of the use of MP allowances, for when after announcing Ms Ley’s resignation he “ also announced a new compliance body to oversee parliamentary expenses, based on a similar system in the United Kingdom” (ABC TV news).

It will monitor and adjudicate all claims by MPs, senators and ministers, ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are spent appropriately and in compliance with the rules. The body will be governed by an independent board including an experienced auditor, someone with experience in remuneration matters, a former judicial officer and a former MP.

The creation of the body will be overseen by Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, and Mr Turnbull has directed his department to provide urgent attention.

“We’re not slavishly bound to the United Kingdom model, I might add, but that is the very clear direction that we are focused on,” Mr Turnbull said.

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong said Labor had given in-principle support for the changes, but criticised the Government for the delayed response to the scandal involving Ms Ley.

However, the delayed response isn’t the only problem, for as Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon quite rightly said “So Turnbull thinks an independent watchdog is useful for entitlement rorts, but not for political corruption? Gutless. Resignations and ‘sunlight’ aren’t enough, we need a watchdog with teeth”.

In other words, what we really need is a National Anti-Corruption Commission, that is, a National ICAC, something I have previously called for in this column. As the exposure of ministerial rorts grows it’s a call that needs to be made until it is implemented.

Mr Turnbull’s response is essentially window dressing. We get an independent watchdog for entitlements, but not for corruption? Politicians once again get off lightly compared to, for example, Centrelink recipients

 

Here’s my Op Ed column today, published in the Daily Advertiser

Time to end alcohol sport advertising

At this time of year media coverage of cricket matches takes me back to my Yorkshire childhood, when the family radio was permanently tuned to the BBC’s ‘Light Program’ coverage of test matches and county cricket.

They were front page newspaper stories too, so there was no escaping them. All very similar to Australia today except for a very significant point, namely that today cricket and some other sports too are now bankrolled by advertising from alcoholic beverages.

This was brought home to me when I caught the ABC news coverage of a recent Australia v Pakistan test when the camera cut to a shot of the scoreboard, which was surrounded by ads for VB. So even if we are not watching on commercial television we are still bombarded by the ‘grog’ message.

It got me thinking about the impact of such adverting. Some research was called for.

A little under two years ago, a study by Cancer Council Victoria and the University of Wollongong found that viewers were exposed to more than 4600 incidents of alcohol promotion in just three one-day international cricket games, reported Toby Hall, CEO St Vincent’s Health Australia (SMH 28 December 2016)

These incidents included ads during commercial breaks, stadium signage, live announcements, broadcast sponsorship announcements, logos on players’ uniforms and team banners.

Such research shows that exposure to repeat high-level alcohol promotion teaches pro-drinking attitudes and increases the likelihood of adult heavy drinking and alcoholism. 

Team merchandise emblazoned with alcohol logos and imagery worn by non-drinking age children and adolescents also predicts both early initiation to alcohol use and binge drinking.

The alcohol industry targets sport because they know children watch it and unless new drinkers are recruited they go out of business.

As alcohol can’t be advertised on TV before 8.30pm there is though a loophole that provides Big Alcohol with a way around the ban: they can still advertise at sporting fixtures, a loophole they exploit to the hilt.

Cricket’s not even the main culprit when it comes to alcohol advertising and sport. Each year there are an estimated 3500 alcohol ads on free-to-air broadcasts of live AFL, NRL and cricket matches. Of the three sports, AFL is the guiltiest party, followed by cricket, then the NRL.

For the future adult lives of our children and young people, this has to stop. All it would take is the stroke of a pen to end all alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sporting broadcasts. Governments could easily and certainly should go further and prevent its appearance on all publicly-owned infrastructure (e.g. buses, shelters, sporting grounds).

The alcohol sponsorship of teams, clubs or sporting programs and the placement of alcohol brands, logos and slogans or imagery on any sporting merchandise must also be phased out.

It can be done. In 2012, the Gillard government gave major sports codes the chance to replace their alcohol sponsorship from a pool of $25 million.

Many sports, including swimming and soccer, took up the offer. But four of our most popular codes, AFL, NRL, rugby and cricket, declined.

All it would need would be for the government to put a similar dollar amount back on the table to encourage the four big codes to walk away from grog, as they would immediately cry poor if their alcohol funded revenue stream dried up.

 

Finally some good news at the end of a very bleak year: the UN Security Council vote condemning (illegal) Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem. Though it only called on Israel to build no new Settlements rather than dismantle existing ones it was noteworthy because for the first time the USA abstained rather than used its veto to block the vote. So, and again for the first time, the Security Council passed a resolution holding Israel accountable under international law. The UN General Assembly has passed many resolutions calling for a just peace for the Palestinians but this is the first time the Security Council has done so. Here I’ll pause a moment to explain that these Settlements are residential communities illegally built on Occupied Palestinian Territory that are only for Jewish Israelis. There are currently 125 of them (not including ‘settlement outposts’), with a total population of 547,000 (2013 figures from B’Tselem, an Israeli Human Rights organisation). Illegally annexed East Jerusalem has 12 Israeli settlements, with 200,000 residents. Readers please note that these settlements have been built on land conquered and occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, 50 years ago. To settle one’s population on occupied territory is absolutely illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law. They are in fact creeping annexation for an eventual takeover of the entire Palestinian West Bank. It is certainly true that Israel will most likely blithely ignore the resolution, as it has all the General Assembly ones, but this Security Council one is of enormous importance for several reasons. It has brought the issue of these illegally built Israeli Settlements to widespread public attention, and it has for the first time put a very small dent in the bipartisan ‘Israel at any cost’ mindset that has dominated Washington politics for decades (Rabbi Joseph of Jewish Voices for Peace, Online 26 December). Former ALP Foreign Minister Bob Carr also welcomed the Security Council vote, pointing out that illegal Israeli Settlement building is rendering a viable Palestinian state impossible. (SMH 27 December). Another worrying sign is that the incoming Trump administration promises to be detrimental for Palestinian human rights. The President Elect’s feverish advocacy against this UN resolution, along with his appointment of far-right settlement activist David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, show that he’s planning to pursue an extremist pro-Israeli agenda. Israel also uses Settlement building to sabotage any hope of a peace deal. As John Kerry explained, within days of a peace deal in 2014 along came an announcement of 700 new settlement units. “Poof!” he said, the deal got blown sky high. Since the Security Council vote Secretary Kerry has further strongly criticized Israel’s government, and also presented the principles of a future final status agreement: an Israeli and a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines; full rights to all citizens; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; Jerusalem as the capital of both states; an end to the occupation, while satisfying Israel’s security needs, and with a demilitarized Palestinian state” (Al Jazeera World News 29 December). Kerry’s vision is certainly achievable. Right now, for example, the Palestinians are offering a demilitarised state – a Palestine without an army – and Western peacekeepers within their borders. It is hard to imagine more explicit security guarantees.