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George Carlin asks the important questions

When George Carlin is hailed as one of the godfathers of comedy, it’s because of moments like this. He runs in, starts the show, and just speaks his mind. One thing you can always say about Carlin is that he was authentic: comedy to him was a release. Comedians speak often about the need for release; how one doesn’t really choose to do comedy, but just feels compelled. Regardless, here’s Carlin delivering one of the greatest lines in stand-up history.


Barry O’Farrell’s anti-bikie laws violate presumption of innocence

August 15, 2012, Kirk McKenzie, ‘NSW Bikie Laws Will Catch Innocents’ New Matilda – Decades of Australian criminal law precedent and international law under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are violated under the Premier’s reinstated sections to the State’s Crimes Act, which grants the NSW police force the power to imprison an individual for communicating with an ex-offender. To quote the article:

The legislation says that if you communicate, say by sending a text message, to two convicted offenders on two occasions, you may receive an oral warning from a police officer. If after the warning, you send a further text message to one of the two offenders, you may be charged with “habitual consorting”, punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment!

If in the US, this would clearly violate both the First Amendment – freedom of speech and association (the latter is implicit but judicially upheld), along with the Fifth Amendment – due process. While one may attempt to justify such a law on the basis that it only implies to serious, indictable offences, they would do well to be reminded that crimes as trivial as shoplifting are still indictable offences and largely dealt with in Magistrates Courts. As bad as this sounds, the true devil lies within these details: it doesn’t matter whom associates with whom. Ordinarily I would summarise a piece, but the article explains this perfectly:

A further problem is that there is no automatic defence to the new charge. Even a spouse, parent or a child of a previous offender can be charged. There is (in section 93X) a qualified defence for family members, doctors, teachers, employers and lawyers but significantly, any person in those categories can still be arrested, charged and brought before a Court and then has the onus of proving that their association with the person concerned was “reasonable in the circumstances”. This ridiculous provision reverses the onus of proof — even entirely innocent spouses, parents or children are caught. A lawyer could be charged and have to go to Court to prove the reasonableness of acting for the person concerned.

Lawyers who regularly act for convicted persons, may be warned to cease acting for a client, if, for example 40 years ago that client was convicted of shoplifting. If the lawyer ignores the warning, a charge may follow. This amounts to an unjustified interference with the workings of independent courts and, for that reason, the offence is arguably unconstitutional. It also breaches Article 14(3) of the ICCPR by limiting defendants’ rights to communicate with, and to be assisted by, lawyers of their own choosing.

The reversal of the onus of proof imposed on families, doctors and lawyers involves a third breach of international law, namely the abrogation of the presumption of innocence in Article 14(2) of the ICCPR, also a fundamental principle of Australian criminal law. Under this principle, the prosecution is required to prove all elements of a criminal offence beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not the accused’s role to have to prove their innocence, yet that is precisely what a spouse, teacher or doctor (or mother!) may have to do, to avoid conviction. The right to silence also goes out the window.

There goes the Fifth Amendment (again: in this instance, the right to silence), and even the Sixth Amendment – right to counsel – is severely limited under these laws. It places the onus upon the individual to clear themselves, when otherwise unreasonable charges have been placed against them. Of course it is unlikely that the NSW Police will begin implementing this at all levels, but the law itself is a great injustice and appears blatantly unconstitutional, or at least is in great contradiction with the precedents and norms of criminal law. The article does well to mention the fact that this will be a particular injustice amongst Indigenous Australians, whom are likelier to live in higher crime areas and face greater police scrutiny.

This is a bizarrely invasive and ridiculous law which is unlikely to do anything about bikies in Sydney; which in and of itself is simply another example of curbing civil liberties in the face of “state security”.




US Population hits Pi

August 14, 2012, a day that shall live in infamy as “American Pi Day” in which the US Population was estimated to hit 314,159,265, which is Pi times 100 million, if the eight decimal point is rounded up. Congratulations world! In the words of Census Bureau Chief Demographer Howard Hogan:  “This is a once in many generations event…so go out and celebrate this American pi.”

There is always hope for mankind.

Morsi ousts much of the Egyptian Military Leadership, Gay Marriage may come to Vietnam, Scotland may wish to stay in the Union

April 14 2012, The Economist, ‘The Scottish Play’ – Caution again Scottish independence – warnings of its reliance on oil, finance and currency choice – they may be well advised to stay in the union, as Scotland does particularly well out of it through the tax and education systems, not to mention that it is largely the poorest part of Britain. The Euro debacle does not help, and also provides a warning against one currency between multiple nations, if Scotland were to keep the Pound.

August 11, 2012 ‘Hanoi ponders easing rules on same-sex unions’ Helen Clark, SMH – Vietnam’s Justice Minister is considering legalising same-sex marriage, the first Asian state to do so, as part of the country’s marriage law overhaul beginning in 2011. It marks a long way coming from a society where homosexuality has often been seen as a a social evil; unthinkable 15 years ago.

August 12, 2012, Kareem Fahim, ‘In Upheaval for Egypt, Morsi Forces Out Military Chiefs’, NYT  – Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi forced the retirement of several of the most powerful army figures, including his defence minister, the army chief of staff and several generals. He also nullified a constitutional declaration binding his powers, now apparently possessing significant legislative and executive powers, allowing him have a greatly expanded role in drafting the constitution. While the army was no doubt weakened politically from the recent conflict in northern Sinai, in which 16 soldiers died, the resignation of Field Marshal Tantawi, the defence minister, long an ally of Mubarak, was particularly shocking. There is speculation concerning if Morsi truly broke with the military, or older officers agreed to step down in lieu of younger officers to come to the fore. While Morsi and the Supreme Constitutional Court are naturally opposed, as the latter have been instrumental in bolstering the military’s legal power, it appears that Morsi is convincingly disposing of the SCAF’s (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) authority and legacy. However, his increased power, particularly given the long-standing unease with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, does give pause for thought – it will remain to be seen whether he truly intends to devolve power to Parliament. It is also of note that the US was not informed of Morsi’s decision – perhaps a break with the old US-Egypt alliance.

Asylum Review – A Politically Minded Compromise

August 13, 2012, Michelle Grattan, ‘Experts float a blueprint for asylum compromise’, The Age – concise and insightful commentary from Grattan, along with the full policy detail as described by SMH (which is well worth reading) – while the Coalition notionally got a boost from the asylum seeker review, as it green-lighted Nauru and Manus Island, in reality it was likely designed as some form of a compromise, to push any reform through at all, given the absolutely toxic level of debate that has plagued this country for over ten years now concerning this issue. It must be noted that Malaysia was not necessarily ruled out, but the review did call for greater human rights protection for those people who were ‘swapped’. The review also called for increased humanitarian intake, from 13,750 people to 20,000. Understandably, the Greens were vindicated by the latter two items in the review, but on the whole were dissatisfied with the recommendations, as they have long had opposition to off-shore processing, which this review sanctions. While it (thankfully) rejects the notion of turning boats back, on a legal basis if nothing else, it does remove reunion concessions and the ability to sponsor family members under the Special Humanitarian Program – essentially those who are sent via boat and make it to Australia are on their own.

It does appear that while the Greens will be intransigent on off-shore processing as always, this is politically passable – Julia Gillard is amending Labor’s migration bill for tomorrow’s session of parliament, Rob Oakeshott has tweeted (the cornerstone of modern democracy, a politician’s tweet) in favour of the bill, and while Scott Morrison delivers his usual dishonest appeal to bipartisanship – ‘Mr Morrison offered bipartisan support and any necessary assistance in reopening both processing centres, but made it plain the Coalition viewed the report as a ”greenlight for Nauru and Manus Island and a red light for Malaysia”.’ – it is likely that Tony Abbott will not want to cop the fallout of being the one person in the way of finally getting this issue off the table. While off-shore processing has not proven itself to work in any respect, as forcing refugees to die in their own country is no better than the tragic accidents which we have been witness to at sea. Politicians argue while people die, same old, same old.

Money is free, conservative economists are cheap whores and private debt is killing the US – Paul Krugman

August 10, 2012 ‘Culture of Fraud’ Paul Krugman – Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw and John Taylor authoring Romney’s white paper on economic policy and in the process delivering outright untruths about the nature of the US’s economic woes – detailed analysis by Ezra Klein here.

August 2, 2012 ‘Debt, Depression, DeMarco’ Paul Krugman – detailing Ed DeMarco, a Republican bureaucrat, who, due to Senate Republican obstructionism, has been unable to be replaced, and is blocking the process of reducing private household debt by reducing principals and providing some kind of debt relief.

August 2, 2012 ‘Theses On Taxes’ Paul Krugman – Neither candidate’s tax policies are plausible – Obama should raise more revenue, only does it by $80b annually, and Romney reduces by $450b annually. Tax Policy Centre/Brookings Institute study of Romney’s taxes reveals that his policies, if revenue neutral, would greatly increase taxes on the middle class whilst lowering those of the rich.

July 26, 2012 ‘Money for Nothing’ Paul Krugman – Krugman’s argument: For far too long, conservative economists and Austrians have been predicting that the huge deficits of the US are going to send interest rates soaring, ergo one must implement austerity to reduce the deficit so the market does not ‘punish’ the government for creating large deficits, ergo many of the principles of Keynesian economics are wrong. Of course right now most advanced countries, including Australia and the US (two extremely different economies at the moment), the latter of which has seen treasury bonds (inflation adjusted) go from 2% pre-crisis to -0.6%, ie: investors are paying governments money to keep their wealth safe. Even when the Fed temporarily suspended bond purchases, there was no substantial change in interest rates, thus confirming that the status quo is not government-based but market-based. Markets appear to trust government debt. Business are not investing as there is too little effective demand, due to the deleveraging shock of all people attempting to pay down their debt at once, otherwise known as the Debt-Deflation theory of Irving Fisher (which, after famously declaring stocks to be at a permanently high plateau days before the crash of 1929, must be one of the greatest recoveries in academia). There mere fact that government debt is so cheap represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to fund many of the infrastructure programmes that the US needs; not to mention all the unemployed workers that are able to be employed into building public housing, private housing, repairing bridges, roads, highways and perhaps even an inter-city rail project so desperately needed. Sadly it won’t happen.

Wall Street Is Too Big To Regulate

July 22, 2012, Gar Alperovitz, ‘Wall Street Is Too Big To Regulate’ NYT – Written by a political economy professor, used many of old conservatives arguments against them, or rather simply quoted economist Simons, conservative ideologue, who came to the natural conclusion in the Depression that for effective markets to function, businesses must be competitive. If there is not competition then there is not a functioning market, and it would be better to socialise the industry, particularly in light of the immense lobbying power of the financial sector, rendering most reforms and regulations temporary and ineffective at best. Demonstrates what occurred when economists were actually faithful to ideas and facts rather than blind faith and corporate funding – thinking. The issue with “too big to fail” isn’t the big, it’s the fail. These banks, even if broken up, can’t really afford to fail, and nationalisation would provide the strongest security one could imagine. After all, investors right now are essentially paying the Treasury to hold onto their cash.