The Weekly Notebook

Beware politicians who inflict                                               referendums on voters

Elected politicians across the world have invented two devices to avoid taking their own decision: they send any controversial subject off to outside consultants, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers et al, to write a report (which Cabinet will then adopt); or they call a referendum.

The referendum is the most treacherous of all “democratic” devices because the ruling government frames the question, chooses the timetable, stage-manages the “debate” and counts the votes.

And when it is all said and done, the ruling government can either accept the result, reject it or delay any change to kingdom come. In short, referenda can be a trap for young players.

Spain and Iraq have just held referenda and in Australia we are in the midst of a “postal survey” on marriage equality. The Australian device is a very strange beast indeed. It is non-compulsory, non-binding and ballot papers can be filled in by a peculiar entity called a “trusted person”.

And by the way, if you use a “trusted person” to fill in your ballot paper you do not need to inform the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which is responsible to Treasurer Scott Morrison, a fierce Christian fundamentalist who is voting “No”.

Bishops, priests and vicars from Christian churches are working retirement homes and hospital wards volunteering to be “trusted persons” on behalf of aged and infirm voters. They will fill in their forms, vote “No” and send them off to the ABS. Bundles of them.

Sky pilots are working the pulpits and neighbourhoods as well with grim evangelical fervour. Why voters are being swayed by the frontline staff of institutionalised sexism, homophobia and paedophilia remains (to me at least) a complete mystery.

The “Yes” campaign is being run largely by squirts from the ALP who are relying on Facebook, Twitter and other useless devices from “social media” to bring out their vote. In my opinion, the only useful mechanism is street demonstrations of the type held in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and other cities and towns across Australia.

The more public activities where the “Yes” case is explained and reinforced by big crowds and authentic forces the better. Basic rights are won by people in public action and not by “likes”, emojis or selfies.

Catalonia does it again

As expected, voters in the Catalonia referendum voted by 90% in favour of independence. However, the turnout was around 40% which took the gloss off the victory.

And as predicted, the Catalonian parliamentarians decided this week to postpone a declaration of independence and opt for talks with the right-wing government in Madrid.

Demonstration for Catalan independence

The true significance of the Catalonia referendum is that it has smoked out the fumes of Francoism in the ruling right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Setting loose his stormtroopers on the streets of Barcelona served to remind people in Spain (and elsewhere) that the Francoists still dominate the political class with the solid support of the armed forces, the police, the Vatican and Washington’s Catholic cold warriors.

During the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia was a militant Republican stronghold. Franco never forgave Catalonians and executed a policy of outlawing the local language, dress, anthems, schools, songs and books.

Barcelona-born Antonio Samaranch, a Sports Minister in Franco’s fascist regime, was president of the corrupt International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 1980 to 2001, a year after the Sydney Olympics which he attended.

He brought the Olympics to Barcelona in 1992 to showcase the port-city where he grew up. It was also a commercially-driven attempt to cement Catalonia as part of Spain and to crush the independence movement which was gaining momentum as a political force.

Franco’s fascist heirs

After Franco’s death in 1975, aged 82, his Falangist Party rebirthed itself as the People’s Party. Given a “human” and “democratic” face, the new party attracted secret funds from reactionary sources in Europe, the US and Latin America.

Over decades, the rising star in the Francoist party has been Mariano Rajoy: secretary-general and chief fund-raiser from 2004 to 2008, party president from 2004 until the present and prime minister since 2011.

His prime ministerial career has been infamous for repeated financial scandals involving foreign donations to his party. In 2011 party treasurer, Francisco Camps, was forced to resign amid revelations of “gifts” from contractors in return for government contracts.

Following the money trail, a judicial inquiry uncovered a Swiss bank account held by People’s Party senator Luis Barcenas, also the PP treasurer. It held 22 million Euros ($A 33 million). Another bank account worth 4.5 million Euros ($A7 million) was located in the US. Investigators found that the money was used to deliver undercover payments to party VIPs, including Mariano Rajoy.

In a related inquiry investigators found that embezzled public funds were secretly diverted to the PP to finance its electoral campaigns.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy gets Trump’s blessing

A week prior to the Catalonia referendum, Rajoy made an inexplicable overnight trip to Washington DC for a private meeting with US President Donald Trump. They apparently discussed the referendum and Rajoy briefed Trump on the police state repression he would employ on voting day. According to press reports, Trump agreed with the blood-letting strategy … and that is exactly what happened. Trump did not condemn Madrid’s violence and supported the baton-flailing repression.

Trump’s association with clerical fascism is well documented and, before becoming president, he attended their private gatherings and received honorary awards.

But just as the Barcelona-US links were getting interesting, a 64-year-old white American opened fire on an open-air audience in Las Vegas, the world’s biggest casino city, killing 58 of them and wounding another 500. As a result, America moved on …

So, who are the casualties from the Catalonia insurgency? First and foremost PM Rajoy. The next Spanish election is not due until July 2020 but few people believe he will survive until then.

The demand for Catalonian independence has not been beaten by the Madrid government’s violence, it has been resurrected and it won’t go away.

Socialism: new talking point

Spare a thought for “Pope” Paul Kelly, world affairs writer for Rupert Murdoch and The Australian. The poor fellow is having nightmares.

He’s come to believe that socialism is raising its head again. It didn’t die with Marx and Engels in the 19th century and nor did it expire with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 20th century.

In fact the USSR had only a brief and passing acquaintance with socialism before it was straitjacketed under the tyranny of Stalinism with an anarchic economy based on central Poliburo command, bureaucratic dictatorship and naked terror.

Fearful of the “spectre” haunting the world, Kelly has revealed his innermost fears in an article headed: “Elite’s failures risk the return of socialism” (The Australian, 7-8 October 2017).

“Within the Anglosphere, the ideological lines are being sharply drawn and Britain leads the way. Speeches from Tory leader Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have raised the existential question: Are we returning to socialism?”

When Kelly wrote a book called Triumph and Demise in 2014 I thought it was his autobiography but it turned out to be a turgid guide through the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard debacle.

Now, however, it’s time to call upon a hand-wringing social democrat who is alarmed about the growing popularity of socialist values – Lord Peter Mandelson, one of the founders of Britain’s utterly discredited New Labour.

Making his first visit to Australia, Mandelson told The Australian: “We’re losing because we are standing up for the status quo. People want change, they want something new, they want something radical, albeit credible, and they want to get a fairer deal. This sense of fairness has become the dominant thought in politics now. It is just not fair shares, it is fair rules.

“What people will not stand for is a small minority of privileged or powerful people who can bend the rules and get away with advantages which are unmerited and undeserving.”

Anyone interested in a fuller and more scientific analysis of the quest for fairness should read The Communist Manifesto written in 1848. The authors were intellectual prodigies – Karl Marx, 29, and Frederick Engels, 27. Since then tens of millions of copies have been published around the world in 80 different languages. Buy a copy today and read about a future that informed people are all talking about.

Mad Monk gets madder

Former prime minister Tony Abbott chose World Mental Health Day to speak to superannuated Tory climate change deniers in his home town, London.

Clearly, more funds should be allocated to helping victims of mental health issues – the room was full of them.

Climate change science, said “The Mad Monk”, has the spirit of the Vatican’s Inquisition and is redolent of the “thought police down the ages”.

“Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcanic gods,” he said. “We are more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect.”

Giordano Bruno

Abbott did not mention the fate of Dominican astronomer Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) who challenged the official view that the Lord created the world and everything in it. Bruno contended that the universe was infinite in size and contained an infinite number of planets, some habitable. For his brazen opposition to papal dogma Bruno was condemned to death and burned at the stake.

US-led war on North Korea?

Every day there is a new horror story from the warmongers who are demanding what is felicitously called a “pre-emptive strike” on North Korea.

But this “humanitarian” gesture of US military might carries the certain prospect of mass civilian deaths and a refugee exodus the like of which we have never seen.

So what will Trump do? History records this moment in 1973 when a much younger Trump was being pursued for racial bias by the Justice Department.

“I don’t like lawyers. I think all they do is delay deals. Every answer they give is no and they are always looking to settle instead of fight.

“I’d rather fight than fold, because as soon as you fold, you get the reputation of being a folder.”

Is this the Brave New World where nuclear war is reduced to the game of poker?

Home news

Three by-elections will be held in NSW on Saturday, 14 October, in Cootamundra, Murray and Blacktown.

They will provide a scorching assessment of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her Liberal-National Coalition.

The extreme right is out in force: Jim Saleam of Australia First and the Shooters and Fishers are standing candidates in Cootamundra. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has become notoriously voter-shy and won’t be standing a candidate. She is relying on the stream of gratuitous free publicity from the mainstream media, newspapers, radio and television, to keep alive the party’s rotting carcass.

Listen to Shooters’ Party MP Robert Borsak being given a platform by Sydney shock jock Ray Hadley. He’s the sidekick of Alan Jones on 2GB which beams to retirement homes all over the Central Coast.

“Hadley: What about guns for 10-year-olds?

Borsak: We want 10-year-olds to be trained in the safe usage of guns …

Hadley: But surely, you don’t want to put a gun in a 10-year-old’s hands whether they are licenced or unlicensed?

Borsak: No, no, it’s not about putting a gun in their hand. It’s about training. That’s what’s it’s all about.”

Quote of the Week

“While it is easy to simply be angry or to laugh at a president who doesn’t read or to be distracted by half-baked conspiracy theories like the deep state, we must recognise that the shallow state is much more pernicious. This administration has come to power because America has allowed public discourse, the quality of education we give our kids, and the standards we set for ourselves to decline. Trump seeks to institutionalise that decline.”

  • David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy magazine

PS: Please remember, Democratic administrations – Bill Clinton 1993-2001 and Barack Obama 2009-2017 – were in charge for 16 years during the decades of dumbing down US education, culture and politics.

Unnoticed story of the week

Turkish commando soldiers left Ankara this week for anti-ISIS operations in Syria. They posed for photographers chanting: “Wait for us American Johnnies, we are coming to get you.”

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