Saturday, January 30, 2010

Human tragedy as ‘Divine Will’? – Wes Bishop refutes right-wing Evangelist Patrick Robertson

above: the body of a child in Haiti - is this God's will?

 Preface: The blog owner is a Christian himself – as well as a socialist and liberal – and would just like to preface this article by insisting that not all Christians seek to rationalize the suffering of innocents on account of ‘divine will’. The crucifixion of Christ was itself an injustice – and those who seek to ‘blame the victim’ should reflect upon such Christian dictums: “do unto others as you would have done to yourself”; “as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me”; and “as you judge so too shall you be judged”. In Christianity and Judaism the example of Job is also illustrative of the point that people should not rush in to judge others when the full context they do not understand.


Human tragedy as 'Divine Will'?

The Italian thinker and writer Ignazio Silone once said, “An earthquake achieves what the law promises, but does not in practice maintain-the equality of all men.” This month the world, and especially the people of Haiti, were reminded of how true that statement is. The stories, footage, and pictures that emerged from the rubble were at both times heartbreaking and a clear reminder of the destructive force the planet can unleash.

The news that once again Haiti had been dealt a heavy blow was especially heartbreaking because of the known suffering that the small island nation has been forced to endure over the centuries. Yet, as the dust settled and the aftershocks subsided, many in the international community came forth to try and rally support for the people of Haiti. This call to arms, led by the Red Cross and the White House came from a well established knowledge that the ills that befall a nation and a people are of two kinds, random events (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods) and man-made disasters (war, poverty, genocide).

However, there was another voice that emerged after the tragedy of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, a voice that needed to prescribe the event to a higher being.

On January 13th the Reverend Patrick Robertson said the following on his evangelical show The 700 Club, “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story. And the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

Robertson’s comments were quickly denounced by many as shockingly unsympathetic to the people of Haiti, and a clear case of blaming the victim for an uncontrollable disaster. Many in the media threw up their hands and shook their heads in disgust, unable to understand how someone could even hold such a thought.

What the controversial televangelist was referring to was the 1791 slave rebellion that occurred on the island of Haiti to overthrow the French colony, and the white slave masters that held the islands kidnapped African population in bondage. According to Robertson, and many other Christian thinkers, the islands slave population made a deal with the archangel Lucifer so as to have assistance in deposing their French masters. Robertson’s comments can best be understood if one accepts the fact that Robertson knows nothing of Haitian history, pluralistic theology, or the basic idea that a nation’s ills come about because of random events, and man-made disasters. Instead, Robertson is much more in tune with the playwright Euripides who said, “A God caused this fate, a God created this disaster.”

Although the Baptist evangelical would most likely disapprove of being compared to an ancient Greek pagan, the similarity in sentiment is striking. In both cases the thought that some vengeful God or an embittered angel is the source of humanities woes goes back to the idea that much of what befalls humanity is not only justified but largely out of the hands of the people on earth.

This mindset, once adopted by the masses, gives religious leaders a huge advantage over rational thought because it allows religious institutions to keep countless people hostage by the fear that they can never risk angering a supernatural creature, and that only through a certain religion will people be able to alleviate the suffering they currently face.

One sees this time and again with religion. The claim is made that all of suffering is somehow mans fault and that if one were to simply accept a God then it would not be so bad. What this does is deeply troubling. It sets up a culture of blaming the victim, slowing human progress, and eventually harming the beauty of faith.

For example let us take the case of Haiti. Anyone who spends even an iota of time paging through the history of the nation knows that the forces of imperialism, poverty, and military despotism are the causes of its ills. Even though the earthquake was beyond anyone’s control, the damage and loss of life could have been reduced. This could have occurred if Haiti had had access to a government that could afford and enforce stricter and safer construction practices for their buildings. As it has been made widely known in the media, a similar quake of nearly equal magnitude hit California a number of years ago resulting in only sixty people losing their lives. Compare this to the tens of thousands that have been killed in Haiti, and it becomes apparent that when governments, either because of poverty or negligence, cannot offer basic services to their people disaster is merely an incident removed.

Accompany this basic thought with the true history of Haiti and Robertson’s comments are not only absurd but a dangerous lesson in how many religious leaders recruit new followers. As it has been mentioned above Haiti was at one time a nation of African slaves. The native population had been wiped out by the white settlers and the plantation owners, in need of cheap labor, turned to exporting humans from Africa to work the various farms of Haiti. Haiti at the time was a highly profitable colony producing much of the sugar that the French Empire used and sold. The white slave owners worked the African slaves so much that mortality rates were so high that very few second generation African-Haitians ever entered the population. Instead, the French colonial plantation owners turned to continuous arrivals of Africans to fill the workforce. This led to a constant renewal of African beliefs and customs, one of which was Voodou. This commonality became a rallying point for many of the slaves. On August 14th 1791 this rallying point occurred with a Voodou ceremony being held at Bois Caiman. While there it was reported that the African slaves prayed to differing deities, known as Loa or Lwa, to help in overthrowing the white slave owners. A pig was then sacrificed and the whole ceremony served as an energizing catalyst to begin the revolution.

Obviously there was no Loa that helped in overthrowing the French, just as there was no Satan. Instead what occurred was much like what happened when the United States declared independence from Britain by meeting in Philadelphia. Finally the Haitians were able to meet, organize, find common ground, and launch a movement. There was no magic in the parchment of the Declaration, nor were there any sprits floating around Independence Hall, instead what the Congress was able to do was nearly exact to what the Africans did, and that is find common ground to start a political movement.

Yet, the Founding Fathers of the United States had one huge advantage over the people of Haiti, and that is they were educated, perceived as somewhat legitimate in Caucasian controlled Europe, and possessing of the knowledge in how to organize a government.

The fact that the soon to be leaders of Haiti were able to go as far as they did is quite impressive. But the lack of infrastructure coupled with the devastating economic penalties France was able to levy, damaged Haiti so much from the outset that it has never really been able to recover.

The sooner nations begin to become aware of this history, and ignore the ignorance of men like Robertson, the sooner the much needed debate on successful foreign aid can be made.

Earlier this month a very important story was overlooked, first for news that Sarah Palin was joining the cast at FOX News, then because of the release of a tabloid book on the 2008 Presidential campaign, followed by a “scandal” by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he said a racially insensitive remark in private, and then finally the earthquake in Haiti.

This important story was that a little old woman in Europe died. She was nearly a century old. She never held political office, never led an army into war, and never directed the world on how to pray or believe in God. Instead, she saved a diary for a thirteen year old girl. The diary would eventually be known as The Diary of Anne Frank and the woman was Miep Gies. Through her act of heroics, she and other Christians during World War Two hid Jews from the persecution of the Nazis. She was an extraordinary ordinary person, and one that deserved a hell of a lot more attention than she did when she passed away. The reason I bring her up now is because she said something once that still rings with profound truth, and that is that you do not need to be an extraordinary person to do good. You do not need to lead armies, congregations, or countries to help others. You need only to have a working moral compass, an idea of what is going on in the world, and a desire to help others in order to produce significant change.

One need not look to Gods and Devils, like Robertson and Euripides, to explain humanities troubles. One need not pray to Loas and Angels for extraordinary strength and guidance. One need simply remember the words of Silone and Gies, that in short we are all equal and all struggling together, and that any of us can help make the world a better place.

Wes Bishop
Kettering, Ohio

As this article is being put to bed, news continues to be heard that the people of Haiti are still in desperate need of relief. This is being further compounded with the knowledge that another earthquake hit Haiti just a few days after the devastating first, making it all the more important to donate whatever one can. In these economic times it is understandable that not all can give as much as they would like, but please be on the lookout for ways to help. Thank you.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Australia Day 2010 – Celebration AND Criticism the key for ‘moving forward together'.

above: Indigenous Australian athlete Cathy Freeman

In Australia – as I write – people are ‘gearing up’ for our country’s ‘national day’. The day: ‘Australia Day’ as it is known, rests on the 26th of January. Specifically, the day is celebrated as that on which the ‘First Fleet’ landed at Sydney Cove in 1788; raising the British flag – and in their eyes establishing British Sovereignty.

For many, though, such celebration is questionable in light of the dispossession of indigenous Australians which followed. Thus there are some who refer to the day disparagingly: ‘Invasion Day’.

Talk of ‘Invasion Day’ can be understood in the context of Australian history. Indigenous Australians did not have the right to vote until 1967; and for many years indigenous children removed from their families to ‘aid in assimilation’. This was despite the participation of indigenous Australians fighting against fascism during the Second World War.

Many indigenous Australians were to die through exposure to exotic disease – brought by the settlers. In the context of resistance, other indigenous Australians were also killed. Furthermore: reprisals from settlers sometimes took the form of indiscriminate massacres.  In these and other ways, many tens of thousands were ultimately to perish.

To some therefore – and especially Indigenous Australians, British colonialism in Australia comprised an invasion under which Indigenous culture was suppressed; their bonds with the land not recognised; their basic human rights denied.

What to celebrate in Australia’s past?

Australian history must not be thought of in a purely negative light, however: just as it ought not be considered in a purely celebratory or uncritical spirit.

Representative democracy and full adult suffrage developed in Australia with relatively little violence; although the example of the Eureka Rebellion - is seen by many as the source of a more militant democratic Australian tradition.

In 1854 miners rose in rebellion, demanding full male suffrage, and representative democracy. Arming themselves and establishing a stockade, the miners were crushed violently. But their example expedited the cause of democracy in Australia: and the ‘Eureka flag’ and tradition still remains a source of inspiration and identity for many on the radical Left, including militant trade unions. This struggle for liberty and democracy is very much part of Australian history and identity: and deserves recognition on Australia’s ‘national day’.

Other sources of Australian identity and culture include the spirit of egalitarianism and mateship: and more recently of multiculturalism: cultural pluralism.

The Australian egalitarian spirit was seen by many as being embodied in a culture by which class barriers were overcome with friendship.  (notably, however, this did not 'dissolve' class differences - or do away with the need of working people or the disadvantaged to fight for justice... Indeed the myth of 'classlessness' was sometimes used to undermine this struggle)   And the strong bonds of mateship which arose during the First and Second World Wars became a powerful source of identity: especially amongst Australian males.

For those tens of thousands who served in Singapore, Crete, North Africa and New Guinea – these strong bonds of mateship helped Australians survive under intolerable conditions. This was as much the case for Australian prisoners of war, also: including those who endured – and the tens of thousands who died - in Changi and on the Thai-Burma railway.

It says something of Australian culture and character that perhaps the most celebrated of figures from this context is Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop: a surgeon rather than a conventional soldier. Dunlop was responsible for saving many lives in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps: where conditions were appalling and primitive: and Japanese cruelty legendary, horrific and extreme beyond what most Australians today realise.

Neil Pigot, who played Dunlop in a play, reflects of the broader culture of mateship in the face of such adversity:

Men would share shoes, or give away their blanket or shirt if someone needed them," he says. "Everyone was a mate, and everyone looked after each other."

As a pluralist and multicultural Australia moves forward, such things ought not be forgotten, and must be recalled and preserved as part of our identity and tradition.

Australia Today

As indicated earlier, modern Australia is pluralist and multi-cultural. Successive waves of immigration have irreversibly broadened our identity and our cultural composition.

For many Australians, there is much to celebrate here: that citizens of different cultural backgrounds live together in peace, and in mutual recognition. Rather than the kind of assimilationist policies which once sought to extinguish the cultures of indigenous peoples and immigrants in the early-mid 20th century: the modern Australian mainstream celebrates diversity.

That said: there are aspects of the old culture (not only the oldest – eg: indigenous) that need to be preserved also.

‘Mateship’ is one area which needs to be contested as well as respected. While ‘mateship’ needs to be recognised in the traditional sense – bonding and loyalty amongst Australia males - that spirit must be made meaningful for women also. And Australian egalitarianism should be reconsidered in the sense of economic equality: not merely the rejection of class-based snobbery.

Furthermore: our liberties and democratic and social rights need to be enshrined in our national identity: and as the ‘glue of cohesion’ which makes relative harmony in the context of multiculturalism possible.
And before the onset of official multiculturalism, also, Australians had a sense of connection with the land.
While not as deeply spiritual as the bond felt by many indigenous peoples; flora and fauna figured strongly in the national identity of the ‘old Australia’.

Symbols and icons such as the Eureka flag – and the official Australian flag; as well as Australia’s sporting heroes (eg: Cricket hero ‘Don Bradman’); and Australia’s ‘beach culture’ figured strongly in Australian national identity.

Australian culture has since become more diverse – and for most this is cause for celebration. But this need not mean a ‘rejection’ of the ‘old’ culture. Some Australians feel threatened by the sense this ‘old culture’ is being rejected – prompting a backlash against multiculturalism. We need to make it clear that the ‘old culture’ has a place at the heart of a modern and diverse Australian nation.

Radical Australian author, David McKnight has written about nationalism in his work ‘Beyond Right and Left’. While nationalism can provide fuel for violent militarism and prejudice, it can also provide a “bridge” to collectivism. Here we refer to the kind of spirit which involves solidarity with others in the face of their social needs. (from shelter and work to education, health care and social/cultural inclusion) If combined with an outlook of internationalism: respect for the rights of all people; then such sentiments need not be negative. Indeed an internationalist outlook might potentially even comprise a core ‘pillar’ of national identity.

In conclusion

In concluding this discussion of the issues associated with ‘Australia Day’ it is well to make a number of observations.

There are some who believe the day on which ‘Australia Day’ rests ought be changed.

Australian sporting icon, Ron Barassi, suggested in 2009 that the date be shifted to May 27th: “the day in 1967 that saw 90% of non-indigenous Australians vote in a referendum to give the indigenous peoples the rights that were due them as citizens of Australia.”

Others believe the day ought be shifted to the date of Federation: the official founding day of the Australian federation - January 1st.

There is a problem, here, in that there is still no formal resolution: comprehensively righting the injustices suffered by indigenous people. Without the closure provided by a just, representative and inclusive Treaty between the modern Australian nation and our indigenous peoples, it is hard to imagine a fully inclusive celebration of the Australian nation. Perhaps in the future – should such a resolution be achieved – then maybe this could become the focus of a new ‘national day’ for all Australians.

That said: while we ought be critical of aspects of our history, and not allow nationalism to fuel the kind of militarist mindset which rationalises unjust war; there are many aspects of Australian culture, history and identity that are worthy of celebration, recognition, remembrance. This includes the suffering and sacrifice of Australian soldiers: even if in the context that recognises the futility and wrongfulness of many wars. (for instance, World War I)

Finally, though: there is a sense that growingly the modern Australian nation is coming to terms with its past: and is coming to the realisation that indigenous peoples need to be fully recognised if we are to ‘go forward’ together. Australian political leaders – especially of the Left and Centre-Left - have recognised and apologised for past wrongs publicly. And the Australian Rudd Labor government specifically has committed itself to:

“Closing the Gap” “to reduce Indigenous disadvantage with respect to life expectancy, child mortality, access to early childhood education, educational achievement and employment outcomes.”

And there are increasing efforts on the part of the Australian Left and Centre-Left to preserve and recognise indigenous cultures. To this end, Jenny Macklin - the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, proposed in 2009 the establishment of an: “Indigenous Cultural Education and Knowledge Centre.”

We must hope – and demand together – that rhetoric concerning the preservation of indigenous culture – and ‘closing the gap’ - is matched with decisive action: and with the necessary dedication of resources.

Also there are positive signs with the increasing recognition of indigenous peoples in popular Australian culture: for instance recognising the traditional owners of land in sporting events.

To conclude: as suggested in the title of this essay - celebration AND criticism together comprise the key for ‘moving forward together’ as an inclusive Australian nation…

Tristan Ewins

Jan 2010

above: Former Australian POWs after the liberation of Singapore

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Which way forwards in response to climate change?

nb: the article focuses primarily on the Australian context: but the arguments and issues are relevant for a truly global audience...

By Tristan Ewins

Towards the conclusion of 2009 perhaps one of the most significant events of that decade was the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change to authorise a comprehensive and binding response to the climate crisis.

Given the virtually universal consensus across the entire body of global scientific opinion, with regards to the reality of human-induced climate change, resistance to action must be seen as being harder and harder to justify.

Apart from the threat of rising sea levels, other effects of continued global warming could include damage to eco-systems and biodiversity. Acidification of oceans may result in extinction of many species - with the consequences of the disruption to the food chain ultimately flowing to humans. And with extremes of weather, life for many would become more uncomfortable.

But while some from the conservative Opposition in Australia saw the failure of Copenhagen as a vindication of sorts, the potential consequences of this failure are such that none should be seeking to milk these developments for opportunistic political gain.

In Australia, with regards to the environment, the Rudd Labor is besieged on both sides.
Bipartisan support between the government and the Coalition Opposition for an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in Australia has collapsed after the relatively liberal Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, was usurped by arch-Conservative, Tony Abbott.

Now, while the Australian Greens deplore the government’s target to reduce greenhouse emissions to somewhere between 5 per cent and 25 per cent of 2000 levels saying it is vague and insufficient, the conservative Coalition is generating fear about what their leader Tony Abbott derides as “Labor’s great big tax”.

But what is the proposed ETS anyway?

“In a nutshell”, the Emissions Trading Scheme advocated by the Australian Labor government comprises a “cap and trade” system whereby polluters are provided with a limit on greenhouse emissions. After this “cap”, polluters need to invest in emissions permits if they are to continue such activity. A market is effectively created: usually whereby polluters must buy permits from economic actors whose activity is not so intensive in carbon emissions.

Importantly, Labor claims the ETS does not comprise a tax in the commonly-accepted sense of the word. For the government this is important: as it is official Labor policy not to increase tax as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Given the need for investment in social services, welfare and infrastructure, critics may well point to the short-
sightedness of this policy. But advocates of the Labor ETS might believe it is a way to potentially “have one’s cake and eat it too”. Although after corporate compensation - and compensation for those on low and middle incomes - there is not much left over.

Ultimately, though, the proposed ETS would still comprise a system of “sticks and carrots”: impositions upon business and consumers to pressure them into changing their habits when it comes to investments and the purchasing of goods and services.

Achieving real change obviously cannot come without a cost. The question is who pays for reform and how.
Conservative Opposition leader, Tony Abbott has been quick to deride Labor’s ETS plans and the financial pain which will follow for many Australians. He has claimed that 50 per cent of middle class households will be worse off. In contrast, the government is claiming that 2.9 million low income Australian households will actually be better off as a consequence of the built-in compensatory mechanisms.

I will address this in greater detail further on in this essay.

Instead of an ETS or carbon tax Abbott has been spruiking the benefits of a more “direct” approach to reducing carbon emissions. The question hanging over such proclamations, however, is the same. Again: change cannot come about without cost: and someone will have to pay for “direct” change: or else perhaps there will be no change at all …

That said: there is a variation on the theme of “direct action” on climate that may have merit: although the author seriously doubts this approach would appeal to the Conservatives and neo-liberals - with their fetish for ever smaller government “no matter what”. I will also consider this later.

Into this “mix” we need to consider the human impact of action on climate change.

For all parties involved there was a concern with any ETS that it could have a negative impact on industry and jobs. As a consequence of cheap coal, benefits have historically “flowed on” to other export industries, and import-competing industries. With an increased cost for power, though, the reverse impact of this would flow on through the entire economy.

In response to this and other issues surrounding the competitiveness of Australian industry, the Australian government has included as part of the proposed ETS an “Emissions-Intensive Trade-Exposed Industry Assistance” (EITEIA) package.

The aims of this scheme are manyfold.

To begin with, the scheme aims to reduce the risks of investors simply relocating offshore to countries with more “carbon friendly” conditions. If the only impact of any ETS is that carbon intensive industries simply move offshore then obviously nothing is achieved.

Second, the program is aimed at enterprises which are “trade exposed”.

One test of this is if such enterprises “[demonstrate a] lack of capacity to pass through costs due to the potential for international competition.”

Under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, the Coalition had also secured through negotiation broader compensation for industries affected by the proposed ETS. Among these were coal-fired electricity generation and agriculture.

There are many who feel compensation goes too far. In March 2009 the Australian movement Friends of the Earth (FOE) condemned the inclusion of the EITEIA in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) package.

FOE’s aim for the energy industry of “100 per cent renewable [energy] by 2020" seems especially ambitious. Nonetheless, the massive aid commitment for coal-fired energy providers - in the face of blackmail by those interests threatening continuity in energy supply - seems misplaced.

Properly such threats ought to have been stared down. Should these threats have come to fruition then, as Ken Davidson argues - in the case of Victoria: “the State Government has emergency powers that allow it to take over and run the assets.”

But worthy of closer consideration is FOE’s demand for “sector-by-sector transition plans for affected workers and communities”.

What, then, is the way forward?

Proposals for “transition plans” are refreshing, comprising a call for more direct government intervention than usually acceptable under the neo-liberal consensus that one way or the other everything must be “left to markets”. Indeed: the psychology behind such thinking - including the stigma associated with tax reform - is partly the reason why the ETS has been promoted without greater consideration of alternatives such as a
simpler carbon tax.

Active industry policy must be applied to create new jobs (especially in affected regions), maintain good incomes and income support (including during the transition process), while also supporting re-skilling - at no expense to affected workers.

At this point, therefore, it might also be appropriate to consider another interpretation of “direct” action on climate change.

Instead of only “sticks and carrots” being applied to “prod” markets into reform, the alternative could be massive and direct public investment to renewable energy and sustainability.

In the Australian e-journal On Line Opinion, social commentator Leigh Ewbank proclaimed that: “A new nation-building project on the scale of the Snowy Mountains Scheme is needed.” Here, Ewbank was correct in observing that “our windy southern coast; our vast deserts; and our rich geothermal resources, are untapped”. Utilising these natural assets - with public investment in sustainable energy infrastructure - could be instrumental in the creation of “a renewable electricity grid”.

This program could also include micro-energy reforms: making the inclusion of solar panels and micro wind turbines compulsory for new constructions - supported with generous government subsidy for those on lower incomes. Also integral in this process could be extensive “Green building” regulations, so our homes and workplaces are “resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle”.

These and other measures could gradually ween Australia away from dependence upon coal between now and 2020.

Importantly, tax, social wage and welfare reform would have to be enacted to prevent the costs of such change “flowing on” to more vulnerable groups and individuals.

Progressive tax reform - combined with a progressively structured ETS (made possible through compensatory payments) - is also critical given that the debt from massive public investment in renewables would need to be serviced in as fair a manner as is possible.

If the Australian government does go ahead with some form of ETS, it must be so structured as to have a more progressive impact on wealth and income distribution, and access to necessities including energy.

Towards the end of 2009, Lindsay Tanner, the Australian Finance Minister, affirmed that “low-income households will be hit around $420 annually under the scheme but will be compensated on average by $610 per year”.

The question here is why the government is not using this opportunity to do more in the interests of distributive justice.

Given that the broader tax system in Australia is in need of radical reform for purposes of distributive justice, an ETS - while not a tax - could be levied at a higher rate. By this we infer regulation ensuring a higher rate for carbon permits issued by the Federal government - and also central regulation of permit values thereafter. This is an alternative to the wild speculation some suppose might otherwise follow with the scheme’s implementation.

If accompanied by greater compensation for those on low and middle incomes (especially lower incomes), though, such reform (as advocated in this article) would comprise a “step forward” for fairness.

As Ken Davidson, writing for The Age, has noted also, if emissions permits are too cheap then there will be no incentive for corporations to make “higher cost investments” anyway.

While Davidson rejects the prospect of an ETS altogether - and a carbon tax would be more simple and potentially less volatile - there are ways of improving the proposed system.
In the wake of Copenhagen international action is necessary

The failure of nations to arrive at a legally binding framework (via an international treaty) for emissions reduction at the Copenhagen conference shows a disturbing lack of resolve and good faith among what some call “the global community”.

Among the most pertinent of issues was the failure of the developed world to provide the necessary compensation for poorer nations to continue development in an environmentally and socially sustainable fashion. Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Andrew Hewitt lamented that: “The promised $US100 billion a year by 2020, aimed at helping poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to a changing climate, is less than half the amount needed.”

The quest to eradicate poverty, here, need not be abandoned as the price of sustainability. Technology transfer is of central importance, as is funding tied to the construction of sustainable infrastructure in developing countries.

In the same spirit, international co-operation in key areas of research, such as renewable energy, is critical. The world would do better pooling its research efforts rather than individual research units competing against each other - and quite likely not sharing their progress and their breakthroughs.

Here - in the wake of Copenhagen’s failure - there is nevertheless still the option of Australia “leading by example”. This applies to other countries in the developed world also: including the United States.

A good start for Australia would be a radical expansion of foreign aid: with Australian contributions being raised from approximately 0.32 per cent of GDP (2009 figures) to 1 per cent: significantly beyond the “UN benchmark” of 0.7 per cent.

For Australia’s part, Hewitt was also correct in observing: “We must … contribute our fair share of climate finance, based on our historical responsibility for emissions and our capacity to pay.”

This additional expansion could be tied exclusively to the development of environmentally sustainable infrastructure and industry, with funds devoted to Foreign Aid from Australia alone rising to significantly over AU$10 billion annually.

With Labor in power in Australia we have the right to expect better. But accountability of governments is only ever secured at the cost of eternal vigilance on the part of citizens. We must hold Labor accountable now, for the stakes are too high and the costs of failure too great.

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Also:  Leigh Ewbank's material was cited in this article: a plea for massive public investment in renewable energy infrastructure.    Leigh's blog focuses on environmentaland social issues - and can be found here:      Meanwhile: his contributions to On Line Opinion can be found here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On his birthday - Jan 15th - Trying not to lose the real Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr:  Civil rights leader and activist for peace, justice and human rights:

Born Jan 15th 1929; murdered April 4th 1968

As against the popular conception of Martin Luther King Junior: beyond the image of the liberal campaigner against segregation - there was a more radical thinker and activist - a man opposed to war, and opposed to a social and economic system built around the concentration of wealth - and the oppression, exploitation, disenfranchisement and suffering which followed thus...  Martin Luther King's fight against segregation was a critical aspect of this man's struggle - but we should celebrate the entirety of his message - against injustice and war... This video pays homage to the real Martin Luther King...

Thanks to 'Slepton for this material'.   see:

"SleptOn Mag is an independent socio-political online journal established to promote awareness, facilitate discussion, debate and organization by providing hard hitting, thought provoking and engaging news analysis and potent commentary on politics, entertainment and culture. "

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Protect the Aged: This Summer stop deaths from heat stress

Today the Australian Medical Association (Victorian branch) made a powerful plea for compassion, justice and common sense. This statement was made in light of extreme heat conditions recently – which have seen appalling rates of death amongst the aged and the infirm.

To illustrate the point, the AMA (Vic) has argued that:

"During the heatwave in January 2009, an additional 374 people died than would usually be expected. Many of these deaths were older Victorians, and many were due to heat-related conditions."

In response, the AMA has demanded: “[subsidisation of] the cost of cooling aids such as air conditioners for Victorians aged over 75.”

Specifically, the call was for rebates of $1000; and installation of air conditioning units in public housing estates; at a cost of AUS $37 million for the Victorian state government.

This issue is of special concern to Left Focus: as we were trying to promote this issue as far back as early 2009. It is edifying and a relief that now – finally – there is the prospect of action.

For previous discussion of these issues at Left Focus see:

There are other related issues, though, which are not discussed in the AMA media release.

Firstly: air-conditioning needs to be made compulsory for all aged care facilities – including nursing homes
and hostels.

Secondly: the target age of 75 and over might need a rethink. Surely elderly citizens as young as 70 – and sometimes younger – are also vulnerable.

Thirdly: even though it is a great start, a $1000 rebate might not be enough of a subsidy for pensioners living in poverty – many of whom cannot afford essentials such as heating during Winter, other utilities costs, rental expenses, transport, and a balanced diet. Installation costs alone can be in the vicinity of $1000 – without even taking into consideration the costs of heating units. Action is needed now on ALL these fronts…

Furthermore: If we accept the logic of the AMA’s arguments in relation to heat stress and the vulnerability of aged pensioners, then surely we must follow the same example with regards to the Winter months. Surely we must make sure the elderly have access to affordable and effective heating then also. This might entail subsidies for heating units – and further subsidies in the form of a more generous utilities allowance.

And finally: similar action to that discussed here needs to be taken not only in Australia – but over the entire globe. The problem needs to be addressed nation-wide – wherever the aged, the infirm and the vulnerable are at risk.

In Victoria for 2009 the road toll at the end of the year stood at 295 lives lost.

Action on that front in the form of drink driving blitzes, public education programs and the like are of critical importance – and thus receive significant levels of funding from governments.

The vulnerability of the aged in the face of heat stress and extreme Winter weather, however, is just as much of a critical issue of human interest.

In matters of life and death such as these no excuses should be accepted: we must demand action now.

Please demonstrate your concern about these issues and write to the Premier of Victoria, John Brumby demanding action on this issue:

The Premier can be contacted by email from the URL below:

Also consider writing to other state and federal government leaders about these issues.

And if you are from another country from Australia, consider following these issues through locally – depending on the need for action wherever it is you live.

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