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SO WHAT ARE THE ISSUES? July 29, 2010

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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I would be interested to know what people identify as the important public issues that are points of contention, or matters of advocacy in this election.

It seems to me that climate change is the most important issue that we and humanity as a whole face, although there are existing inequalities and poverty that seem unacceptable. The term global warming is now thirty-five years old, and was first used, it seems in a paper written by Wally Broecker in 1975. He predicted that by the first decade of this century temperatures will be warmer than the last thousand years. As Stefan points out at Real Climate, he turned out to be correct. So much for prophecy. Political inaction, if not denial, has been the characteristic response in Australia as elsewhere. There are a number of problems. The denialists are using PR, not science to lodge their case, so they do not have to bother with truth, evidence, scrutiny, or ethical behavior. For many people the reality of climate change will mean a fundamental, even paradigmatic, change in behavior, and that will not come easily. As it is we are like the driver in the car heading for the precipice and yet believing that things have never been better, including the notion that materialism that is stripping the planetary support systems is fundamental to human existence.

Then there is the question of the occupation of Afghanistan and the war being waged against the Pashtuns. The pretext is that it staging of murder, terror and barbarism, as unaccountable war crimes, to win the war against terrorists who attacked the US in 2001. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in there essence have been criminal, and the criminals are walking free. Simon Jenkins at The Guardian observes:

The logs reveal the resulting hubris in ghoulish detail: the failure of “hearts and minds”, the waste of aid, the flip-flop on opium production, the odious belief that money trumps zeal and love of country. The logs are shot through with the arrogance of the hi-tech warrior and the glee taken in murdering leaders from the air. If enough Taliban are killed, says the machine, the enemy must surely run out of men.

What is most startling is the continuance of a strategy – the bombing of civilian targets in the hope of killing Taliban – that everyone seems to accept is counterproductive. Bombing and strafing crowds, like assassinating leaders and blowing up civic buildings, hopelessly disrupts communities and benefits mafias. Each dead Pashtun is not a talisman of success, as Nato press releases claim, nor is each civilian killed merely “regrettable”. It recruits 10 more to the enemy. Every Taliban elder murdered breeds another, younger one, frantic for vengeance.

Yet no US or British general has succeeded in getting the bombings to cease. The computers are literally on autopilot. Hence last week’s rocket attack on 45 civilians in Helmand, a massacre that wou.ld be a war crime if committed by infantry rather than airmen

We are told that Obama cannot pullout of this situation because of pride and vanity, and the attacks that his opponents would inevitably launch, even it is equally suggested that Americans are indifferent to this war in a way they were not to the Vietnam War because it remote from them in terms of location and personal contact. It was the television war, and now, in more sense than one, especially following the release of the Wikileaks, it has become the computer war. The Pentagon has learnt how to wage a total television war, but not yet a total computer war.

Federally, we should have a Charter of Human Rights which sets out rights, and thereby empowers citizens to case to court and obtain compensation. How else can rights be established and maintained? Human rights in this form provides for a means to qualify delegated legislation by which the elected representatives sometimes assume powers without the test of the public interest. There are those who argue that rights should be entrenched in the Constitution, but constitutional change went out of fashion with the failure of the Republic Referendum.

Then there is the issue of housing affordability. This was brought home to me by from the sale of the next door property, a 155 year old minors cottage and land, for $408,000. Who can afford that amount and the level of mortgage payments implied, allowing that interest rates are kept within a reasonable range? There does not seem to be a simple answer to this issue, although Henry George seems to have suggested one some time ago. As far as I am concerned a house is shelter. With housing prices like we witness in this area, many people are being cut off from home ownership.

There must be other issues, but these four are the ones that come to mind. The Politicians probably wisely are directing their attention to the marginal seats and the television screens, but there is every reason in a representative, deliberative democracy for citizens to conduct their own discussions, debates and dialogues. Otherwise the public relations campaign might well smother the spirit of democracy.

ELSEWHERE:

At Crickey, Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defence Association, argues that the release of the wikileaks documents is criminal. The assumptions are more important than the assertions. Here are some extracts:

However, this latest material goes well beyond justifiable whistleblowing, such as the earlier helicopter gun-camera film showing probable breaches of the laws of armed conflict by US forces in Iraq.

Put bluntly, WikiLeaks is not authorised in international or Australian law, nor equipped morally or operationally, to judge whether open publication of such material risks the safety, security, morale and legitimate objectives of Australian and allied troops fighting in a UN-endorsed military operation. Nor should and can groups such as WikiLeaks be so authorised or equipped respectively, especially when they are unaccountable to any responsible authority or international humanitarian law (IHL) in a legal or moral sense.

. . . Moreover, as an Australian citizen, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange may also be guilty of a serious criminal offence by assisting an enemy the ADF is legitimately fighting on behalf of all Australians, especially if the assistance was intentional.

But in the broader sense, WikiLeaks’ actions and declarations, and much of the subsequent media coverage, lacks moral, legal and historical contexts and is often based on incorrect assumptions or sensationalised or biased interpretations of the material.

They are not subject to “extrajudicial killings” either. Killing enemy belligerents in a war, even without warning, is not a judicial act but lawful combat (if the Hague and Geneva Conventions are complied with). Again the incorrect term “assassination” has been too readily but wrongly bandied around in a sensationalist and out-of-context fashion. And with no regard for the fact that Taliban belligerents do not wear a uniform and are often difficult to distinguish from civilians in a counter-insurgency war.

Tragic though it always is, accidentally or unavoidably killing non-combatants (including most but not always all civilians) in combat is also not illegal under IHL unless done deliberately, indiscriminately, or disproportionately to the battlefield objective necessarily involved. The circumstances of each tragic case must be examined, in context, separately to discern the legal truth and moral consequences applying.

In contrast, the Taliban and its Islamist allies largely reject IHL in letter and spirit. They routinely torture and murder prisoners, not treat them in accordance with IHL and detain them under supervision by the ICRC. Non-combatants, including civilians, are routinely targeted and killed by the Taliban without compunction and often indiscriminately and disproportionately.

ISAF’s battlefield mistakes on the other hand are almost invariably the result of typical wartime tragedy, accidents and at times incompetence or personal failure, not deliberate or institutional policy. Moreover, ISAF moral standards and operational procedures are necessarily self-correcting with transgressions generally reported, investigated and punished. We should expect no less.

The over-arching moral and practical problems that WikiLeaks and its apologists ignore are the clear legal and moral differences between ISAF and the Taliban.

. . . The bottom line is that wars are always nasty, morally confusing and ethically challenging but also that all wars are contests of ideas, morals and ultimately will.

All enemies have to be given a name, and as to whether the Pastun National Resistance is the Taliban and other groups associated with war lords, who are often former US allies is moot. It seems to me that Neil James is the one who lacks moral, legal and historical context. What he does not deny is the truth of the leaked material. Normally wars are declared, and in the US and The Netherlands have to have the formal approval of the elected representatives of the people. Nonviolent peacekeeping is an alternative to the barbarity of war. Under the Bush Administration, attempts made the British to apply the lessons of Northern Ireland to open dialogue with the other side were expressly repudiated and undermined in favor of violence.

OTHER ISSUES:

There is are the intertubes. Wow! doesn’t speed make a difference. I suppose I can get by with ADSL down the phone line, but in terms of national efficiency the broadband roll out will have a significant impact.

Gary at Public Opinion observes that the election strategy of the two major parties is focused on the marginal electorates, and note the irony that “the election could be decided on the basis of regional and local issues in Queensland”. I suppose political leaders cannot ignore electoral arithmetic, but surely they have a duty partisan advantage and the perks of office to address larger issues and to engage the electorate at whole in a national discussion. Of course, to do so would scare the political advisers behind the curtain. So I would suggest that any independent initiatives to discuss the national and global policies and issue are pertinent and important, and I hope if only in very minute way to encourage such a development.

At Larvatus Prodeo, Mark and commenters are on the case, suggesting that the Liberal policies likely to be brought in should they win have not been subject to scrutiny.

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Comments»

1. stan kohls - July 29, 2010

It’s the economy, stupid!

Specifically, unemployment.

bigkoala@verizon.net

wmmbb - July 29, 2010

The state of the economy is almost always a determining factor. Interest rates and unemployment do not seem too bad at the moment, but I am ignoring the impact of part time employment. I think you are right though, but I wonder how the populist marginal seats campaigning plays if the economy is the issue at the forefront of voter’s minds.

I suppose I was thinking that elections are more interesting if other issues are raised, specifically climate change with its impact across the economy and raising questions about materialism as our raison detre.


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