The Weekly Notebook – Bye bye SMH, hello dumb-ass TV

Bye bye Sydney Morning Herald – Hello dumb-ass television

The front pages of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne told the story: the plundering of Australia’s two most venerable newspapers by Channel Nine and Rupert Murdoch media is done and dusted.

The newspapers, with a collective history of news reporting of more than 400 years, have both become vehicles for the commercial (and political) interests of private investors. They began publication in the 19th century in dusty colonial settlements on the shores of Sydney Cove and Port Phillip, but this week they were browbeaten into handing over their front pages to the promotion of professional tennis run by people who have never held a racquet .

Who is to say that in future weeks it won’t be rugby league, AFL, horse racing or casinos? Maybe greyhound racing could be considered or cock-fighting or bare-knuckle cage boxing? The possibilities are endless.

Will these glitzy front pages offend the State Governments in Melbourne or Sydney? Of course not. They will love them – it’s free advertising for spineless and valueless political parties.

The SMH as it was in 1969

In the distant past the SMH and The Age did not carry any advertising on their front pages. In retrospect, it was, perhaps, a principled absurdity. It was not until well into the 20th century that the two newspapers bowed to social convention and accepted adverts on their front pages.

Now they’ve gone a step further: advertising has occupied the whole of the front pages and last Monday there was no news there at all.

Victory celebrations broke out across the advertising agencies. It was champagne flutes for everyone and bonuses for the lobbyists.

I hope that in the interests of honesty and self-respect, the masthead declaration “Independent. Always” is removed from both papers.

Meanwhile I can’t wait to see Ms Dee Madigan’s ABC-TV series on the “golden years” of advertising in Australia that is being heavily promoted by the national broadcaster. I hope she tells some of the wonderful stories of misogyny, alcoholism, suicide, drug-taking and pussy-grabbing which litter adland’s glorious history.

Japan glorified while China is demonised

In my lifetime, Japan has evolved from being considered Asia’s force of evil to Australia’s most trusted Asian ally. From being mortal enemies we are now supposed to be the best of friends.

How come?

In the past, particularly in the wake of Pearl Harbour and the brutal Pacific campaign, Americans were ill-disposed towards Japan too. Then powerful vested interests lobbied Washington to co-opt Japan as an ally and turn it into a trading partner with the intention of using the Japanese as a spearhead against China, which turned Communist in 1949.

As a faithful ally of Washington, Australia was obliged to change step too. Politicians, academics, church leaders and journalists were put to work to turn the “sub-humans” of Japan into Australia’s warmest allies in Asia.

At one stage in the 1990s Japan became Australia’s biggest trading partner. Australia imported Japanese cars, TVs, refrigerators and all manner of white goods while Japan bought our primary products and service industries.

Encouraged by Federal, State and local governments Japanese investors flocked to Australia to build resorts, buy land and open factories.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe with PM Scott Morrison in Darwin, November 2018

Today Washington has ganged up with Tokyo’s right-wing government of Shinzo Abe, son of an unconvicted war criminal, to contain China with a naval and trade barrier and a tariff war. Maximum pressure is being exerted on Australia to join in.

But there is a stumbling block. China has replaced Japan as Australia’s biggest trading partner. And China is stepping forward to become the world’s next super power replacing the United States.

Does Australia follow Washington and Tokyo into confrontation with China or would it be preferable for Australia to build a mutually respectful partnership with Beijing?

Speaking personally, I don’t trust either Pastor Scott Morrison or Bill Shorten to make the right call. Do you?

Stocking up with a Brexit box

With England’s exit from the European Union drawing closer and closer – March 29 – people are starting to stockpile food in so-called “Brexit boxes”.

The fear factor has been replaced by a kind of panic. Interestingly, it is just as widespread among Remainers as Brexiteers.

Given that the English in the Home Counties love nothing more than a bit of suffering, the creation of Brexit boxes has revived older memories of the Black Death of 1348, the Great Fire of London in September 1666 and the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Brexit boxes on sale in the UK

The big questions are – What to buy? And how much to stock up with?

Clearly there is only so much toilet paper that people can keep in the garage and only so many boxes of nappies for children and grandchildren. These items may not be perishable but they are certainly not edible. Families can’t sit down to a meal of toilet tissues garnished with Kleenex.

So panicky shoppers are stocking up with things they like: loads of tinned soup, potato crisps and chocolate. While profiteering has skyrocketed, health authorities are worried that the nation’s diet will plummet into obesity, diabetes and heart disease. But some of the most voracious shoppers are the people giving heath warnings who work at the Department of Health and Whitehall itself.

I suspect, however, that help is at hand. Australia’s soft-brained social media crowd will soon launch a “humanitarian” campaign to send food parcels and knitted mittens to beleaguered folk in the “Mother Country”.

Their message will be grotesquely clear – stuff poverty-stricken indigenous Australians, Rohingyas and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, let’s look after our “kith and kin” first.

Tale of two asylum-seekers

Hakeem AlAraibi: in detention

1) Hakeem Ali Mohamed Ali AlAraibi is in detention in Bangkok awaiting his fate. Australia’s Department of Immigration gave him political asylum to live in Melbourne where he plays soccer for Pascoe Vale Football Club.

He fled the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2014 after being arrested and tortured in 2012 because of alleged anti-monarchy activities, particularly concerning its corrupt involvement in sports scandals.

Asking to be allowed to return to Melbourne, Mr AlAraibi told reporters: “Bahrain is not my country now. I live in Australia.”

Rahaf AlQunun: safe in Canada

2) Ms Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, a Saudi Arabian teenager, was also detained in Bangkok on her way to Australia.

Fearing persecution from her father and family, Ms Alqunun sought political asylum as a refugee from domestic violence. The Canadian government opened its doors and she has now arrived in Ottawa to begin a new life.

Ms Alqunan stole the headlines and her case received major coverage on ABC-TV’s 7.30 programme with exclusive access given to reporter Sophie McNeill.

Australian footballers, including former Socceroo captain Craig Foster of SBS and A-League champion Rodrigo Vargas have launched a campaign to support Al-Araibi’s return to Australia.

Foster sent an internet message to football fans saying: “Hakeem is one of us, football stands with him.” On 10 January, at a demonstration in front of the Sydney Opera House, Foster said: “There’s no reason for Hakeem to be incarcerated in Thailand right now. He’s been there in excess of six weeks. He should be returned immediately, safely back to Australia. The silence of the Asian Football Federation is not just confounding, it’s absolutely disgraceful under our human rights obligations within the entire football community.”

Former Socceroo captain Craig Foster at the Save Hakeem demonstration

I’m waiting for FIFA, Football Federation Australia (FFA) and other Australian football codes to join the demand for Al-Araibi’s safe return.

And what of the Thai football association? Didn’t Australians play a significant role in the rescue of a schoolboy soccer team trapped in a waterlogged cave in July last year?

When will Frank Lowy’s family use its clout in the soccer world to demand that Al-Araibi’s human rights are upheld?

Gina Haspel’s CIA

It is business as usual at the America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), now under the command of Gina Haspel.

Gina Haspel: CIA director and torture supervisor

When Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder became obvious to every man, woman and their dog, Ms Haspel was sent to Riyadh and then Istanbul to organise what is known in the intelligence world as a “cut off”.

Haspel’s mission was to make certain of two things:

  1. That the murder remained in Saudi Arabia and Turkey;
  2. There were no links to Washington or, more critically, to the CIA under her predecessor Mike Pompeo [now promoted to US Secretary of State] or to the White House where President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is a special adviser and close friend of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the heir to the Saudi throne and the main author of the crime.

The torture, dismemberment and secret burial of Khashoggi took months of intricate planning. It was designed as a “gift” to the Saudi royal family. After all, the execution of its most effective critic, a major columnist on The Washington Post, was a very big deal. Its success would seal any secret deal between Washington, Riyadh and Tel Aviv against the Palestinians and Iran.

The subsequent bungling meant that the whole plot exploded. Now everything is about rescuing the House of Saud, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and their accomplices in Israel.

Meanwhile, earlier this month the CIA declassified tens of thousands of pages in a court case deciding whether 9/11 suspect Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was tortured.

Investigative journalist John Kiriakou reached page 22,088 when he noticed that Haspel had ordered the protection of the names of all CIA officers who served at the “Gulag” called Guantanamo. The government attorney handling the case told the judge the order was given to prevent the CIA torturers being identified or called as witnesses in cases brought by detainees.

Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, wrote: “Don’t forget that Haspel destroyed videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaydah, the first al-Qaeda prisoner to be tortured.

Abu Zubaydah after his 2002 detention by the Bush administration

“CIA officers waterboarded him, deprived him of sleep, beat him, kept him a coffin-sized box for weeks at a time (throwing insects in with him because he had an irrational fear of them), kept him in a dog cage for weeks at a time, and twice tortured him so severely that his heart stopped and he had to be revived.

“All of this was filmed. But Gina Haspel put those tapes in an industrial grinder, despite the fact that the Justice Department and the White House counsel ordered her to preserve them.”

Republicans and Democrats reached “across the aisle” to confirm her promotion to CIA director, prompting Kiriakou to write: “I have long maintained that Gina Haspel has no business running the CIA because of her deep involvement in the torture programme.”

On the contrary, and this is where I disagree with him, her active experience in America’s torture operations made her a perfect candidate for the job.

A crazy world getting crazier

Remember when James Comey was the despicable character who was responsible for stopping Hillary Clinton from becoming US president?

Now the formerly reviled saboteur of the Clinton presidency is a freedom fighter, democracy lover, towering democrat and best-selling author.

When Rex Tillerson became US Secretary of State the outrage was incandescent. He was the former chairman and CEO of Exxon Oil, the world’s biggest oil conglomerate and one of the world’s biggest polluters. Remember the “Exxon Valdez” environmental catastrophe?

Now he’s widely held up to be one of America’s greatest diplomats and a foreign affairs mastermind.

General James “Mad Dog” Mattis

When General James Mattis was named Defence Secretary in charge of America’s war machine he was lampooned as “Mad Dog” Jim Mattis. His name could not be mentioned in the media (or on the ABC) without reference to his “Mad Dog” nickname.

But all that was yesterday. Today General Mattis is revered as an outstanding military leader, highly respected on “both sides of the aisle” and by the Pentagon.

When another Cabinet minister, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, was appointed he was branded as “racist”, “homophobic” and “sexist”.

Now he’s been partially rehabilitated and there has been very favourable media commentary over his refusal to sack special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Like the others, Sessions has gone from “bad buy” to “good guy” without explanation, apology or retraction.

Are you keeping up? I must confess I’m finding it difficult.

The only things I’m certain about are that Donald Trump and his family are crooks and that the American empire is falling apart.

Headline of the Week

Grandad returns from Cornwall by bus

  • Kent and Sussex Courier







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