Politics

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Image courtesy of Reuters: Johannes Eisele

November 9 marks the 20th anniversary what must be one of the most joyous and important events in modern history—the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is amazing to think that only 20 years ago the world was still clearly divided into east and west, communism and democracy. I think the Berlin Wall is the ultimate example of how absurd this conflict became—a wall dividing an historic city into two sections at a seemingly arbitrary point, which people could not cross lest they be killed. I heard a story of one young man whose parents lived in east Berlin, but who had just moved all of his things into an apartment in west Berlin the day before construction of the wall began. He spent the night at his parents’ place, and then could no longer get back to his apartment the next day! Well actually, he did try to, and became one of the first people to be killed attempting to cross from east to west.

We must never forget that only in the last 50 years, political ideology allowed such an absurdity to not only happen, but be accepted as commonplace. It is a reminder of how susceptible we are to simple ideologies that give us a sense of certainty and identity. Today, the “red terror” has been replaced with Islamic terrorism, and an extremist response to it—i.e. a resurrection of the centuries old conflict between Muslims and Christians—may lead us into a real war this time, and not just a “cold war” (indeed, to a large extent it already has). We must never allow extremist religious and political ideologies to take us into WWIII; we must use reason to fight the forces of fundamentalism.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about this story by now: Obama gets asked by a 4th grader why everybody hates him so much! Although I obviously can’t personally agree with his Christian sentiment, he actually does make a valid point: Christians are supposed to be loving and tolerant, but far right wing conservative Americans have shown themselves to be about the most hateful and intolerant group of people this side of fundamentalist Islam. And at least Muslim fundamentalists are honest about their hatred and intolerance—fundamentalist Christians go on about love when all they do is hate, and go on about freedom when they want to suppress the freedom of everyone who disagrees with them. They claim to represent American values when in fact America was founded on secular values (hence the separation of church and state in the constitution), and they claim to represent Christian values when in fact their behaviour is very much against to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

And why do they hate Obama so much anyway? I mean, Bush sent hundreds of Americans to their deaths in a senseless, illegal war, but that’s okay for them. On the other hand, Obama is trying to do something to bring health care to more Americans—even if you disagree with his plan, surely any sensible person can see that he is at least trying to do something for the benefit of the American people? Bush basically sent hundreds of innocent Americans to die for the benefit of Halliburton and the arms trade, while Obama is at least trying to save American lives, by taking them out of this war and trying to improve their health care. How could anyone have such a twisted value system and delusional world view as to think they should hate Obama, while at the same time supporting Bush?

POSTSCRIPT: I forgot to ask everyone what they think of Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize! Personally, I agree with Obama himself that he doesn’t yet deserve it, and I hope he makes good on his statement that he will take it as a call to action. Perhaps he can start by putting some teeth into his administration’s demand that there should be no more Israeli settlements on Palestinian land…

Fear Of Common Sense?

Thanks to a tip from Firefly, I’ve just learned about the ridiculous controversy sparked by President Obama’s recent address to the students of America. Although (as the video above shows) it was a completely non-political pep talk, conservative parents tried to prevent their children from watching it, and some schools in conservative areas provided their students with opt-in forms, requiring their parents to give written consent for their children to watch the President’s speech! They say it’s to prevent their children from being brainwashed by a left wing political agenda, but once again, there was no political content in Obama’s speech whatsoever. I think what it’s really about is a fear that if their children watched Obama’s speech, they might find that what he says makes a lot of sense, and that—heaven forbid—they might actually like him. Is there any better example of how the far right tries to suppress even the most basic information, for fear that it may expose their fragile beliefs? After all, if their belief system wasn’t so fragile, then why are they so afraid of open discussion and information, even when it’s completely apolitical, or just plain common sense? How can they be so hypocritical as to cite freedom of speech, while suppressing any speech from anyone on the left?

Image courtesy of Reuters: Sukree Sukplang (file photo)

With my blog’s birthday, my own birthday, an update on my activities and the launch of my Amazon wish list, last month ended up being a little bit “me me me!”. So I’d like to return my blog to normal transmission this month, starting with turning my attention to someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration: Aung San Suu Kyi. I’m sure she’s somebody who doesn’t need any introduction to regular readers of my blog—let’s just say that she’s an icon of democracy, peace and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and a woman of extraordinary courage and strength. Read the rest of this entry »

https://youtu.be/-mCCYLC-4xA

NOTE: I originally posted this on November 4 last year, but it seems it got a little lost in the flurry of pre-election posts. So as I again don’t have time to do a new post this week, I thought I’d re-post it.

After all my serious election related posts, I thought it was time for a humorous one as Americans head off to the polls. On the surface, this brilliant Mad TV sketch is a parody of a Steve Jobs Apple keynote (and it actually works pretty well on that level), but underneath it is actually an even funnier parody of something else entirely. Definitely one of the cleverest comedy sketches I’ve ever seen!

It seems pretty ironic that just after my previous So How’s Obama Doing? post went up, two events occurred that could well come to define his presidency. One of these was his very impressive Cairo speech. Given how keen George W. was to go to war with the Muslim world, I think it’s pretty hard to argue that Obama represents more of the same. Cynics will say it’s just another one of his charming public performances, but the reality is, when it comes to diplomacy, speeches like this do matter—a lot. He has once again demonstrated his remarkable diplomatic skill in negotiating his way between what are in many ways opposing ideologies, which is exactly what is needed if there is to be peace between the west and the Muslim world. While Bush burnt more bridges than perhaps any other US President in history, Obama has what it takes to rebuild them as few other people do. Yes, a lot of it does come down to charm, but once again, in matters of diplomacy this is a very positive attribute. Plus it’s not as if his speech lacked substance anyway, and I think his expressed intent is genuine. Read the rest of this entry »

A couple of stories in the news this week—combined with the passing of Obama’s first 100 days in office earlier this month—have led me to ponder how his administration has been doing since his historic election. The first such story was the upholding of Prop 8 by the Californian high court—it seems we still have a fair way to go before all forms of discrimination have been removed from the legal system. (I’m sorry to say that Australia is no better in this respect—as a Christian, our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is against gay marriage as well, even though he is fairly progressive otherwise, and he did give more legal rights to gay couples.) In fairness, even though Prop 8 was passed during the Presidential election, it doesn’t really have anything to do with Obama’s administration as such. Nevertheless, it did lead me to think about how things have been going since January 20, along with another story in the news which I was very happy about indeed—the fact that Washington is finally telling Israel what they should have done all along: no more settlements, period. It’s ridiculous that even though this is a fundamental requirement of the road map to peace, Israel has been allowed to completely ignore it without the US government saying or doing anything. It finally looks as though we might be seeing the start of a fair and evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I’m wondering what my readers think of how well Obama has been doing (please note that I’m after genuine answers to this question, not unsubstantiated political propaganda). Given the cold, harsh political realities, I personally think he’s been doing about as well as can reasonably be expected, given that he is facing what must surely be the most difficult circumstances any President has had to deal with since World War II—it’s really quite ridiculous how much things deteriorated from the time George W. Bush came into office until he left. He’s left poor Obama one hell of a big mess to fix.

With a title like that, I want to state up front that I’m definitely not naive enough to think freedom of speech is an unlimited right. We have libel and slander laws for example, and with very good reason. People should not be able to make defamatory comments about someone without having to answer for them, otherwise people could just say anything about another person to try and damage their reputation, regardless of whether it is true or not. Most western countries also have laws against inciting racial hatred, and I think this is with good reason as well. However, we have to be very careful that such laws do not go too far, and we also have to make sure they are applied equally.

Which brings me to the subject of this article. Australia’s own holocaust denier, Frederick Toben, was earlier this week sentenced to three month’s jail for contempt of court, for refusing a court order to take down his web site on the subject. Please note that holocaust denial is not in itself a crime in Australia, unlike in Germany for example (indeed, Germany previously attempted to extradite him to face charges over his web site, which failed). However, like any civilised country, we are all legally bound to comply with court orders, whether we feel they are justified or not. Also, before I go any further I want to state categorically that I think denying the holocaust is crazy—the evidence for it happening would appear to be overwhelming. As such, I have little doubt that the people denying it happened are racially motivated. However, does that mean the law should step in to silence them? Read the rest of this entry »

Today is the National Day of Reason. To explain what it is about, here is a quote from their web site:

Many who value the separation of religion and government have sought an appropriate response to the federally-supported National Day of Prayer, an annual abuse of the constitution. Nontheistic Americans (including freethinkers, humanists, atheists, agnostics, and deists), along with many traditionally religious allies, view such government-sanctioned sectarianism as unduly exclusionary.

A consortium of leaders from within the community of reason endorsed the idea of a National Day of Reason. This observance is held in parallel with the National Day of Prayer, on the first Thursday in May each year (May 7th in 2009). The goal of this effort is to celebrate reason-a concept all Americans can support-and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.

Sounds like something worth supporting to me! This is a great opportunity for my American readers to show their support of the secular values that America was founded on—not Christian values is as commonly thought. I find it highly offensive and very misleading that the National Day of Prayer web site uses what looks like a characterisation of George Washington kneeling in prayer in their banner.

As most of you probably know by now, I am happy to be living in Australia. Although it does restrict my career opportunities, it is a great environment, and the people are very friendly and genuine for the most part. It is also the most multicultural place I’ve ever been, in as much as different races and cultures mix here very freely, and there’s lots of wonderful multicultural events. Like everywhere though, there’s still an undercurrent of racism here, and that was probably never more apparent than during the “Tampa election” of 2001. John Howard, faced with electoral annihilation in the wake of his immensely unpopular GST (goods and services tax), decided to tap into the one issue that he thought might be explosive enough to make people forget about the GST: he played the “race card”. He ordered the navy to stop a Norwegian cargo vessel carrying Afghani asylum seekers (MV Tampa) from entering Australian waters, so they couldn’t land on Australian shores and have their claims for asylum processed here. Shortly after that, September 11 happened, and the anti-Muslim sentiment precipitated the biggest turn around in the polls in Australia’s history. Just like fellow conservative George W. Bush in the US, fear of terrorism turned a deeply unpopular leader into a hero overnight.

Never mind the fact that these actions were completely illegal under international law, and showed an astonishing lack of humanity toward everyone onboard MV Tampa (including its Norwegian crew). But John Howard, being the utterly ruthless and totally immoral and unprincipled politician that he was, didn’t care about international law or compassion. He only cared about winning elections, so he milked the incident for all it was worth. He hastily cobbled together the so-called “Pacific solution” for processing asylum seekers offshore, in this case on the tiny island nation of Nauru. It turned out to be a hugely expensive farce, as almost all these asylum seekers turned out to have a legitimate claim, and many were resettled in Australia (as well as New Zealand). But that didn’t come out until well after the election, and Howard didn’t care how much money he had to spend to win either. He ran TV and radio ads and had posters and billboards with his photo, proclaiming “we decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come”. And he used all other asylum seekers who tried to land here as political pawns as well. This lead to the infamous “children overboard” affair immediately before the election, when John Howard claimed that asylum seekers threw their children overboard, so he could say “these aren’t the kind of people I want entering Australia”. But not only was this claim totally untrue, an Australian Senate Select Committee found that he knew it was false before the election. He clearly just wanted to demonise asylum seekers so he could win the election. Read the rest of this entry »

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