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Exemplary governance: Which countries should high-COVID nations follow?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 3:04am in

Connecting illness, death and governance in a COVID world

By Ian Inkster

As much of America, Europe and many anglophone nations face the welter of possible choices of action available to them as they enter what is understood to be a “second wave” of COVID-19, their media repeatedly mention a small group of nations that might best be copied—examples of good COVID governance.

Two points at the outset. For some time now it has been unclear whether this new wave was a direct function of mutation among the many DNA of the virus itself, or mainly a man-made cycle following the ups and downs of civil societies’ adherence to the regulations. Are the spikes resulting from civil laxity? The second point follows from this civil laxity argument—it may well be claimed that a nation’s ability to dampen COVID incidence and mortality is a sign of its existing power of governance. Good COVID management then becomes a measure of strength and scope of policies, of a government’s firmness in convincing its citizens to adhere to regulations, and of its own power to adapt to externally induced changing circumstances. From this, it may be argued that good COVID results act as an indicator of how well a government will lead its nation into post-COVID economic recovery. So, there can be quite a lot at stake here.

Thus, choosing the best example may well reflect an underlying belief among large numbers of people that a particular country has high status among the comity of nations. That is, successful COVID results may be seen by many people throughout the globe as exemplifying both successful governance and a firm moral economy. Contrariwise, failure over COVID in the “second wave” may now be considered a sign of a failing state. We have witnessed the ousting of Donald Trump.

Clearly enough, notable exemplars cannot be so small as to be clearly outliers, else such varied places as the Falklands or Greenland would take the lead. This puts to the side nations that have, indeed, been applauded, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. This applies also to isolated islands and vast territories with very low population densities such as Iceland, Madagascar, Finland, or even Norway. On more direct reasoning, those seeking exemplars should surely omit nations that do not report tests per million, such as Burkina Faso with a population of over 24 million and impressive Cm (cases per million) of 122 and exceptionally low Dm (deaths per million) of only 3, but which does not report test numbers. Of course, there will be nations that have actually had so few hospitalised cases or deaths that they have not instituted tests at all, but they are difficult to clearly separate from ones where cases would be high if thorough testing had been instituted.

Measuring COVID experience and selecting models

Table 1 below lists details for 10 nations, 5 of which are quite commonly exemplified across the world, and 5 others that are not, but whose records are worth serious consideration. World data is included in the last row. Coronavirus Worldometer

Table 1 offers a great many cautionary tales. Cm measures total COVID cases per million, Dm total deaths per million, D/C is deaths as a proportion of total registered cases, which we take as a good indicator of the effective mortality rate; Tests/m is the number of tests for COVID per million of the population. Figures are derived from totals for the period from January 13, 2020, the day of the first confirmed case in Japan, to November 11, 2020.

The five common exemplars are in bold, and they in fact offer very varying COVID experiences according to their own official registered data across the whole period. It seems clear that Germany and Sweden are exemplars, especially in Western nations because they have good records in fighting COVID-19 in comparison to other major European nations (e.g., the UK or Belgium with Dm figures of 719 and 1,112, respectively) and the USA (a Dm of 734). They also have highish results for tests per million, especially Sweden. But the latter’s principal drawback as an exemplar is its much smaller size of population, and the unusual characteristics for Europe of its relative spatial isolation when compared to high-COVID nations such as Italy. In addition, Sweden’s D/C or mortality rate at 3.6 per cent is actually the highest of the 10 nations in this table, despite a high testing rate. This could suggest either a fault in the procedures for effective hospitalisation after tests prove positive, resulting in greater mortality, or it could be a result of its relatively high proportion of older citizens—at 20.3 per cent of its population over 65, compared to say around 16 per cent for Australia and the USA. However, this case is severely weakened when we note that Germany has a ratio of 22.2 per cent of its population in this older grouping, and Japan an even greater proportion of 28.2 per cent. Both have D/Cs of 1.7 per cent. Given the small population of Sweden, this would throw some doubt on it as an obvious exemplar in terms of actual COVID results to date.

Within Europe, this leaves Germany as probably the better case, especially as, unlike Sweden, it is bordered by high-COVID nations such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands (Dm measures of 1,185,  651, and 484, respectively).

Outside of Europe—problems

But at first glance, neither of the European contenders can match the non-European Australia, Japan and Taiwan, each with exceptionally low Dms (Taiwan with its unmatched 0.3 per cent) and much lower Cms. The seeming weakness of the Japanese and Taiwanese cases is their low levels of tests per million. Other things being equal, this means that lower numbers tested leads to lower “cases registered” if a nation is relying on test results as its principal COVID source, rather than official collections of data from hospitals and general practitioners of patients diagnosed as having the virus. This is not a resounding rejection by any means. It is very possible, certainly understandable, that a nation with actual low covidity would not feel the same need for mass testing as nations with obviously severe problems. It is notable that both the USA and the UK have the highest proportional testing ratios of any large nations—at around 50 per cent of their respective populations tested. Given that numbers of tests say little of the quality of the testing procedures there seems some good reason for holding Taiwan and Japan in high regard as exemplars.

Australia has no such problem, its rates of testing being amongst the highest in the world and notably above those of Germany. Its Dm is exceptionally low. The only problem area here is the unusual character of its demography (a huge proportion of the population live on the massive coastlines), its absence of land borders, its overall relative isolation from all high-COVID hot-spots, and its ability to close itself off despite high numbers of tourists and business connections. These features cannot simply be emulated, yet they may be more determinate of its success as a dampener of the virus than any single element of policy or of any special sequence of official interventions.

There is more to be said about why some nations appear as exemplary and others not, despite their directly COVID-related data. This is broached in three rows of Table 1. Pol-FrR provides an indicator of political freedom within nations, as measured over the years since 1973 by Freedom House, Washington, DC. The figures are an Index with 100 (Sweden) at the top among all major nations. Our Table 1 also indicates—with an * by the names of the 10 nations—all those that are labelled by Freedom House as “electoral democracies,” and it can be seen that all 5 of the major exemplary nations are in this category, and each is highly ranked on the Pol-FrR index, ranging between 93 and 100.The exemplary 5 are a free democratic group, sharing a series of status markers, attributes of a political culture, with many of the nations that regard them as exemplary.

Even though Taiwan with its amazing COVID history is not officially recognised as an independent nation by the other 4 within this select group, its characteristics fit perfectly with those of that group, as a whole. The PPP column shows that these nations are among the richest, most established industrial nations in the world, and estimates of their exemplary character by the major media outlets of the world must surely reflect something of a cultural club. The PPP column is a World Bank measure of purchasing power parity per capita, which adjust simple per capita income comparisons to account for cost-of-living differences by replacing normal exchange rates with those designed to equalise the prices of a standard “basket of goods” and services.

The index is based on the USA as 100. It seems clear enough that the chosen exemplars are seen as ones appropriate to emulate—democratic and free—and this is what is fastened on by the media that create the mantras of “lessons to be learnt,” or “following the science,” and so on. This is confirmed in column Econ-Fr, which provides an index of political freedom for 2020 calculated by the Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC,  in its huge and freely available 2020 Index of Economic Freedom, where Singapore tops the world at 89.4, Australia appearing 4th with 82.6, Sweden appearing at rank 22 with 74.9, and so on. That is, this group is considered exemplary, despite the great differences in COVID performance within it, on grounds of a global culture in which, through an international media, market-based liberalism at high incomes is awarded the highest status among the nations of our world. With status comes notions of veracity, probity and high trust, the secondary rewards of high income.

It may thus be argued that the notion of what might be an exemplary nation in a COVID world, is not principally founded on the COVID record but on some evidence of COVID achievement plus much evidence of high national status among the other nations of our world. So, despite all the caveats and drawbacks noted in this paper, it would appear that the seemingly very different nations of the group will persist as exemplary.

Beyond the pale: Another perspective on best COVID performances

Our other 5 nations are a different cup of tea altogether. Although Poland and India are both parliamentary democracies, they share with this second group much lower income per capita, with Ethiopia being one of the most impoverished nations on earth. They all have lesser degrees of economic and political freedom, but they all also have very good COVID performances as measured in columns Dm and D/C, and generally reasonable numbers for tests per million (the worst being Angola which actually exceeds the figure for Taiwan!). These are not small countries demographically, and to that extent deserve some attention as possible exemplary cases.

With its large Cm measure, Poland looks at first an unlikely candidate, but note that its figure is equal to that of Sweden, and much lower than those of Spain (29,692), or France (26,769), or the huge Belgian figure of 42,547. Its tests per million exceed those of Japan. Its D/C ratio is very low, much below those for the UK, Italy, France, and even Germany. It borders 7 nations of high or uncertain covidity, such as the Czech Republic. And, of course, it is European. We might suggest that it has never been seen as exemplary in the West because of its cultural distinction of having low per capita income, equal to that of Malaysia, and its lower degrees of economic and political freedom than those found among the accepted exemplary group. And, of course, the same must be said of Ethiopia and Angola. The most likely causes of their low COVID measures is a lack of the infrastructure for effective testing and the low number of the elderly in their populations, primarily a result of low incomes. As noted already, this alone would tend to bring down the mortality rates. India and Malaysia are by far the more likely examples for others to follow. India’s massive population and extreme poverty, both noted in Table 1, has not inhibited low Cm and especially low mortality measures. As a well-established parliamentary democracy, India has a relatively high level of political freedom, although its determination to continue to plan high economic growth (an annual growth rate of GDP of over 7 per cent from 2012) means that government does not let market forces rule the production and distribution of goods and services. Aided by its age distribution but remembering the enormity of its population, India might well be seen as among an exemplary group of low-COVID nations.

Malaysia as best practice?

As an exemplary case in many senses, Malaysia has been the most neglected by international mass media commentators. Yet with highish levels of economic freedom, it has achieved remarkable COVID statistics based on a reasonable level of testing. In this, it has been aided by being bordered by nations of low covidity, such as Indonesia (Dm of 55) or Thailand (Dm of 0.9 and total cases of only 3,861!). Its Dm and D/C levels are remarkable. Moreover, its history of COVID defence shows a great deal more alacrity and intelligence than most nations in the West. Screening was adopted at all airports after the first case in Thailand was made public on January 13, and Malaysia only reported its own first case on January 25–well after Japan, South Korea, the USA and Taiwan. Thermal scanners were adopted early. Under the Movement Control Order of March 18, the government, with good cooperation from the media, actively spread the “#stayhome” instructions, NGOs and prison inmates fabricated PPE for those on the frontline, and initial financial stimulus to prevent full economic downturn had been initiated in February. Very early on, Malaysia accepted that China had proved that by isolating the infected group of individuals and practising social distancing, the pandemic could be contained. In order to fund new hospitals and create stocks of medicines, the Ministry of Health and Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) established an “action coalition” to obtain financial aid from corporate companies, government-linked companies (GLCs), and other organizations in Malaysia, a form of private-public sector funding that the West has yet to truly exploit. Government dampened any division between private and public sectors, enlisting help directly from the social media, and NGOs (not private companies) were used early on to provide protective masks, disinfection chambers, and to educate citizens on COVID-19. By April 11, Malaysia had reported a total of 4,346 cases and a total of 1,830 recovered, a proportion of 42 per cent. Today the numbers are 32,969 and 45,095, a proportion of 73 per cent.

Far quicker than countries such as the UK, the Malaysian authorities recognised the key problem of the elderly in care homes. As early as March 27, the Malaysian government introduced the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) with RM 25 million allocated to provide assistance for aged care homes, including cash disbursement, food supply and healthcare items, as well as an RM 250 one-off payment for government pensioners. Malaysia was directing a much higher proportion of its very limited resources to helping the elderly than did most of the Western nations and at a much earlier date, and this was evidently rewarded through its very low Dm and D/C statistics.

Beyond casual statements—selecting with mindfulness

The Malaysian example details the variety of positive responses that have been made in nations not hitherto considered exemplary yet showing very superior COVID results over far more wealthy nations. In itself, this sort of evidence cannot pick an exemplar for all. Picking an exemplar by looking at single cases is unlikely to help very much. But what seems clear is that global exemplars do not have to look the same in terms of political structures, incomes, or economic ideology. Better that any nation looks at its own circumstances and selects elements considered appropriate. The best option might be to consider the more global picture but allow especially for differences in income and age distributions, the character of borders, densities and levels of urbanism, and degrees of air pollution. Such elements may guide selection towards countries or a country of similar circumstance, and the best COVID performer amongst them may well be your best exemplar. But just do not jump too soon!

Elements such as age structure or borders may be reasonably recognisable and objective measures. Political systems and policies are quite the opposite, these alter with regimes (we can look forward to developments in the US). The only way out of the seeming conundrum is to first admit that COVID incidence and mortality is only very partially related to any one nation’s official management policies. In fact, to date, only the dimmest light has been shed on what is the relationship between illness, death and governance in a COVID world. For this reason alone, a great COVID exemplar may not be a great example of political and civil life, especially as defined by decision-makers in parliamentary democracies. Perhaps choosing between Australia and Japan, between India or Malaysia, ought not be so normative. Perhaps it should carefully weigh up seeming COVID performance in the context of all the elements, admitting that the policies of governance may not be foremost amongst them.

Professor Ian Inkster is a global historian and political economist at SOAS University of London, who has taught and researched at universities in Britain, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. He is the author of 13 books on Asian and global dynamics with a particular focus on industrial and technological development, and the editor of History of Technology since 2000. Forthcoming books are Distraction Capitalism: The World Since 1971, and Invasive Technology and Indigenous Frontiers. Case Studies of Accelerated Change in History, with David Pretel. Follow him on Twitter at @inksterian

Invited by Ian McMillan, along with a poet and an archaeologist, to discuss ANOTHER NOW – On BBC Radio 3’s The Verb

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 8:37pm in

What might a zero-growth world mean for writers? The Verb offers this provocation to this week’s guests, and asks how poets in particular can adjust to a world economy that’s changing rapidly under long-down. Is there such a thing as a sustainable poem? Ian McMillan is joined by: Yanis Varoufakis, economist, author and member of the Greek Parliament, Dr Seren Griffiths, an archaeologist and Radio 3 New Generation Thinker (fascinated by time and the taxonomy of soil), by novelist and poet Patrick McGuinness who is intrigued by the idea of a poem that leaves the ‘ordinary’ just as it is, and we welcome Jade Cuttle, (critic and poet) back to the Verb for second time this season – she reads French eco-poetry to her house-plant for us and we listen to its reaction via special technology.

Yanis Varoufakis’ new novel is ‘Another Now’, Jade Cuttle’s album of poem/songs is called ‘Algal Bloom’, and Patrick McGuinness’s most recent publication is the novel ‘Throw me to the Wolves’.

A free Central Bank account for all would be a good start for a revamped monetary system – WIRED

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 6:08am in

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English, Op-ed

Imagine that the Bank of England were to create a free bank account for everyone. Overnight, it would be far better placed to regulate the money supply in the public interest. Moreover, to stay in business, commercial banks would have to seriously raise their game. In times of trouble, such as the current pandemic, the Bank of England could lift all boats at once by crediting your account directly – instead of printing sterling to lend to commercial banks, as it does now, in the hope that they would then lend to your employer, in the hope that your employer would then invest the money, rather than buy back more of their own shares. And, if the Bank of England felt that it had to rein in the total supply of money, to avert inflation, it would be able to do so easily: just offer to pay you, say, £5 for every £100 in your account that you do not spend within the next 12 months.

Imagine further that the Bank of England, in a bid to promote trust via transparency, were to base its digital sterling ledger on a distributed ledger digital architecture that allowed everyone, in real time, a glimpse at how much money was sloshing around in its system.

Now imagine that the Bank of England were to lend its expertise to local authorities around the country to revive their regional economies by creating local digital currencies for the purpose of keeping within their communities as much of the surpluses produced locally as possible. These currencies would be backed by their capacity to pay local taxes and their free-floating exchange rate with sterling would be determined automatically by a transparent formula taking into account the balance of payments between the regions.

Imagine, also, that the Bank of England were to come to an agreement with the central banks of other major economies, reflecting a New Bretton Woods-type of international agreement that allows for global trade imbalances and climate change to cancel each other out. This unlikely feat could be accomplished in three steps:

First, central banks agree to create a digital accounting unit, let’s call it the Kosmos or Ks, in which all international trade and cross-border money transfers are denominated (with a free-floating exchange rate between national currencies and Ks).

Secondly, they also agree to charge symmetric levies upon net exporters of goods and money (a trade-imbalance levy and a surge levy – see below) that help stabilise world trade and global money flows.

Thirdly, the proceeds from these levies fund climate change mitigation projects, especially in the global South.

For example, if the US-German trade is grossly imbalanced, both Germany and the United States are charged the trade-imbalance levy: a certain number of Ks are withheld from the German central bank in proportion to Germany’s trade surplus with the United States, and another number of Ks is withheld from the United States in proportion to America’s trade deficit with Germany. By taxing symmetrically trade deficits and surpluses, powerful market incentives help diminish global trade imbalances.

The second levy proposed here is charged to speculative capital flows into and then out of developing economies; capital movements that cause large bubbles to inflate, distorting economic activity, before bursting with hideous effects on the local economy. This surge levy is proportionate to the acceleration of capital flows into, or out, of every country.

Thus, the world will have agreed to strong incentives to limit trade and money transfer imbalances by levying penalties which, on the one hand, balance the current and the capital accounts of major economies while, on the other, help fund green investments, renewable energy grids, transport systems and organic agriculture in the parts of the planet most needed.

If these gains are so easy to attain, what stops us? Simple. These innovations would wreck the capacity of financiers to usurp the gigantic rents they currently extract from our societies. As always, our problem is political, not technical.

Yanis Varoufakis is a member of Greek parliament and leader of the MeRA25 party

For the website Wired, click here

Discussing ANOTHER NOW with Joe Walker – The Jolly Swagman Podcast

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/11/2020 - 9:20pm in

The Triumph & Tragedy Of Capitalism – a conversation occasioned by my new book ANOTHER NOW: Dispatches from an Alternative Present

Also listen on:

iTunes: tinyurl.com/y5quz6nt
Website: tinyurl.com/y4ekbpfv
Spotify: tinyurl.com/yxmwnmh4

Show notes

Selected links

Topics discussed

  • Utopia. 4:46
  • The Sovereignty of Good. 9:14
  • Has capitalism enabled people to pursue higher goods? 12:38
  • What is capitalism? 16:08
  • Monopolies. 23:19
  • The problem with capitalism. 28:54
  • Are workers robots or autonomous souls? 34:40
  • Is capitalism making us happier? 54:30
  • Milton Friedman’s 1970 article on profit maximisation. 1:02:41
  • What is Yanis’s alternative to capitalism? 1:09:12
  • Should change be brought about through revolution or incrementalism? 1:26:08

Today, Black Friday, we are boycotting Amazon, globally – Damien Gayle in The Guardian

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/11/2020 - 8:59pm in

The economist Yanis Varoufakis has called for a one-day boycott of Amazon on Black Friday as trade unionists, environmental activists, privacy campaigners and tax justice advocates plan coordinated actions against the company’s sites and supply chain. Amazon’s success during the coronavirus pandemic – at one point the company was reported to be making sales of $11,000 (£8,200) a second – has vastly inflated its share price, increasing the personal wealth of its chief executive, Jeff Bezos, already the world’s richest man, by $70bn. Bloomberg estimates his current wealth to be $187bn.

In an online video, Varoufakis asks viewers “not even to visit” Amazon’s website on Black Friday – the retail industry’s most profitable day of the year – which falls on 27 November this year.

“By boycotting Amazon you will be adding your strength to an international coalition of workers and activists,” he said. “Amazon is not a mere company. It is not merely a monopolistic mega-firm. It is far more, and far worse, than that. It is the pillar of a new techno-feudalism.”

Under a banner of “make Amazon pay”, Friday’s actions are intended as the start of a campaign against the retailer’s record on workers’ rights, environmental impact, tax avoidance, work with police and immigration authorities, and what activists say are invasions of privacy via its growing range of internet-connected devices.

The campaign is co-convened by Progressive International, a global initiative bringing together progressive leftwing groups, politicians and intellectuals, including Varoufakis, Prof Noam Chomsky and Bernie Sanders, and UNI Global, a trade union federation representing 20 million workers including the UK’s GMB union.

Casper Gelderblom, Progressive International’s campaign lead said: “Trillion-dollar corporations like Amazon have too much power and are too large for a single government, trade union or organisation to rein in. That’s why workers, citizens and activists are coming together across borders and issues to take the power back.”

A set of demands submitted to Amazon by Progressive International and signed by Oxfam, 350.org, Greenpeace and the Tax Justice Network, said: “Amazon warehouse workers risked their lives as essential workers, and only briefly received an increase in pay.”

The first actions are due to take place in Sydney, Australia, with protests at Amazon facilities by the SDA and TWU trade unions. Protests are also planned for Bangladesh, Brazil, France, India, Italy, Luxembourg, the Philippines, Poland, Sweden and the US.

In Germany, the trade union Verdi has organised three-day strikes at Amazon warehouses, demanding better pay and working conditions. In the UK, where protest is effectively banned under coronavirus regulations, GMB members will stage an online rally. Supporters are being asked to endorse the demands and donate to strike funds for Amazon workers.

An Amazon spokesperson said of the campaign: “This is a series of misleading assertions by misinformed or self-interested groups who are using Amazon’s profile to further their individual causes. Amazon has a strong track record of supporting our employees, our customers, and our communities, including providing safe working conditions, competitive wages and great benefits, leading on climate change with the Climate Pledge commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040, and paying billions of pounds in taxes globally.”

For The Guardian’s site click here.

Report into Australian special forces war crimes in Afghanistan ‘gut-wrenching’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 4:04pm in

Twenty-five defence force personnel face charges over thirty-nine killings

Afghan Files- Four Corners video 16 March 2020 ‘Killing Field’ screenshot

Screenshot: Australian Broadcasting Corporation Four Corners video 16 March 2020 ‘Killing Field’

A report published on November 19 into alleged war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan has stunned Australians. Australia has had troops in Afghanistan since 2001 as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Combat troops were withdrawn in December 2013, with 400 trainers and advisers remaining till today.

Despite media stories and widespread rumours of troop misconduct, the Afghanistan Inquiry report has been described as a horrific bombshell.

The inquiry was conducted by Paul Brereton, a judge and Army reserve Major General. The independent investigation, commissioned by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), reviewed over 20,000 documents and 25,000 images and interviewed 423 witnesses. “57 incidents and issues of interest” were examined in detail.

The investigation followed a 2016 review of special forces culture by military sociologist Dr. Samantha Crompvoets. Crompvoet's investigation was commissioned by the ADF in 2015 after rumours of war crimes circulated in the special forces community. She found that there was, “illegal application of violence on operations, disregard for human life and dignity, and the perception of a complete lack of accountability at times.” The review has a comprehensive list of media reports about special operations overseas from 2000 to 2015 but was finished before the sensational 2017 Afghan Files revelations mentioned below. Her review did not document specific incidents. Media stories helped to inform the Brereton investigations but are not specifically detailed in its report.

Guardian Australia reporter Paul Daley summarised the background and findings of the recent report:

For more than four years, the Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton has investigated allegations that a small group within the elite Special Air Services [SAS] and commandos regiments killed and brutalised Afghan civilians, in some cases allegedly slitting throats, gloating about their actions, keeping kill counts, and photographing bodies with planted phones and weapons to justify their actions.

Among the findings of the Brereton report are the following:

  • 39 Afghans were killed and 2 others treated cruelly between 2009 and 2013. 25 current or former ADF personnel are implicated in one or more of the 23 incidents identified.
  • The killings did not happen ‘under pressure in heat of battle’.
  • Junior soldiers were required by patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner for ‘their first kill’, a practice called ‘blooding. The commanders were usually senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers).
  • So-called ‘throwdown’ weapons were carried by Special Operations Task Group to be placed next to bodies to justify killings.

This screenshot is an example of the heavily-redacted nature of the report, with names and other details blacked out:

Brereton report extract page 73

Screenshot: Brereton report extract (page 73).

Incidents involving 19 individuals have been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for criminal investigation, which may result in murder charges.

The report also explores the fostering of a ‘warrior hero culture’ as a contributing factor. An example of the toxic culture emerged in September 2020 when an Instagram account run by special forces soldiers, past and present, mocked war crimes allegations. Many Australians on social media were appalled at the time:

The report has dominated social media. Afghan-Australian human rights lawyer Diana B. Sayed posted this statement on Twitter:

There has been ‘shock and anger’ in Afghanistan. Hani Marifat, CEO of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, raised the implications for other nations:

The Australian government’s intention to pay compensation to the families of victims in Afghanistan has been welcomed.

However, not everyone accepts the report’s recommendations:

The report found that ‘no evidence that there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of commanders at troop/platoon, squadron/company or Task Group Headquarters level, let alone at higher levels such as Commander Joint Task Force 633, Joint Operations Command, or Australian Defence Headquarters.’

In an article on The Conversation, veteran journalist Michelle Grattan questioned how it was possible for those up the chain of command to not know.

If senior officers did not pick up gossip and whispers, surely they should have been enough aware of the broad special forces culture to know that extensive checks should be in place to guard against the ever-present threat of misconduct.

Former soldier Dr. Julian Fidge believes that the culture of military leadership has led to a lack of accountability at higher levels:

A potential consequence of the recent report concerns former SAS member Ben Roberts-Smith, a recipient of Australia’s highest military honour the Victoria Cross. The Court has directed him to hand over documents from the Brereton inquiry. The documents may reveal whether he is implicated as a suspect. His old SAS squadron is to be disbanded as a result of the recent report. Roberts-Smith is currently suing newspapers for defamation.

Whistleblowers and the media

Between 2014 and 2015, Australian Army lawyer David McBride leaked information on war crimes in Afghanistan to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). A criminal prosecution against McBride is still proceeding. There are many people calling for the charges to be dropped:

However, Federal prosecutors are not proceeding with charges against ABC journalist Dan Oakes as it was not in the public interest. Oakes helped expose secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC in 2017 (also known as the Afghan Files), he was also one of the journalists at the centre of an Australian Federal Police raid on the ABC in June 2019.

The chief of the ADF, Angus Campbell, has been accused of hypocrisy:

Colin Hocking blames the Federal police and Prime Minister Scott Minister for the pursuit of the media:

On the broader front, the ramifications of these disturbing events will be playing out for years to come, especially criminal charges.

A discussion I enjoyed hugely with Matthew Taylor of the Royal Society of the Arts on my ANOTHER NOW

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 7:36am in

 

How can a Marxist-feminist, a libertarian ex-banker and a maverick technologist help us navigate our new future? Economist Yanis Varoufakis explains all.

Global crises cause big changes and reveal deep structural weaknesses.

In this special interview series from the RSA its chief executive, Matthew Taylor, puts a range of practitioners on the spot – from scholars to business leaders, politicians to journalists – by asking for one big idea to help build effective bridges to our new future.

Yanis Varoufakis is an economist and the author of Another Now.

Tempo & Talker production for the RSA.

In this time of global change, strong communities and initiatives that bring people together are more invaluable than ever before. The RSA Fellowship is a global network of problem solvers. We invite you to join our community today to stay connected, inspired and motivated in the months ahead.

You can learn more about the Fellowship or start an application by clicking here.

Matthew Taylor

Yanis Varoufakis

 

Review of ADULTS IN THE ROOM, both the film and the book by Anjan Basu in The Wire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 7:18am in

Tags 

English

Travelling around Greece in December 2012, we often reached a museum in the early afternoon only to find it closed. The museum was working only in the mornings, we were told. In breathtakingly beautiful Delphi, an irate security guard screamed at my daughter who wanted to buy the tickets to the museum. He was pointing to a notice displayed near the ticket office which presumably said – it was all Greek to us, literally – that visitors needed to come before a certain hour. The kindly landlady at the B&B we were staying in explained to me that the government was obliged to cut back on much expenditure because it was seriously short of cash. I was surprised. Didn’t tourism contribute one of Greece’s main income streams? Wasn’t this belt-tightening likely counterproductive, because scaling back revenue-earning expenditure was never a good idea?

In January 2015, a Syriza-led left-leaning coalition came to power in Athens, promising to dump belt-tightening, or austerity, and halt the country’s slide into chaos and disaster. By then, Greece was a chronically indebted, poorly-administered economy, a less-than-wholly-welcome member of the European Union which lived – as legend had it – from one bailout to the next offered by its creditors, Europe’s most powerful governments and institutions.

The new government believed that the bailout packages themselves were, in a real sense, part of Greece’s problem for they were designed not so much to help the economy grow and stabilise as to bolster, in the short term, Greece’s ability to service its humongous debt liability. In other words, the bailouts were a debt trap: they served to salvage the position of German and French banks – which had, over the years, lent aggressively to a profligate and venal Greek oligarchy – by lending Greece just about enough that she could meet her repayment obligations on maturing loans.

At the same time, the bailouts came packaged with onerous preconditions regarding budget deficits, public expenditure and social welfare costs that made steadily escalating austerity an inescapable reality. And this austerity was not just self-defeating, it plunged the economy in a vicious vortex of steadily lower consumption and consumer spending, shrinking GDP, lower tax revenues, wider budget gaps – and, consequently, stiffer austerity measures.

Yanis Varoufakis
Adults in the Room
Random House UK (May 2017)

Soon after assuming office, Alexis Tsipras’s coalition government set about trying to break this austerity-indebtedness logjam. It sought to present to the ‘troika’ – the three powerful institutions that happened to be the arbiters of Greece’s destiny, namely the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – an alternative vision of a more sustainable economic model, one that built modest growth aspirations into the debt-servicing architecture.

By deemphasising austerity, this model provided for some monetary expansion coupled with lower tax rates, and for a more nuanced approach to financial and social sector reforms than the troika was willing to countenance. As Syriza’s finance minister, it fell to Yanis Varoufakis, economics professor and first-time parliamentarian, to take up the cudgels for lowly Greece in the power-packed, forbidding courts of the troika. His mission was to persuade the troika that a mindless adherence to austerity was likely to prove suicidal for Greece; and that, unless her massive debt was allowed to be restructured, Greece would likely sink deeper into a morass of bankruptcy from where no amount of future financial stimuli could perhaps rescue her. His was an uphill battle, equally exhausting and exasperating, and in the end, Varoufakis had to give up when his own government decided that discretion was by far the better part of valour.

In a dramatic turnaround, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to sign on the dotted line on the troika’s MOU even as a popular referendum – one that he himself had mooted and organised – mandated him to throw out that same MOU. A frustrated Varoufakis resigned in July 2015. His 2017 best-seller, Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment, is a riveting, fast-paced account of his tumultuous six months in office, closing with Greece’s humiliating capitulation to the troika. The book reads in part like a thriller. It is easy to see why a filmmaker couldn’t help being drawn to this narrative of hope and disillusion, heroics and surrender playing out against the backdrop of continental fault-lines.

Indeed, Costa-Gavras, one of the greats of Greek cinema, had gone on record with his intention to make a film around Adults in the Room almost as soon as the book made its appearance. Come to think of it, it was only natural for the master of the political thriller genre to be enthusiastic about this story. In the event, his eponymous film premiered in Venice in 2019, though not in the competition sectionIncredibly, Adults in the Room marked the first time ever, in a career spanning six decades, that Costa-Gavras shot a film on Greek soil, although it was the 1969 classic which happened to be his first movie made on a Greek story.

For the most part, the film’s characters speak in Greek, but, as the film’s action unfolds as much in Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels and London as in Athens, German, English and French are also spoken in equal measure. Adults in the Room features English subtitles as well, though, sadly, these subtitles are often annoyingly clumsy, at times even a little misleading. Surely an internationally acclaimed director could do with somewhat better subtitles.

The film opens with video footage of euphoric crowds at Athens’s iconic Syntagma Square celebrating Syriza’s victory in the January 2015 elections. After Tsipras’s rousing acceptance speech – in which he pointedly refers to how the troika was trying to strangulate Greece’s economy – the film gets down to the business of introducing viewers to the main protagonists on the Greek side. Soon Varoufakis is shown outlining to his team the tasks ahead of them, including preparing a contingency plan to be triggered in case of a showdown with an unrelenting troika. And just a few short episodes later, the camera cuts to a shot in which a clearly tired and dejected Varoufakis returns home to his wife one evening in July, to tell her he has resigned his post – a piece of news that she receives with evident relief. Having thus set the boundaries of his narrative, Costa-Gavras then proceeds to trace the chain of events leading up from jubilant January to despondent July, and in this, he tries to stay as faithful to Varoufakis’s text as he could possibly try to be.

Also Read: A Life Beyond Capitalism: Reimagining a Socialist Future With Yanis Varoufakis

And there the film steps on to somewhat unpromising territory. Of course, Varoufakis’s book is all about his struggles with ‘Europe’s deep establishment’, as his book’s subtitle reminds us. But in his text, the writer frequently travels back in time to uncover many secrets: his own childhood and early youth; his parents; his many interactions with men of power and influence before he himself joined the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics; his many brushes with the Greek establishment, including the media which were intent on pursuing an ultra-conservative path; and, above all, his exposure to, and feel for, the human tragedy that had been creeping up on the ordinary Greek citizen over the years preceding 2015.

Even in asides, his story touches upon different facets of ordinary people’s lives, laying bare the dynamics of a society unsure of where it was going – or perhaps, where it was being led. When Varoufakis dons his ministerial hat, or sits across the table from Europe’s famous and mighty to argue Greece’s case, his every thought, his every action seems to be informed by his accumulated experience of Greece’s recent history. His personal profile thus invests his interactions and confrontations with the troika with a sense of drama that no ordinary dry-as-bone negotiation between a debtor country and her creditors could conjure up.

Costa-Gavras’s treatment chooses to stick to a linear development of the plot, however, eschewing the subplots that mirror the troubled zeitgeist of Greek society. Varoufakis’s seemingly endless negotiations with the troika fully occupy the centre of the film’s stage, but the broader issues surrounding the negotiations are barely etched here. The camera is focussed on the individuals involved in these somewhat tedious, and predictable, discussions, on their rigidities and inanities, the banality of much of their talk and their total inability to put themselves in hapless Greece’s shoes at any point. Indeed, Wolfgang Schauble (the powerful German minister of finance), Mario Draghi (president of the European Central Bank) and Jeroen Dijsselbloem (president of the Eurogroup) come across here as arrogant dimwits, and not much else. (Schauble looks faintly sinister, too.) Now, while the arrogance of power that these men exuded can never be gainsaid, to depict them as little better than a bunch of unscrupulous power brokers is perhaps to miss the point: which is that they represented a world view which was incapable of the imaginative redrawing of monetary and fiscal policies that Greece was clamouring for.

Despite his exasperation with the troika, Varoufakis himself recognises this. Indeed, he speaks of how these men at times came close to an appreciation of the futility of what they were proposing. But, overpowered by a sense of insecurity, and unable to break free from what they had always taught themselves to believe in, they clung to their patently unhelpful positions tenaciously. At one place, he even hints that Wolfgang Schauble’s hand may have been forced on one occasion by his boss, the formidable Angela Merkel. Overall, it is this sense of how tantalisingly close Greece seemed to come to wresting from the troika what she wanted that makes Varoufakis’s narrative particularly poignant.

It is possible that he was not reading the troika correctly at every stage, but his book does not make the point that Greece never seemed to stand a chance in renegotiating at least some parts of the MOU. In the film, however, the protracted negotiations look little other than a charade, all the more so as they go round in circles. That, together with the loss of perspective on the substantive social and political dynamics of Greek society, limits the appeal of the film narrative to an extent.

The book’s – and the film’s—title derives from something that an exasperated Christine Lagarde, then the IMF boss, is believed to have said at some stage of the interminable negotiations. She seemed to suggest that they needed to have ‘adults in the room’ to take the talks forward, and that obduracy was unlikely to achieve that. Incidentally, Lagarde is one person that the film portrays in somewhat kindlier light than perhaps the writer had intended. On at least two occasions, she appears to be endorsing the Greek position quite unreservedly, much to the chagrin of the German finance minister. The book was rather more ambivalent about Lagarde.

Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras. Photo: Piotr Drabik/Flickr CC BY 2.0

By decoupling Varoufakis’s text from a broad overview of recent Greek history and focussing almost exclusively on the meeting rooms of Europe, the film’s script falls short of linking up with the angst and gloom permeating Greece then. Ordinary Greek lives hardly enter the film’s canvas, and that is certainly a regret. But there is an inspired reinterpretation of one episode from the book that restores some of the emotional balance lost elsewhere in the story. One evening in May or June 2015, when the battle with the troika had begun to hot up in earnest, Varoufakis and his wife take a friend out to dinner in an Athens restaurant. In the book, Varoufakis recalls how, midway through the meal, some hooligans – the hoods of their coats pulled menacingly over their faces – arrive with the clear intention of harming the minister physically. They advance on Varoufakis threateningly. A heart-stopping face-off follows. Presumably, those thugs were unloosed on Varoufakis by ultra-conservatives irked by his unwillingness to toe the troika’s line. In his treatment, Costa-Gavras retains the restaurant and the meal, but introduces not hooded ruffians but a large group of sullen-looking young people who crowd around the diners’ table and look on silently, disconcertingly. To Varoufakis’s questions as to what had brought them there, the strange crowd merely stare back at them, without uttering a single word. After a while, they all walk slowly away, leaving the party shocked and dispirited. No explanations are offered – unless the subtitles omitted them – and there is just a hint that the unusual congregation intended to convey a message: that Varoufakis and his colleagues must not lose sight of the sufferings of their countrymen; that they must not forget their pledge to do what was just and right for Greece. The episode clearly strengthens Varoufakis’s resolve not to relent on his stand on the MOU. He would not dream of letting down ordinary Greek citizens for the sake of political expediency. By this one deft touch, the master filmmaker finally posits Greece’s humanitarian crisis as one of his film’s key concerns. The virtuoso remains a virtuoso, no matter that he had turned 86 by the time Adults in the Room was in the can.

Anjan Basu writes on a range of issues. He can be reached at basuanjan52@gmail.com.

For the site of The Wire, click here.

Live discussion of ANOTHER NOW with Zoe Williams – A GUARDIAN LIVE event this Monday at 19.00GMT

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 22/11/2020 - 7:24am in

In Another Now, Varoufakis imagines a post-capitalist democracy. Set in 2025, through three contrasting characters – a banker, a feminist and a technologist – he paints a radical and thought-provoking blueprint of how democratic socialism could work today, in a world without billionaires, stock markets or tech giants.

Can we truly critique capitalism without genuinely considering the alternative? Can freedom be balanced with fairness? How do we generate wealth while protecting the planet?

Join Varoufakis in conversation with Guardian columnist Zoe Williams. You will also have the chance to ask your own questions during this livestreamed event.

As the co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement, the former finance minister of Greece, and the current Professor of Economics at the University of Athens, Varoufakis has long been critical of Brexit, austerity and the failings of capitalism. He has written several bestselling books, including Adults in the Room and The Global Minotaur, and in 2018 he launched the Progressive International movement with Bernie Sanders.

Running time: 60 minutes

For tickets, click here (If you live in the UK, you can purchase a ticket with a copy of Another Now)

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