A view from Australia

Leaves on pathAustralia is having an unusual double dissolution election, where every member of both houses of the Federal Parliament is up for re-election. Usually, only half the Senate is contested at a federal election. So, this one could be interesting.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived back in Australia from the USA on Monday, and watched the TV coverage in the lounge at Melbourne airport while waiting for my connection, was the difference in the tone of the campaign being waged here.

After listening to the candidates fighting it out in the presidential primaries in the US, it was refreshing to hear what, by comparison, seemed almost polite conversation, even when opposing politicians were bagging each other.

Hopefully, if we ever get around to becoming a republic, Australia will go with the Constitutional President model, similar to the Irish, and stay well clear of the Executive President model used in the USA.

I suspect the Australian Labor Party will come to regret Kevin Rudd’s parting gift: their leadership election process. From my perspective, the rules of their new leadership process look a lot like the rules of the process the Democrats use to select their presidential candidate. Facing the membership to gather delegates from a round of voting and then dealing with the super delegates – the elected members and the party machine. Bernie Sanders will tell you it’s rigged. Hilary Clinton will tell you it’s the way things are.

Whether it’s rigged or not, it’s ugly, it’s public, and it takes a long time.

In past leaderships spills in the Australian Labor Party all was resolved in the party room. It took a matter of days.

If Labor fails to get up in July we will, no doubt, be treated to the spectacle of another leadership election contest, as they sort out who gets to replace Bill Shorten.

I’ll be tuning out.


IMG_0156Peter Mulraney is a creative writer from Australia. He is the author of the Inspector West crime series, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men, Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic and The New Girlfriend. He has also published colouring books and journals under the Sharing the Journey banner.

A short history of walls

Walls are not new to Americans. There used to be one on Wall Street.

opejnart.org

Some Ancient History

The Chinese built a wall. We know it as the Great Wall of China. They’ve had their wall for more than a thousand years. It didn’t keep out the Manchurians – they came in through a gate, and it didn’t keep out the Europeans – they came by boat. It’s probably been more successful as a tourist attraction than as a defensive barrier. In fact, they’re restoring parts of it so that we can marvel at the engineering feat that created it.

The Romans had some walls at the edges of their empire. Most of us have heard of Hadrian’s Wall, but they built another in Tunisia, with the primary purpose of maintaining pax romana so they could concentrate on taxing the prosperity of the locals. Neither wall saved the empire.

Some Modern History

The French had a wall. They built it after World War 1 and called it the Maginot Line. The Germans flew over it in World War 2.

The Soviets had a wall. We called it the Iron Curtain. This one was a bit different. It wasn’t designed to keep people out but rather to keep people in. It came down in 1989. They pulled it down themselves.

Today

The Israelis have a wall. You only have to watch the TV news to know how effectively that structure is maintaining peace and security. The Europeans can’t afford one but that hasn’t stopped some of their member states from putting up fences.

The Chinese are building an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, which is probably more at risk from climate change than the US Navy. It will be a lot less mobile than the US Seventh Fleet, and probably a lot less expensive to operate, but at least we’ll all know where it is.

People are cheering because Trump wants to build a wall between the USA and Mexico to keep the Mexicans in Mexico. He’s not satisfied with the existing fence. Maybe it’s got too many gaps because Congress decided not to continue funding the expansion of the so called high tech virtual fence in Arizona.

An interesting message from the Marines

The other night I was at the movies in New York. Before the movie started they showed a short film produced by the US Marine Corps, reminding us that all walls can be breached. You can watch it on You Tube.

Why do people think a wall is a good idea?

The answer is simple. If you build a wall you can point to it and say that you’re doing something about the problem.

Trouble is, building a wall will never solve the problem because migration is not the problem. Poverty and crime are the problem.

What needs to be addressed is the movement of narcotics across the border in one direction and of guns and money in the other. That will take a President and a Congress with the political courage to address the demand side of the drug problem in the US. (When did Nixon start the war on drugs?)

Helping the Mexicans to improve their quality of life at home will probably do more to stem the flow of people than building another wall.


IMG_0156Peter Mulraney is a creative writer from Australia. He is the author of the Inspector West crime series, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men, and Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic. He has also published colouring books and journals under the Sharing the Journey banner.

 

The Office of High King

I’ve been in New York for the last couple of months working on my next book, listening to public radio and reading the occasional edition of the New York Times.

America is an interesting place, and the commentary on things going on in the political sphere got me thinking about another time and place: Ireland, ‘the land of the kings’, in the times of Brian Boru, who is regarded as the last High King of Ireland.

When Brian became King of Munster, he was one of around 150 kings ruling greater or lesser domains. Basically, every tribal leader was a regarded as a king, but a group of more powerful kings had created the position of High King, to which all the others were more or less subservient. It was Celtic Ireland after all, and Celtic tribes liked to fight, mainly each other.

The seat of the High King was the Hill of Tara, located north of modern day Dublin, in County Meath, and Brian claimed it in 1002.

What made me think of this?
Well, New York has a new mayor. He took up office in January, having been elected on a reformist platform. As I listened to how the new mayor went about establishing himself, hand picking his administration of unelected officials to run the city agencies, I realised he was like a prince taking over a kingdom – he was setting up his court of advisors, who would help him manage his relationship with the elected city council.

One morning, there was a story about an issue, that made it clear that the position of mayor of New York City, powerful as it is, answers to the Governor of New York State, who has his own court of unelected officials in Albany, to manage his relationship with the elected members of the State Legislature .

The State Governor is like a king with a number of lesser kings within his domain. As far as I can tell, New York State is not unique in this way. Every state appears to be a version of ‘the land of kings’.

And then, there is another level of government – the federal, with its own king, the High King, seated in Washington. Americans call this position the President, and it has its own court of unelected officials chosen by the President, like the Secretary of State, which is referred to as The White House Administration, and which runs the Public Service Agencies.

The President and his administration must work with the people’s elected representatives, who make up what is known as Congress, to govern.

By the way, these three levels of government: local – state – federal, are not unique to the United States. They just have different names in different places.

American citizens are invited to participate in regular rounds of democracy building elections at all three levels. They can vote for President, Governor and Mayor, and for members of Congress, State Legislatures and City Councils. In this way the people get to choose who occupies the positions of power, and with constitutions at all three levels of government limiting terms of office, it looks like the people have real power. But do they?

Listening to public radio, I get the impression that there is something else at play here.

Most of us are aware, from the blanket TV coverage given to presidential elections, that it takes a lot of money to mount such a campaign. This seems to be true for becoming the leader at the state and local level as well.

If you spend a fortune becoming President, how much real power do you actually have?

A lot us, no doubt, think the President of the United States of America is the most powerful man in the world. But is he? Who’s actually in charge?

The stories in the media suggest to me that the High King in Washington is currently being ‘checkmated’ by his opponents in Congress. So, I asked myself, if the President is elected by the people and the members of Congress are elected by the people, why is the outcome so confusing to an outside observer?

Then, from the stories I was hearing, I realised there was another group of players, the people of influence, the people who control the money flow. In medieval times, these were the landed gentry, the barons that controlled the economic, largely agricultural, outputs of the kingdom and the flow of cash into the king’s treasury.

Today, in America, they’re the barons of industry or Wall Street, the so called 1%, and they appear to have a lot of influence on the available levers of power. If you think I’m dreaming, do some research on gun control, or regulation of the meat packing industry, or find out who got the money used to ‘fix’ the global financial crisis, or if that sounds too hard, tune into public radio and listen to the conversation.

I’ve been to the Hill of Tara, and stood on its desolate mounds, in a green field that’s a long way from any place of power. In the years following Brian Boru, the office of High King lost its unifying influence, and the Irish lost their independence for close to a thousand years – some of them still haven’t got it back.

Let’s hope, for the good of the 99%, that the office of High King in Washington does not lose its unifying influence, under the impact of the conflicting demands of today’s people of influence.

Thanks for dropping by, Peter.